Friday, May 30, 2014

I Love Alexander McCall Smith's Novels

Have read nearly all of Alexander McCall Smith's novels in the last six months. Ate up all novels (to date) in his five series: Corduroy Mansions, 44 Scotland Street, Isabel Dalhousie, Portuguese Irregular Verbs and, of course, No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. His publisher simply lets this most prolific writer know when a new sequel is due for one of his series and he writes it. So what's the secret to his productivity, besides loving to write? It's simple, as revealed in this Globe and Mail interview:

“I don’t have to think,” he says of his writing. “I go into sort of a trance.”
Well, it's fabulous for us that he gets in the flow and writing comes so easily to him because his novels are delightful. In addition to the thirty-eight books in these series to date, he's written many others - over one hundred - including Dream Angus: the Celtic God of Dreams and Trains and Lovers. My goal is to read them all (with the possible exception of his legal tome on Botwana's laws). ; - ) They are that good.

Meanwhile, should you find yourself a bit down feeling a bit down, step into one of his novels. You will enter a world that makes you feel better.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Finally! Finished accompanying Thomas Cromwell in his incredible rise to power in Tudor England via Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall

What a great ride. The tale is fascinating, the narrative is lyric and descriptions are often beautiful. Here's a tiny sample (from page 541) of how Mantel infuses poetry into the narrative descriptions of Cromwell's perceptions:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Nuit Blanche: the far, far, far fun edge of Fringe

Today's the last day of the London Fringe Festival. Saw only five shows; meant to see more, but that's how it went this year. 

Planning to see Bookworm tonight, which has been on my "must see" list. Fortunately it's the Impressario Show for venue 7 tonight, so I should have a chance to get a ticket, provided I arrive early enough.

Another "must see" was Debris, staged by Passionfool, however, didn't see it because the last few shows were cancelled. Was told they were cancelled because Eva Blahut had to have emergency eye surgery. 

Eva's been having problems with her eyes for years; so please send her your prayers, if you will. 

Here's to you, Eva - wishing you a speedy and complete recovery!

If all goes well, we have it on good authority that a couple of performances of Debris will be scheduled at The Arts Project late this month, after Eva has recovered. 

Note: everything Passionfool touches is excellent; so be sure to get a ticket early when they go on sale. This will be a sell-out.


Had fun last night at London's Nuit Blanche, the far, far, far fun edge of the Fringe. Here I am at the "Red Couch Diaries" venue, having my photo taken, which was uploaded to Twitter.

Started out at Museum London. Heard the Nihilist Spasm Band live for myself. What can I say? It's an experience.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Another B______t Night In S__k City: A Memoir by Nick Flynn

Well, you can see I chickened out and did not spell out the title of Nick Flynn's memoir in my title line.

The name of this memoir is Another Bull***t Night In Suck City.

Chickened out again. What can I say? It's not a title that rolls off my tongue or fingers, especially since I am not willing to try and research Google's policy in regard to posting swear words on Blogger.

In short, I do not want my blog censored.

That having been said, there's a reason a movie is being made out of this book. A revealing look at homelessness and the author's tendencies to follow in his father's footsteps, it's an original and entertaining read.

Jonathan Flynn aspired to be a brilliant writer. Instead, he was an irreverent drunk who wound up homeless.

Ah, the idle life of the homeless. Or so you might think.

Far from idle, they are ever shifting and roving, moving and never resting as they avoid both cops and real criminals. Wandering in search of some small space of solace for a minute or an hour, they seek a place to stop and lean without risk of someone bullying them out of their coats or liquor bottles. When the night is late and they can wander no longer, they search always for some place where they will not freeze or be beaten to death in the night.

Although a grim subject, Flynn tells it at a fast pace, in a way that kept me reading nearly straight through to the end. Nick scatters compelling cameos of his father's life through the pages as if he's scattering cuttings of the best outtakes from a film upon the floor.

I would give you a quote, but I don't want to take any surprises away from you. Each gem of description, each bit of narrative is a surprise and a pleasure you will want to discover yourself.

Like the path of a drunk, the narrative bounces and swerves in unexpected directions.

It touches upon Jonathan's youth and promise, bounces to the present, then rebounds back to his early marriage. 

Back and forth it goes, like the shuttle of a loom, weaving a picture of a man.

Such great promise he had. Inventors in his family. Everyone thought he was brilliant. The Great American Novel was in his mind, damn it. All he had to do was sit down and write it out.

Or so he told himself. 

I had to take time out for my own life; so reading this memoir stretched over three days, but I would have read it cover to cover without breaks if I had had the luxury of doing so.

This book clearly makes charlatans out of all the writing instructors and pundits who tell you never ever to write about yourself or your life, and who say memoirs never sell.

This book shows us that, when you write with wit and stay out of a "poor me"  mentality as Nick Flynn has, you can really connect with your reader through the truth. No fiction need apply.

Now, whether you're willing to reveal as much about yourself and your situation as Flynn has is another issue.

But then, don't most of us write because we really want to spill all we've experienced and learned in this life so far, no matter who we expose in the process?

I've wanted to write about my mother for so long. Haven't done it because there is no way I can make a happy story out of her life.

At some point I swallowed that "rule" that readers want happy, Hallmark endings.

Yet, if I don't write about who she was, there will be no possibility of anyone else ever knowing who she was or what she went through. There will be no possibility that her experience - that my experience of her - could be redemptive or, at the least, informative for others. She, and any lessons from her life, will be forgotten.

So, is it better to let people like Nick Flynn's father and my mother be forgotten? To not air their depressions and delusions like tattered laundry on a gray line?

Or is it better to try to paint a picture that gets at the heart of why they were as they were?

What makes a person with so much promise like Nick's father - and my mother who was voted "Most Likely To Succeed" in high school and who won awards for scholarship - to self-destruct?

Flynn doesn't give the answer in his book, but he looks and, through his lucid eyes, I could not but help surrender any judgment about "drunks" as this son and his father circled past each other like twin moons around some invisible planet.

If you want to try and grasp why so many people are on the street, this book may help you.

If you came from a painful, dysfunctional family about whom you have longed to write, but you've been told "don't bother unless it's just for yourself" this book may give you the courage to write your own truth.

Warning: if you're squeamish about swear words, well, there are a few in this one because people who get drunk tend to use them.

But the quality of the writing and the story imparted is well worth any discomfort over reading a few swear words.

Or they should be.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the Rainbow Cinemas and loved it. Full of humour and substance, everything about it pleased me: the cinematography, the storyline, the characters, the acting, the ending, and even the price.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tales Of Hoffmann: The Writer's Eternal Struggle

My Opera Program
A week ago last Sunday, my husband and I went to a first-rate production of Jacques Offenbach's Tales Of Hoffman, staged by the Canadian Opera Company. If you're not familiar with this opera, see this article on Wikipedia.

Coloratura soprano Adriana Chuchman, who played an automaton named Olympia, gave an outstanding performance. Her characterization was very funny and her voice was so perfect it brought tears to my eyes. 

Although "Tales" has closed, COC is finishing up runs for two other operas this month; so if you like opera at all, check out It's worth a trip to Toronto. (Plus there's a Picasso exhibition on now at the AGO.)

Although I greatly enjoyed the beautiful voices and first class orchestra, that's not why I'm writing about Tales Of Hoffmann. At heart, this opera is an exploration of whether an artist - in this case, a poet - can be involved in a relationship or not.