Saturday, November 29, 2008

Waiting for Godot - 50 Greatest Books

Where nothing happens twice
Keith Garebian
Globe and Mail
November 29, 2008

Tired and worn from "the wasteland of prose" in his fiction trilogy (Murphy, Molloy, Malone Dies), where he tunnelled into his own psyche, Samuel Beckett turned to playwriting as a form of relaxation, sticking to French (as he already was in his novels) as a test of discipline, though the dominant diction of the play is colloquial and imbued with the speech and energy of clochards rather than the sophistications of the French Academy.

Beckett set his play in an unoccupied zone of France during the Second World War, and he was probably awaiting a different world order even as he lamented the destruction of the Paris he had loved in 1939.

So, what was to become a vital turning point in the history of theatre (a piece of writing that would influence almost every major dramatist in English) was created during a period of Beckett's own waiting.

The English title of Waiting for Godot, however, contains an inaccuracy, as critic Eric Bentley pointed out. En Attendant Godot (first published in 1952) hinges on a sense of suspended time.

The title really implies something that transpires while one is waiting or being a creature of deadly habit and routine.

So it is not simply the sheer act of waiting that contributes to the mystery of the piece, but what happens or does not happen in that period.

A critic once remarked that Godot is a two-act play "where nothing happens twice."

This is not literally true, though the play has no story, no plot and not much of a setting: merely a rock, a scrawny tree (that sprouts leaves in the second part to mark the passage of time), a deserted country road and the sky.

Its main characters are two tramps or clowns in bowler hats, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), who are determined to keep an appointment with a Mr. Godot, who never turns up.

While awaiting this mysterious figure, they talk (sometimes in incomplete parables linked to the Bible), think, indulge in music-hall banter, songs, sight gags, pratfalls, pantomime, rope tricks, farts, smiles, complaints, kicks, sleep and dream.

They salivate, urinate and procrastinate. They take off their shoes, drop their pants, try on hats and attempt suicide.

They encounter a theatrical, sadistic Pozzo and his harried slave, ironically named Lucky.

Pozzo goes blind. Lucky is struck dumb — though not before he delivers an amazing monologue, a parody of academic metaphysics.

In each act, a boy tells the tramps that Godot will not come that day but will surely keep his appointment the next day, and the two men stay and endure the unendurable emptiness.

Who or what is Godot? A common (misguided) tendency is to associate Godot with God, but "God" in French is "Dieu."

Perhaps the name is merely a common French surname (suggested by slang for "boot," godillot, godasse); perhaps the name of the oldest competitor in the annual Tour de France bicycle race.

The question has grown larger than it deserves to be, despite Beckett's insistence that if Godot were God, he would have called him that.

Yet nothing seems to deter some readers from portentous pontifications on the play.

This is partly the effect of Beckett's genius with teasing ambiguity and his ineffable way of expanding the lyrical mood without indulging in stage action.

The play is circular, so it has no beginning and no end — something of a theatrical innovation in itself.

It also has a new tone for its time. The mechanical nature of some of its comic or clowning business is not new (Adamov and Ionesco, for instance, had already exercised that), but what is startling is its expansion of theatre's parameters.

Its language (rooted in Irish banter and song, Scripture and Beckett's own mundane experience) is demotic, scatological and dignified, silly, expository and poetic.

Words become something to be resisted because they stain silence and nothingness, but words are also used like notes in music, to express human malaise in general or to redeem emptiness.

We laugh through tears — as with the best of Chaplin's films — recognizing the basic tragic line of the piece (its metaphysic of nothingness) while enjoying the comic canters and parody.

Beckett's absurdist satire is not as savage as Swift's or as corrosive as Naipaul's. It seems pessimistic on the surface, but it is actually stoical.

I would like to think that the play makes us feel glad to be alive, though I can hear Beckett himself retorting: "I wouldn't go as far as that."

Critic, poet and biographer Keith Garebian won the 2008 Mississauga Arts Award for Writing.

Just a note - Book Number 47 on the list - 3 more to go

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cold Plague - Book Review

Cold Plague
Daniel Kalla
Tor Publishing
March 2008 (HC)
November 2008 (PB)
Daniel Kalla's website

A brand new book - well new paperback anyway. I grabbed this off the shelf at the supermarket this morning and finished reading it 10 hours later. Could not put it down. Mainly becaue of Prions. I have read only one other novel about prions (Amazonia by James Rollins) and they fascinate me, even if they are deadly.

The Antarctica also interests me as well. Again because I used to live not too far from that continent. And it is within the realm of possibility that man possibly used to live on the Antarctic continent when it was much warmer. But I digress.

Prions are like viruses except that they have no DNA and no RNA so they are NOT alive. BUT they can replicate. Heating, freezing and sterilizing prions does NOT kill them.

On the front cover of the paperback is a testimonial review from a newspaper.
Michael Crichton ought to be looking over his shoulder. He has some serious competition in Kalla.

Sadly and ironically Michael Crichton died on the same day the paperback was published. November 4th, 2008.

Anyway, this book is the authors fourth book. His main character Noah Haldane was also the hero of the last book - PANDEMIC. I gotta read Pandemic. If its as good at Cold Plague is, I gotta read it.

Ok Historia - Cut the chatter - tell them about Cold Plague.

Imagine a huge underground lake in the Antarctica. The size of Lake Michigan and similar to Lake Vostok. With millions of tons of pure pristine water, millions of years old and completely untouched by pollution.

Meanwhile, a cluster of new cases of Mad Cow disease explodes in Limoges, France. Dr. Noah Haldane and his WHO team are urgently summoned. Noah recognizes the deadliness of a prion that kills with the speed and ferocity of a virus, but he suspects factors other than nature have ignited its spread among animals and people in France. Facing a spate of disappearances and unexplained deaths, he uncovers a conspiracy that stretches from Moscow to Beverly Hills, and from the North to the South Pole.

He soon realizes that the scientific find of the century--the body of water the size of Lake Michigan buried under the Antarctic ice--might hold the key to a microscopic Jurassic Park. And someone wants to MARKET that water as a natural cure.

Born and raised in Vancouver, Dan Kalla is as an Emergency Room physician and author of five suspense and medical thriller. His works have been translated into ten languages, and two of his novels, Resistance and Pandemic, have been optioned for film.

Cold Plague is his first sequel, to the novel, Pandemic. Next year, his epic multi-generational novel, Hospital, will be released. At forty-one, Dan is married and the father of two girls. When not doctoring or writing, he is an avid skier and hockey player.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Fight of my Life - Book Review

The Fight of My Life
By Maude Barlow
Harper Collins 1998

If you havent figured this out already, I am a very left wing social justice kind of person. I grew up in a country with universal health care, and I moved to another country that also has universal health care so I dont know anything different.

The USA has always claimed (bragged) to the world that their system was far superior to the rest of the world and that universal health care was a form of socialism and socialism is the same as communism. As I have been learning in my economics classes these last two weeks, communism and capitalism are far apart on the idealogical scale and socialism is somewhere in the middle.

So when I see movies like Mike Moores SICKO that shows me how many americans do pay for health insurance but get REFUSED treatment by their insurance companies JUST because the company does not want to pay out, then I know that the USA system is wrong. It is broken and so far they are doing NOTHING to fix it. Time will tell if Obama's ideas will work.

I first learned about Maude when I found a Youtube video about her discussing the SPP and how we should stop it. Because if the SPP agreement is passed and goes into effect, the American corporations will just walk right into Canada and take the water, the oil, the trees and probably the diamonds too, and not pay anything for them. That is just NOT FAIR.

This book is Maude's biography from childhood until 1998 at the end of the MAI campaign. A very successful campaign as well. Maude tells of how she rallied the Canadians and the world to form grass roots groups to FIGHT against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. If it had passed, the people would have had NO SAY in how the resources of their countries were used by big business. Maude describes fighting the Canadian government against the FTA and then the NAFTA but losing those battles.

She has been the chair person of the Council of Canadians for 20 years and has only recently stepped down. Her new position is as a Senior UN advisor on Water. The Council of Canadians is an advocate group that helps to protect the Canadian people against the bad decisions of the government who want to keep the busnesses and corporations happy. The corporations want to rape the country - steal the natural resources - water, oil, forests - and pay ridiculously low wages to the people just so the corporations can make great big, huge, fat profits.

Maude Barlow never backs down from powerful opponents, whether it's Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien or Peter Lougheed over free trade, or Lloyd Axworthy, Paul Martin and Ralph Klein over cuts to social programs. In this mid-life autobiography, she talks with wit, intelligence and spirit about what motivates her: her love of country, her strong sense of the rights of ordinary people, her belief that governments must be held accountable. The Fight of My Life is vintage Barlow - feisty, opinionated, compassionate, caring. Rich in the stories of ordinary and extraordinary people, it will enrage, delight, and entertain. This is the blurb on the back.

If you are interested in justice for Canadians against the bullying of the international corporations, and you want to start learning and advocating for the people, then this book is a very good place to start.

I read this book for the Canadian Book Challenge - ABM genre

PS - The Mike Moore mentioned above is an American. He is NOT the same Mike Moore who was Director General of the WTO for a few years. That Mike Moore was from New Zealand.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Random meme

I've been tagged by the Book Hunter to do this, so I will.

Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person or persons who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Hey haven't I done this before?

It turns out I have, so you can read my old post about 8 random things about me.

There has been nothing new to add in the last 18 months.

Wait - that's not entirely true - there are two new things and one update.

1 - I had brain surgery in July last year.

2 - I went back to college in July this year.

3 - I stopped dying my hair in 2001 and now I am very gray. People at college have been very surprised to learn that the 6 year old child who lives me with me and my husband, is my son and not my grandson.

Everything else in the previous post is still true.

I respect peoples privacy, and while I realise this is all in fun, I still dont like tagging people with this and making them do it. So if anyone else wants to play, consider yourself honorarily tagged.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Decameron - 50 Greatest Books

The Decameron
Giovanni Boccaccio
Decameron Web
Wikipedia article
Medieval Sourcebook


'It is a remarkable story that I have to relate. And were it not for the fact that I am one of the many people who saw it with their own eyes, I would scarcely dare to believe it, let alone commit it to paper."

If Dante's Commedia is divine, Boccaccio's Decameron is definitely human. Sweaty, sneaky and at times even slutty, it presents us with a world that operates at the opposite end from the ethereal spheres and rational universe of Dante's masterpiece. Energetic, fast moving, bubbling over with life, this is a world where stupidity, not sin, is punished; where wit, not faith, is rewarded; where sexual pleasure, not chastity, is the object of the game. It has enthralled readers for generations and remains a bestseller to this day.

The Decameron is a collection of 100 tales narrated over the course of 10 days by three young men and seven young women. The premise is that the youths fled the plague ravaging Florence and are now waiting for the contagion to subside by holidaying, as it were, on the hills above the city, moving every day from one villa to the next and entertaining each other with dinner parties, songs, dances and stories.

When Boccaccio was writing The Decameron, the Black Death had, in fact, decimated the population of Florence (1348-49) and was wreaking havoc throughout Europe. Within a generation, a demographic catastrophe of biblical proportions had reduced the continent's population by one third, in some places by a half.

And yet, despite the disaster that was transforming European society forever, Boccaccio depicted a world that was full of life, he presented a cast of resilient characters and told stories that amuse, inspire and even edify the reader.

Many of Boccaccio's characters have become memorable. Andreuccio from Perugia, who foolishly flaunts the cash he has on hand to purchase horses, falls victim to an enterprising prostitute who steals his money and clothes, but eventually he gets his hands on a large jewelled ring and returns home richer than when he started, though not any smarter. A twist of fortune saves the day for him.

Having been caught in bed with her lover, Filippa is brought to court by her offended husband, but with an ingenious explanation, she is able to have the case against her dismissed and the local legislation on adultery altered. Wit wins the day for her.

The unemployed but not unimaginative Masetto from Lamporecchio pretends to be deaf and dumb so as to be hired as the gardener in a nunnery, where he then spends his entire adult life tending to the garden and the nuns, happily capitalizing on the fertility of the convent in more ways than one. Ingenuity is the key to his success.

Boccaccio's characters are resilient individuals who survive by luck, wit or ingeniousness. They represent the bustling world of late medieval Italy, replete with scoundrels and scholars, merchants and monks, nobles and nobodies, all struggling to survive. Optimism colours this mercantile epic where chance and human intelligence intertwine to move life forward in strange and unexpected ways.

But not everyone survives. The Decameron also tells of unfortunate lovers who end rather badly.

When Lisabetta's brothers murder her lover Lorenzo, she finds his body, chops off his head, hides it in a pot of basil and proceeds to water the pot with her tears. When her brothers discover her secret and take the pot away, Lisabetta dies of grief.

When Pasquino accidentally poisons himself and dies, his lover Simona re-enacts the incident for the judge and follows him into the grave.

When Guillaume de Roussillon's wife discovers that her husband has killed her lover and tricked her into eating his heart in a stew, she jumps off the castle's casement to her death.

Boccaccio clearly had a macabre streak in him that, in a grotesque way, makes for captivating reading.

Readers for six centuries have debated the moral of the stories and the purpose of the collection. The discussion will probably continue for another six centuries, to say the least.

Konrad Eisenbichler teaches Renaissance studies at the University of Toronto. He is the prize-winning author of The Boys of the Archangel Raphael: A Youth Confraternity in Florence, 1411-1785.


The two men then held a short consultation, at the close of which they said: "Lo now; we are sorry for thee, and so we make thee a fair offer. If thou wilt join with us in a little matter which we have in hand, we doubt not but thy share of the gain will greatly exceed what thou hast lost." Andreuccio, being now desperate, answered that he was ready to join them. Now Messer Filippo Minutolo, Archbishop of Naples, had that day been buried with a ruby on his finger, worth over five hundred florins of gold, besides other ornaments of extreme value. The two men were minded to despoil the Archbishop ... and imparted their design to Andreuccio, who, cupidity getting the better of caution, approved it; and so they all three set forth. But as they were on their way to the cathedral, Andreuccio gave out so rank an odour that one said to the other: "Can we not contrive that he somehow wash himself a little, that he stink not so shrewdly?"

Translation by J. S. Rigg

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Venetian Betrayal - Book Review

The Venetian Betrayal
By Steve Berry
Random House 2007

Up until 10 minutes ago before writing this post. I thought I had read every single Steve Berry book. BUT I have just discovered another new book - The Charlemagne Pursuit - which I now have to track down and read. I LOVE reading Steve Berry thrillers. They always include a major historial character or location.

The last book I read was the Alexandria Link in which Cotton Malone discovers the Alexandria library which has been missing since the 5th century CE. I read and reviewed The Alexandria Link last year.

Now I have read this book called The Venetian Betrayal. This novel is about Alexander the Great. Another one of my favourite characters in History - precisely because so little is known about him. Not to mention that he created the biggest empire on Earth.

In this novel, Cotton Malone is back in Copenhagen selling books. He has rebuilt his book store, destroyed in the previous adventure (blown up with a missile).

The book opens with Malone regaining conciousness in a building that is obviously on fire. His skin and clothes smell of sulphuer and lighter fluid as do the walls and floor of the building.

When Malone tries to leave the building, he finds the main door is locked. Luckily his friend and colleague Cassiopea Vitt shows up and helps him to escape just before the building explodes. Noether of them see the two men further down the street watching the building as it burns.

What were you doing in there? I told you to meet me there tomorrow morning. Vitt tells Malone.
But it would have burned down by then. Malone replies.
Precisely says Vitt. Which is what I needed you to see.

It turns out that the building was a museum, that Malone's boss had recently purchased purely because it had ONE valuable item. An elephant medallion said to have been made by Alexander the Great. There are only 8 such medallions known to exist and someone is systematically stealing them all.

Malone and Vitt begin the search for whomever is stealing these medallions. The search leads them to the Central Asian Federation. A new federation made up of the 5 former Central Asian republics (of the Soviet Union) and now working together as one large federation. The Supreme Minister is a women named Irina Zovastina.

Irina is fascinated by the ancient Greek culture and literature. She is also fascinated by Alexander the Great. She has learnt of a special draught that Alexander took to stay healthy. Except that there was no draught available when he died. The doctor had run out and the new batch had not yet arrived. Which is why Alexander died.

Ely Lund (a friend of Cassiopeia's) had discovered an ancient Byzantine manuscript with a palimpset on it. A palimpsest is where the original writing on a manuscript ot scraped off and new writing is written over the old. The most famous palimpsest known to man is the Archimedes palimpsest. For purposes of this story, Ely had discovered a palimpsest written by a young man in Alexanders army. He gave details of the draught that kept Alexander healthy, and he also wrote riddles and clues on how to find this draught. Ely had been abducted by Irina Zovastina and was forced to find the draught by any means possible.

Then there was the mystery of what happened to Alexanders body. Most of us know the story. How Alexander wanted to be buried in Macedonia, but because he did not have an heir, he was said to have told his generals that the "strongest" one of them was to be his heir.

In the end the generals broke the empire up between them. As one general was taking Alexanders body back to Macedonia, the caravan was attacked and the body removed to Alexandria in Egypt by another general - Ptolemy - who later became the pharoah of Egypt.

St Mark's body was mummified in the first century CE (Common Era) in Alexandria where he died. In the 4th century CE Alexander's body disappeared from Alexandria. shortly after St Marks body reappeared in Venice. The rumour was that St Mark's body in Venice was really that of Alexander the Great. So The Supreme Minister Irina goes to Venice to see for herself.

As the search continues, Vitt and Malone meet up with Ely and eventually they find the source of the draught. They also discover its amazing healing properties. It is later discovered that this new bacteria actually cures all illnesses including one of the modern worlds most devasting pathogens.

You will have to read the book to find out which disease it is. And to find out just where Alexander's body is really buried. As I said earlier, I love Alexander the Great. So this was a very interesting book for me to read.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Random House USA Cancels Pensions for New Employees

Pensions frozen at Random House Inc

Pensions frozen at Random House Inc and eliminated for future hires
Thursday November 20, 2008.

NEW YORK (AP) -- The country's largest trade publisher, Random House Inc., has frozen the pensions of its current employees and eliminated them for future hires, the latest cuts in an industry hit by declining sales and anticipating, at best, a difficult 2009.

"Effective Dec. 31, benefits in the Random House, Inc. Pension Plan will no longer grow -- but they will not be reduced," spokesman Stuart Applebaum said in a statement released Thursday in response to a query from The Associated Press.

Applebaum added that, effective Jan. 1, no new employees "will be enrolled in the Random House, Inc. Pension Plan." The company will continue to offer matching funds, up to 6 percent, for 401k plans.

"Random House has always been a cost-conscious company, and particularly so in these financially troubled times," he said when asked if future cuts were possible.

Applebaum said talk of cutting pension had been going on for years, although changes at Random House have been expected since Markus Dohle replaced Peter Olson in May as chairman of the publisher's worldwide operations. "Mr. Dohle's planning and discussions about the company's future has been and continue to be very interactive at all levels of the company worldwide," Applebaum said.

Random House is owned by Germany media company Bertelsmann AG.

A Random House division, the Doubleday Publishing Group, announced last month that it had laid off 16 people. "South Beach Diet" publisher Rodale Inc. recently laid off 14 from its book division.

Earlier Thursday, Barnes & Noble Inc. reported a larger-than-expected quarterly loss. The superstore chain reduced its full-year sales and earnings forecasts, sending its shares down sharply, and said it would cut the number of new stores opening in 2009.

Sales for B&N stores 15 months or older, a key indicator of a retailer's health, fell 7.4 percent from last year.

"A significant drop-off in customer traffic and consumer spending impacted our business in the third quarter," Chief Executive Steve Riggio said in a statement.

Two other leading publishers, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, have reported low earnings in recent weeks, citing an especially weak market for older, "backlist" books.

"What I think is happening is that you would have somebody who would go into a store and buy a front list title, and then ... buy a second book. And now they aren't buying that second book," says Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy.

Carrie Kania, who heads the Harper Perennial paperback imprint at HarperCollins, says that while classics such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" remain popular, she has seen a drop for what she calls "the middle backlist, a book that came out 10 years ago that isn't in the news, that's a little off the radar.

"You might have an author with 10-12 books and it's harder now to get people to go for that fourth or fifth book," Kania said. "People are being more careful now. They aren't going as deep into an author's work."

The Second Official Day of Winter

And this is the balcony this morning - 10 hours after the previous post. As you can see, the park next door is all white, and the sidewalk has already been cleared. Which is good!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The first official day of winter.

It snowed today in Toronto. The first proper snowfall that has actually settled on the ground. Today (to me anyway) is the first official day of winter. This is the balcony this evening after several hours of snowfall.

At lunchtime today (9 hours ago) when I left to go to school, the sky was a little cloudy, the kids were on the basketball court playing basketball and it was a fine day.

I realise that I havent posted much in the way of book reviews, but I am actually not reading as much as I normally do. My latest class for my Business Administration Diploma has a lot of home work every day and one huge big project due at the end of the class. I also had a "midterm" exam tomorow as well. More like a midclass exam since this class is just 4 weeks long.

This class is called Canadian Business Practices. It mostly covers Economics, How to Start up a Business and Business Plans.

The big project is to create a product or a service and then create a business plan for that product or service. The class of seven are doing this in two teams.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Santa Parade 2008

I realise that the Toronto Santa Parade is not book related, but for those of you who did not go and who did not see it on TV, here are some pictures. I have not cropped these, so they may be quite large. The parade was held yesterday (November 16th). My 6 year old son and I went to see the parade.

The parade started at 12.30 pm. Since we live not far from the end of the route, I know it takes anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to get to our end. We left home at 1 pm. It was snowing when we left home. However the ground is still not cold enough to allow the snow to settle. I think it helped that it was snowing, because the crowds were not as big as usual. One woman I spoke to, said she had been there since 10am.

The official route ends at the Church and Front street intersection. Last year my son and I had been waiting at Jarvis and Front street for the parade and I was disappointed to note that there were no music bands. When I asked a parade official, he said they were being diverted back up the road somewhere for some reason.

This year I went to Church street because that was the official end of the parade. For those of you who are familiar with Toronto's Flatiron building, it is currently undergoing repairs. Which means there was scaffolding all around it. We could have used that for shelter but we didnt need it, because the snow stopped falling right when we arrived at Church street. And not 5 minutes later, the first floats showed up. Our timing was perfect.

This year we saw ALL the music bands as they passed and were diverted off the parade route down Church street. All the other parade groups and floats continued going along Front street. There were 3 bands from USA - one from Ohio and two from New York state.

The group dressed in yellow and black is a music band being diverted down Church street. The women in the red jacket and blue jeans in the middle of the picture is directing them to turn the corner.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Gift of Wings - Book Review

The Gift of Wings
By Mary Henley Rubio
Doubleday Canada
Published October 2008
684 pages

'Maud had lived much of her life, like her volatile little heroine Anne, between the soaring of the imagination and the 'depths of despair.' " This sentence from the final chapter of the much-anticipated new biography by veteran scholar Mary Henley Rubio might serve as its motto. The result of several decades of research, Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings soars with the energy of its title, but delves even deeper into the darker side of the author's life.

The book begins with Montgomery's birth on her beloved Prince Edward Island, and with her family roots in Scotland, closely following The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, co-edited by Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston. But the voluminous biography's most revealing parts ponder her life in Ontario after she became the celebrity author of Anne of Green Gables.

Rubio deftly paints the portrait of a multitasking modern woman with an amazing work ethic and discipline. She wrote fiction, gave recitations and talks to thousands of people, promoted Canada's national literature through the Canadian Authors Association, supported younger authors, wrote letters to her fans and read at least one book a day. A loyal wife, she supported her husband on parish visits, organized theatre performances and kept an immaculate house. The main breadwinner, she was generous to a fault, making loans to friends and family. Yet there is a tendency for Maud's house of dreams to turn into a house of disappointments.

Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, in her book Subject to Biography, writes that female biographers often turn to their subject in search of an ideal, "an ideal friend or sister, a sexual ideal, an ideal of productivity, and of creativity, an ideal liver of life - and in some way, often more than one way, being disappointed." The biographer works to find a balance toward the subject.

In the introduction, Rubio recollects such a moment of disillusionment when, in "the late 1970s," she first met Dr. Stuart Macdonald, whom Montgomery called her "one good son." The young Rubio made the mistake of telling Stuart that Montgomery must have been "the ideal mother": "That ill-advised remark clearly hit a nerve, and I will never forget Dr. Macdonald's slow, appraising look, first at me and then into me and finally through me."

There is pathos in little Stuart learning to recite all 50 stanzas of Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake, one of her favourite poems, to attract his busy mother's attention. There is even more pathos in a woman who comes to motherhood late in life only to have her adored son Chester grow up to become a liar, thief, swindler, manipulator and, from all accounts, an exhibitionist. (The reader is startled to see an image of Chester in handcuffs, arrested for embezzlement in 1954, fortunately after his mother's death). Her first-born was a spoiled brat who knew how to charm his mother.

The biography is also the tale of the marriage of a celebrity author and a country pastor, the Rev. Ewan Macdonald, who cannot possibly understand his talented wife's ambitious desires, let alone satisfy them. Flaubert's Emma and Charles Bovary come to mind, though Maud was no Emma when it came to sex. She kept a screen in her bedroom, and advised her daughter-in-law to do the same in order not to let her husband see her naked. If there was extramarital desire, as a gossipy maid insinuated, it was sublimated into the writing of The Blue Castle. Fiction was the canvas for the projection of emotion.

Meanwhile, Ewan remains curiously voiceless in this biography, as Rubio admits: "His side of his story will never be told." Described by his son Stuart as a hypochondriac, Ewan had several severe mental breakdowns; he escaped into prescription medication (carrying his cough medicine like a flask and apparently begging various doctors for codeine). After his retirement, when asked to help with chores in the house, he sought refuge with neighbours, who thought him a lovely and lonely old man.

It is here, in interviews with neighbours, maids and friends, that Rubio provides fascinating new insights into the toxic family dynamics, although students and scholars might wish for more consistent notes so as to be able to gauge the sources' reliability, given also that the famous L. M. Montgomery was subject to a great deal of rumour.

In a life filled with drama and fights with powerful men, such as her Boston publisher L. C. Page, a fight she won, and William Arthur Deacon, book review editor of The Toronto Mail and Empire (1928-36) and The Globe and Mail (1936-61), which she lost. Her most agonizing struggle, however, was against depression, her husband's and her own. Rubio details the couple's spiralling dependency on prescription drugs.

On Sept. 20, 2008, Kate Macdonald Butler, Stuart's daughter, revealed in The Globe and Mail that her famous grandmother took her own life, a dark secret the family had kept for decades. Rubio, in contrast, argues that cause of death cannot be conclusively determined: Montgomery could well have died of an accidental overdose, or from natural causes. No autopsy was performed. Stuart, a medical doctor, and intern at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, and Dr. Richard Lane, the family physician and close neighbour on Riverside Drive, where the Macdonalds resided in Toronto, disposed of the evidence after reading the scene as a suicide.

What Rubio doesn't say in the biography, but disclosed at a recent talk I attended at the University of Guelph, is that three decades ago Stuart had entrusted her with the very note dated April 22, 1942, he found on his dead mother's bedside table and pocketed. Identifying it as a rough note for her journal (including final instructions of what is to happen with the journal posthumously), Rubio concludes that it was not a suicide note per se.

Or was it? Did Montgomery not have an ingenious way of always speaking through indirection? If we look at all the evidence provided by Rubio and others, it seems that Montgomery, fragile and exhausted, was taking us eerily close to the door of death in a planned and volitional manner. She had said goodbye to her friends, had burned her private papers in a bonfire, had delivered a final manuscript to a publisher (letting nothing go to waste) and had placed the note with provisions for her journal on her bedside table where it had to be found. (Given that she was highly protective of her personal writings, is this not evidence of volition?)

Years earlier, Montgomery had told her pen-pal Ephraim Weber: "I envy those who die in their sleep," adding, "I have a horrible fear that I'll die by inches." Suicide was a recurrent romantic fantasy in her journal as in one entry dated June 15, 1939, that eerily anticipates the scene of her death. She is in her bedroom, her beloved cousin and friend Frede Campbell, who had been dead for two decades, is looking down on her from the picture on the wall, and Maud imagines the day "I really will step into that picture and hold out my hands to her as she stands among the shadows and say, 'Beloved, we are together again and the years of our severance are as if they had never been.' "

But perhaps this story remains to be written.

A significant contribution to the field, Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings will find a home on the bookshelves of Anne and Emily and Pat aficionados alongside other cherished books, including The Wheel of Things: A Biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, by Mollie Gillen, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Nov. 1, 2008, in a nursing home in Toronto. When Gillen was recently asked what she thought of Montgomery's death, she replied: "Angels came down to take her away."

Some kindred spirits will prefer that ending.

Irene Gammel is Canada Research Chair in Modern Literature and Culture at Ryerson University. She is the author of Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic, a book that uncovers the mystery of how Anne was born.

The Gift of Wings can be purchased from Amazon

...THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN - 50 Greatest Books

Feminism's first manifesto

November 15, 2008
Globe and Mail

Watch out, here comes Mary Wollstonecraft - brilliant, bright-eyed and passionate. She's doing that "female" thing that always drives critics up the wall - arguing from the heart not the head - but her ideas are processed through a formidable and original intelligence. The polemic she published in 1792 is rooted in both her own life experience (which included poverty, servitude and a father who was both a lush and a bully) and one of the most dramatic upheavals of European history: the French Revolution. Out of this ferment she moulded the first great feminist manifesto, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Much of what Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) championed in Vindication is conventional wisdom for most of us today. She was writing in response to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's tract Emile, in which the French philosopher had suggested that a girl's education should focus on making her a useful helpmeet to rational man.

Not so, roared Wollstonecraft, then a 33-year-old literary critic in London. Such an education rendered women useless parasites, whose sense of self-worth arose solely from their appearance and ability to attract men. It produced "gentle domestic brutes" who were "educated in slavish dependence and enervated by luxury and sloth." Some marriages were little more than "legalized prostitution."

What kind of companions, mothers or citizens could women be if they were regarded, both by themselves and by men, as "in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone"? Silken shackles produced the sheer frustration that transformed household angels into domestic tyrants. No, no, no. Women should be educated to think of themselves as autonomous individuals. Only when they achieved a sense of self-respect through the exercise of reason would they be able to put their capacities to good use.

It wasn't a brains-versus-body debate. Wollstonecraft also championed the importance of motherhood in a woman's life, but this made a decent education even more important. If a woman had real intellectual skills, she would be able to support herself and her children if she were widowed, and would be freed from the need to marry or remarry out of financial necessity. Society could not progress if half of its members were held back. The abstract rights of women were inextricably linked, she insisted, with the abstract rights of men that contemporaries like Thomas Paine were busy trumpeting.

Vindication is an eloquent, daring book. Within the tight little circle of thinkers in which Wollstonecraft moved, it created an uproar. It fit the new, pre-Freudian age of enlightenment, when the institutions of religion, monarchy, patriarchy and slavery were all under attack.

So what happened? Where did all that feminist energy go? Why was it nearly a century before women gained access to decent educations? Why was Nellie McClung, Canada's best-known early feminist, still raging in 1913 about women who "sit at home babbling of indirect influence and womanly charm and never doing anything for the betterment of humanity"? Why was the 20th century well advanced before women in the English-speaking world were admitted to full citizenship and given the vote?

Mary Wollstonecraft died in childbirth when she was only 37. She had been working on a book to be called The Wrongs of Women, in which she argued that the best marriages were companionate, and that women should be free to express their sexuality. She had recently married William Godwin, a fellow writer, to legitimize the child they had conceived while living together. After Wollstonecraft's death, the grieving widower wrote a tell-all biography of his beloved, revealing extramarital affairs, suicide attempts and a previous child. Scandalous! By embodying her political principles in her personal life, Wollstonecraft gave her critics the ammunition required to marginalize her. She was reviled as immoral. Fogies like Horace Walpole described whirlwind Mary and her ilk as "hyenas in petticoats." Her ideas were dismissed. Her radical manifesto was swamped by the wave of Victorian conformity.

But Wollstonecraft is not so easily forgotten. The daughter she bore to Godwin was another Mary - Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, an enduringly popular Gothic horror story with a deadly serious theme. John Stuart Mill kept Wollstonecraft's ideas in the progressive mainstream with his 1869 book, The Subjection of Women (probably co-written with his wife, Harriet Tyler Mill).

And Wollstonecraft herself has had her revenge, as Virginia Woolf would exult. "As we ... listen to her arguments ... and realize the high-handed and hot-blooded manner in which she cut her way to the quick of life, one form of immortality is hers undoubtedly: ... We hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living."

Charlotte Gray is the author, most recently, of a biography of Nellie McClung in the Penguin series Extraordinary Canadians.



Men complain, and with reason, of the follies and caprices of our sex, when they do not keenly satirize our headstrong passions and grovelling vices.

Behold, I should answer, the natural effect of ignorance! The mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices to rest on, and the current will run with destructive fury when there are no barriers to break its force.

Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and should they be beautiful, every thing else is needless, for, at least, twenty years of their lives. ... Weakness may excite tenderness, and gratify the arrogant pride of man; but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for, and deserves to be respected. Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship!

Vindication of the Rights of Women, Chapter 2

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Book about Maher Arar

Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar
Written by Monia Mazigh
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
October 2008

For those of you who don't know, Maher Arar was a Canadian citizen (Born in Syria) who was returning to Canada from North Africa after visiting relatives. He had a Canadian passport, and he was changing planes at JFK airport in New York City in USA.

He was arrested by the US immigrations, accused of being a terrorist and sent to Syria to be tortured. This is a practice called RENDITION and is supported by the US government - well the BUSH administration anyway. We will have to wait and see what Obama does.

Arar's wife Monia had no idea that her husband had not returned home, as she was still in North Africa with her family. It was not until she arrived back in Canada to discover that he was not at home. That is when her terror, and her struggle began.

After Arar returned home, he filed a lawsuit against both the Canadian and American governments. The Canadian government apologised and paid him about $10 million. The US government refuses to accept responsibility, refuses to apologise for their wrong doing, still refuses to remove Arar's name from the terrorist no-fly list and the USA still claims that he is a terrorist.

Monia has written a book - which was released in October this year. I have not read this book, but I do want to get it and read it ASAP. Below is the blurb on the book.

This is the inspiring story of Monia Mazigh’s courageous fight to free her husband, Maher Arar, from a Syrian jail.

On September 26, 2002, Maher Arar boarded an American Airlines plane bound for New York, returning early from vacation with his family because a work project needed his attention. He was a Canadian citizen, a telecommunications engineer and entrepreneur who had never been in trouble with the law. His nightmare began when he was pulled aside by Immigration officials at JFK airport, questioned, held without access to a lawyer, and ultimately deported to Syria on the suspicion that he had terrorist links. He would remain there, tortured and imprisoned for over one year. Meanwhile his wife, Monia, and their two children stayed on visiting family in Tunisia, unaware that their lives were about to be torn apart.

Upon her return to Canada, Monia was horrified at the media’s and public’s willingness to assume that the Canadian police and intelligence agencies, and their American counterparts, take on her husband as a terrorist was correct. She began a tireless campaign to bring public attention and government action to her husband’s plight, eventually turning the tide of public opinion in Arar’s favour, and gaining his release and return to Canada. Of her willingness to speak out, she has said that she was never afraid: “I had lost my life. I didn’t have more to lose.”

This is a remarkable story of personal courage, and of an extraordinary woman who lets us into her life so that other Canadians can understand the denial of rights and the discarding of human rights her family suffered. Candid, poignant, and inspiring, this is the most important book of the season.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

An Interview with Neil Gaiman

Bookslut Interview with Neil Gaiman from Jessa Crispin on Vimeo.
16 minutes

Bookslut (Jessa Crispin) interviewed Neil Gaiman recently and this is it.
In this interview, he mentions his blog.
Neil Gaiman wrote Neverwhere (one of my favourites) and Stardust and American Gods and the Sandman graphic novel (aka comic books) series.
His new book is called The Graveyard Book.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

War and Peace - 50 Greatest Books

War and Peace
Written By Leo Tolstoy.
Review by Donna Tussing

Two connected events — Russia's defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the subsequent emancipation of the serfs in 1861 — helped inspire Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1865-69).

Emancipation precipitated a crisis, economic and social, that forced Russians to try to re-invent themselves as a people. Tolstoy, having fought in the war, and fully aware of the challenges posed by emancipation, wrote an epic novel about a pivotal event, the War of 1812, in which the country united to expel a foreign invader.

It is no accident that the novel rallied Russians during the German invasion in the Second World War. For Russians and non-Russians alike, it provides a template for "Russianness" that is as much model as mirror. And at the same time, it has inspired writers of other nationalities, such as India's Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy), to imagine the foundations of their own societies.

War and Peace "speaks to your very gizzard," as philosopher William James put it.

No other historical novel seems so real and so universal. Every character in it — however much a historical and social type, from peasant partisan Shcherbatyi to Napoleon — is also endowed with a psychologically comprehensible inner life. Each, from Princess Marya with her heavy step to General Kutuzov with his waddling one, has a physical presence.

Events are described from the point of view of individuals who participate in them. Readers are along for the ride, body and soul. It takes time to develop such characters and reveal a world through their eyes; hence the novel's great length. To make us concentrate on details in such a long book, Tolstoy divided it into 15 parts, each of which has many, many chapters. The world of the novel is assembled from various sources: personal, literary, historical and even philosophical.

Tolstoy's art evolved out of his early diaries, and in War and Peace, as always, he mined himself for psychological insight. He drew on his own wartime experience (as a newly minted officer like Nikolai Rostov, or an ambitious adjutant like Prince Andrei, or a front-line artillery officer like Captain Tushin).

He debunked romantic versions of war, and to this extent parodied previous literature. But he also learned from such works as the Odyssey, Stendhal's Charterhouse of Parma and Alexander Pushkin's The Captain's Daughter. Fantasy plays a large organizing role in the novel, and contributes to its charm.

When Pierre inherits a great fortune; when Andrei, MIA after the Battle of Austerlitz, arrives home for the birth of his son; when Natasha Rostova and Pierre, and then Nikolai and Princess Marya, finally get together — these results satisfy us deeply. They are balanced by tragedies, such as the deaths of several major characters, to keep the novel honest.

To conjure up a past epoch, Tolstoy read thousands of pages of history, memoirs and letters, incorporating large chunks of them into the novel almost unchanged. He exploited family and family history for inspiration: For instance, in early drafts, the Rostovs were Tolstoys. Finally, as the novel expanded during its writing, he developed a controversial and influential philosophy of war and history.

An omniscient narrator guides us through events and between characters. Occasionally, more often in later parts, he breaks out in digressions. The novel has two epilogues, the first divided between fictional narrative and philosophical reflections by the narrator, and the second, all reflection.

The author, Tolstoy, as part of his attempt to write a book with everything in it, from fairy tales to philosophy, allows himself to comment on his own creation through this disembodied voice. The voice can be openly didactic, but it does not subordinate the whole fictional world to itself. The natural and epic resist its moral teaching.

At the end of the novel, Andrei's young son, Prince Nikolenka, still wants to go to war, and Pierre, about to join a conspiracy (the 1825 Decembrist Uprising) that was the original subject of the novel, casts aside the lessons of his earlier disastrous attempt to affect history.

War and Peace is the greatest description ever penned of what modern warfare and a modern army feel like to participants. Combat soldiers find words in it for what they could not previously explain to themselves or others.

The novel has schooled all subsequent war writers in these matters, including Stephen Crane and Ernest Hemingway. War is hell in it, but hell has benefits for those who must go there. If you want to know why, for good or ill, people will always be willing to fight wars, read War and Peace.

Donna Tussing Orwin teaches Russian literature at the University of Toronto. She is the author and editor of several books on Tolstoy. In April, she was awarded the Pushkin Prize by President Vladimir Putin for contributions to the study of Russian culture and language.

This is entry number 44 for the 50 Greatest Books series. Just 6 more to go.

Politics and the NZ election

Well, New Zealand, true to form, you did it again. You voted for change. National won 45% and Labour 34% of the vote. The minor parties got the rest. Always you have to change after the 3rd term. You put National back into office right when a recession is about to hit. And you voted for a newbie too - one with no experience.

National has a reputation of cutting welfare benefits when things get tough. They have done it before and I can guarantee you they WILL DO IT AGAIN. BUT they never never cut their own salaries. NO that would be just too hard.

I am very disappointed. but since I dont live there anymore, there is nothing I can do. I will however keep an eye on NZ.

Friday, November 7, 2008

In the Land of Invisible Women - Book Review

In the Land of Invisible Women
Qanta Ahmed
Source Books

Qanta Ahmed is a British-Born Doctor of Pakistani ancestry. She is also a Muslim. Her parents left Pakistan during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Qanta grew up speaking English and Urdu, and knew just enough Arabic to read the Koran. She attended the University of Nottingham Medical School in England where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in medical sciences and a medical degree. After an internship year in England, Qanta completed her residency in New York City at the Staten Island University Hospital. This was followed by fellowships in pulmonary, critical care and sleep disorders medicine.

In early 2000 Qanta's application to work in USA was denied by the US government, so she had to scramble to find a job. She eventually chose the King Fahad National Guard Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where she worked as an attending Intensivist for 2 years. It must also be stated that Dr Ahmed returned to Riyadh to visit friends a number of times after her initial 2 year contract ended.

This book is about the 2 years she spent in Saudi Arabia as a woman and how she was forced to become invisible. In Saudi Arabia Women are treated as second class citizens - from the western point of view.

Dr Ahmed tells the story of her Hajj - the pilgrimage every Muslim is expected to make to Mecca as often as possible and at least once in their life times. I love the details and stories and history she tells about her pilgrimage. Details that are not normally given out to non-muslims. This is probably the first time I have been able to read and know the details of how to make a Hajj.

Dr Ahmed describes being attacked by the Clothes Police - the Muttaween (or Muttawa - singular) whren she was out with someone who allowed a veil or hijab to slip from her face and hair in public. Below is an example of what the Mutaween mean but it is not how they say it.

You have a beautiful face, and you are certainly very attractive. But your face is uncovered, and that is not the right thing to do. It is not religious and attracts needless attention from strangers, and that is very inappropriate, especially with so many males around. You must veil your face completely when you are out in public. Your beauty is your property, and not for others to see. Even your hands must be gloved to minimize any unwarranted attention. That is the right thing to do.

It may be an old tradition but it is NOT following Islam because it is NOT in the Qu'ran.

Qanta discovered that there is NOTHING in the Quran that says that women should cover their faces. Prophet Muhammad said: If the woman reaches the age of puberty, no part of her body should be seen but this (and he pointed to his face and hands). Covering their face is something imposed by the Religious Police, there is no basis at all for it in the Quran or the other sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

From the Saudi point of view, women are treated like possessions and seriously over-protected. Basically women are usually treated by Saudi men as if they have no brain and no intelligence and that they are good only for bearing children. Saudi women were not allowed to drive or to buy music or to run a business. The women must always be driven or accompanied by a male relative when they are outside the house. Saudis were not permitted to work as nurses or nannies, as janitors and cleaners, housekeepers, or drivers. Hundreds of people come from Asia every year to work in Saudi Arabia and do those jobs.

Below is a Saudi view of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia. This comes from The Religious Police blog written by a Saudi resident in 2004.

Violence apart, consider the lot of the average Saudi woman.

As a young girl, she can play out in the street with the young boys.
When puberty comes, she must retire inside, only appearing in public in abaya and veil.
She has no opportunity to seek her own marriage partner. She is dependent upon her family to find one, and one who can afford the dowry. She can say "no", but not too often, otherwise the introductions will stop.
Her husband can divorce her with relative ease.
Her husband can marry up to 3 other wives. Yes, in material terms, he must treat them equally. But his affection will obviously not be split 4 ways.
If she is caught herself in adultery, she will be stoned to death. Yes, it happens, it's just not reported these days.
She has equality of education. Like men, she can go to university. However her career choice is limited.
She can work in the Ladies' branch of a bank. She can teach female pupils. That's about it. She can't even, at the moment, be a flight attendant on Saudi Aiirlines. If she's very lucky, she can work in the "ladies only" floor of the Kingdom Shopping Center in Riyadh. But she can't work on the perfume counter of a regular shop, or in a lingerie shop; you'll find Lebanese men doing that.
She may well be wealthy in her own right, and own a business. However she can't manage it, if that would bring her into contact with men.
She can't drive. She can of course walk to the shops. Try that wearing black artificial fiber head-to-toe, in temperatures up to 50 celsius. (We men, of course, wear cool white cotton). Drivers are within the reach of many family incomes; but leave them at the door of the shopping center, otherwise you'll both be arrested.
She'll find it difficult to go out "with the girls". Many restaurants will not allow a group of unaccompanied women in. Same problem by herself. The safest way to get into the "Family" section of a restaurant, is with husband and / or children.
She can of course entertain her lady friends at home. That assumes her husband allows it. Many Saudi homes have bars on the windows, and the women are locked in during the day.
At home, she can do whatever she wants to amuse herself. However, there are clearly few opportunities to fulfil herself. Typically, therefore, she will start a family early. We have one of the highest birth-rates in the world.
If she has domestic problems, there is no network of support groups. Her family may help, it depends. Having got her married with some difficulty, they may be unwilling to take her back again.
The story of women in Saudi Arabia is one of unending tragedy. They are our mothers, our wives, our daughters, yet on the whole we treat them like our cattle. It's a story that needs to change.

In 2004 Rania Al-Baz, a news anchor on Saudi TV. was beated and almost killed by her Saudi husband because she was showing her face in public (on TV). She allowed her father to take pictures or her body, her bruises and her broken bones (she had 13 fractures) and sent the pictures to the BBC news so that the world could see how women in Saudi Arabia were treated if they did not stay invisible. Rania later fled from Saudi Arabia with her children and is now living in Western Europe.

There are two stories, that Qanta tells, that impressed on me what life is like in Saudi Arabia.

One is the story of Reem, a woman doctor who was accepted at the University of Toronto (Canada) to do a Fellowship in Vascular medicine. While her father was proud of all that she had accomplished, he declined to give her permission to leave the country UNLESS she was engaged or married. She was a 30 year old woman who had no interest in getting married - BUT she had a dream. To be a vascular surgeon.

So Reem got engaged to a nice man that her parents chose for her. The book does not say if Reem went to Toronto. She did have a farewell party. But then Qanta moves into a new topic. The only thing that Qanta says at the end of the book is that Reem never operated again and had 3 daughters. Presumably her husband did not allow her to work upon her return from Canada.

The other story is that of a young boy who was stabbed by a fellow school mate. The boy was rushed to the National Guard hospital where Qanta was working and was pronounced DOA. BUT his body was put onto life support. When Qanta asked why, she was told that the family of the boy who was on life support, had the right to demand retribution from the family of the boy who did the stabbing.

In Saudi Arabia, a boy is considered an adult as soon as they get ONE hair growing in their private parts. And this boy (who was stabbed) had ONE hair. (probably aged around 12 or 13). This retribution was permitted in one of two forms. Revenge or blood money. All perfectly legal under Islam.

The family whose boy was on the life support machines had asked for a large sum of money to be paid for the boys life, OR the boy who did the stabbing was to be executed - excution being the standard adult sentence for murder.

The boy on the life machine stayed there for several weeks while the other boys family desperately tried to raise the money required to pay the dead boys family. Eventually they did, so the boy who did the stabbing literally got away with murder. The dead boy was finally taken off life support and buried.

Qanta was still in Saudi Arabia, nearing the end of her 2 year contract when the attacks of 9-11 happened. She quickly discovered that the Saudis were happy that the USA had been attacked and that the USA was hated because of their close relationship with Israel. The Israelis are killing the (Palestinian) Arabs in Gaza and in the West Bank. But the Saudi Arabian government refuses to do anything to help the Palestinians. As does the rest of the world.

Qanta also mentioned that it has been suggested that the Palestinians be allowed to live in Saudi Arabia. There is PLENTY of room in that country. But it turns out that the Saudis are also racist. Anyone who is not a pure Saudi Arab is looked down and made to do the dirty jobs. The nurses, the drivers, the nannies, the janitors and cleaners - they are all non-saudis (Pakistanis, Palestinians and Syrians) as well as Asians. This why there are so many foreigners in the country.

There apparently is a new law that says that women are now allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. BUT according to the RELIGIOUS POLICE blog, the women are only allowed to drive in the rural desert areas. They must still stay off the main highways and out of the cities in their cars. The reason women can drive in the desert is because there is very little enforcement. Women in the cities MUST STILL have a male chauffeur/driver.

When Qanta left Saudi Arabia, she went back to England and worked there for a short time. She is now working as a Pulmonary and Sleep disorders Specialist in North Carolina, USA.

This is an excellent book to read, if you really want to know what it is like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia today.

DO NOT read further if you do not wish to read my opinions about the world today. These are MY OPINIONS, based on my reading and observing of events ocurring over the last 8 years.

The following paragraphs are some observations by myself having gleaned a few clues while readng this book. These comments are NOT aimed at any specific readers of this blog. The names of any countries used, refer to the governments of those countries only.

The religion of Islam is based on justice and revenge. An eye for an eye. This is the number one misunderstanding of the Western world towards the Middle East. This is why the Middle East will ALWAYS be a volcano waiting to explode as long as outside countries (USA, Israel and UK particularly) continue to tell the Arabs (and Persians) what do to and how to live.

The USA HAS ALREADY LOST the war in Iraq. The sooner the Americans accept this and leave the better the faster the situation will calm down. Who cares if it shows the Americans as weak - they were weak and stupid to even go into Iraq in the first place. Because as long as the Americans stay in Iraq and keep telling the Iraqis what to do and as long as the Americans continue killing Iraqi families, the Iraqi people will NEVER stop fighting back. Why should they? Their Qu'ran says that the justice is theirs and they can take an eye for an eye and Allah will reward them.

In Islam the Quran permits exact and equivalent retribution. The Quran, however, softens the law of an eye for an eye by urging mankind to accept less compensation than that inflicted upon him or her by a Muslim, or to forgive altogether. In other words, Islam does not deny Muslims the ability to seek retaliation in the equal measure. But it does, however promote forgiveness and the acceptance of blood money not as a mandatory requisite, but rather as a good deed that will be eventually rewarded. [wikipedia]

Iraq did not break any rules. They did NOT have any WMD. The major reasons for Bush to INVADE Iraq were - 1 to remove Saddam Huseein who was no longer under the control of the US government. He had invaded Kuwait in 1990 and wanted to sell his oil using another currency other than the dollar. He was now following his own agenda to help the Iraqi people. Number 2 was for the oil. Bush promised that the oil of Iraq would PAY for the war. That has never happened.

The same thing applies to Afghanistan as well. Again there will be no peace as long as the USA keeps telling the Afghans what to do and how to live their lives, and as long as the US keeps telling the Afghan people to STOP growing poppies (used in the production of drugs).

There is NO need for the USA to spread democracy around the world. Most other countries do NOT WANT Democracy. They see the hypocrisy where one country claims they are a democratic nation, and yet they torture people. Another country is committing genocide against the native population and the world sits by and does nothing. That country is not a democracy - although that country does claim to the "only democracy" in the middle East. That is a load of BULL, and the world knows it - or they SHOULD know it. Israel is a THEOCRACY. Everything is controlled by the Talmud. And the Talmud says that Arabs are like dogs - good only for killing.

For more details please see WHAT REALLY HAPPENED and the RELIGIOUS POLICE.
Thank you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Best-selling author Michael Crichton dies of cancer at age 66

Michael Crichton, the million-selling author of such historic and prehistoric science thrillers as "Jurassic Park," "Timeline" and "The Andromeda Strain," has died of cancer, his family said. He died Tuesday (yesterday) in Los Angeles at age 66 after a long battle with the illness.

Crichton was a brand-name author, known for his stories of disaster and systematic breakdown, such as the rampant microbe of "The Andromeda Strain" or dinosaurs running amok in "Jurassic Park," one of his many books that became major Hollywood movies.

"Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields, and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand," his family said in a statement.

The 6-foot-9-inch author was also a screenwriter and filmmaker, earning producing and writing credits for the film versions of many of his titles. He also created the TV hospital series "ER" in 1994.

In recent years, he was the rare writer to get on well with President George Bush, perhaps because of his skepticism about global warming, which Crichton addressed in the 2004 novel, "State of Fear."

But Crichton's views were strongly condemned by environmentalists, who alleged that the author was hurting efforts to pass legislation to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

A new novel by Crichton had been tentatively scheduled to come next month but publisher HarperCollins announced that the book was being postponed indefinitely because of his illness.

"While the world knew him as a great storyteller that challenged our preconceived notions about the world around us - and entertained us all while doing so - his wife Sherri, daughter Taylor, family and friends knew Michael Crichton as a devoted husband, loving father and generous friend who inspired each of us to strive to see the wonders of our world through new eyes," his family said.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Farley Mowat - Book Review

FARLEY:The Life of Farley Mowat
BY James King
Steer Forth Press, 2003
Reviewed by Paul Holler

I borrowed this review because it expresses my feelings about this book. This is a hard book to review.

The argument over whether a serious regard for facts is an important attribute for a writer is one of the issues taken up by author James King in his new biography of Mowat, Farley: The Life Of Farley Mowat.
Born in 1921 in Belleville, Ontario, Farley Mowat is one of the most widely read Canadian writers of our time. With such books as Never Cry Wolf, People of the Deer, A Whale for the Killing, And No Birds Sang and many others, Mowat has established a reputation as a storyteller, a historian, an environmental activist, a staunch Canadian nationalist, an advocate for indigenous peoples and a colorful character in his own right.
For readers familiar with Mowat's work, Mr. King's biography can provide a new view of the books, despite the fact that there is comparatively little discussion of the books themselves. But given that most of Mowat's books are autobiographical, learning about Mowat's life is itself an illumination of his work.
Consider, for instance, Never Cry Wolf , Mowat's classic tale of his time spent in the Arctic studying wolf behavior. One could come away from that book with the impression that the author is a scientist who writes about his experiences. But Mr. King's book makes it clear that Mowat is, first and foremost, a writer and that much of his early life was directed toward becoming a writer. While he participated in expeditions to the Arctic to further scientific knowledge, he was not primarily a scientist.
Mowat has often come under harsh criticism for changing the essential facts of his books even as they are touted as nonfiction. But Mr. King defends Mowat by emphasizing his passion for a more universal truth that outweighs the need to be factually accurate. In the case of Never Cry Wolf, King cites writer Thomas Dunlap, who saw the book as a fable in which a man is disconnected from the world around him by his scientific training only to have his eyes opened by actually becoming a part of that world again.
James King continues this argument later in the book by suggesting that Mowat's Sibir (published in the U.S. as The Siberians) is one of his weakest books. In Mr. King's view, this book is not as strong as it could have been precisely because the author was more concerned with presenting a factual account of his journey through Siberia and than with the larger meaning of the journey.
This is not to say, however, that the facts of Mowat's life are stale and tedious. Mr. King presents Mowat's life as a story in itself, complete with compelling characters such as "the marsh boy," a boyhood friend of Mowat's who lived a virtually wild life in the woods near the family's home. Likewise, Mowat's relationship with his father, a stern, demanding man whose approval he sought throughout his life, is the stuff of classic drama.
But it seems at times that the biographer gives little attention to some important aspects of Mowat's life. His experiences in World War II, for instance, are only briefly discussed, even though Mowat himself has said that his wartime experience shaped his view of humanity.
Mr. King tells a fascinating story of a writer who is as compelling a character as any he writes about and places his work in the context of his life. In the end, we are left with the portrait of a man with many flaws but with also with many gifts--a man who never lets smaller truths get in the way of larger ones.

I read this book for my ABM genre Canadian Book challenge. I found this book to be rather depressing. Farley did not treat both his wives very nicely at all. Nor did he have a good relationship with his parents. The friction between him and his parents was awful to read about. Farley also had trouble writing books about things he had not experienced. He had a tendency to expand on what he writing about and therefore some of his books are not factually accurate.

If you want to know about the REAL Farley Mowat, this is the book to read.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge

The Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge

I would LOVE to know how you can write a post and date it for 2 months in advance.

BUT this is another challenge I want to participate in. It is an offshoot from the Armchair Travellers Challenge that was so successful in 2007. This is a nice short challenge - just read 3 books in 3 months - and it overlaps my Food Challenge.

Here's how it works:

Rule #1: The challenge runs from January 1 to March 31. (No cheating and starting before!)

Rule #2: You must read three books. After that, it's up to you how much you want to read.

Rule #3: The books must:
have a food name in the title
be about cooking/eating
have a place name in the title
be about one (or more) person's travel experience
be about a specific culture
be by an author whose ethnicity is other than your own

I'll leave it up to you to choose how the three books you read fit the criteria.

Rule #4: They must be middle-grade on up, but can be either fiction or non-fiction.

The purpose, this winter, is to take yourself someplace out of the ordinary, to go on a literary trip, whether that be challenging your expectations, discovering a new place, or enjoying the experience of reading about good food, places, and people.

Politics and Books

I apologise for there being no recent book reviews. I currently have 6 books with book marks in them, all of which I am reading. BUT I am also following the US election campaigns, and the election is tomorrow, so for the last few days, my reading has slowed down a lot. I apologise for that. Once the election is over, I will start reading again. I have to keep an eye on this election because the US election result will affect Canada, as well as the rest of the world.

But there is also another election I have to keep an eye on as well. This one is in my birth country of New Zealand. It's being held on November 8th. Helen Clark has been the Prime Minister of new Zealand for the last 9 years (since 1999) and I think she has done a great job. But the fact is that NO PM has lasted past a 4th election (and for the two that did, they died early in their 4th terms).

For some reason the Kiwis always seem to feel that a change is needed after 9 years. NOT TRUE. And right on schedule there are murmurings in NZ of it now being time for a change.

BUT The world is currently in a financial crisis and I hardly think that this is the time for change or the time to put an inexperienced person in charge.

New Zealand - PLEASE for the sake of the country and your children's future - PLEASE do NOT vote Helen out. Thank you.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Shakespeare Challenge 2009


Ok I am going to host a new Shakespeare challenge using the exact same rules as the last challenge.

The rules are simple - you can read anything about or related to shakespeare - fiction or non fiction, straight bio or authorship debate - and you can read the plays and sonnets as well.

This time instead of 6 months, I'm going to make this one 12 months (a whole year) and you need to read 6 books instead of 4. That way you read an average of 1 book every 2 months. That shouldn't be too hard.

Starts January 1st 2009
Ends December 31st 2009
Challenge Blog

The reason I am doing this is...

1 - because I picked up a biography of Christopher Marlow today
and thats got me reminiscing about Shakespeare, and

2 - I did not finish the last challenge and it was my own challenge. This time I have to finish it.

Also there are several blogger names still listed as contributors.
If you want to do this challenge again, then just tell me and do nothing further until January 1st when it starts.
If you want your name to be removed, send me an email and tell me, and I will remove it.
And if you want to do this challenge and you did not do the last one - then send me an email and I will send you an invite.

I can be contacted on cesca_nz [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

How Pierre Berton did it all

Berton A Biography
By A.B. McKillop
McClelland and Stewart

As my readers will know, I am a huge admirer of Pierre Berton. He died in 2004. Last month his biography was finally released. If the name McKillop sounds familiar, thats because I reviewed another of his books earlier this year.

So here is the Globe and Mail review of Berton A Biography.

At last we see how Pierre Berton did it. The magnitude of the man's multifaceted achievement, that decades-long career as the uncrowned King of Canada, remains astounding: Besides his 50 books, Berton wrote more than 100 feature articles for Maclean's and 1,000 columns for the Toronto Star.

But thanks to this excellent biography by A. B. McKillop, finally we begin to grasp how, while publishing more than a million words of journalism, doing countless radio spots, hosting The Pierre Berton Show and starring on Front Page Challenge, Berton managed to produce one massive bestseller after another, books such as Klondike, The Comfortable Pew, The Smug Minority, The National Dream, The Last Spike, The Invasion of Canada, Vimy and The Arctic Grail.

Berton's method was to become successful enough as a journalist and TV personality that he could maintain a support staff of skilled professionals. He was fond of insisting that he only ever used a single researcher, and that is roughly true: The renowned Barbara Sears served with distinction and got paid accordingly, receiving a percentage of royalties.

But what Berton tended to gloss over was that in his heyday, while his capable, ex-journalist wife kept the home fires burning in Kleinburg, just north of Toronto, he also employed a superb substantive editor, a full-time secretary, assistants and expert readers as necessary (Michael Bliss, are you there?); above all, as business mastermind, organizer, negotiator, promoter par excellence and psychological protector, the formidable Elsa Franklin.

Having created this elite attack squad, and given that he was an experienced journalist with a terrific sense of story, and also a workaholic of stupendous, almost superhuman energy - essentially a writing machine - well, it's no wonder that Berton managed to transform himself into an iconic figure. Love him or hate him, all through the 1960s, '70s and '80s, short of hiding under a rock, you could not get away from the ubiquitous Berton.

In this evenhanded, judicious and authoritative work, McKillop does justice to the colossus. He presents the story of Berton, so much a man of his times, within the context of those times, and he does so wisely and well, highlighting his subject's strengths while pinpointing his weaknesses. He shows, finally, how, after a long, long, long stand atop the heap, the extroverted Berton, who grew up through the Great Depression and served without seeing action in the Second World War, finally found himself out of sync with the times.

Certainly, the book has weaknesses. It starts slowly and develops predictably, a slave to chronology. But this is an academically conventional, cradle-to-grave biography, and those are the shortcomings not of this work but of the genre. If it is relentlessly expository rather than scenic, and looks nothing like any book Berton himself would have written, the work is all the more interesting for that.

Here we find an unabashed academic - McKillop is chairman of the history department at Carleton University - taking on a narrative historian who created a wildly successful career while constantly battling university-based critics and nitpickers, most of them squirming with envy. The good news is that McKillop gets it. He appreciates that Berton was writing for an audience of intelligent non-specialists: people who would read history as educational entertainment, but had no patience for the abstruse theorizing of those writing for their specialist peers, always with one eye on the tenure track.

Of course, as a cultural historian, McKillop puts this differently, observing that writers of academic and popular history "served different purposes and readerships." The former "sold their points of view to colleagues on the grounds that what they were saying was new and innovative." The latter "sold their stories to the public by describing the very experience of those events. ... The two tasks were different, and neither was more legitimate than the other."

McKillop makes the case that to academics, Berton was a maverick who played by his own rules. There existed no well-defined place in Canada for a serious popular historian who emerged from the conventions not of academe, but of journalism, so those who regarded themselves as the sole certified guardians of the past, feeling threatened by this ebullient Hercules, defaulted into attack mode.

McKillop himself is less interested in Berton as historian than as larger-than-life personality and Canadian icon. Early on, he worried that his subject "risked being remembered primarily for his contributions to Canadian history: as Mr. Canada, the popular historian." While acknowledging that, for almost 30 years, Berton was "the premier chronicler of Canadian history," McKillop felt that "measured against the backdrop of his times, his life was of much greater canvas and significance than this."

The biographer suggests that the most important and revealing years of Berton's life were those between his 1947 arrival in Toronto as a hungry young journalist from Vancouver, and the 1970 publication of The National Dream. During those years, he observes, Berton moved beyond local celebrity to become "a controversial national figure known to virtually every Canadian."

He also stresses that Berton made his name when "Canadian celebrity" was a contradiction in terms. His analysis of how Berton did this - not just by becoming omnipresent in the media, but by remaining, until near the end, uniquely in tune with the country at large - is alone worth the price of admission.

For the rest, the epic saga is well known. Pierre Berton (1920-2004) was born in Whitehorse and grew up in Dawson City, Yukon. He discovered newspapering while attending university in Victoria and Vancouver, and shone brightly enough as a West Coast newshound that Maclean's magazine came calling from Toronto. Through it all, and for years afterward, Berton kept growing.

McKillop does turn up the fact that Berton's father, Frank, spent 10 years, from 6 to almost 16, in a New Brunswick orphanage. And he writes that Berton himself "did not know about his father's years at the Wiggins institution." Elsewhere, he suggests that this ignorance may have been feigned, the result of "a glance away by the son."

Proceeding methodically, even doggedly, McKillop guides us through some rough patches without losing focus - the embarrassingly jejune Sordsmen's Club, for example, whose 20 or so male members entertained female guests with five-hour luncheons, where they would make clear their expectations: "Late in the afternoon, couples would disappear, sometimes upstairs."

In the end, blemishes, weaknesses, warts and all, Pierre Berton remains standing, a friendly giant. And we emerge from his story dazzled anew, knowing that we will not see his like again.

Ken McGoogan, a winner of the Pierre Berton Award for History, has sojourned in Berton House in Dawson City. He has just published Race to the Polar Sea: The Heroic Adventures and Romantic Obsessions of Elisha Kent Kane.

681 pages, $37.99

It will be a while before I can afford to buy this. I may have to get it from the library or wait for the paperback.

Anton Chekov - 50 Greatest Authors

Anton Chekhov: The story master
Globe and Mail
November 1, 2008

This is actually one of the 50 Greatest Books.

"What does Grandma have to say about Chekhov?" Claire asked her brother over the Internet.

Their grandmother woke up at 10 every day, played the piano or, if her legs were strong that day, went downstairs for the mail. She behaved with dignity and severity, and was considered the most cultured person in the family.

"She's dozing," Mischa wrote.
Later, he relayed the question.
"I'm very impressed with him," Grandmother replied. "In a few lines, with a few words, he can create a life, an atmosphere — and recreate his own country."
"Have you read Errand, Raymond Carver's beautiful story about the death of Chekhov?" Mischa asked.
"Like Tchaikovsky creates the country in Eugene Onegin," Grandma added.
"Actually, Carver took most his stories from Chekhov," Claire added. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love comes directly from About Love."
"We have eight notes in music," Grandma said. "When Tchaikovsky uses them, it's nothing like Strauss.
"When Chekhov writes a story, the people are from a country not anything like America, or France — nothing but Russia."
"This is true!" Claire exclaimed. "Except that when I was reading the stories last night, I was thinking how very much these 19th-century Russians seemed exactly like people I know."

Mischa sat with his grandmother in the drawing room of her apartment in W______ as the stale warmth of midday faintly percolated through the lowered blinds. The opera librettos, the morsel of blueberry muffin still in its wax paper casing, the dish of almonds covered in grey fuzz, all were exactly as they had always been.

"How do you correspond with her?" Grandma asked. "You confound my brain. You get already her answer."
"Mischa, what's your favourite Chekhov story, and why?" Claire wrote.
"Lady with a Lapdog. I love that story."
"What do you think makes it so great?"
"The watermelon."
"The watermelon?"
"Yes, that's the touch of the master."

Claire searched for the passage. The text was accompanied by an advertisement for unlimited long-distance calling.
"It's wrong," she said. "You will be the first to despise me now."
There was a watermelon on the table. Gurov cut himself a slice and began eating it without haste. There followed at least half an hour of silence.
"In any case, I don't think you can say anything new about Chekhov," Mischa wrote. "I think it's sufficient to say the same old things.
"About his sensitivity to humanity — how he doesn't waste a word, you know — he lets the story speak for itself!"
Claire raised her eyes from the glowing computer screen to the window-pane.

Rain clouds were gathering in the east. The gulls stood, wretched, in muddy puddles on the soot-streaked rooftops.
It occurred to her that if this were a story by Chekhov, he wouldn't write, "The weather was depressing." No, he'd describe the squish-squish of the wet overcoats . . .

"These stories are harder to write than they look," she wrote at last.
"That's why he has many imitators, no equals," Mischa responded.
"If this were a story in the style of Chekhov, it would have an inconclusive ending. Because real life doesn't have neat endings.
"In fact, if I wrote an ending, he'd instruct me to cut it," Claire wrote.
"But it has to end at a moment of emotional balance. When you can see forward and backward in life equally, and when the reader is perfectly in the position of the protagonist.
"The reader can't know more, or less, at the end than the protagonist."
"No, that's not true. The reader knows what Chekhov knows, which is a lot more than the protagonist."
"I disagree. Chekhov knows lots more than we do. After all, he invented the characters. He's withholding information. Take Lady with a Lapdog."

And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.

"That's the ending," Mischa wrote. "We have no more idea than the protagonist what will happen next.
"But we've gone from being relative strangers to them to being completely absorbed into their position. They don't know what will happen next, and neither do we."
"But in other stories, like Misery, we see far more than the protagonist!
"Most of his characters fail completely to communicate with each other, but we understand them — because Chekhov does.
"That's the same point Carver makes in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Only the writer really understands."
"Well, all right then!" Mischa replied agreeably. "And mention how David Bezmozgis is the greatest practitioner alive of Chekhovian stories."
"Every short story writer of the 20th century, if he's written a good story, is compared to Chekhov. Even The Sopranos ends with a Chekhovian trailing off . . . "

Mischa reported that Grandma had taken her worn volume of Chekhov from the shelf and was buried nose-deep in it.
The dusty pages of the book were covered, like all her books, in her ornate Central European script.
Claire asked: "What else is happening in W________?"

Claire Berlinski lives in Istanbul. Her new book is "There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters."