Monday, March 30, 2009


This blog is on a tiny hiatus for a few weeks. Please come by at the end of April. Thanks!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Are Literary Agents Endangered? (Chuck says No)

Marketing author Seth Godin says that the days of the generic agent are over as evidenced by the disappearance of travel agents and real estate agents. He suggests agents must specialize or die (figuratively) and includes literary agents in his prescription.

Chuck at the Guide to Literary Agents blog says, literary agents have always specialized and are not in danger of becoming redundant anytime soon.

Low Tech Home Ec

If you liked the Mabel Hyde Kittredge blog post
from March 10th, you will love this online library from Cornell University called HEARTH! It stands for Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, History.

These amazing home economics texts from 1800 to 1999 can teach your children to sew or help you discover if your cocoa contains arsenic. They might also remind you how good you have it.

(Or when it comes to adulterated food, maybe not.)

Image from The home and its management: a handbook in homemaking, with three hundred inexpensive cooking receipts by Mabel Hyde Kittredge

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Paddy's Day

I did not drink any Guinness today, but I did watch the St. Patrick's Day parade and waved and cheered, and got pamphlets on Irish Dancing, and a green plastic necklace for my enthusiasm (no flashing was involved).

I don't even know how to upload pics from my phone yet and they're terrible quality anyhow, so maybe it's best to just imagine the following:

1) A faux Finnegan's wake set up on the back of a tractor/trailer - complete with dude lying "dead" in four-poster (with wallpaper behind him), the song blaring, a widow in black lace, and a kitchen table and buddies dancing. It made me laugh so hard.

2) The Ontario DeLorean Owner's Club. Can you imagine a line of DeLoreans driving by you? I could not believe what I was seeing. One DeLorean had a passenger holding a Hoverboard on her lap! That is attention to detail.

There were people handing out flyers for Riverdance (return engagement to T.O. - is there a demand?), and Irish Spring body-and-hair wash sample bottles. Oh, green, symbolizing so many many things!

There was also a song and much riffing on the U.S. Prez being Barroch O'Bama - complete with limo, president impersonator and fake Secret Service dudes. It was funny.

Green Beer Day is over. You may now move on to the chocolate-marshmallow eggs and matzah.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What I'm Reading

I tend to inadvertently read on themes. I don't do it onpurpose, but I start several books, and then when I stack them together, I realize they all connect. I guess my subconscious takes care of it.

I'm reading The Wicked Son by David Mamet. I'm re-reading The Merchant of Venice and The Outsider by Albert Camus.

I really did not enjoy The Outsider in high school, but I was full of pep and vigour then, and was quite repulsed by Existentialism. Camus' writing is much better than I remember. I've never warmed to Existentialism, but I'll see how I feel at the end of the book.

I also forgot that Merchant has one of my favourite openings of Shakespeare's plays, which I often misattributed to Romeo and Juliet.
In sooth I know not why I am so sad.
It wearies me, you say it wearies you.
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ‘tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn.
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me
That I have much ado to know myself.
I'll write more when I finish reading them.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Disgrace/Scandal/Debt

I haven't learned to think before I blog. (And probably won't, so don't hold your breath.)

Disgrace and Notes on a Scandal are two very different books. And neither is really about an affair between a teacher and a student.

That is the incident that gets the ball rolling. It's a significant event, but both novels deal much more with power and loneliness. Sex (including rape and statutory rape) is a charged catharsis with vast political aftershocks.

The problem I have with Disgrace is that I never, at any point, liked this protagonist. I understood him, sure, but I spent two hours this evening in the company of a character I didn't like and never grew to love. I appreciated his principles (as far as he stood by them), but the protagonist's (psychological) affect was more reminiscent of Camus' The Outsider. I could not find a way to believe the relationship between him and his daughter, either. Maybe there is something about this aging-man POV I don't get or can't slip vicariously into; I've never read About Schmidt, but I'm not sure I should bother.

Coetzee is as erudite as his anti-hero, so the writing - the actual choice and placement of the words - is strong. The story moves along, and it did agitate me enough (at least intellectually) that I bit my nails. That's a good sign. I just didn't love anyone in the book at all. Is there a clinical detachment here from the writer? Or am I simply very sentimental as a reader, drawn to more sentimental stories? The novel was realistic, but realism does not always move me.

Both Notes on a Scandal and The Debt to Pleasure have strange broken characters who are somehow fun (or interesting) to inhabit, despite being unlovable. You love them in their despicable actions, in their twisted self-preserving logic.

Disgrace is a far-reaching novel. It touches on many themes with intelligence and depth, yet the emotional experience was tepid. Perhaps it is one of those books that will stay with me longer than I expect. Perhaps I am not well-read enough, and don't know enough of the classic literature references. (Like reading Camille Paglia or Harold Bloom, I felt very ignorant as to all the classics I have not read, and the potential layers of meaning I was missing.) Then again, a work should stand on its own.

I'm glad I read it (so people can stop telling me to read it), but will I walk past it at the bookstore, and grab my friend's arm, and say, "Hey! Have you read this?" while jabbing at its cover? No.

(Though I have to add: I really like the cover!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Scandal and Disgrace

This is a lazy blog post.
"The present letter blog post is a very long
one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter."
Blaise Pascal Lettres Provinciales, XVI
If I save this as a draft, I'll never come back to it, so I'm posting it as "rough notes" and perhaps I'll write more on this later. Keep in mind I haven't finished reading Disgrace yet. Feel free to add your thoughts and free associations in the comments!

From the Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1993):

n 1- cause of public outrage
2- outrage etc. so caused
3- malicious gossip

n 1- shame; ignominy
v 2- dismiss from a position of honour or favour

- a male professor sleeps with a young female student
- male writer: J. M. Coetzee
- Booker Prize Winner (1999)
- Nobel Prize Winner (2003)
- motion picture starring John Malcovich (2008)
- screenplay by Anna Maria Monticelli
- (recommended to me by two different men in their forties - not teachers!)

Notes on a Scandal (2003)
- a female teacher sleeps with a young male student
- female writer: Zoe Heller
- Man Booker Prize shortlist
- motion picture starring Cate Blanchett and Dame Judy Dench (BAFTA, Oscar, Golden Globe nominations for both) (2006)
- screenplay by Patrick Marber
- (picked it up because I was impressed with the film cast and the library book's cover)

Wikipedia on sexual relationships between students and teachers.

My initial thought that led to this blog post was simply, did one deserve the Nobel Prize and not the other? (One might ask, is the Nobel Prize worth winning with this judge's attitude?)

I just cut 133 words re: gender bias, 'cause I had nothing new to say: Men have dominated as short/longlisted authors, jury members, and winners in the past 30 years. I didn't want to wade into gender-bias issues.

But can you discuss sexual relations between a teacher and a student without wading into gender issues? It's a tangled mess of gender-roles, age-differences, power-wielding, and questions of consent.

Have you read both?
How do they compare?
What did you think?
Did you see either movie?
Are they more similar to each other, or to other works? (Oleanna and Pretty Persuasion or others?)

Well? You only get points if you participate.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I Love What You've Done with Your Tenement Flat

I have no idea why this 1911 book, Housekeeping Notes: How to Furnish and Keep House in a Tenement Flat, is in print, but I'm so glad it is! It reminds me of my visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

It seems to be an instructional book for teachers in Housekeeping Centers who were to teach young women from the tenements (I'm assuming they were women), how to keep house. It lists what one needs to set up a home in a tenement, how much it would cost, and how to maintain everything. It is also full of things to be grateful for (i.e. that I don't need to keep coal for a stove, etc). It also defaults to a family of five, and addresses both units with or without shared bathrooms.

I like the frank approach the book takes:
Shelves for china in the dining-room are better than a sideboard, the latter being too large for an ordinary tenement room. Cheap sideboards are also very ugly.

Book shelves are a necessity in the living-room…
These courses dealt with the reality of living in the tenements. Tenements were notoriously crowded, poorly maintained, and were built with the absolute minimum regard for human comfort and safety. They were such unhygienic fire-traps that they essentially spurred lawmakers to create building code laws. Tenement landlords were eventually forced by law to upgrade all their buildings to have indoor plumbing, and they argued at the time that it was too costly and not worthwhile.

After the first Tenement House Act, landlords tried to get legislation passed to undermine it. Check out this New York Times article from 1896. (Viewing the full article is free.)

There are probably lots of current books regarding public policy on low-income housing, and plenty of material on organizing social activism, but I can't imagine anyone publishing something like this now. It would be like publishing "Your Home in the Projects: How to Keep It Clean and Gorgeous". There are plenty of websites to tell you how to live frugally, or make furniture from Fed-Ex boxes, but I'm not sure if it's quite in the same spirit.

These types of courses were what eventually became public school Home Economics courses (I think). They were gone by the time I got to junior high. Unfortunately, I really needed this kind of training - I'm a pretty lousy housekeeper! I wish Home Ec and Auto Mechanics had been mandatory. However, with tuberculosis and bedbugs on the rise in T.O., perhaps we may as well look to 1911 for help.

Photos of 97 Orchard Street, Lower East Side, NY, from

Monday, March 09, 2009

Eye Camera

It was really only a matter of time till someone developed this eye camera and in my opinion, it won't be long before it reaches a broader consumer base.

Imagine when spies and paparazzi get their eyeballs implanted/replaced with these? Or teenagers? Peeping Toms? Creeps on the subway? I'm having a hard time focusing on the positive benefits here.

Read Poetry for Toronto's Birthday

Toronto and I shared a birthday last week and it was great fun. I didn't know it was going to be Toronto's birthday, so I made my own plans.

I did at least get with the program regarding the Keep Toronto Reading event, and at the Graphic Bandita's urging, put a copy of Glen Downie's Loyalty Management on hold. If you haven't read poetry in a while, I recommend you pick it up. It will remind you how great poetry can be.

Check out the Shortlist for Keep Toronto Reading too. Elyse Friedman's book, Long Story Short, which I blogged about a while ago, was shortlisted. Her stories really merge a new Canadian incarnation of tragic hipness.

Now I am back to reading the Portable MFA in Creative Writing book I mentioned before. I was reading about classic story structure and there was a section on the (non-classic) plotless story. When I got to:
"Keeping a reader engaged with an idea is tricky... However, Milan Kundera's hugely succesful novels are idea laden, perhaps even idea driven."
I realized that I have never read a Kundera novel because of the type of people I've only ever seen reading Kundera novels: skeezy pretentious guys in their twenties! Ha! There's my confession of reading bias for today. What's yours?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

When Your Character Bosses You Around

I wrote a story today. 2677 words.

There was a moment when I KNEW my protagonist was supposed to suffer. Life is cruel and it was going to be cruel to him. It was supposed to be. That's what you're supposed to do to your "hero", or even your "anti-hero" - you're supposed to put him through hell, or up a tree, or up a creek or whatever.

Then I chickened out.

I couldn't do it. He'd already had a plain day and a rough couple of years, so I gave him a hope-y ending.

I don't know if that constitutes a story or just a character sketch, but I'll see how it reads tomorrow in the light of day.

I always chicken out. Apparently it's common for a writer to weep when killing off a favourite character, but I can't even give my character a broken heart.

I need to get tougher. How do you do it?


God bless caffeine-addicted engineers.

Please watch this video on SomethinXY's blog of an astronaut who has his priorities straight.

Bonus tracks:
Caffeine and the central nervous system PubMed article
Caffeine: Neuroscience for Kids!

Champion in the Arena: A Tribute to Jackie Mittoo

The Nufunk Festival is on now and tonight there is a funkalicious event/gig in tribute to Jackie Mittoo, "an integral part of the Skatalites and the whole creation of rock steady".

Read more about Mittoo in this article in the Jamaica Observer. More about the gig here on

Update #1: More about Mittoo and the Jamaica to Toronto phenom on this Yahoo blog here - with MP3s!

Update #2: Light in the Attic Records is where to find all this great music. MP3s available here too.

That's where I'll be tonight. You come too.

Thanks to my ultra-hip friends who keep me aware of stuff like this. You are welcome to guest-blog your ultra-hip activities any time!

I'll be out tonight, but the premises will still be guarded by the ATTACK CAT.

The Hebrew Mamita

I've just been introduced to the Hebrew Mamita, Vanessa Hidary, and I'm better for it.

The other Def Poetry speakers/poets are great too. Looks like I'm going to be spending a lot of time on Youtube this week...

The Story Prize

The Story Prize winner is Tobias Wolff.

I learned about it from the National Post's book blog, The Afterword.

I've only read a few stories by Wolff and I enjoyed them. I guess this would be a good occasion to buy his latest story collection (or put it on hold at the library) and read some more.

The runners up were Jhumpa Lahiri (whose work is fabulous) and Joe Meno (whose work I have not read).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Time, Wasted

You know when you go on Craigslist to look for one thing - just one thing - and then three hours later you've looked at every piece of retro/vintage furniture available within a 20km radius? When you should've just stuck to the garment racks you found at Ikea, anyway?


Right. So back to the writing, now.

More Globe Wernicke bookcases here.


Pretty and enamel and baubles - three words I love - all together at Graphic Bandit's post here. Go read it, if only to see what Spring looks like as a ring.

Three Reasons Why Work is Rejected

A good post at the Guide to Literary Agents blog on the top three reasons work is rejected for representation by an agent. So to read:
But why do GOOD writers get rejected? Simple... They submit before the work is ready.

It strikes fear into my writerly heart.

Sometimes people say, are you still working on your book? When will you submit it?

Although I would like to submit my manuscript soon, I do not want to submit it before it's ready. The truth is that most first novels end up locked away in drawers to be laughed at later when the author has successfully published her third novel. My Novel #1 still needs revisions, but I am always plagued by the thought that the revisions won't be enough. It might just be my "drawer" novel, and it's too soon to tell.

Domestic Abuse

WendyB linked to Topaz Horizon on her blog in talking about domestic abuse. (I'm not linking, 'cause Wendy got the permission, not me - but DO check out Wendy's blog!) The blogger at Topaz Horizon discusses her own experience of being in an abusive relationship, and it is eye-opening.
I can't really comment on the lives of celebrities, (though of course I do), because by the time we read something on the internet lord knows how many ways it's been distorted. In the case of the singer currently in the news, I hope the people closest to her are watching the situation like hawks. Hawks with guns.

However, if you know a teen you might want to share these posters with her or him. They were a joint project with the Speers Society, the Toronto Police, and Kids Help Phone, and designed by students from Seneca College. I think they do a good job of addressing how abuse might present in a teen relationship, and what it does to the abused party (isolate, destroy self-esteem, etc.). I post them here without permission, but if you want to order them or find out more, there is contact info here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Portable MFA

I got The Portable MFA from the library. I am on page 28. So far it is excellent. I've worked through my mini-drought and I've written 793 words this evening. Hurrah.

The book is meant to be a portable summary of the lessons you'd learn in the New York Writer's Workshop and so far, the fiction portion is quite good. (It also address magazine, screenplay, and non-fiction writing.)

I especially recommend the Introduction by Tim Tomlinson where he discusses the uses of an MFA (and abuses, too, in programs that are poorly taught by lazy teachers). His list of top ten flaws of Creative Writing MFA programs should be required reading for anyone applying to/pursuing an MFA program and for those teaching one.

While there is nothing radical in the fiction section, I much prefer Tomlinson's approach to teaching plot and structure to McKee's. A lot of the story set-ups he examines are familiar, but I've never looked at them with a writerly perspective as story forms.

So far so good. I'll let you know what else I discover.

Happy Birthday to You

I'm not a fan of Ms. Biel here, but I'm nothing if not caring. So this is for a certain birthday boy. I hope he appreciates how many pics I had to flip through to find this one. Have gorgeous day.

I don't know who the photographer is, but I found this photo at this fan site.


Ugly/cute recycled plastic luggage by Heys.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Well, I'm rather fond of March (also, of the Hebrew calendar months of Adar I and Adar II) because it's my birthday month and Spring is supposedly on the way. I like the word March too. From Mars, the god of war, comes March, a nice succinct stompy kind of word. But it also has a pale yellow quality to it (like jonquils, the birth flower), and a squishy sound at the end (March-shmallow?) and it sounds like "Ma" which is sweet and cozy, and "arch", which can be wry or villainous! And the birthstones, depending which resource you look at, are bloodstone (dark green with red flecks) - which sounds cool and deep and is a kind of chalcedony (<--also one of my fave words), or aquamarine, which is icy and cool and sparkly.

Well, this ode to March is not the reason I logged on today, but what can I do? I love March very March. (Thank you! I'll be here all week!)