Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Flight of the Dragonfly - Book Review

Flight of the Dragonfly
By Melissa Hawach
Harper Collins 2008
Globe and Mail Interview

In the summer of 2006, I was watching and reading in horror as Israel invaded Lebanon in response to Lebanon kidnapping two Israeli soldiers who had strayed acros the Lebanon/Israeli border. Israel bombed Lebanon back to the 18th century in just 30 days.

The Israeli military destroyed roads, bridges, houses, buildings, communications, and most of the infrastructure that allows a country to run smoothly. The world saw this is a gross over-the-top reaction to the kidnapping. Israel denied that they had overreacted.

Anyway while this war was going on, there was another little war going on as well. An Australian born Lebanese man who was married to a Canadian woman, had taken their children to Lebanon, in the middle of a war zone. WHO in the right mind would do something like this? Joseph Hawach - thats who.

Melissa Engdahl married Joseph Hawach in Sydney Australia in 1999. Melissa was a Canadian who was on a working holiday in Australia and one of the places she worked was at a restarant called Positanos. The owner of this restaurant was the Hawach family originally from Lebanon.

The marriage was going great while the family lived in Sydney. Melissa gave birth to a daughter Hannah in 2001. Then they decide to move to Canada where there were more opportunites for Joe to import asian papers for his business. Melissa gave birth to her second daughter, Cedar, in Calgary, Alberta in 2004.

By 2005 the marriage was breaking down and in June 2006 after they had formally seperated, Joe asked to take the girls to Australia for a family vacation. He promised they would return to Canada in late July of 2006. They never arrived. Two weeks into the vacation Joe took the girls and left Australia.

Melissa immeidately went to the courts in Canada and was appointed the girls legal custodian parent. She gathered an expert legal team around her and then Melissa and her team went to Australia to speak to Joes family to try and find out where joe was.

In Canada parental kidnapping is a crime and is dealt with by the criminal courts. In Australia parental kidnapping is NOT a crime and is dealt with only by the family courts. Melissa's hand were tied and she could not do anything - although she did bring a lawsuit against the Hawach family to force them to divulge Joe's location. They all refused.

Joe and the girls has first stopped in Dubai where he continued to charge items to the family credit cards - for which Melissa was now forced to pay. They had then continued on to Syria. The Canadian diplomatic service eventually tracked Joe down to Lebanon.

Melissa and her father eventually flew to Lebanon to look for and find the girls. There were numerous offers of help. Some by mercenaries, and special unit soldiers who offered to help. But Melissa refused to kidnap her children back as that would just cause more legal problems.

In Lebanon the father has all legal custody rights to the child and the mother has NO rights to the child. Traditionally the mother is allowed to keep the child until they are 8 years old, but after that the child becomes part of the fathers household if the parents have separated.

Melissa had the papers proving her right to be the childrens custodial parent in Canada. Her Lebanon lawyers spent weeks in the Lebanese courts trying to get a lebanese judge to recognize Melissa's right to have her children. If Melissa had kidnapped them back, she would be liable for arrest and possible exection under Lebanese law, because in Lebanon the father has automatic custodial rights.

Eventually the Lebanese judge agreed to grant her custodial rights. This was done mostly because Joe made a number of mistakes which Melissa's lawyers made use of.

In December 2006 Melissa was able to travel to the hotel north of Beirut where Joe and the children were staying, The hotel belonged to a relative of Joe's. Melissa walked into the compund and called to her children. They ran to her yelling Mommy, Mommy. There was no abuction. Melissa and the girls were then spirited into away hiding. They were in hiding for 3 months. The first 2 months in Lebanon while they wanted for the courts to grant custody to Melissa, and then another month in syria where they were stuck without exit visas because Joe still had the girls passports.

The Canadian government issued new passports and these were sent to the General in Lebanon who had helped them to escape. He was able to get the entry permits to Syria so that they could all safely leave. In February 2007, they were driven across the border to Amman in Jordan and from there they were flown home to Canada.

Melissa and the girls are now safe in Calgary. Melissa has a new relationship and a new baby son. Joe is now back in Australia. He keeps in touch with the girls by telephone. He asks for the girls and Melissa to come visit him in Australia, but Melissa has so far refused to do this. Joe cannot come to Canada because he still has outstanding warrents against him - for parental abduction - which is a crime in Canada.

There are also some people who say that Melissa Hawach is a liar and she only wanted her 15 minuts of fame. Why would they want to do that? This person seems to be in Australia, so maybe they are friends or relatives of the Hawach family and did not like all the negative publicity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. For its details about family life and culture in lebanon and for how to deal with a parental kidnapping (if it should ever happen to someone you know). I read this book for the 2nd Canadian challenge - ABM genre.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This is just NOT RIGHT

I seldom say anything of a political nature on this blog, but this has gone on far enough. I am shocked and horrified with the INDISCRIMINATE bombing of Gaza by Israel. Today is the 4th day of the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza BY Israel.

When the World Trade Center was destroyed, Americans did everything they could to protect themselves.

When Spain's transit system was bombed, everyone throughout the world mourned.

When Britain's subways were attacked, the world stood back in shock and measures were taken.

Even Kosevo got protected.
Even Somalia got aid from world organizations.
Even Darfur was not begrudged the right to protect itself.

But after over 60 years of having endured attack after attack after attack after attack,by the Israelis, Palestinians are still being scolded for trying to attempt to defend themselves and they are still being told that they have no right to fight back.

Where's the justice in that?
Where's the international sympathy,
Where's the international help?

New York gets protected, Spain gets sympathy, Britain takes action.

But Palestine? 100 tons of bombs are dropped on the world's most densely-populated city (and region) and the world appears to be applauding these gristly, brutal and ghastly results of Gaza's 9-11.

And if the people of Gaza dare to protect themselves or to fight back, they will be carpet-bombed, they will be exterminated like fish in a barrel.

This is just NOT RIGHT.

Monday, December 29, 2008

World Citizen Challenge

I found a new challenge today that I want to do.
It's called the World Citizen Challenge.
And since I consider myself a World citizen, I'm going to sign up for the Postgraduate course and read 7 books.
These seven books must include one from each of the below six categories and one additional book from any category.
All between January 1st and December 31st 2009.

There are six categories of books:
Worldwide Issues,

The Postgraduate Level
You’ve decided to continue your education in World Citizenship, since you’re a bit obsessive about the whole thing. For this level, you need to commit to seven books, including one book from each category. You are allowed to read biographies for each category.

This is a list of some of the books I plan to read for this challenge

Notes on Democracy - Politics
Tulipomania - Economics
Alexandria - History
Letter Perfect (A to Z) - Culture/Anthropology
[Worldwide Issues]
Benazir Bhutto - Autobiography
Books on Fire - Culture/Anthropology
Cities of Gold - Culture/Anthropology

Friday, December 26, 2008

Next - Book Review

By Michael Crichton
Harper Collins 2006
Interview 2007 (video - 1 hour)

Michael Crichton died last month. So I thought I would read one of his more recent novels in his honour. Next was published in 2006. It is a cautionary tale about DNA manipulation and gene ownership gone too far.

There are several storylines in this novel.
One involves some people being infected with an experimental gene before trials have even started, and the effects on them.
Another involves a court case where the courts must decide if genes harvested from a living person by a company, are owned by the company or by the person. And if they are owned by the company, does that give the company the right to just TAKE tissue and blood samples from the descendents of the original donor.
And a third involves a talking parrot and a talking chimp.

I found the court case to be the most interesting.

If you watch the interview (linked above) Crichton says that because the research companies OWN diseases and genomes for those diseases, NOONE ELSE can test for them or do research on them without permission from the owning company.

To me, this explains why there is STILL no cancer cure, or an AIDS cure or a Hepatitis C cure. because the companies do not want to CURE those diseases. All the big pharma comnpanies are doing, is create drugs that keep us alive for longer, but do not cure us.

Now I want to read State of Fear - about Global warming.

In the Author’s Note, Crichton shared his own personal feelings about gene manipulation at the end of the book.

Stop patenting genes.
Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues.
Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public.
[Referring to results of gene therapy trials]
Avoid bans on research.
Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act
[this allows universities to patent and make money off their research].

Thursday, December 25, 2008


And I hope you all have


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Last Days of Krypton

The Last Days of Krypton
by Kevin J Anderson
Harper Collins 2007

Everyone knows who Superman is, right?
And Everyone knows that Superman came from the Planet Krypton, right?
Well this novel is the long awaited story about the Planet Krypton, and how it destroyed itself and how young Kal-El was saved by his parents and sent to earth.








Once upon a time, a long long ago on Krypton, a man decided to conquer the world of Krypton and in the process, he destroyed one of the Krypton moons. After the man was killed, the Krypton high council made a decision that there was to be NO MORE science, no exploration, no research and no inventions.

So for a thousand years, life went on and eventually the people forgot about being curious and so they stagnated. Except one family. The family of EL. Jor-el and his brother Zor-el. Both were curious and their parents encouraged them to be curious against the rules of their society. So Jorel grew up being interested in astronomy and the skies, while Zorel studied geology and the earth.

Then a small alien showed up and changed the planent in a way noone ever expected. Jorel made friends with the alien and learnt that there were many worlds and many other peoples outside their own solar system. One of those planets was called earth.

The high council determined that the alien's presence was causing disturbances and that the alient must be destroyed and that all technology (including Jorels's inventions) and the alien ship must be confiscated.

One of the council members - Dru-Zod - was the head of the Technology Acceptance Committee. It was the committees jobs to determine if any invention was useful for Krypton society or not. Zod had been denying Jorel permission to build his inventions for many years. In fact Zod had been confiscating Jorels inventions and supposedly destroying them. BUT Zod was not destroying them. He was keeping them hidden because he firgured that they may be useful one day.

One day Jorel opened a doorway to another universe. He stepped inside and found himself floating in a space with no form, nothing was physical or solid and he had no way to get back. It was pure luck that a young lady came into his laboratory to speak to him. She was able to free him from this alternate universe. Her name was Lara and she was an artist and a historian. The doorway to the other universe was called Phantom Zone Rings. Having rescued Jorel, he and Lara fell in love and were married.

Another alien ship came down and carved out the city of Kandor from the planet leaving a huge hole in the ground. Kandor was the capital city - and the base of thre High Council. With the high council now gone, Zod stepped in and rallied the people together and set them to work building a new city. He also proclaimed himself as General Zod, ruler of Krypton and begans to act like a dictator. Anyone who resisted or spoke dissent against Zod just disappeared.

Jorel and Zorel organised a resistance against Zod and with the help of Jorels inventions, they were able to defeat Zod and imprison him in the phantom zone. During this time earthquakes began and got worse. Pressure was releived by a bore hole drilled down to the mantle to help relieve the pressure, this worked and the earthquakes subsided.

The missing people were found to have been sent into the Phanton Zone. They are released from captivity and Zod and his henchmen are sent into the Phantom Zone.

Things get worse when the new High council chooses to keep to the old ways and declares that all new technology and inventions have no place in Krypton society. They decide that noone shall ever release Zod from the phantom zone if the zone is destroyed. The council places the Phantom Zone Rings in the bore hole and it sinks down to the mantle. Jorel is pleading with the council to not do this as it will cause the destruction of the planet. The council laughs at him.

This is the end of the planet because the Zone rings feed on energy and there is TONS of energy in the mantle. The people have 3 days before the planet blows up. The people are committed to building ark ships to get away. Jorel and Lara build a small ship for them to get away. It does not work. Finally Jorel can only do one thing. Send their baby son Kal-El away in the ship to safety. They program the small ship to travel to earth.

We all know the rest of the story.
One thing to note - there is NO mention of any powers in this novel. So there is NO explanation as to where Supermans powers come from.

Monday, December 22, 2008

12 Books that Changed the World

These are the 12 books that Melvyn Bragg thought changed the world in a dramatic way. There were many other books he had to leave off the list. As you can see, some of these are on the 50 Greatest Books List I just completed. Others are not on that list. The bold titles in the list below are NOT in the 50 Greatest Books series. I will attempt to find more information about those books.

Darwin - The Origin of Species (1859)
The First Rule Book of the Football Association (1863)
William Shakespeare's First Folio (1623)
Newton - Principia Mathematica (1687)
Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations (1776)
William Wilberforce - Speech to the House of Commons (May 12 1789)
The King James Bible (1611)
Patent Specification for Arkwright's Spinning Machine (1769)
Mary Wollstonecraft - A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
Michael Faraday - Experimental Research in Electricity (1855)
Marie Stopes - Married Love (1918)
Magna Carta (1215)

Bragg also made a TV series about these books.
Here is the Football Association Rules Book clip.

Part 1 - 10 Minutes

Part 2 - 7 Minutes

Every Secret Thing - Book Review

Every Secret Thing - My family, my country.
By Gillian Slovo
Little Brown and Company 1997

A long time ago in a country far far away - a rugby tour was planned. The year was 1981. And the people hated the tour plan. Why? Because the rugby country being invited to play was the Springboks of South Africa. At that time South Africa was governed by the apartheid system.

Up until 1981 I had not really taken much notice of the apartheid system of government in South Africa. So during the 1980's I started reading. I read of Donald Woods and Steve Biko. Probably about the same time I saw the 1987 movie Cry Freedom. Around this time, I also read a book called Inside BOSS.

Inside Boss-South Africa's Secret Police
by Gordon Winter
Penguin Books
Published: 1981

BOSS was the South African intelligence unit in the 1960s and 1970s. The name was later changed to the National Intelligence Unit. My copy of BOSS had a bright red cover. Inside the BOSS book I vaguely remember reading about Donald Wood and Steve Biko. I probably also read about Joe and Ruth Slovo as well, but I dont remember those names.

So last week when I picked up this book from the shelf, I had vaguely heard of Gillian Slovo. I knew she wrote books, but I have never read any of them. I had no idea that she had famous parents. This book is her autobiography.

Gillian's parents, Joe Slovo and Ruth First, were both Latvian Jews. Joe was born and raised in Latvia and emigrated to South Africa in 1935 when he was 9 years old. Ruth's parents had emigrated from Latvia to South Africa on 1906. Ruth was born in Johannesburg in 1925. Joe and Ruth were married in 1949.

Ruth First and Joe Slovo had three daughters: Shawn (bn 1950), Gillian (bn 1952) and Robyn (bn 1955). Shawn's written account of her childhood, A World Apart, has been produced as a film called Catch a Fire. Robyn is a producer and Gillian is an author.

During the 1950s and 1960s Gillian's parents were being arrested and imprisoned at various times. They were both members of the Communist party and later Joe was the one of leaders of the ANC - the African National Congress. Nelson Mandela was another.

In 1963 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to prison on Robben Island. Joe Slovo took over the leadership after Nelson was imprisoned. The government were cracking down on the ANC. Joe had already fled the country. He did not return until after apartheid was eliminated. Ruth was arrested and spent 3 months in solitary confinement and she was interrogated regularly.

After her release, Ruth lived quietly with her daughters and her mother. In 1965 Ruth took her daughters and fled South Africa to Rhodesia first and then to UK where the daughers were raised and educated. In the 1970's Ruth went back to Mozambique to help the ANC from outside the country. Joe too stayed in exile, but he lived in Angola helping the ANC by arming them with weapons and teaching them tactics and strategies.

In 1982. Ruth was assassinated (killed) by a letter bomb sent to her in Maputo - the capital of Mozambique.

This book is mostly about Gillians search for her real mother and her mothers killer. It also covers her search for her real Dad. Along the way she discovers a half brother. Which meant her father was not loyal to her mother. Considering how long Joe and Ruth were separated, its probably not surprising.

For the inside history and knowledge of South Africa during the 1950s and 1960's written by someone who was there, this is an excellent book. And also try and read BOSS - Inside the Secret Police - if you can find it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

50 Greatest Books - Fini

Well you will be pleased to know that the entire series has now finished. These are the books that the Globe and Mail Newspaper considers to be the Greatest Books ever written.

1st entry: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
2nd entry: In Search of Lost Time
3rd entry: On the Origin of Species
4th entry: The Divine Comedy
5th entry: The Republic
6th entry: Don Quixote
7th entry: Ulysses
8th entry: Das Kapital
9th entry: The Confessions of St. Augustine
10th entry: Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince
11th entry: The Great Gatsby
12th entry: Middlemarch
13th entry: The Wealth of Nations
14th entry: The Interpretation of Dreams
15th entry: Gulliver's Travels
16th entry: One Hundred Years of Solitude
17th entry: King Lear
18th entry: The Critique of Pure Reason
19th entry: Pride and Prejudice
20th entry: The Iliad and The Odyssey
21st entry: The Brothers Karamazov
22nd entry: T. S. Eliot's Collected Poems, 1909-1962
23rd entry: Lolita,
24th entry: The Koran
25th entry: Our Mutual Friend
26th entry: Ficciones
27th entry: The Histories, by Herodotus
28th entry: Moby-Dick
29th entry: Madame Bovary
30th entry: Kafka's The Complete Stories
31st entry: The King James Bible
32nd entry: Principia Mathematica
33rd entry: The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats
34th entry: Galileo's Dialogue
35th entry: The Theban Trilogy
36th entry: The Mahabharata
37th entry: Alice in Wonderland
38th entry: The Social Contract
39th entry: Essays
40th entry: Faust
41st entry: Silent Spring
42nd entry: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
43rd entry: Anton Chekhov's Stories
44th entry: War and Peace
45th entry: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
46th entry: The Decameron
47th entry: Waiting for Godot
48th entry: The Tale of Genji
49th entry: Diderot's Encyclopedia
50th entry: Portrait of a Lady

I have not linked to the earlier books in the list because those reviews are only partial. You have to PAY (Globe and Mail) to read them in full.

The Globe and Mail have also made the following statement.
December 20, 2008

This issue of Books will be its last in stand-alone form.

Beginning Jan. 10, 2009, Books will have a new home, in print and on the web. We'll be part of a Focus & Books section every Saturday with the same authoritative survey of the Canadian literary scene, along with descriptions of our new online content.

We're taking the next two weeks off to retool so that we continue to bring you not only the sharp and insightful reviews and features you have come to expect, but some new and, we hope, exciting ones.

Our new web presence will have even more offerings, containing not only everything from the Saturday section, but many web-only features, including a daily book review, blogs, an archive of past reviews, podcasts and video.

Portrait of a Lady - 50 Greatest Books

Portrait of a Lady
By Henry James
Globe and Mail
December 20, 2008

Henry James used everything he knew, including his own complex self, when he wrote The Portrait of a Lady.

He dramatized his own interest in freedom against his own egotism, his own bright charm against the darker areas of his imagination.

He also used the ghost of his young cousin, Minny Temple, who had died in 1870.

He wrote to a friend who believed his heroine in the book, Isabel Archer, was a direct portrait of Minny: "Poor Minny was essentially incomplete and I have attempted to make my young woman more rounded, more finished.
"In truth everyone, in life, is incomplete, and it is [in] the work of art that in reproducing them one feels the desire to fill them out, to justify them, as it were."

In 1878, James had published Daisy Miller, a tale of a spirited young American woman in Italy who was punished for breaking the rules.

And also, a tale called An International Episode, in which another spirited young American woman was, to the surprise of her English friends, not in search of a rich husband, or any husband at all; she sought something more interesting from life than the mere prospect of money and rank.

The idea of creating a great female character loomed large in James's imaginative ambitions as the 1870s progressed.

When he came to write his preface to The Portrait of a Lady a quarter of a century after it was published, James insisted that the novel, which has a dark and fascinating plot, had not come to him first as a plot, "but altogether in the sense of a single character, the character and aspect of a particular engaging young woman."

As he wrote his preface, he was alert to the idea that a young woman as the central subject of a work of art had to be defended, or at least explained.

He appealed to the example of George Eliot, to her placing female characters such as Hetty Sorrel, Maggie Tulliver, Rosamond Vincy and Gwendolen Harleth at the very centre of her novels, remarking how difficult the task was, so difficult indeed that "Dickens and Walter Scott, as for instance even, in the main, so subtle a hand as R.L. Stevenson, has preferred to leave the task unattempted."

His decision, he wrote, was to "place the centre of the subject in the young woman's consciousness. … Stick to that — for the centre. … Press least hard, in short, on the consciousness of your heroine's satellites, especially the male; make it an interest contributive only to the greater one."

He used imagery associated with architecture throughout his preface: "On one thing I was determined; that, though I should clearly have to pile brick upon brick for the creation of an interest, I would leave no pretext for saying that anything is out of line, scale or perspective."

Part of the genius of the novel is its structure, its handling of time, its use of small-scale scenes where two or three of the characters dramatize their needs and desires.

Mostly, however, in sequences some of which have considerable intensity and power, we the readers live inside Isabel's tender mind and watch her change and respond; we understand nothing more than she does about what is coming her way.

In this novel, James conjured up real houses; he described the cities of Rome and Florence, which he had come to know and love; he weaved in English manners, which he had, by the time he wrote the book, come to appreciate.

He created a number of minor characters filled with eccentricity, such as the American journalist Henrietta Stackpole, the outspoken and independent Mrs. Touchett and the darkly and elegantly mysterious Madame Merle.

In The Portrait of a Lady, James drew a portrait of an American in Europe who had high ideals, immense charm and considerable moral seriousness.

He dramatized her need for freedom against repression and secrecy and dark restriction.

In concentrating on her fate in the world, her relationship with her cousin Ralph and two other men who wanted her, he created one of the most magnificent figures in the large and sprawling house of fiction.

Colm Tóibín was a finalist for the 2004 Man Booker Prize for his novel about Henry James, "The Master."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

MILA - Book Review

by Sally Armstrong
MacMillan Canada

WHO in this country has NOT heard of Mila Pivnicki?
Oh you havent?
Well maybe you know her by a different name?
Mila Mulroney.
Yes THAT Mulroney.

I have been in Canada for 8 years now and while I have heard and read a number of items and articles about Brian Mulroney, I barely know anything about his wife Mila. So I have just finished a very interesting biography of Mila Pivnicki Mulroney. It was absolutely fascinating. I could not put the book down and I read it in just 16 hours. (started at 9 am yesterday and finished at 1 am this morning). Hey, I would have read it faster if I did not have a class and an exam to study for. The exam is today.

Mila is just like me - an immigrant. Only she is not a new immigrant. She came to Canada years before I was even born. Milica Pivnicki was born in Yugislavia in 1953 to Dimitri and Bobanka Pivnicki. Milica (always called Mila - pronounced Meela) has two younger siblings. Jovan or John born in Yugoslavia in 1957. Mila was 5 and John was 1 year old, when the family immigrated to Canada in 1958. The youngest sibling Ivana, was born in Montreal in 1961.

This is the story of Mila's life in both Yugoslavia and Montreal. When she met Brian Mulroney she was just 18 and he was 33. They were married in 1973 when Mila was still 19. The first child Caroline was born in 1974 and Ben (Benedict) was born in 1976. There are two younger children as well - Mark (born 1979) and Nicholas (born 1985). The children were educated at a French school in Ottawa (during their fathers 9 years as PM) and they are all tri-lingual, speaking fluent English, French and Serbo-Croat (either Serbian or Croatian today).

The book describes Mila and Brians relationship and how he needed her as his anchor, in order to be an effective Prime Minister. It describes the family's life at the PM's resident - 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa. And their country "cottage" at Harrington lake.

There were lots of arguments and rumours in the media about Mila's so called excessive spending. And whether or not she was using public money to do it with. She spent money on her interior decorating, on her clothes and on her kids. What most people do not understand was that the job Brian had held before being elected to parliament gave him financial security - and earned him a considerable amount of money after he resigned. So the family was well off in their own rights - even without the PM's salary.

Mila never tried to influence Brian with any policy arguments. At least that's what the book said. BUT surely some of what she said or learnt had to have been mentioned over the kitchen table regarding policies in the public eye.

Brian Mulroney was Canada's 18th prime minister and dominated the political agenda of this country for nine years, from 1984 to 1993. They were tumultuous times, with the prime minister constantly in our faces over Free Trade, the GST, and the extended and exhaustive negotiations on the Meech Lake Accord. By the end of Mulroney's time in office, Canadians had become weary of his style and were primed for his departure.

Brian was the PM immediately before Kim Campbell (see Time and Chance review). Brian resigned a few months before an election was due, leaving Kim to be the PM for just 4 months. Due to Brians policies and legislation during his 9 years as PM, when the 1994 election was finally called, the public decimated the Conservative party and voted the Liberals into office with a HUGE majority. This allowed Jean Chretien to become PM. A job he also held for 9 years.

Jean Chretien was the PM when I came to Canada.

Sally Armstrong also wrote about her ancestor Charlotte Taylor. I have read and reviewed that book as well. So that makes two books by the same author that I could not put down. Sally is an excellent writer. I think it is time to find and read her book - Threats of Aghanistan.

Here is an article about Sally Armstrong from McGill university dated 2002
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

And another article about Sally. which mentions the following: She is the author of three books - Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan, The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor: the First Woman Settler of the Miramichi - and the newly released Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan's Women. It is interesting to note that this list does NOT mention the MILA book. I wonder why??

And of course I read this book for the Second Canadian Book Challenge.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Anne of Green Gables - A New Beginning - Review

Well I saw the movie last night. It was good but it was different. There is NO Gilbert, no Marilla - just brief glimpses of them as a memory.

In any Anne Shirley story you have to have the obligatory crusty old lady that young Anne can charm the pants off. First it was Marilla, then it was Rachel Lynde and in this movie that crusty old lady is Mrs Thomas - played by Shirley MacLaine.

This movie was done as a tie into the third Anne of Green Gables movie that Megan Follows made - the one where Gilbert went off to Europe during world war one. In that movie, Anne and Gilbert adopted young Dominic.

In this new movie, Dominic is grown up and is about to return home (to PEI) from Europe having been away fighting in WW2. The year is 1945.

Anne's early story is told as flashbacks. There are two stories happening here. The first one which tells of Anne's early life before she ended up at the Hammonds looking after their 8 kids. The second story is of Anne as widow and playwrite, waiting for Dominic to come home, looking for her father and then later her brother.

One thing I will say about young Anne (Hannah Endicott-Douglas) - she sure does talk the hind legs off a mule. She just would not stop talking. I realise that it was scripted, and she did a great job with everything she had to learn, but her voice. I felt Hannah's voice grating on me, especially after she had been talking for too long. Megan's voice never had that effect.

I'm sorry, but I think Megan Follows will always be Anne Shirley to me.

Here is the Globe and Mail review from yesterday.

In this season of specials, the biggest event on Canadian television this month is surely a three-hour, made-for-TV movie that presumes to give us both prequel and sequel to the enduring tale of Anne of Green Gables. Well, you mess with a Canadian literary icon at your peril. Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning is both largely unnecessary and mainly disappointing. The one bit of good news is that 12-year-old Hannah Endicott-Douglas is a worthy successor to Megan Follows, who played the character in the original mini-series. Read on.

Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning CTV, Sunday, 7 p.m.

It must be a frustration to those who make their living off the Anne of Green Gables legacy that L.M. Montgomery's original book contained but a few pages of pathetic suffering before the orphaned Anne bonded with her adoptive family and moved on to other exploits. Having long since exhausted the original material, producer Kevin Sullivan, who created the popular TV mini-series back in the 1980s, has invented a largely unnecessary prequel to the story of the red-headed orphan, and interwoven it with a weak sequel in a three-hour, TV movie. Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning is a disappointing affair, an ill-conceived and melodramatic narrative enlivened only by its period setting in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and the happy presence of Hannah Endicott-Douglas in the role of the iconic Anne.

The original book was aimed at children and Anne conquered her sorry circumstances pretty quickly. Sullivan, who both wrote and directed this new movie, clearly feels there was a certain lack of drama and worthy opponents in the book, and goes overboard here creating a highly improbable back story that borrows as much from Charles Dickens as Montgomery. After the death of her school teacher mother and desertion of her lumberjack father, Anne is thrown into the local poorhouse: break the ice on the freezing water bucket, throw the kindly old lunatic in a dungeon, and cue the cruel matron.

Fleeing this place, she just happens to run into Louisa Thomas (Rachel Blanchard), a confusingly contradictory character who was a friend of her mother and wife of a drunken doctor who has conveniently removed himself from the plot by dying. Louisa and her children are also on the run from their past, and Anne eventually tags along with them. They are to live with their irascible but wealthy grandmother whose cruel housekeeper banishes Anne first to the stables and then to the lumber mill the family owns. (The notion a girl would be asked to work in these all-male environments is just one of several historically dubious plot points here.) There follows a convoluted story about Anne's reappearing dad and union organizing at the mill. The only thing that makes it watchable is the relationship between Handicott-Douglas's fine reprise of the spunky Anne and Shirley MacClaine's lively version of the redoubtable Mrs. Thomas, as the irrepressible child inevitably wins over the battle axe. Then Mrs. Thomas disappears from the action just as abruptly as her drunken son did.

If this weren't enough, this tale is told in flashbacks from a sequel that picks up the story years later at the end of the Second World War. Anne is now a mother, grandmother and successful writer, returning to Green Gables to seek inspiration for a play she is trying to write, and to await the return of her adopted son from the war in Europe. When she finds a 30-year-old letter from her father beneath a floorboard, she suddenly goes charging off after him. (Why she has not thought to find him in the intervening years is never explained, along with a lot of other motivations.) She discovers he is dead - her assumption that at her age he would be anything other seems a bit odd - but also runs into various members of the old Thomas entourage still up to their nasty tricks. This section of the movie is even more improbable and ill-explained than the earlier one, and this time we have no formidable orphans and widows to cheer things up. As the aging Anne (a character based as much on Montgomery herself as on her fiction) Barbara Hershey offers a limp Katherine Hepburn imitation that somehow produces Anne's flightiness without any of her charm.

Perhaps fans of the original series will feel more Anne in any guise is necessarily a good thing, but this movie, which is accompanied, of course, by a larger marketing effort featuring all kinds of Green Gables paraphernalia, never justifies its presumption in inventing a new creation story for a Canadian literary icon.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Collectors - Book Review

The Collectors
By David Baldacci
Hachette Books

This is an action and adventure novel, and I read it because it involves a very rare book and the Library of Congress. Well in the end I got plenty of action inside the Library of Congress, but I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of details about the rare book.

The Camel Club is a group of friends, regarded as misfits by society. They live in Washington DC. The leader of this club is Oliver Stone (not his real name) who used to be an agency man and a trained assassin.

This club has a friend - Jonathan deHaven - who owns an original Bay Psalm book. Jonathan works at the Library of Congress in the reading room. It is his job to collect books requested by the public (who can read them but not remove them) and then to refile them on the shelves again.

Jonathan is murdered and his friends have no idea why. He died in the Library of Congress and the club decide to find out why and how he was killed.

The bulk of the story is of the club chasing down killers, neighbors, spies and swindlers. Eventually the club uncover a spy group that the FBI have not been able to locate.

As for the Psalm Bay Book, well that involves another small twist as well.

I actually enjoyed this book, but would have loved to have learnt more about the Bay Psalm Book.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

L'ENCYCLOPÉDIE - 50 Greatest Books


December 13, 2008

l'Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (The Encyclopedia, or systematic dictionary of the sciences, arts and crafts) was published in France between 1751 and 1772. There wasn't enough money to publish it all at once, so its existence depended on subscribers, sales and pleading. One of the earliest European encyclopedias, it was, by 1772, 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of illustrations, edited by the writer Denis Diderot and the great mathematician Jean le Rond d'Alembert. A wonderful work, it can be approached in a number of ways.

First, as the product of a remarkable generation of French intellectuals. Among its contributors were Jean-Jacques Rousseau (music and political theory), Voltaire (history, literature, philosophy), Montesquieu (on the idea of "taste"), Baron d'Holbach (the sciences, politics, religion) and Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (philosophy). Its aim, as set out by d'Alembert in his Preliminary Discourse, was the unveiling of the order within and interconnection among the various forms of human knowledge. Its fundamental idea was to include accounts of the first principles of all the arts, sciences and crafts.

A second approach might begin with The Encyclopedia's chief editor and guiding spirit, Denis Diderot, who is himself fascinating. The Encyclopedia can be seen as the culmination of his industry, idealism and ideals - ideals shared, of course, with many of his contemporaries. Diderot was a novelist of great talent: Jacques le fataliste (Jacques the Fatalist) is his best-known fiction, but Les Bijoux indiscrets (The Indiscreet Jewels), a work he later disowned for its childish elements (it is a novel about a magic ring that allows vaginas to speak), mixes philosophy, pornography, comedy and social satire in a way that is still startling and not without moments of real thoughtfulness. Diderot, a subversive philosopher and a talented art critic to boot, embodies the breadth of curiosity and the intellectual daring and perversity that are the hallmarks of the best of the Enlightenment.

A third approach: Though The Encyclopedia is a repository of the philosophical and religious debates that shaped the Enlightenment, it is more. It's a living document whose entries are sometimes important works of philosophy in themselves. For instance, d'Alembert's Preliminary Discourse is a fine introduction to Enlightenment ideas, but it's also a clear, well-written essay in empiricism (the belief that knowledge is derived first from the senses).

Frederick the Great thought d'Alembert's Preliminary Discourse greater than any of his own military accomplishments, and he wrote of it: "Many men have won battles and conquered provinces, but few have written a work as perfect as the preface to The Encyclopedia," a sentiment that shows just how in touch with the spirit of his time d'Alembert actually was.

Obviously, not all of The Encyclopedia's entries have the same value today. We know more than the men of the 18th century did about the natural world, and our prejudices are not the same as theirs. We see certain things more clearly than they did. On the other hand, it's hard to think of another encyclopedia (save, maybe, the 1911 Britannica) whose articles - well, some of them - have kept their relevance for so long. The entry on Baruch Spinoza, for example, is a vivid presentation of Spinoza's philosophy, a vigorous critique of his ideas and a sometimes snide account of Spinoza himself.

That entry's liveliness comes from one of Diderot and d'Alembert's main objectives: a deep engagement with ideas and a questioning of received wisdom. Beneath it all is a (radical for the time and, perhaps, still radical) belief that one could return to the "origin" of any idea and sort things out for oneself.

This attitude is at the heart of the Enlightenment's ongoing relevance. Its critics accused the encyclopedists - and Enlightenment thinkers as a whole - of supplanting God with Reason, of placing their faith exclusively in rationality. This is not at all true. As the entry on Spinoza demonstrates, they were heretics of Reason as well, as skeptical about ways of thinking as they were ways of worship. Their iconoclasm was wide-ranging, because their chief enemy was not God or Reason or Government but, rather, authority. The Encyclopedia, in bringing knowledge to the people, allowing a citizen to question the dictates of priests, politicians, scientists and even poets, gave him or her a way to independence of thought.

As philosopher Susan Nieman recently pointed out, in a time when authority can be as brutal and hard of hearing as it was in the 18th century, the example of Diderot, d'Alembert and the encyclopedists is of much more than historical relevance. They have become, again, our contemporaries and The Encyclopedia (still valuable in its abridged versions) is a great place to become reacquainted with dissent.

Contributing reviewer André Alexis's most recent book is the novel Asylum.

Farley Mowat Interview

I posted a review of a biography about Farley Mowat a few weeks ago. In todays Globe and Mail Newspaper, there is an interview with Farley, so I though I would post it.

So Farley, So Good
Saturday Globe and Mail
December 13, 2008

PORT HOPE, ONT. — It's late afternoon in this pretty, historic town east of Toronto, and the light is getting crepuscular in the sunroom of the clapboard house that Farley Mowat and his wife, Claire, have lived in for more than 30 years. Time, in short, for a libation.

Farley – doesn't everyone call him that? – gets up from his chair by the window overlooking a backyard dotted with stone commemorative markers etched with single names like “Millie” and “Albert.” There are six in total, one for each of the dogs that has lived and died with the Mowats during their time here. “Dog No. 7,” as Claire Mowat calls Chester, the border-collie/black-Labrador mix sharing the sunroom, pads after his master to the kitchen.

Minutes later, Mowat, in corduroy trousers, a pea-green hunter's vest and hiking boots, returns, glass in hand. “I'm on a new kick that Claire's got me on,” he informs his visitor. “It's vodka and white grape juice.” Taking a sip, he sighs contentedly and chuckles. “I like to imagine I'm creating my own wine internally.”

Farley Mowat: ‘Do we behave reasonably well as a species? Or are we perhaps one of the mistaken evolutionary branches?’ (Charla Jones/Globe and Mail)

Vodka has long been a Mowat staple, in often surprising combinations. A quarter-century or so ago, his visitor saw him knock back three vodka and milks in quick succession in an Edmonton hotel lounge – a drink “only a cow would enjoy normally,” he admits. Now that he's 87 (Claire's 75), Mowat limits himself to one alcoholic drink a day, usually consumed just before dinner, a couple of hours after he wakes from his afternoon nap. The one exception is, “if I have to go out anywhere. I'll have a drink or two to get my courage up to face the ravening multitudes.”

There have been multitudes in Farley Mowat's life since 1952 when he published People of the Deer, both his first book and the first of what turned out to be many bestsellers. You know some of them – Never Cry Wolf, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, Westviking, And No Birds Sang, Lost in the Barrens. And if you don't, well … can you really call yourself a Canadian?

Mowat has a new book, his 43rd, in stores. Called Otherwise, it's like much of his oeuvre, autobiographical – in this instance, covering the years 1937 through 1948, from his Prairie childhood and his burgeoning interest in the natural world to enlistment in the Canadian Army during the Second World War, his fateful postwar field trip to the Arctic and the early days of his first marriage.

“There is no other subject that I know better than my own life,” Mowat avers, so writing Otherwise was “a routine pleasure for me. … An organism needs a function. As a good student of animality, I know if you don't have that, you die. Writing is mine and as long as I can hit the keys and vaguely remember what word I need, I'll go on with it.”

Mowat claims he wouldn't have been surprised had Otherwise been published to little or no attention. It's been a good six or seven years since he had a substantial presence on the bestseller lists so, “I had no expectations.” Somehow, though, in the weeks leading up to Otherwise's publication, word started to circulate that it would be his last book. It's not something Mowat attested to, but regardless of how the story got started, it's had the effect of reigniting interest in things Mowat. “Maybe,” he says with a laugh, “I'm filling a category that happens to be vacant at the moment – the literary icon. The old ones are all dead except me and the new ones aren't old enough yet to fill the role.”

On this day at least, Mowat doesn't seem like he's likely to exit the planet any time soon. While he's become more troll-like over the years, and the famous beard has lost its bushiness and reddish hue – his countenance now is like that of a mischievous 19th-century Russian anarchist – his mind remains sharp, the humour nimble and combative, the sentences orderly. Hell, he and Claire still drive – a Honda CR-V that they've had for at least a decade.

Boyish-looking into his late 20s (“‘Junior,' they called me”), Mowat first grew a shield of facial hair while traipsing about the Arctic, in part because “black flies and mosquitoes don't penetrate a beard. They stay outside.

“I took it off once, during my first marriage it was, wasn't it?” At this, he glances over at Claire, his second wife, for confirmation. The two first met in the late 1950s – an encounter recounted a couple of years ago in Bay of Spirits, with Claire described as being “as radiantly lovely as any Saxon goddess” – when Mowat was still married to the former Frances Thornhill.

“Don't ask me,” Claire replies. “I wasn't in your first marriage. All I know is I've never seen you without it.”

Unperturbed, Mowat continues: “Well, I think four or five years after I got back from the Arctic, I was persuaded by my first wife to shave. And I kept it off for a year. But, finally, I couldn't stand it and back she came.”

Port Hope is where the Mowats “winter over.” Their summer home is on Cape Breton Island, an 80-hectare spread near the village of River Bourgeois that they announced last year they'd be donating to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. “We like winter, the change in the seasons,” Claire says. “I'd be unhappy if I had to be away from winter for a very long time.”

“And I have no desire to go and sit around semi-naked in Florida,” her husband snorts. “In Florida, you have to stare at each other's aging bodies whereas if you stay at home, you get to see each other's smiling faces. This is the best retirement home we've found, right here.

“We've done a lot of travelling,” he adds, “but not so much any more. Claire doesn't like flying. I don't mind it. But the airports today! The treatment the human animal gets there is worse than the bovine animal gets at the stockyards, up to and including the moment of execution.”

Over the years, Mowat's writings have been decried by some non-Farleyites as exercises in exaggeration and, in some instances, untruths. The most serious assault occurred in mid-1996 when the now-defunct Saturday Night magazine published a lengthy cover story by Montreal journalist John Goddard (now with the Toronto Star) debunking Mowat's early Arctic exploits. The article was illustrated, notoriously, with a photo manipulated to show Mowat sporting a Pinocchio-sized proboscis.

“That cut to the quick,” Mowat confessed recently in an interview with CBC Radio's Michael Enright. But the author – who likes to call himself “an emotionalist, subjective, not an intellectual, not even particularly rational” – never mounted much of a counteroffensive then and he's not keen to do so now. Nevertheless, he remains unapologetic about his oeuvre – let's not forget he called his very first book “a semi-novel” – and unchastened by those he calls “the fact addicts.”

“I have no impulse, no desire to rewrite anything I've written. Except,” he says, learning forward in his chair, “except where it is badly written. And there is a lot of that. Which is one of the few reasons I don't read much of my own work again. Because I don't want to be overwhelmed by the artisan's need to make it right. But as far as content is concerned, I have no regrets. Well, I have some. Mainly about not kicking the people who run this world harder in the ass!”

He pauses, then laughs. “Of course, there are also moments of reward. Every time I read a paper and see a little story about how Conrad Black is enjoying his incarceration in Florida, well, it gives me a certain degree of pleasure.” It was Black, after all, who, as publisher of Saturday Night from 1987 through 2001, would have okayed the Goddard article.

In fact, 12 years after the Saturday Night takedown, Mowat seems as incorrigible as ever. During that Enright interview, he underlined his refusal to forsake the Underwood manual typewriter he's used, two-finger style, for decades by saying he has a sign pinned to his front door in Port Hope reading, “No Jehovah's Witnesses or computers.”

This sign, however, is not in evidence during this visit and when Mowat is informed of this, he eyes his dog with mock severity. “Chester! Did you take down that sign?” Chester's ears twitch but he stares back unblinking. Turning to the visitor, Mowat shrugs: “He seems to take them down as soon as I put them up.”

Another self-deprecating laugh follows, whereupon Mowat repeats one of his governing maxims. “ ‘Never let the facts interfere with the truth.' That applies to practically everything in my life, including signs on a door.”

One thing these days that Mowat does admit to “feeling guilty about” is his mother, Helen. “I hear her voice,” he says. Which perhaps isn't too surprising since she is buried in a churchyard just a block or so south of the Mowats' house. In fact, the house, built around 1845, belonged to Mowat's mother before she sold it to her only son and moved into a seniors residence. Mowat explains that his father, Angus, a Vimy Ridge veteran, novelist and chief inspector of Ontario's public libraries from 1937 until 1960, “was always putting my mother down. He called her ‘poor dear Helen' – ‘PDH' was his condescending shorthand – and I always took his side,” even for a time after he left PDH “for this other, horrible woman [a fellow librarian, in fact], who turned out to be a real dragon, a devourer.

“I didn't do very well by my mother. I've never been derogatory to her in any way. But she's always taken second place to my father in my parental memories. Now I'm trying to make amends. … My attention is much more focused on her than it used to be.”

(Interestingly, throughout Otherwise Mowat refers to his parents mostly by their first names, hardly ever “Mom” or “Dad.” This is the result, Mowat explains, of “familial procedure. … It was only after I graduated high school – up until that point it was ‘Mom' and ‘Dad' – that Angus made one of his speeches, ‘Well, now you're a grown-up man. You may call me Angus, you may call your mother Helen.' That's the kind of guy he was.”)

An environmentalist and an ecologist decades before these terms were common currency, Mowat feels no real honour in being a pioneer or having sounded the alarm about humankind's impact on “the others,” the non-human species celebrated in Otherwise. “My behaviour is pre-eminently natural,” he asserts, “or at least I hope it is.” In matters of belief, he's agnostic: If there is a grand purpose to existence, “it is beyond my capacity to grasp, so why worry about that? What I am concerned with, and always have been, is the justice of our behaviour. Do we behave reasonably well as a species? Or are we perhaps one of the mistaken evolutionary branches?”

He inclines to the latter opinion – a view he started to entertain seriously after witnessing the carnage of the Second World War during combat experience in Italy. At that point, “I rejected giving my allegiance to man.” Now, going into what he likes to call “preachy” mode, Mowat declares, “I think we as a species have run our course. … We've had our time and, yes, look around, we've done amazing things. But it's all over but the shouting.” And, it seems, the odd grape juice and vodka on a wintry afternoon or an early morning stroll around Port Hope with Chester.

“We're too goddamned smart for our own good. All it means is that we'll probably eliminate ourselves that much more quickly.” Still, he admits, “as long as life continues, I continue.”

Claire Mowat doesn't share her husband's gloom, at least not today. “We're not gonna disappear any time soon. … Things come back,” she observes. “It's just like the spruce budworm. They go in cycles, you see. They go through a forest and decimate it, and then they burn themselves out or something, and come back 60 years later. …”

Mowat perks up at this. “Human beings are like spruce budworms! Yes: too smart for their own good, too successful and then the species dies off. A very good analogy, my love,” he says, chuckling, “very apt!”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Anne of Green Gables - A New Beginning

Just a quick note to tell you all that on Sunday (in 2 days) the NEWEST version of Anne of Green Gables will be shown in TV in Canada. Time from 7 - 10pm Eastern Time on CTV. It's called Anne of Green Gables - A New Beginning.

Remember this is all celebrating 100 years of Anne Shirley since the first book was published in 1908. Here is a review of Anne of Green Gables - A New Beginning which the reviewer saw at the Boston Film festival in September. It does have SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!

This movie covers Anne's life from when she was a child up until she went to the Hammonds right before she went to the orphanage and to PEI. It is told in flashback.

Edited to add

I also just found a review published in todays Globe and Mail.
Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning CTV, Sunday, 7 p.m.
Since Globe and Mail dont keep their article available for free - I will post the entire review next week after I have seen the movie.

Time and Chance - Book Review

Time and Chance
By Kim Campbell
Doubleday Canada 1996

During the last 8 years that I have been in Canada, I occasionally ran across the name of Kim Campbell. She was Canada's First Woman Prime Minister but she did not serve for very long in that position and then she vanished from the record. Her time as PM lasted barely 4 months. So when I came across her biography recently, I snapped it up.

Kim's real name was Averil Phaedra Douglas Campbell. She was born in British Columbia, Canada in 1947 and grew up with one older sister - Alix. When Kim was 12 years old, her mother put the girls into a boarding school, and then left her husband. The girls were devastated when they found out. Kim's reaction was to change her name from Averil to Kim.

Kim left the boarding school after that year and was enrolled in Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver. After graduation she attended UBC majoring in Russian studies. Then she went to law school. She spent some time as a lawyer and then looked around for a new challenge. So she got elected to the Vancouver city council. From there she went to the BC provincial government and in 1988 she was elected to Ottawa in Brian's Mulroney's Conservative Government. This was Mulroney's second term as PM.

Once in parliament, Kim was very quickly promoted to the cabinet as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. A year later she was promoted to become first female Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada(1990-1993). One of the cases that she worked on was the David Milgaard case. David had been accused of raping and killing a young women in 1972. Now 20 years later, David's mother was taking her sons case to the top to obtain justice.

In the end Kim had to release him because there was not enough evidence that he had actually committed the crime, several of the witnesses were now retracting their statements from 20 years before and there was also semen present that was not Davids - effectively putting someone else in the picture.

In 1993 after Mulroney shuffled his cabinet, Kim became the first female Minister of National Defence. Mulroney resigned in June 1993. At the Convention that same year, Kim was elected as the leader of the Conservative part. After Mulroney resigned, this effectively made Kim Prime Minister. She decided on October 25, 1993 for the election.

The second to last chapter goes into great details about the Conservative election campaign. With hind-site Kim explains why the Conservative party was beaten by a landslide, leaving only 2 (TWO) conservative seats in parliament.

Kim wrote this book as a means of healing herself from the grief of losing. Kim lost her own Vancouver seat as well as the national election.

After the election Kim spent time teaching at Harvard University, and doing various other law jobs. She currently lives in Paris, France with her common-law husband. Kim has been married and divorced twice but has never been able to have children.

This is a very frank and very well written book about her life before and in politics. Except for the election chapter, it was easy to read. The election chapter was slow going but I made it. I really enjoyed this book.

I read this book for the Canadian book Challenge.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Canadian Blog Awards

I have been alerted to the Canadian Blog Awards by a fellow book blogger. He mentioned this oversight on his own blog saying that there was no Literature (LitBlog) category and that we ought to do something. He had posted a query about the lack of a Litblog category and received this reply.

Literature has been covered under Cultural/Entertainment to this point. We’ve never had someone suggest a category strictly for literature devoted blogs before. If you know of a dozen or more Canadian based literature blogs, I’d be happy to see a list.

The thread was then promotly inundated with lots of long lists of book blogs. Even this one was included. So hopefully we will get our own literature category next year for the Canadian Book Blog Awards.

The Lazy B - Book Review

The Lazy B - Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest
By Sandra Day O'Connor and H. Alan Day
Random House 2002

This is an excellent book about life on a cattle ranch throughout the 1900's.

Sandra Day was a country girl. She grew up on her fathers family ranch in south west New Mexico and south east Arizona.

The ranch covered both states and was located in the high desert country south of the Gila River. The Ranch House itself was in Arizona, but the access road was from New Mexico. The family did their shopping in the county town of Lordsburg (Hidalgo County, NM) but the cowboys went to the bar in Duncan (Greenlee County, AZ). And yes there were cowboys on the ranch.

Sandra learned to ride a horse as soon as she could walk and she learned to drive a car before she was even in high school. Sandra was born in El Paso, Texas in 1930 and raised on the ranch. When she was 6 years old she was sent back to El Paso to live with her grandparents. There she attended a small private school for girls. She spent her summers and vacations on the ranch. Sandra's two younger siblings, Anne and Alan were born 9 and 11 years respectively after Sandra. I beleive that Alan and Anne were educated in Duncan.

This books describes Sandra's life as a country girl. It also describes her parents, the various cowboys - especially those who lived and worked on the ranch permanently. There is also a chapter on Sandra's younger brother Alan who is the co-author. Sandra describes what life was like at school in El Paso. she even persuaded her parents to allow her to attend school in Lordsburg for a year, but the long bus ride to and from the ranch gates, as well as the long drive from the ranch house to the gates was just too exhausting. After that year, Sandra went back to El Paso.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this memoir is that Sandra and Alan describe very vivid and detailed scenes. One of the other blogs I read regularly, is Pioneer Woman. Ree lives on a ranch in Oklahoma and some of the things Ree describes in her blog, match Sandra's stories almost word for word, even though they are taking place 50 years apart.

Sandra describes the Bureau of Land Management and how the bureaucrats started interfering and making decisions that made absolutely no sense. Most of them had not lived in farms at all. They had no idea of the impact of their decisions. This is partly why ranching is no longer the lucrative career that it used to be.

The LAZY B no longer is a working ranch. In 1986 the decision was made to sell off the land - a process that took several years. By 1993 the last block of land was sold, and with it went 113 years of DAY family history.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Tale of Genji - 50 Greatest Books

Did Lady Murasaki invent the Novel?
The Tale of Genji
Globe and Mail
December 6, 2008

There are two reasons to read
the 1,000-year-old Japanese novel
The Tale of Genji.
One is that it is very strange.
The other is that it is very familiar.

It is simultaneously a testament to the continuity of human nature and to the unceasing variety of customs and social arrangements that civilizations engender. Reading it is in some ways a challenge, and yet it goes down easily, in a dreamlike way, not quite understandable yet consistently alluring.

Did Murasaki Shikibu (Lady Murasaki) invent the novel in 1000 AD? Let's say she did, since no one but specialists read her rivals (Daphnis and Chloe? The Golden Ass?) while The Tale of Genji is read in Japanese schools as Shakespeare is read in English and North American schools, and has been fully translated into English three times in the past century (by Arthur Waley, Edward Seidensticker and Royall Tyler).

Let's say, further, that she invented two types of novels.

The first, of about 700 out of 1,100 pages, is a biographical novel about "The Shining Genji," a son of the emperor of Japan and one of his low-status concubines.

He is intelligent, graceful and wonderfully good-looking, and sets himself the task, early in his adult life, of knowing and loving as many women as he can (while, of course, maintaining and improving his status at the Heian Emperor's court).

His task is complicated by the fact that most of the women he might come to know are sequestered and unavailable, but his charm and intelligence more or less overcome this difficulty.

He lives to the age of 48 or 50; he marries several times (his society is polygamous); he finds true love; he has several children; he finds wisdom.

It is this last that gives The Tale of Genji its enduring appeal.

Heian Japan (794 to 1185 AD) saw the popularization of Buddhism (which had been introduced in the sixth century).

By the 10th century, there were well-established philosophical and poetic traditions that Lady Murasaki easily drew upon to infuse Genji's career, but also his inner life, with meaning as well as lyrical power.

At one point about halfway into the novel, for example, when Genji is, to all appearances, at the height of fame and power, he and one of his wives discuss whether spring or autumn is to be preferred.

After Genji leaves, the wife reflects: "He brings everything altogether in himself, like a willow that is all of a sudden blooming like a cherry. It sets a person to shivering."

Genji himself is only made more thoughtful and humble by his great career, and in the end dies lamenting his failures and flaws rather than celebrating his successes.

It is this, the author implies, not his looks or his intelligence or his achievements or his high connections, that raises him above all others.

And then, Murasaki Shikibu went on to invent another sort of novel, the much more time-limited and plot-driven tale of Niou and Kaoru, Genji's grandson and great-nephew, who are friends and love rivals.

The plot of this section (about 300 pages) concerns the rivalry and intrigue between the two young men over a pair of sisters, daughters of a nobleman who lives at some distance from the imperial court.

In this section, Murasaki explores the contrasting psychologies of the four main characters and the consequences of their various choices as they attempt to wrestle with their desires and their conflicting loyalties.

As in the earlier section, formalities of birth and inheritance only temporarily veil realities — characters discover that they are not who they thought they were, and that desire often overcomes taboos.

The Tale of Genji was composed like a Dickens novel, in chapters that Lady Murasaki showed to the women of the emperor's court as they were written.

It is therefore similar to a Dickens novel in that characters, adventures and observations proliferate. Some threads are lost track of, others emerge, the whole seems a bit disorganized.

But there is an internal integrity to it all that is made up of Lady Murasaki's overriding interest in what love is and what it feels like, in the progress of seasons and years, in the relationship between the inner life and external circumstances.

Somehow, The Tale of Genji defies the passage of a millennium and invites us to ponder that the more things change, the more they stay the same, while the more they stay the same, the more they change.

Jane Smiley's most recent novel is "Ten Days in the Hills." She is also the author of "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Challenges and other things

Well first up I have now done 501 posts. This is post number 502.

My sons school had their parent-teacher interviews today. My son had mostly Bs and Cs on his report card.

And as my regular readers will know, I am currently doing the Canadian challenge. This requires readers is to read 13 books by or about Canada between Canada day one year (July 1st) to Canada day the following year.

So far I have officially read 26 books. That is I have done this challenge twice and I am now doing this challenge a 3rd time.

I went looking for books today and came home with 3 biographies - all by women. One of them being Canadian which I will read for the challenge. As soon as I have finished the current Canadian autobiography. The other two biogrphies are Benazir Bhutto and Sandra Day O'Connor. You'll find out who the 3rd writer is when I write the review.

My parents will be celebrating their Golden wedding anniversay just before Xmas. They have been married for 50 years.

And for my own anniversary. Next week will be the 2nd anniversary of my official landing in Canada as a permanent resident. Even though I have been living in Canada for 8 years. And on that date next week, I will officially be eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship.

For those of you who say I must be landed for 3 years - well usually yes - but those who were processed inside Canada get to use up to two years of residence inside Canada before landing, as one year of full time residency for the purposes of being eligible for citizenship 1 year earlier than those who immigrate from outside Canada.

Monday, December 1, 2008

New Art History Challenge

I have just discovered a new Art History Challenge. I absolutely LOVE Art History. There are 4 gorgeous and lovely buttons you can use. I have uploaded two of them. I do plan on doing this challenge in 2009.

Do you love art? Do you love reading about art? Join The Art History Reading Challenge and challenge yourself to read at least 6 books about art in 2009. These can be either fiction or nonfiction, and can span every genre from historical fiction to graphic novel.

And I have also discovered the website of Karen Essex. I have never heard of her before, although she appears to have written some excellent historial novels. I must find them - maybe even read Leonardo Swans for this challenge.