Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Chapter 2

This is my 6 year old medieval knight. This is what he will be wearing tonight when he goes out trick & treating. He also gets to wear this to school in the afternoon but without the sword & shield. The school notice says NO props or weapons of any kind. The cape my son is wearing comes from the Superman outfit he wore when he was 4. At that age the cape went down to his ankles!!!!

Our local community centre is putting on a Halloween party tonight - with face painting, cookie decorating, fortune telling and a Fun House of Horrors. Anyone who completes all the activities and goes through the House of Horrors gets a treat when they exit - most likely it will be a candy bag.

I've seen some cute costumes at the daycare already. A girl dressed up very nicely as Dracula and a young boy dressed up as Indiana Jones complete with whip AND hat. I will try and get photos if at all possible and if it is allowed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The first snow of the year.

Its not even officially winter yet (that does not start until December 21st) and it snowed briefly today in Downtown Toronto. Not more than an hour. The snow did not settle - because the ground is not cold enough yet. Right now - less than 2 hours after the snow flurries - we have a blue sky and the sun is shining.

This years Santa Parade will be on November 16th. Whether or not we will go depends on the weather. If its is too cold and snowing, we can always watch it on TV.

The flurries we got today were the left overs of a storm that covered Quebec and Eastern Ontario. Some parts of Ontario have lost power.

Monday, October 27, 2008

As the loonie dives, book prices hold steady

As the loonie dives, book prices hold steady

It's a good time for Canadians to buy books, even as the Canadian dollar has hit its lowest level in three years, because the prices on book jackets were set when the loonie was roughly on par with the U.S. dollar.

Canadian publishers were criticized last year for not adjusting book prices quickly enough when the Canadian dollar hit par. At the time, the Collected Works bookstore in downtown Ottawa was one of the first to sell books at the lower American price. But the store's co-owner, Christopher Smith said on Thursday, as the dollar started to drop again, that offer has to end. "We said we really can't continue this model of par pricing, because we'll just go out of business," Smith said. The dollar's now fallen to below 80 cents US, but again the price on the book jacket doesn't reflect that.

Prices are set and printed months before the books hit the shelves. That means that right now, books are a bargain," Smith said. "Like Neal Stephenson's new novel Anathem, it's $29.95 US, and it's $31.95 Canadian. But, if I went at today's [currency] rate, it should be $39.95 Canadian. That's a 10-buck difference. That's another book," Smith said.

As a retailer, Smith said, he's not the one taking the hit for that price difference. "I'm glad that I'm not a publisher," he said. Harper Collins Canada publishes the Stephenson book. The publisher's CEO, David Kent, watches the exchange rate every day, because most of the books it sells are imports from the United States.

"We import 75 per cent of the books we sell," he said. "The difficulty for us is, when we adjust price, you won’t see it on books in the stores for a month in advance ... right now U.S. books are a tremendous bargain, priced less than they would be in the U.S.," Kent said.

"This is the perfect storm [for us]. Consumers not rushing out, the value of our dollar just dropped. So basically, we have a double whammy. The only thing we can do is look at our costs. The last thing in the world I want to do is put someone out of work."

If prices go up, Kent said, it won't be on the book jackets until the new year, after the busiest book-selling season.

Last year in December, I posted a vent about how the difference between Canadian and US book prices were so bad, the US publishers were making all the profits and the Canadians were being gouged. At that time, the Canadian dollar and the US dollar were at parity - they were both (more or less) the same value. And it stayed that for the most of this year.

But in the last 2 months, the Canadian dollar has dropped in value so much and so quickly, that the book prices are still lagging behind. Canadians can buy books at US prices even through the Canadian dollar is NOT currently at equal value with the US dollar.

The Gilded Seal Book Review

The Gilded Seal
By James Twining
Harper Collins 2007

In 1911 the Mona Lisa painting was stolen from the Louvre in Paris. It was recovered in 1913.

Now it is 2007 (almost 100 years later). What if... What if another attempt is going to be made to steal the Mona Lisa and replace it with a forgery?

In England former art thief Tom Kirk is called to a castle in Scotland where a valuable painting has been stolen. It is called Madonna of the Yarnwinder. A gambling chip is left at the scene. This tells Tom immediately who committed this crime.

While Tom is in Scotland, a piece of Napoleon memorabilia is stolen from a museum in England and the security camera shows the profile of a man. Tom recognizes the profile and flies to France to see him and find out why he stole the napoleon piece. Tom discovers that he is to late. The man is dead, so Tom starts looking for the killer.

In New York FBI agent Jennifer Browne is asked by a gentleman to find out which of two paintings is the original. This painting is called Vase de Fleurs, Lilas by Paul Gauguin. There is an art auction due to be held in Paris soon. The catalogue shows this exact painting listed for sale. So the gentleman wishes to know, which painting is the original. The one in Paris, or his?

Jennifer visits the man who sold this gentleman his painting. She dislikes him and he is acting suspiciously so Jennifer decides to investigate him. Most of his clients to whom he sells paintings are Japanese. But the question is, where does he get his paintings?

Jennifer follows the trail to Paris, and accidently meets up with Tom. Together they discover that there is a forgery ring that has been around for a number of years making forgeries and selling them off as the originals. One of these was the Yarnwinder and another is the Mona Lisa. Tom and Jennifer discover that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is also a forgery. It has been since it was recovered in 1913. The Louvre know this and have kept it quiet. The Louvre have to keep quiet or their reputation is in ruins.

Tom and Jennifer find the forgery group and attempt to catch the leader, a man named Milo. It is discovered that the forgery was actually committed by Napoleon, and that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre was a forgery even before it was stolen in 1911.

The last line we read is Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo....
(which of these paintings goes on show?)

An excellent and exciting story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I usually do enjoy any well written art crime story. I love art - if you didn't already know that. I hope this is only a story and that there are no real life rumours of the Mona Lisa being a forgery. That would be a disaster.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Riverkeepers Book Review

Think Globally - Act Locally

The RiverKeepers
By Robert Kennedy and John Cohen
Scribner; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (April 13, 1999)

This is the story of the grassroots environmental movement that began in the 1960s and rose to become one of the most important environmental groups in the USA. It is called River Keeper. The Riverkeeper's job is to look after and protect the Hudson River from pollution, and to keep the fish safe and edible.

Robert Francis Kennedy Jr was 14 years old when his father was assassinated in 1968. In 1983, Kennedy was arrested in Rapid City South Dakota Airport for heroin possession. Upon entering a plea of guilty, Kennedy, then 29 years old, was sentenced to two years probation, periodic tests for drug use, treatment by joining Narcotics Anonymous, and 1,500 hours of community service by Presiding Judge Marshall P. Young.

In 1984, Kennedy joined the Riverkeeper organization to satisfy the 1,500 hours community service to which he was sentenced. He worked with the group to sue alleged polluters of the Hudson River. After his 1,500 hours were complete, the group hired Kennedy as its chief prosecuting attorney. Riverkeeper was founded in 1966 by a group of fishermen and residents from New York.

Kennedy also founded, and is the current chairman of, the umbrella organization, Waterkeeper Alliance, which connects and supports local waterkeeper groups. Today there are 180 waterkeeper programs worldwide operating under the trademarked Riverkeeper, Lakekeeper, Baykeeper, or Coastkeeper names.

Since 1987 Kennedy has served as a Clinical Professor of Environmental Law and co-director of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law. The clinic allows second and third year law students to try cases against alleged Hudson River polluters. Kennedy also serves as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit organization based in New York which works to expand environmental laws and restrict land use. [Source - Wikipedia]

This Book was co authored by Kennedy and John Cohen. Cohen was the first full time Riverkeeper on the Hudson River in the 1980s. This book is about how the Riverkeeper program started and how it was built up. The only way to keep the environment safe for the people is to start at the grass roots level with the people. Too often over the last 50 years the US Congress have bowed to big business demands for less strict environmental rules and the Riverkeepers have fought back.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Halloween - Chapter 1

Halloween is coming up - and we are getting the son's costume organised. Hopefully he will look something like this - but he tells me that he doesnt want to wear a dress.

It's not a dress. Its a tunic.
ALL men wore them 1000 years ago.
But mommy I dont want to wear it, I will be embarrassed.

Underneath this tunic he wears gray pants, gray shirt and hopefully a gray balaclava.

If he doesnt weat the tunic or the cape, noone will know what he is at school. On Halloween the kids get to wear their costumes to school and they have a dance-a-thon to raise money. BUT they cannot wear a mask, or take any weapons to school. So he will just be a kid dressed in gray clothes.

Hopefully at night, he will wear the tunic, the cape, and hold the sword and shield he got for his birthday. Then he will really look like a knight of the old days.

The most successful costume we ever did for our son was when he was a scarecrow. He came home with a HUGE amount of candy that year. Everyone though he was just so cute.

David Hume - 50 Greatest Books

This article is also in the Books section of the Globe and Mail today. The title simply says David Hume. I've never heard of this name so I ignored it. Now I discover that it IS this weeks 50 Greatest Books article.

David Hume: A man for all reasons

How do we know what we know? What do we know?

To that most lucid of Scottish empiricists, David Hume (1711-1776), the answer to the first question was a straightforward, if deceptively simple, "by experience."

Everything we know about knowing, Hume would argue, is acquired through experience.

Hume was a deadly, if jovial, enemy of creationists. For this reason alone, we should read him today.

In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), a distillation of his Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume questioned whether we could know anything a priori, or innately.

A watch may imply the existence of a watchmaker (to use Bishop Paley's famous example), though all such notions, even where they appear self-evident, are based on habit or an association of ideas.

Hume is sometimes called an associationalist, though the word he preferred for his skeptical philosophy was Pyrrhonism — after Pyrrho of Ellis (c. 360-272 BC).

Diogenes Laertius, in his Lives of Eminent Philosophers, tells us that Pyrrho, known as "the father of skepticism," so far distrusted the evidence of his senses that he once failed to recognize his tutor, Anaxarchus, floundering in a bog.

Can our senses be trusted to give an accurate picture of the world?

A round tower, seen from a distance, turns out to be square.

What is real?

We see visions all the time, in dreams, under the influence of opiates or when fevered.

Causality itself may be no more than "a habit of mind."

"Things as they are/ Are changed on the blue guitar," Wallace Stevens wrote in The Man with the Blue Guitar, his poetic meditation on Picasso's painting.

What do we know?

To his eternal credit, Hume reminded us that: "The most perfect philosophy of the natural kind only staves off our ignorance a little longer: as perhaps the most perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphysical kind serves only to discover larger portions of it."

The second half of this balanced, 18th-century sentence contains a deft Humean jibe against religion.

It is a stiletto-thrust to the vitals of ignoramuses like George W. Bush (Jesus Christ is his favourite "philosopher") and the monstrous dunces on the Kansas Board of Education who hold that a universe incomprehensible to them must be designed by a god.

Hume said that metaphysics tells us everything about invisible worlds, hence enlarging our ignorance. Physics tells us something, but not much, about known worlds.

"That the sun will not rise tomorrow," Hume wrote in Enquiry, "is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more a contradiction than the affirmation, that it will rise." (Hume's italics.)

Reading this, I think of Karl Popper's idea of falsifiability, in which Popper argued that the utility of scientific hypotheses (as opposed to pseudo-scientific hypotheses) is not so much that they can be proved by evidence or experiment, rather that they can be refuted by evidence or experiment.

They may not always conform to experience or even common sense, as in the case of the "Schrödinger's cat" thought-experiment.

Hume, who wrote much about probability, would have enjoyed the paradox: The box containing the cat also contains a phial of potassium cyanide, which may or may not be broken by the spontaneous decay of uranium. Until we open the box, the cat is alive and dead. Simultaneously.

Given Hume's radical skepticism, it is surprising how much evolution, genetics and postclassical physics owe him.

Darwin, Einstein, Heisenberg, Watson and Crick — all used methods of inquiry developed by this Scottish contrarian.

Consider the sentence quoted earlier, beginning, "The most perfect philosophy of the natural kind …"

Anyone who doubts that physics claims a more perfect understanding of the universe than metaphysics should read Bruno Maddox's Blinded by Science column in the May, 2008, issue of Discover magazine, in which Maddox takes on how physicists "explain" magnetism.

They don't.

"When you get right down to it," he avers, "these virtual particles [that somehow explain magnetic repulsion and/or attraction] are composed entirely of math and exist solely to fill otherwise embarrassing gaps in physics."

Hume would have smiled at that, I think, with a smile that resembles the Cheshire cat's as much as Schrödinger's — which, of course, is also a frown. Simultaneously.

Novelist Chris Scott philosophizes from St. Joseph Island, Ontario

The Satanic Verses Anniversary

There is an essay in the Globe and Mail today about The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. I thought it was one of the 50 Greatest Books, But it is NOT.

The Satanic Verses at 20

The metaphorical explosion Salman Rushdie's novel set off two decades ago is still ringing, Charles Foran says, a plunge from the heavens by Western liberals whose courage and commitment to freedom of expression have since been repeatedly tested, and repeatedly found wanting.

A hijacked jet is blown apart over the English Channel one winter morning. Falling through the sky amid blankets and drinks trolleys, oxygen masks and severed limbs, are two men. One is a Bollywood star, the other an anglophile Indian who earns a living doing voice work on radio and television. Both are Muslims.

They talk on the way down. "Here we come," the movie star yells. "Those bastards down there won't know what hit them. Meteor or lightning or vengeance of God. Out of thin air, baby. Dharrraaammm! Wham, na? What an entrance, yar. I swear: splat."

When the men wake up on a snowy English beach, they have been reborn as deities. The actor has acquired a halo, the anglophile hooves and horns. The first is "Good," in the William Blake sense, the second "Evil." Until, that is, they reverse roles, with the demon behaving like an angel and the halo hiding a devil within.

So begins The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie's phantasmagoria of metamorphosis and migration. Fuelled by the author's roaring prose and negotiated via his own culturally divided self, the novel is a comedic wonder, at once silly and serious, generous and provocative. On publication, it was greeted as a benchmark of literature about the globalized identity, a dialogue aimed at crisscrossing continents and races - if not, it now seems, religions.

Though few are celebrating the occasion, The Satanic Verses turns 20 this autumn. Why so little affection for one of the essential novels of the last century? Two reasons come to mind. First, through no fault of its own, the book triggered a parallel explosion to the terrorist attack described in its opening pages. The bomb wasn't the complaints by Muslims who took offence at two dream sequences, deliriums induced by the derangement of the movie star character, which they decided were blasphemous.

Instead, the bomb that detonated the fall of 1988 and into the next year involved the banning of The Satanic Verses in a dozen countries, followed by the issuing of a fatwa against Rushdie by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. Assaults on various editors and translators associated with the book, including a murder, came next. All the while, shops and libraries in many more nations withdrew it from their shelves, for reasons of caution and security.

Rushdie himself, of course, went into protective custody for a decade, although he did continue to write and publish. But his novel, even once back on those shelves, appeared to go to ground as well, as if by consensus it had to pay the same price for the fanaticism of its detractors.

In fact, The Satanic Verses has ultimately paid the price more for the weakness of its defenders. The metaphorical explosion the book set off is still ringing, a two-decades-long plunge from the heavens by Western liberals, whose courage and commitment to freedom of expression have been repeatedly tested and repeatedly found wanting.

Since Rushdie, there have been those suppressed Danish cartoons and productions of classic plays and operas altered or cancelled out of concern for Islamic ticket holders. There have been human rights commissions scolding magazines for saying unkind things about Muslims and, this past summer, a New York publisher changing its mind about issuing The Jewel of Medina, a purple retelling of the tale of Mohammed's child bride.

The publisher worried that the book could be "offensive to some in the Muslim community." Worse, it might "incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment." No surprise, Salman Rushdie was dismayed. "This is censorship by fear and it sets a very bad precedent indeed," he said. For this observation, he was dubbed a poster boy for the U.S. First Amendment - a lame occupation, apparently. The novel, at least, found someone else willing to take the chance.

On their way down to the Earth these many years, the chatter among falling liberals has centred on the moral and, occasionally, business wisdom of showing prudence and caution and, in the instance of The Jewel of Medina, partaking of a pre-emptive grovel before bullies, many as yet unidentified and almost all clichés, if not actual racial stereotypes, of the scary "other."

Self-censorship and timidity, dressing up a failing faith in art and dialogue in the clothing of progressive publishing and newspaper editing, defines our age. A collective fear of extremism, real or hyperventilated, polishes our shiny values. Books are certainly being vetted for their non-offensive merits, and too many writers are responding with paeans to a better world full of politically sensitive sorts - all angels, perhaps, with no devils around to whisper dangerous thoughts.

In such a world, or such a book, no one would think of writing dream sequences with characters called "Mahound," who receive revelations that mix the satanic with the divine, or peasant girls visited by the Archangel Gibreel. That wouldn't be a nice, or smart, thing to do.

Therein lies the second reason the anniversary of The Satanic Verses is going uncelebrated. As a culture, we'd rather the book had never been published in the first instance. What a lot of upset it has caused. What an unwelcome test it still poses of our beliefs. Editors presented with the manuscript in 2007 or early 2008 might well have done Rushdie a favour and declined to publish the novel at all. Cooler heads would then have prevailed. Planetary harmony would have won the day.

But like it or not, The Satanic Verses is at large, unrepentant and unreformed, a model less of artistic liberty than of excellence. The novel is also coming to resemble more a foundational work of the 21st century than anything from an earlier time.

If, as some historians have argued, the political 20th century ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, its literary equivalent may have wrapped up, abruptly and violently, back in the fall of 1988. That was when a brilliant, somewhat reckless work of fiction fell out of the sky and into our uneasy consciences.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Playhouse - Munsch - Book Review

By Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko.
Scholastic 2002
The Playhouse Story

Rene lives on a farm. (In real life she lives on a farm in Saskatchewan). One day she asks her father for a playhouse. So Rene's dad makes her a play house. It had an upstairs and a downstairs, real windows and a slide and a ladder.

The next day Rene moved lots of stuff from her real bedroom into the playhouse. She even painted fish on the walls just like in her real bedroom.

After a month, Rene got bored so she asked for a play barn. Her mother made her a play barn. It took 2 weeks. Then Rene moved some chickens from the real barn into her play barn. Next Rene asked for a play cow. Her father painted a goat to look like a cow and that was Rene's play cow.

Then Rene went to her father and asked him to park the log chopper, the tree snipper the bulldozer and the tractor right next to her play barn to make it look like a real farm. Rene was very happy for a whole month.

After a while, Rene got bored again. Rene decided she wanted someone to play with. So she asked her mother to make her a play mommy and a play daddy.
A play what? asked her mother.
A play mommy and a play daddy, said Rene.
Her mother said why dont you play with the real ones?
Rene said the real ones were all too bossy. Rene's mother said No.
So Rene made a play mom and a play dad and she made play brothers as well.

When she came into the house for dinner, there was a scarecrow sitting in her chair.
What's this in my chair, asked Rene.
That is my play Rene, said her mother. She is very nice and never bossy.
You can eat food in the playhouse with your play mommy and your play daddy.

Rene took the play Rene and went outside. She gave the play Rene to the goat (who was pretending to be a cow) to eat. Then Rene went back inside and kissed her mom.
Was that a real kiss or a play kiss? asked her mother
That, said Rene, was a real kiss, from a bossy daughter for a real bossy mommy. Now can I have a real dinner with my real family?
No problem, said her mother. I like real bossy kids better than play kids anyway.
And they all had a real great dinner.

This is my final book for the Single Author Challenge of the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge. I am trying to fit in ONE last genre for this Challenge - the ABM Challenge - Canadian Autobiographies, Biographies and Memoirs.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Silent Spring - 50 Greatest Books

Silent Spring Review
By Tim Flannery
Globe and Mail
October 18, 2008

The 1950s were deeply disturbing times. Our fathers, traumatized yet intoxicated by their victorious wartime power, had turned upon our Earth, unleashing the same chemical and nuclear weapons they had deployed a few short years earlier on their fellow human beings.

So unhinged were the times that serious proposals were advanced by Russian scientists to use nuclear weapons to destroy the Arctic ice cap and so ameliorate the climate of the world.

Canada entertained its own mad schemes. On Feb. 10, 1959, Time magazine reported that the Richfield Oil Corp. planned to explode a series of two-kiloton nuclear weapons below the Alberta tar sands, creating cavities that would fill with liquefied tar.

They claimed that 300 billion barrels of crude oil would be created, and the experts assured everyone that there would be no hazard from radioactivity. As horrifying as this potential misuse of atomic power was, it was the chemical weapons then being aerially sprayed across North America that held the greater danger.

Rachel Carson was a marine biologist who was only reluctantly drawn into researching their impact, and at the time she penned her epic work, she was already suffering from the cancer that would, just two years later, take her life.

She begins Silent Spring with these words: "There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings."

It was the ruthless destruction of that idyll of rural America that formed the basis of a work that has been rightly hailed as giving birth to the modern environmental movement. Carson's ability to make science understandable was formidable.

I have never read as simple or elegant an explanation of chemical composition as she provides for the organochlorides, the group to which the 200-odd chemicals that were then destroying her country belonged. It was not just nature that was suffering.

Carson carefully details many instances of fatal human poisonings. A farmer's wife was poisoned after her husband sprayed. A baby and a small dog died after returning to a house where endrin had been used to kill cockroaches.

In some programs, half the men who sprayed DDT for the World Health Organization suffered convulsions and death. Given that the chemicals are close relatives of the nerve gases developed by the Germans in the Second World War, none of this should have been surprising. The scale of the spraying was enormous: The amount of parathion used annually in California alone was enough, according to one expert, to kill the human population of the world five to 10 times over.

As she researched, Carson received letters from all over the country informing her of the mass death of birds following spraying. She learned that the toxins were accumulating in the reproductive organs of survivors, making them infertile. At times, the destruction was deliberate: In 1959, in southern Indiana, farmers purposely sprayed the roosting site of red-winged blackbirds, killing 65,000, along with uncounted raccoons, rabbits and other life. The destruction did not end on land. In the late 1950s, spraying of forests along the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, to control spruce budworm, devastated the region's salmon run.

Streams all across the continent were being emptied of fish and other life, yet, despite the devastation, neither government nor the corporations manufacturing the toxins showed the least concern. They kept issuing mollifying statements, dismissing concerns as the complaints of nature lovers who were against progress, until Silent Spring exposed them for the merchants of death that they were.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy was that the spraying was ineffective. Yes, it killed pest insects, but it also killed the creatures that held their populations in check. These predators breed more slowly than the pests, so that the year after a spraying, the numbers of pests often increased, and another, more intensive spraying was required.

Long before the development of organochlorides, entomologists knew what the solution to pest infestations was: Increasing ecosystem health by pursuing organic forms of agriculture, and the manipulation of predator insects, provided safe and effective means of controlling pests.

The trouble was that corporations couldn't make fortunes that way. With the illusion of a quick fix, the pesticide companies had set us on a cataclysmic course. We might think that the madness of the 1950s is over, but its effects are still with us, for the poisons remain in our bodies, often passed to us in our mother's milk. Many are immoveable until the moment of our death.

Some of these chemicals are carcinogens, and the elevated rates of some cancers seen in some rural areas today may be caused by them. Others affect fertility, and striking instances of decreases in male fertility, such as documented in Denmark over the past half century, may also result from the spraying of yesteryear.

If Rachel Carson's book has a central message today, it is that every action has its consequences, for in poisoning the world, we poisoned ourselves. For those in the business of unsustainable greed, whether it be in the mortgage business or the tar sands, it's a lesson worth pondering.

Tim Flannery is chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council and author of "The Weather Makers." In 2007, he was named Australian of the Year

This is one book I have not yet read - BUT I must try and do so.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Up, Up, Down - Munsch - Book Review

Up Up down
By Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Scholastic 2001

Anna liked climbing.
One day she climbed up the refridgerator and fell down on her head.
Be Careful. Dont climb, said her mother.

But Anna didnt listen.
Anna went to her bedroom and tried to climb up the dresser.
She fell down on her tummy.
Be careful. Dont climb, said her father.

So Anna went outside and decided to climb the tall tree in the back yard.
She tried to climb up but fell down on her bottom.
So she went to get some climbing equipment and then climbed the tree again.
This time she made it all the way to the top.

I'm the king of the castle, mommy's the dirty rascal, yelled Anna from the top of the tree.
Anna's mother came out of the house and said Anna get out of that tree.
Anna said NO, no, no, no, no, no.
So Anna's mother tried to climb the tree. She fell down on her head.

And then Anna yelled, I'm the king of the castle, daddy's a dirty rascal.
Anna's father came looking for Anna and said Anna get out of the tree.
Anna said NO, no, no, no, no, no.
So Anna's father tried to climb the tree. He fell down on his bottom.

Anna looked over the side of the tree. Her parents were both yelling. So Anna climbed down the tree and went to the house to find band aids. She wrapped very large bandaids around both her mother and her father and then she said to them...

Be Careful. Don't Climb.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Winding Ways Quilt - Book Review

The Winding Ways Quilt
By Jennifer Chiaverini
Simon & Schuster 2008
The Winding Ways Quilt

This is the 14th books in the series. I have read about half of this series, and enjoyed them all. And I enjoyed this on as well. In fact I stayed up to 1 am to finish it.

Quilters have flocked to Elm Creek Manor to learn from Master Quilter Sylvia Compson and her expert colleagues. There's Sarah, Sylvia's onetime apprentice who's paired her quilting accomplishments with a mind for running the business of Elm Creek Quilts; Agnes, who has a gift for appliqué; Gwen, who stitches innovative art quilts; Diane, a whiz at the technicalities of quick-piecing; and Bonnie, with her encyclopedic knowledge of folk art patterns. And lastly there are Judy and Summer.

One of the reason I enjoyed this book, because a lot of back stories are told.

Agnes is Sylvia's sister in law. Agnes and Sylvia were married to the Bergstrom brothers. Both of their husbands died as young men in World War 1.

Summer is Gwen's daughter born during the Vietnam war era. She and her boyfriend Jeremy are having to decide if they want to attend university together or apart.

Diane had been battling with Mary Anne, her next door neighbour, who was the president of the Waterford Quilting Club. The Guild and the Elm Creek Quilters were at war with each other because Mary Ann wanted to be better than the old ladies. But when her son destroyed Bonnie's quilting shop, the boy was sentenced to paying off by working at Elm Creek manor all during the summer. Mary Anne was humiliated.

Sylvia and her husband Matthew, were trying to start a family and finally Sarah becomes pregnant. The unexpected news is exciting for all the Elm Creek Quilters.

Judy is a Vietnamese Quilter. She and her mother were refugees from Vietnam. Her mother later married a wonderful man who adopted Judy as his own. But when Judy was first taken to her new grandparents home for Xmas, Judy discovered the joys of quilting, but was also told that she would never inherit one of grandma's quilts because she is "not a real grandchild".

Bonnie had run a Quilting shop in Waterford for many years. At the time of the earlier books (the ones I read last year) Bonnie's marriage was breaking down, and she discovered that her husband had an online affair with another woman. This efectively ended the marriage. Shortly after this, three teenage boys broke into and destroyed Bonnie's shop. One of the boys accused was Dianw's son Michael. But it turned out that he was framed because he lived next door to Maryann whose son was the real culprit. Bonnie went to pieces. In this book, Bonnie is slowly recovering and searching for a new direction in her life.

It is NOT a depressing book by any means. In fact, I had tears in my eyes right at the end when all good things came to an end. Two of the Elm Creek quilters left the Manor and moved on with their lives. Mary Ann also came to an understanding of how her own attitudes had been the cause of her sons's criminal actions, and she finally made apologised to Diane. The books ended with healing for everyone concerned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sepulchre - Book Review

By Kate Mosse
Orion HC 2007
Orion PB 2008

How many of you beleive that Tarot cards can tell your future? I don't.
Just like the Bible code (numbers) tarot cards can be be made to say anything you want them to say - IMO.

This novel is actually a very good story. I really enjoyed it. I must have right, or I would not have stayed up until 2 am this morning to finish it. Which gave me barely 4 hours of sleep. Anyway....

This book is very similar to The Historian but instead of looking for Draculas grave, this time the two time lines are looking for a sepulchre and a special set of Tarot cards.

The two time lines are 1891 and 2007. In 1891 we have 17 year old Leonie Vernier, a rather sheltered girl from Paris, who adores her older brother Anatole. In 2007 we have American historian Meredith Martin who is doing two things - researching and writing a biography of musician Claude Debussy, and trying to find her family roots because she was adopted.

So a book about genealogy and Languedoc history - My most FAVOURITE kind of book. Which is probably why I read this book right through. However I could not finish Kate's first bestseller novel - The Labyrinth. Yes it did involve history, but I just could not get into it. I'm not sure why. I might try and read it again, and see if I feel any differently.

Now I love France and the French culture. I have done so for as long as I can remember. And I even discovered why I love France. The Languedoc - because it has such a full, rich and interesting history.

In 1891 Anatole Vernier is devastated when his girlfrind (the modern word for an illicit liaison) died. The book opens with Leonie at her funeral. Then Anatole starts hinting that he needs to go into hiding. So he wangles an invitation fron an aunt in the Languedoc. Anatole and Leonie travel down to Carcassonne and beyond (to Rennes les Bains) to stay with the aunt.

The story continues with Leonie's eperiecnes in tarot as she read the uncle's libarry, learns more about Tarot and then begins to create for a special set of Tarot cards. Back in Paris, Anatole and KLenoine's mother is killed by the same person whom Anatole is running from. Eventually this person discovers that they are in Carcassonne, and trvels to that city to wait. One day Lenonie, Anatole and Isolde (the aunt) travel to Carcassonne,m and Leonie meets a charming gentleman named Victor Constant. she tells Victor where they are staying under the belif that he is a genuine suitor. On the day Victor turns up at the estate, he challenges Anatole to a duel. Anatole is killed and Victor disappeares into exile.

Isolde sinks into a severe depression and gives birth to Anatole's son Louis-Anatole Vernier. She shows no interest in the child so Leonie raises the boy. When Louis-Anatole is seven years old, Isolde committs suicide by drowning herself. Victor returns from exile (in Spain) and attempts once again to get what he was looking for. He had been looking for a special set of Tarot cards. The same cards Leonie had found and hidden and from which she had painted her own copies. Leonie disappears in the sepulchre (where spirits are raised) and her body is never found. A century later her ghost is haunting Meredith as she tries to find her family history.

Louis Anatole was raised by a close family friend. he enlisted in the french army, fought in world war one and survived. After the war he emigrated to USA. There he had a daughter Louise. Louise had a daughter Jennifer. And Jennifer had a daughter Meredith.

So the story comes full circle. Meredith has set out to write a biography of Claude Debussy (who was a close friend of the Verniers) and found her own family at the same time.

One of the things I really enjoyed in this book was a discussion the history of the Tarot. One of the major modern scholars in Tarot was Paul Foster Case. That name rang a bell, and then a few lines later I was reading that Paul Foster Case had founded a mystery school centred around Tarot - The Builders of the Adytum (BOTA). The really weird thing is that I used to belong to the BOTA. Back in New Zealand there is a chapter. While I loved the teachings I learned, I did not like the heavy reliance on the Tarot. As I said earlier - I believe that anyone can make the Tarot say anything they want it to say. So I quit the BOTA. I was there for barely 2 months.

I really really enjoyed this book. In some ways it is actually very similar to The Historian - both stories are about a young women searching for her past. The Sepulchre paperback has over 700 pages. And I stayed up late because I absolutely had to know what happened next, to both Leonie and Meredith. With my love for France and French history, I like to dream that maybe I have an ancestor who was from the Languedoc.

Monday, October 13, 2008

International Festival of Authors

I grabbed a copy of the brochure for the IFOA at the library last week. Its being held at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, from October 22 to November 1st 2008.

2008 IFOA confirmed authors include:

Julie Angus
Nadeem Aslam
Stéphane Audeguy
Ken Babstock
Deborah Baker
Joan Barfoot
Lynda Barry
David Benioff
David Bergen
Mark Billingham
Neil Bissoondath
Dermot Bolger
Pan Bouyoucas
Amanda Boyden
Joseph Boyden
John Brady
Herménégilde Chiasson
Austin Clarke
Harry Clifton
Andrew Cohen
John Connolly
Lorna Crozier
Jeffery Deaver
Lewis DeSoto
Christopher Dewdney
Junot Díaz
Don Domanski
Emma Donoghue
Hélène Dorion
Roddy Doyle
Joe Dunthorne
Paul Durcan
David Ebershoff
Leif Enger
Anne Enright
Cary Fagan
Ildefonso Falcones
Karen Fastrup
Diarmaid Ferriter
Elena Forbes
R.F. Foster
Cornelia Funke
Rivka Galchen
Damon Galgut
Bill Gaston
Amitav Ghosh
Victoria Glendinning
Linda Grant
Charlotte Gray
Lauren Groff
Arnon Grunberg
Richard Gwyn
Rawi Hage
Hugo Hamilton
Mohammed Hanif
Maggie Helwig
Aleksandar Hemon
Oscar Hijuelos
C.C. (Chris) Humphreys
Helen Humphreys
Chip Kidd
Mia Kirshner
Hari Kunzru
Rachel Kushner
Amara Lakhous
Patrick Lane
Nam Le
Dennis Lehane
Margot Livesey
Eugene McCabe
Kathleen McCracken
Patrick McGrath
Patti McIntosh
Don McKellar
Andrew Miller
Rohinton Mistry
Simon Montefiore
Donna Morrissey
Farley Mowat
Dervla Murphy
David Park
Louise Penny
Richard Price
Francine Prose
Andrew Pyper
Paul Quarrington
Ross Raisin
Nino Ricci
Nathaniel Rich
David Adams Richards
Peter Robinson
Richard Russo
John Ralston Saul
Owen Sheers
Anita Shreve
Sue Sinclair
Josef Škvorecký
Gillian Slovo
Tom Rob Smith
Adam Sol
Andy Stanton
Leonie Swann
Don Thompson
Colm Tóibín
M.G. Vassanji
Sarah Vowell
Dan Vyleta
Andrew Westoll
Frank Westerman
Nathan Whitlock
Rudy Wiebe
Meg Wolitzer
Ronald Wright

Those names that are bold, are the ones I have heard of. I may or may not have read any of their stuff, but I have heard of them.

It is pure coincidence that I am currently reading a biography of Farley Mowat written by James King. I will review it when I have finished.

Just to highlight that Cornelia Funke who wrote the Inkspell and Inkheart books will be there. And there is an Inkheart movie due out in January 2009.

I'd completely forgotten about the Extraordinary Canadian Series as well. I blogged about it in September last year. So it surely must be time for an update.

There were supposed to be 18 names - 6 books per year. I had 12 of them listed in last years post. There are 6 names outstanding. The website lists 5 names. These books are supposed to appear in 2010.

René Lévesque
Wilfrid Laurier
Glenn Gould
Marshall McLuhan
Tommy Douglas

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Unlikely Destinations - Book Review

Unlikely destinations
By Tony & Maureen Wheeler
Periplus Edition, Hong Kong, 2005
Lonely Planet Website

Hands up those of you who have heard of Lonely Planet books?
Hands up those of you who have NOT heard of Lonely Planet books?

Well this book is the autobiography of Tony & Maureen Wheelers who started the Lonely Planet guide books.

And this book is also the perfect guide to how to be a publisher.

Tony tells most of the story, of how they met in England (Tony is English, Maureen is Irish) and how they married and spent their honey moon on the overland trip to Australia. It took a year, but in 1973 they published their first book - Across Asia on the Cheap.

This is the story of the first 30 years of their marriage, their children (they had 2 children) and the Lonely Planet company.

Very very enjoyable books. Although I did find the first trip (from UK to Aussie) a bit long winded, but once they got to Australia, the rest of the books just gallops along.

The Wheelers waited to have children. They were married in 1972, their first child (a daughter) was born in 1980 and their son was born in 1982. Before the kids came along, both Maureen and Tony travelled around. Being a travel guide book writer and publisher is hard on a marriage. You have to vist and revisit the places you write about every two years to keep the guide books updated. It's very hard when the husband gets to travel and the wife has to stay home with the kids.

The kids grew up travelling overseas every summer. When they got back to school they never told their friends where they had spent the summer because it would have been seen as showing off. As teenagers they rebelled against their parents and really dug their heels in and refused to spend summers overseas. They just wanted to stay home in Australia and spend summers at the beach just like all their friends.

The UK version of this books is called Once While Travelling. The cover picture of Tony and Maureen was taken right where they landed on Australian sand (soil) in December 1972 just a few days after Gough Whitlam was elected Prime Minister.

It was near a remote town called Exmouth on the coast of Western Australia almost 1000 miles north of Perth. They had sailed a boat from Bali to Australia and got lost in a storm. So the Wheelers hitched a ride to Carnarvon, and from there they grabbed a ride in a truck all the way to Perth. Keep talking and keep me awake, said the driver.

Back in those days British citizens did not require any visa to live and work in Australia. Within 2 years that law was changed. Now ONLY New Zealand citizens have the privilege of being allowed to live and work in Australia without a visa, although this is not mentioned in the book.

The reason I know this is because after my own long immigration struggle, I have made it a point of becoming familiar with all the immigration details of Canada, UK, Australia and NZ. I use this knowledge to answer immigration questions on the Yahoo Question and Answers forum.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sound of Music - How it came to be

Mary Rodgers Guettel (right) and Alice Hammerstein Mathias — the daughters of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II — stand on the terrace of the Guettel home overlooking Manhattan's Central Park.
Oct 11, 2008 Toronto Star

Honestly I swear it is pure coincidence that two Toronto newspapers have articles in them on the same day about the SOUND OF MUSIC. I realise this specific article has nothing to do with books, but The Sound of Music is my favourite musical movie. I wonder when Julie Andrews is going to write her autobiography? Christopher Plummer's autobiography review is two posts below this one.

NEW YORK–Yes, the hills are alive with the sound of music, but everybody has a slightly different memory of just how that glorious melody came to fill the air.

This Wednesday night, at the Princess of Wales Theatre, the North American premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian's new production of The Sound of Music will be presented by David Mirvish, and it promises to be one of the major theatre events of the year.

The London version of this same production, which opened in 2007, has been a giant hit, which is not surprising for a show that has proved to be internationally the biggest title for Rodgers and Hammerstein productions.

The 1965 film version is also one of the most popular movies of all time and ever since the stage version made its debut in 1959, it's been playing every night somewhere in the world.

But how did it all start? And what made this particular show so durable and endearing?

The original four creators – Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse – are long since gone, but three bright and opinionated women who were there at the time of the show's creation still carry the flame – each in her own particular way.

Two of them – Mary Rodgers Guettel and Alice Hammerstein Mathias, daughters of the songwriters – have gathered for lunch with Bert Fink, the executive vice-president of R&H productions, at the elegant Guettel home overlooking Manhattan's Central Park. Anna Crouse – the widow of one of the librettists – checks in by phone (she's temporarily sidelined by a hip injury).

Mary brings a unique perspective to her examination of the period, because in 1959, for the only time in history, a father and daughter were competing for the Best Musical Tony Award, with her Once Upon a Mattress ultimately losing out to her father's The Sound of Music.

"You know," she says, surprised at the memory, "I don't think we ever discussed the competition. I guess we were too busy at the time to worry about that."

Then she casts a sympathetic look across the table at Alice. "And by then, Ockie was very sick."

Ockie – Oscar Hammerstein II's nickname – had not been feeling well during 1959. Surgery that summer for stomach ulcers was actually for a cancerous tumour, which proved to be inoperable.

"Though they hid the truth from Oscar," wrote Rodgers in his 1975 biography, Musical Stages, "the doctors told his family – and Dorothy and me – that he had cancer."

Actually, the cone of silence was smaller than that, and the truth finally surfaces nearly 50 years later over a polite, sunlit lunch.

"Your mother and father heard about his being ill before we did," says Alice pointedly to Mary.

"Really?" replies Mary, in genuine surprise.

"And it made us angry," says Alice, laying her cards on the table.

There's a long, uncomfortable pause.

Mary tries to redeem the moment with her unique mixture of empathy and wit.

"`I honestly didn't know that,' said Mary with her mouth open.

And in that instant of reconciliation, the difference between the two women becomes clear. To Mary, the period of The Sound of Music is associated with her own greatest hit, Once Upon a Mattress.

Yet to Alice, it represented the loss of a father she loved dearly, but one who she didn't know was leaving until it was almost too late.

"I remember going to a preview performance in New York," says Alice softly, "and he couldn't be there because he was too sick.

"When they sang that song `An Ordinary Couple,' I couldn't stop the tears from flowing down my face. I had friends with me and I couldn't tell them why."

How did the show ever come to happen? That's where Anna Crouse is so useful, not only for her own razor-sharp memory, but also because her husband, Russel, kept impeccable diaries.

"Producer Leland Hayward approached Russel and Howard with three ideas: a musical of Gone With the Wind, a musical based on Gypsy Lee's autobiography and a musical based on the Trapp Family Singers.

"To this day, I think they chose the right one."

At first, the show was going to be a straight play with authentic Austrian folk songs worked in, but Anna recalls Russel feeling "that we needed something a little more Broadway to spice it up."

So they took their idea to Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were so taken with it that Rodgers insisted, "We won't write one song, we'll write them all."

Lindsay and Crouse agreed, the only problem being that R&H were involved with their current show, Flower Drum Song. Everyone, including Broadway supernova Mary Martin, who was committed to playing Maria von Trapp, agreed to wait.

Flower Drum Song opened Dec. 1, 1958, and The Sound of Music followed on Broadway Nov. 19, 1959. That's an amazingly short period of time in which to create one of the major hits of the musical theatre, and even the daughters of the men who wrote the score marvel at it.

"I don't know if father was aware he was racing against time," wonders Alice, "or if this was just something he felt he had to say." Hammerstein passed away Aug. 23, 1960.

"The songs were so good," recalls Mary.

"When I heard them, coming after those shows of theirs that didn't make it, like Me and Juliet and Pipe Dream," says Alice, "I remember thinking `Oh, thank God, they've got a hit!'"

But why does this sentimental show, never a favourite of critics, hit the right chords with audiences every time? Mary shakes her head sagely. "That was what our fathers did so well. To take romances and make them into something that you so desperately wanted to have come true."

"We were watching a run-through in Toronto the other week," volunteers Fink, "and we got to the scene where the Baron finally reconnects with his children. I heard this loud sniffling sound, and I turned around to realize it was David Mirvish, weeping openly."

"A lot of people are just touched by it," says Alice simply. "The fact that it was set during the Anschluss (the Nazi annexation of Austria) adds another even more powerful dimension to it."

Her eyes seem very far away. "My father sent me to Austria in the 1930s to go to boarding school. And everyone gave us these little spidery pins to wear. We did. They were swastikas. At the time, we had no idea what they meant.

"And they would tell us all to say `Heil, Hitler!' when we met each other on the street. And we did it, but we never knew why. Oh God, we never knew."

"When the Nazis took over," explains Fink, "the von Trapps took a while to reach the breaking point. One of their sons declined the opportunity to be a Nazi doctor, Baron von Trapp turned down a military commission.

"But when they refused to sing at Hitler's 50th birthday celebration, their friends suggested they leave the country as soon as possible."

And that was the true beginning of a show that still has power over us nearly 50 years after its creation.

Faust - 50 Greatest Books

James M. Skidmore
Globe and Mail
October 11, 2008

Goethe's Faust is a monster. Colossal in artistic and intellectual scope, the play is very long, more than 12,000 lines. A complete performance can take about 21 hours. That's nearly a day sitting in an uncomfortable theatre seat.

Worse, the hero himself is a monster. Heinrich Faust abandons his pregnant lover Gretchen. She, in turn, kills her baby in despair. He also kills her brother and has a hand in her mother's death, and that's just in Part I, the better-known portion of the two-part play. Charming stuff. But still, the play fascinates. Why?

Faust was not received with universal acclaim. A contemporary of Goethe's wrote that if a callous cad like Faust could receive redemption after what he did to Gretchen, then a pig that tramples a flower garden deserves to be the gardener.

But when Germany declared nationhood in 1871, Faust became an emotional benchmark for an ascendant German empire, and the play was hailed as the "second German Bible."

It has since gone beyond Germany's borders and been performed throughout the world. Faust's pact with the devil has attracted writers and readers for centuries. But Goethe's Faust doesn't sell his soul to Mephistopheles, he makes a bet with him: If Faust should reach a point of self-satisfaction, the devil may take his soul.

Faust thinks he has nothing to worry about. A non-believer, he isn't scared by the devil. And having grown weary of the learning to which he has dedicated his life, Faust doesn't believe the devil can give him what he craves: a transcendent moment of fulfilment that makes his existence worthwhile.

But that moment does come. At the end of Part II, Faust utters the fateful words of the bet — "Stay a while! You are so lovely" — when he realizes that his public works are laying the foundation for future prosperity. Mephistopheles wins the bet on a technicality.

However, since Faust's happiness is not self-interested but rather selfless, and the poor devil can't even keep his hands on Faust's soul — angels distract Mephistopheles with their naked behinds — Faust rises into heaven to be reunited with Gretchen. A similar moment occurs in Part I, when Faust discovers sincere and genuine love after a conversation and kiss with the innocent, enchanting Gretchen. The moment is all too fleeting, however.

Faust is sidetracked by Mephistopheles, love turns to lust and, only at the end, as Gretchen sits in a dungeon awaiting her execution, does Faust try to save her. But Gretchen's dignity demands that she accept her guilt, and Faust ends up saving only himself (spoiler alert: God intervenes to redeem Gretchen).

Faust is very much part of the post-Enlightenment discourses of Europe. What was to come after abandoning the church and beheading the French king? In England, applied science and technology ruled the day, and the Industrial Revolution was born. Not so in Germany, where post-Kantian Idealists tried to overcome the divide between subject and object, between self and the world. But Faust is not just an exercise in philosophy. At heart, it is a very human story, drama in the best sense of the word.

Here is a man who is like us: Torn by opposite impulses but wanting it all, he blunders and harms those around him. His idealistic, romantic struggle is what endears him to us despite his horrible deeds. He yearns for a moment of exhilarated unity with creation, but in the end learns, as we must, that human existence is not fulfilled by such peaks of experience, but rather by the very striving for them.

James M. Skidmore is chairman of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Waterloo.

Christopher Plummer - Autobiography

Christopher Plummer: In Spite of Myself
Globe and Mail
Saturday October 11, 2008
Christopher Plummer @ IMDB

Christopher Plummer's Quebec boyhood included genteel family get-togethers, pretty debutantes and repeat appearances by at least one inebriated visitor.

Teatime, daily at 5, was a splendid affair – the women bustling, the food plentiful. Hot buttered crumpets by the fire, scones, tomato and cucumber sandwiches, two cakes, one with icing, one without, and always gingerbread.

… There was always a scattering of flappers about and numerous lounge lizards doing very little of anything and, of course the usual “piranha fish” and attendant eccentrics. One such was a very posh-looking colonel, who paid the occasional abortive visit to my grandmother's house – I don't know quite why as he never uttered. One day, he arrived in immaculate blazer and white flannels; he was only in his late 40s but already boasted a “companion,” who took him by the hand and literally pulled him toward the house where we were all waiting to greet him. It took almost five minutes to get him from the car to the front door (a distance of several feet only) as my grandmother advanced and held out her hand for him to shake. The colonel extended his very slowly and then suddenly with a great deal of warmth and vigour shook the doorknob instead! An explosion erupted inside me and got strangled somewhere in my throat as my grandmother wheeled on me and hissed – “Behave yourself at once! Don't you realize that Uncle Fred is blind?!”

“Blind? Blind drunk, you mean!” I thought as a waft of dragon breath from Uncle Fred hit my mother and me at one and the same time, which sent us reeling into the next room, where, collapsing on separate sofas, we buried our faces in the cushions to silence our uncontrollable hysteria!

Acclaimed actor Christopher Plummer.

Several years later I had a mad crush on Uncle Fred's 18-year-old daughter. It happened at her “coming out” dance. The average age that evening was from 16 to 19. Suddenly the doors were flung open and Uncle Fred, this time in white tie and tails, was being pulled in by yet another “companion” who led him to the centre of the dance floor, where she promptly deserted him. Very red in the face, he rocked back and forth on his pins and gazed lustfully at the fair young maidens around him with a leer that would have made Humbert Humbert look like a choirboy, and then, without warning, plunged forward onto the dance floor flat on his face! That was the last I ever saw of Uncle Fred. To this day, I don't believe he ever got up! A t a run-through of Tennessee Williams's Sweet Bird of Youth , Geraldine Page wows Helen Hayes, Lillian Hellman and Ruth Gordon – but not the playwright himself.

After we had opened [Archibald MacLeish's play] J.B., [Elia] Kazan began rehearsals for Tennessee Williams's new play Sweet Bird of Youth. Just before their out-of-town opening they held their last full run-through without costumes at the New Amsterdam Roof. Gadge [Kazan's nickname] invited our entire cast. Also in attendance that afternoon were most of theatre's top brass – the usual suspects – Josh Logan, Helen Hayes, the Lunts, Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, Lillian Hellman, Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin, etc., etc. Not a large group but mighty potent. Gadge got up and announced that they would have to wait to begin because Tennessee had not yet arrived. “Tennessee, as you know, has his own rhythm,” he quipped, not without edge.

Finally it began. The exceptional cast included Paul Newman, Rip Torn, Sidney Blackmer, my Montreal friend Madeleine Sherwood and, of course, Geraldine Page in the leading role of Princess. They were each in his or her own right first class, but that afternoon belonged to Geraldine, for before our lucky eyes we were watching her, for the first time, discover her own performance. Gerry was flying! God knows Tennessee was a marvellous writer and there was fine writing in this, but Gerry lifted the whole thing to another level – she was transcendent! When it was over you could hear a pin drop – we were not just transfixed; we had been seduced.

Gradually we pulled ourselves together and began to shuffle out. No one spoke. Just then from the balcony in that rasping voice of his, Tennessee started shouting. I couldn't quite make out his gist but it seemed to convey that we had all just witnessed the total destruction of Sweet Bird of Youth, and it was all Gerry's fault. Gerry was the sole culprit. “She's ruined mah play! She's ruined mah play,” he kept yelling. He must be drunk, I thought, or ill. No one seemed to take much notice, or pretended not to, and as Gadge passed me in the aisle I tugged at his sleeve.

“What's the matter with Tennessee?” I asked. “My God! It's been such a glorious afternoon.”

“Oh, don't worry,” Gadge replied, “she's just taken his play away from him. It's hers now – it doesn't belong to him any more and he knows it.”

In the early 1960s, Plummer finesses his own British invasion, thanks to Peter O'Toole's Saharan immersion.

I shall always be grateful to Peter O'Toole for ditching the Royal Shakespeare Company in favour of a camel on the Sahara Desert. He was to have played King Henry that year, but now, bless his heart, he was playing Lawrence [of Arabia] and so Henry was mine! The London premiere of Becket at the Aldwych in the Strand proved the success of the season and my Henry is probably one of the best things I've ever done. With the help of Eric Porter, who splendidly partnered me as Becket, Peter Hall's free and sweeping production and a cast that represented the very finest in British acting, my modest invasion of the Sceptred Isle was at last justified. I won London's Evening Standard Award for Best Actor of the Year. (“Big Van” [Vanessa Redgrave] won best actress.) I was in damn good company!

… I loved Becket. It is still one of my favourite plays. Fictitious in most respects, it remains, however, a witty and passionate story of an extraordinary relationship between two demigods who, in their separate ways, ruled a great part of the medieval world. As many scenes take place on horseback, the use of hobbyhorses fully caparisoned, controlled by ourselves the actors wearing built-up boot-like hooves hidden under our robes, was an inspired piece of imagination and served to give the evening much added theatricality and panache. In the film, made some years later in which O'Toole marvellously reclaimed his role of Henry, it was, of course, necessary to use real horses so that much of the story's originality and style went by the wayside.

… All sorts of celebrated people came backstage to compliment me: the Oliviers, the Nivens, Ralph Richardson, even Donald Wolfit, who had finally got himself a ticket. I now felt most welcome in England. One night a rather posh group had assembled in my dressing room when suddenly O'Toole himself burst in. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “I thought you were in the desert.”

“I have a week off from the bloody camels. They made me ride the buggers bareback.” As he said this, he proceeded in front of the speechless, po-faced group, to pull down his pants and show us his ass. It was absolutely raw and riddled with welts. “Look at this,” he screamed. “It's all your fault, you colonial prick. You're playing my part and this is the thanks I get!” The horrified little posse quickly dispersed and Peter and I went to the nearest pub and got pie-eyed.

In the late 1950s, Plummer enjoyed hanging out – and rearranging furniture – with buddies Jason Robards, Jason Robards Sr. (“an old naval salt,” as Plummer remembers him, who got dubbed “the Admiral”) and Max Helpmann.

Running out of things to do in the brief spare time there was, our dreaded little quartet (the Admiral, the Commander, the Captain and me – the ship's doctor) had arrived at a dead impasse. We needed new inspiration; we craved new blood. We found both in a young man called Peter Hale who was playing small parts that season and doubling as an assistant stage manager. We at once detected great promise in the youth. He had a completely natural and unaffected penchant for deviltry, a real down 'n' dirty glint in his eye and a talent for improvising wickedness that was prodigious in the extreme. Because he was ASM on The Winter's Tale we christened him “Winters Hale.” Winters boasted a large two-wheel motorbike which could fit three, so two of the “fraternity” would take turns and jump on behind Winters as he madly drove that devil bike through the black night in search of trouble.

The latest sport we had invented was to visit our actor friends in their rental houses or flats, complain bitterly about the quality of their furniture (“How can you expect decent men to drink amongst all this Swedish G Plan?”) and proceed to throw every chair and table out the window. This would occasion a kind of desperate and hysterical laughter from our hosts, especially when after the last piece had disappeared we followed suit and threw ourselves out. Needless to say, the Admiral did not participate in the acrobatics, he just observed, drink in hand, an expression of total satisfaction painted all over his face.

As we got more confident, these feats became all the more daring, especially when the windows were four storeys high. One of us always had to gather up the poor unfortunate who had landed on his back in a small tree or bush. We got to be quite expert, however, and Winters was clearly the most nimble for he executed it all with the dexterity of a stuntman and his timing was superb. After a while, he didn't even bother with the furniture gag any more. The moment he entered a room he simply threw himself out the window. We gave him a new nickname, “Windows Hale.”

Excerpted from In Spite of Myself: A Memoir , © 2008 by Christopher Plummer. Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved. The book will be in stores Tuesday (14th October)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Nobel Literature Prize 2008


STOCKHOLM, Oct. 9, 2008 -- French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday.

The Academy cited Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio as "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."

This was the fourth of the prestigious Nobel Prizes handed out this year, with awards in chemistry, physics and medicine made in the past three days.

The Nobel Prizes have been awarded annually since 1901 to those who " conferred the greatest benefit on mankind during the preceding year."

The annual Nobel Prizes are usually announced in October and are handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite.

Each prize consists of a medal, a personal diploma and a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor (1.4 million U.S. dollars).

STOCKHOLM, Oct. 9 (Xinhua)
The following are the winners of Nobel Prize in Literature since 2000:
2008: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (France)
2007: Doris Lessing (Britain)
2006: Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)
2005: Harold Pinter (Britain)
2004: Elfriede Jelinek (Austria)
2003: J.M. Coetzee (South Africa)
2002: Imre Kertesz (Hungary)
2001: V.S. Naipaul (Britain)
2000: Gao Xingjian (France)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Letter from New York - Book Review

Letter from New York
By Helene Hanff
Harper Collins 1992

A Book of short talks written by Helene Hanff for the BBC Woman's Hour Broadcasts.

In the summer of 1978 Helene was asked by a BBC producer to broadcast a series of short talks for the "Woman's Hour" program.
What would I talk about, Helene asked?
Life in New York City, said the Producer. I want you to talk about your everyday life to the "Womans Hour" Audience. Can you do that?
I dont see why not, Helene replied.
Five minutes once a month, said the Producer. We're willing to try it for 6 months.
The 6 months turned out to be 6 years.
From 1978 to 1984 Helene wrote and broadcast a series of short talks all about life in New York City.

These chats are just as humorous as her books are. Stories about how she held all the spare keys to the other apartments on her floor, how she crashed a wedding when she was recovering from cataract surgery and couldnt see anything, about the cat across the road who put on a show for the neighbours because her owners were out and the cat was stuck in the curtain cords by the window, stories about the history of NYC.

Stories about Halloween, Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Years. Do you realise that in USA that's one celebration per month for 4 months in a row? Canada doesnt have that - we have 2 celebrations in October and none in November. This weekend is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Monday 13th will be a holiday.

Helene wrote 84 Charing Cross Road around 1971 in USA. It went on to become a huge bestseller in England. So by 1980, various people in UK were turning it into a play, and in 1981 Helene made the trip to London to see the official opening of the play. She mentions this in a couple of her talks.

There are stories about Central Park in summer and winter, shopping for clothes, various neighbourhood dogs and their personalities, a story being an author instead of a playwright, a story about Los Angeles and Hollywood. Helene even mentions the details of how to be a delegate at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Helene had a friend who was a delegate to that convention. Helene was a die-hard Democratic herself and she even belonged to a Democratic club.

I wonder what Helene would think of the presidency race this year.

Anyway....In 1991 Helene mentioned these broadcast scripts to another publisher friend and the friend asked to see them. She wrote back saying she loved them and wanted to make them into a book. So they were published in a book called Letter from New York in 1992.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Paul of Dune - Book Review

Paul of Dune
by Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson
Tor Books
September 2008.
Official Dune Website
Paul Atreides
The Dune Story

Long long ago in a country far far away, I once saw a movie called DUNE. The year was 1984 and the country was New Zealand.

I loved this movie. Mostly because I loved the people and the planet Arrakis (aka Dune). I loved watching how the Atriedes family learned to survive in a hostile environment and how they interacted with each other and with the Fremen. I did get confused over all the different allegiances and families in the Landsraad, but once I read the book (which I read AFTER I saw the movie), everything fell into place.

Anyway a long long time later, someone decided that they didnt like the 1984 movie. They thought they could do better, so they made a new TV miniseries (2000).
I HATED IT. I preferred the original dark haired and strong Paul Atreides, not this wimpy blond fellow.

Frank Herbert's Dune(1965), ended with Paul (Atreides) Muad’Dib in control of the planet Dune. Herbert’s next Dune book, Dune Messiah(1969), picked up the story several years later after Paul’s armies had conquered the galaxy.

But what happened between Dune and Dune Messiah? How did Paul create his empire and become the Messiah? Following in the footsteps of Frank Herbert, New York Times bestselling authors Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson are answering these questions in Paul of Dune.

The Muad’Dib’s jihad is in full swing. His warrior legions march from victory to victory. But beneath the joy of victory there are dangerous undercurrents. Paul, like nearly every great conqueror, has enemies--those who would betray him to steal the awesome power he commands....

And Paul himself begins to have doubts. Is the jihad getting out of his control? Has he created anarchy? Has he been betrayed by those he loves and trusts the most? And most of all, he wonders, Is he going mad?

Paul survives several assassination attempts. And his army overruns the known universe and lays waste to any world that does NOT acknowledge him as EMPEROR. This is an excellent book - 512 pages. It took me a few days to get through this but I really did enjoy it.

Because Paul Atreides was the first strong character I read about in Dune (and saw on the movies) I have always preferred Paul to his descendents. In the later Dune Books, Paul's son Leto became the God Emperor and also a large and gross creature due to the spice melange he ate. These later books have never appealed to me because they are have too much fantasy, way beyond the realm of possibility. Whereas those Books involving Paul COULD be within the realm of possibility.

That is how I like my science fiction - either based on fact or based on the high possibility of being factual.

The next book in this trilogy will be about Paul's mother Jessica. Jessica of Dune is due out in 2009. I am hoping that the third book is about any one of the following. Alia Atreides (Paul's sister), Chani of the Fremen (Paul's concubine) or Princess Irulan Corrino (Paul's official wife).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Alligator Baby - Munsch - Book Review

Alligator Baby
by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchecnko
Scholastic 1997
The Alligator Baby

When Kristen's mother comes home from the hospital with a new baby, the mother asks Kristen if she wants to see her new baby brother.
Oh yes, said Kristen.

Kristen lifted up the bottom of the blanket, saw a green tail.
Thats not a people tail she said.
Kristen lifted up the middle of the blanket, saw a green claw.
Thats not a people claw she said.
Kristen lifted up the top of the blanket, saw a green face with lots of teeth.
Thats not a people face. Thats not my baby brother.
Now Kristen, said her mother. Don't be jealous.

The baby reached up and bit Kristen's mother on the nose. Then the baby reached up and bit Kristen's father on the nose.
That's not a people baby. That's an alligator baby, said Kristen.
Goodness said her mother. We've got the wrong baby.

So Kristen put the alligator baby in the fish tank and the parents went to the zoo to find their baby. They came back with a new baby.

Kristen lifts up the bottom, the middle and the top of the blanket to discover a seal baby. The seal baby gets dumped in the bathtub and the parents head for the zoo to find their baby.

When they come back, Kristen lifts up the bottom, the middle and the top of the blanket only to find a gorilla baby. Which is soon hanging from the chandelier.

This time Kristen says she will go and find the baby.

Kristen hops on her bike and pedals to the zoo. She eventually finds her baby brother in the gorilla cage with a large mommy gorilla. The mommy gorilla refuses to give the baby back. Until the baby reaches up and bites the mommy gorilla on the nose. Then the gorilla gives the baby to Kristen.

Kristen rides home with her new baby brother. The mommies of the alligator, the seal and the gorilla babies follow her home and break into the house to get their babies back.

And everything is ok...until Kristen's mom has twins.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Montaigne Essays - 50 Greatest Books

Montaigne Essays

Globe and Mail
October 4, 2008

In 1580, Michel de Montaigne published in Bordeaux a book made unique by its title, Essais — literally "attempts" — and a literary genre was born. Over 20 years, Montaigne would rewrite and republish it several times, up until his death.

The Essays resemble a patchwork of personal reflections that nonetheless all tend toward a single goal: to live better in the present and to prepare for death.

These considerations, or essays, offer a point of departure for the modern reader's own assessments. In brief, one does not read Montaigne, one practises Montaigne. How does one systematize the thought of an author who didn't claim to write anything other than essays bound never quite to succeed?

The very form of the essay presupposes its inevitable failure, for otherwise it would no longer be an essay. Modern thinkers create systems, not essays. Yet Montaigne did elaborate a philosophy of life without precepts, mottos or systems. His thought claims to be amorphous or, better, multisided (which hardly means powerless).

Whereas Descartes and all of Western thought, from the 17th century on, sought to develop philosophies of content, Montaigne, on the contrary, was at pains to think the form itself, or rather many different forms of thought, knowledge and man. For him, these forms can only be apprehended in their relation to other thoughts, other men and other possible worlds (Christopher Columbus had just discovered a New World).

Montaigne's true originality is precisely his fleeting attempt to think of form as an organizing model of all knowledge. All is form — or rather forms — since diversity is inherent to the human condition.

Variety is the very motor of humanity and its history: From the Ancients' writings to the "Cannibals" of the New World, all of us are witnesses to the multiplicity of human thought, customs and practices.

From this observation, Montaigne postulates that "each man bears the entire form of man's estate." He strives to identify difference and prefers to conceive of the human condition in terms of its diversity, from which he will develop the principle of distingo: To understand one's self is also to understand the other (a finding we should perhaps take seriously, today more than ever).

Starting from a materialist assumption, Montaigne realized that the body is the foundation for all knowledge, and the mind is inseparable from the body: "as is seen in the movement of the planets, wherein, since our mind cannot reach it nor imagine its natural course, we lend them, on our own part, material, gross, physical springs."

In this crucial moment — one that defines "modernity" — knowledge thus depends on both the experiences of the body and the conceptualizations of the mind. Similar to the oscillations of the world and the universe, the "body and mind are in perpetual motion and action."

All knowledge is relative insofar as it depends on bodily experiences that will sometimes adapt to the mind, and other times dominate it. The mind and the body both deform and reveal what Montaigne calls an inner "monstrosity" (historically visible during the religious wars of his time), but this is a monstrosity that Montaigne deems worthy of consideration in his understanding of human action where mind and body go as a pair.

As he puts it: "My mind will not budge unless my legs move it." All ideas require some kind of action. The mind may then explore the world in all its shapes and forms.

This journey through the meanderings of thought — a thought that can only be understood in its relation to other thoughts — leads Montaigne into an analysis of himself, which he calls "introspection."

The Essays analyze what can be broadly defined as human nature, the endless process by which man tries to impose himself and his opinions upon others through the production of laws, policies or philosophies.

For Montaigne, this recurring battle for what man calls "truth" needs to be put into historical perspective, because, as he puts it: "Our truth of nowadays is not what is, but what others can be convinced of."

This is why Montaigne's motto is no more than a question: "What do I know?"

It's a question that always needs to be asked, even when others give us ready answers.

In summary, one could argue that reading Montaigne today teaches us that the angle of vision defines the world we see, or, as Montaigne wrote: "What matters is not merely that we see the thing, but how we see it."

Philippe Desan is Howard L. Willett Professor of French and History of Culture at the University of Chicago, the author of four books on Montaigne and a specialist in the Renaissance.