Friday, November 20, 2009

Canuck Book 4 - Generation A by Douglas Coupland

I liked this book. I like pretty much anything by Coupland. I did not love this book. The ending was a cop-out or a strange digression or something else so I got to the end of the book and wound up with a certain Strokes song running through my head (Is this it?). The future is in much better hands when it is handled by Atwood.

For all its talk of being about Generation A, this is most definitely a Generation X book. People talking and telling stories and talking some more. You go along with it because that is what Coupland does so well. Only this time I think he just sort of ran out of steam. Maybe next time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Because I spend so little time messing around on the internet. . .

Rather than doing something productive with my day, I am currently listening to Vinyl Cafe and looking up famous birthdays. Don't even ask me how I wound up doing this but I did find out that I was born on the same day (Sept. 23) as Mickey Rooney, John Coltrane, Bruce Springsteen and Ray Charles. Kind of cool. Not so cool is the fact that I was also born on the same day as Julio Iglesias, Matt Hardy and George from Seinfeld. Win some, lose some.

I will now push away from the computer desk and at least run a couple errands.

Hope your day is more interesting than mine.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I can't believe I just spent 33 bucks. . .

. . . To go see Stephen King in an interview. . .

. . . with David Cronenberg and hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos next Thursday at the Pantages Canon Theatre.

If I hadn't already seen him a couple summers ago, I wouldn't have bothered. Having seen him give an interview I knew this was an event I couldn't pass up. He is funny and strange and a wonderful talker. Adding Cronenberg and Stroumboulopoulos to the mix is just icing on the cake.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Woody Revisited

I love old folk stuff. Guitar and voice. Maybe a harmonica. Simple stuff. Nothing to get in the way of the words. Which always worked well for Woody Guthrie.

I left work last night and walked up to Little Italy to visit Soundscapes records. A week or so ago, I saw they finally had a copy of the new Guthrie boxset, My Dusty Road. Payday came and the set was mine. I guess the market for old folksingers isn't quite as robust as it once was.

The set is taken from a treasure trove of metal masters that Guthrie (sometimes with Sonny Terry and Cisco Houston) recorded for the Stinson label. They were given up for lost until recently when they were found in a storage bin in the basement of an apartment building in Brooklyn.

Rounder Records did a wonderful job with the set. The box is made up like an old time cardboard suitcase complete with metal hardware. Inside are such superfluous but welcome touches as a copy of a booking card, a postcard from Woody to his wife and a business card.

Of course, packaging doesn't mean much if the music isn't up to par. Thankfully, the music is spectacular. Sure, it's mostly songs you've heard before (if you're a folk music fan) but the sound quality is wonderful. Revelatory. Clear, full, with none of the hissing and popping you hear on most Guthrie discs.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the old recordings. The 4 disc Asch recordings set has a lot of great songs on it. The problem is it always sounded more like a historical artifact than a musical recording. You play the Asch stuff and it feels like you are listening to a bunch of well used 78s.

With the new stuff, it sounds more like what the musicians would have wanted you to hear. Rather than listening to history, the Dusty Road stuff is about listening to the musicians themselves.

For those of you who only know Woody through "This Land is Your Land", this set gives you a great version of the song with the verse that often gets forgotten, ignored or stifled:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said 'private property'
But on the back side it didn't say nothing
This land was made for you and me

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Weekend of Long Walks

I am fast approaching the end of a five day weekend. At one point, I had thought of going on a weekend getaway to Sarnia or perhaps down to the States to see a college football game. I do want to go to a US college football game at some point. It's not that I'm a huge football fan. I just want to see the spectacle of it all, where 80 or 90 or 100 thousand people show up to watch a game. Alas, reason overtook impulse and I stayed put. My wallet breathed a sigh of relief.

Instead, I stayed in the city and enjoyed some truly incredible weather. I took my cameras and went on some long walks down the belt line and downtown. Yesterday was far too nice a day for subways so I walked downtown, with a detour through Rosedale, and then back home. All told, it was a 9 mile day. If only we could keep this fall weather right through until May. . .

So today is another gem. While there are a number of things I want to do that would require staying indoors - reading Generation A, writing a story that's been brewing for far too long, waging war against the increasingly militant dust bunnies - I think I will sneak out for one more trek over to the belt line and down to Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Yesterday, I read on the sign outside his old apartment building that Glenn Gould is buried at Mount Pleasant so I think I shall try to find the grave.

Here are a few pics from the past few days:

ps - I've been listening to Gould's Goldberg Variations while I write this. It always amazes me how much music can come out of just two hands.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Canuck Book 3 - The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood

I'm sorry.

I know I said that I was going to spend this challenge rereading my favourite Canuck books but I can't resist. With new books by Atwood, Munro and Coupland not to mention the new Zoe Whittall book I want to read, I just can't keep that promise. I will get back to the rereading thing soon but for now you are going to have to put up with some new books.

And now onto the Atwood. . .

Um. . .

What can I say without gushing?

I remember first reading Atwood in university and how daunting a task that was. Here was this ultra-serious (by the look of her photos) woman with this almost ridiculously lofty reputation and I was faced with poems like "This is a Photograph of Me" and novels like The Edible Woman. Sure, I'd probably read The Handmaid's Tale at that point but that just kind of made things worse. I mean, did everything have to be so serious?

Late one night about that time, I remember watching the movie version of Surfacing on CBC. If you would have told me then that it was based on an Atwood book, I would have thought you were nuts. I mean, she is serious capital L literature. Not that the movie was a laugh riot or anything but it was just so strange, so absurd, that I wouldn't have been able to reconcile it with my vision of the great Atwood.

Turns out, she never really was that serious. Or she was but she also wasn't above seeing the humour in things. It's taken me a long time to get over that first faulty impression but I'm glad I have.

As for The Year of the Flood, I loved it. It is a companion piece to her last sci-fi novel (Oryx and Crake) and I found it worked really well. Whether she'll cop to it or not, Atwood does great sci-fi. Anyways, the esteemed Shelf Monkey does a far better job then I could of dispelling the myth that Atwood doesn't write sci-fi so I will leave it to him (

I was initially nervous about her inclusion of God's Gardeners Hymns and the sermons by Adam One. They definitely tiptoe the line between interesting device and overly cute distraction. As the novel progressed, though, I began to see it as a third narrative and, in that light, it worked well.

There's not much else I can say about it. If you have even a passing interest in sci-fi, you will probably love this book.

I initially planned to reread The Edible Woman for this challenge. Now, I'm going to reread Oryx and Crake instead.

Canuck Book 2 - The Watch That Ends The Night by Hugh MacLennan

I first read MacLennan's The Watch That Ends the Night in a first year Canuck Lit course back in university. It was a surprise, a Canadian response to that time (the thirties) that was covered by such heavyweights (and personal favourites) as Hemingway, Steinbeck and Orwell. No, it wasn't the greatest book I read that course - that honour would go to Laurence's The Diviners - but it was one that stuck with me over time.

Rereading this book, I went back and forth over how much I liked it. While it was a good read, there were only certain times when I felt the same magic that thrilled me the first time through. Perhaps, it's just that my tastes have changed. I don't know.

Don't get me wrong. It's still a book worth reading. I think I went back to it expecting it to be more about the times and the Spanish Civil War. What I found instead was a work that spent just as much time meditating of love and aging.

The story is written in flashbacks from the fifties. It revolves around George Stewart and his relationships with Catherine Carey, the girl and woman he grew up with and eventually married, and Jerome Martell, the doctor who married Catherine first and then followed his conscience to war in Spain. This triangle is complicated by the fact that Catherine has a rheumatic heart, a disability that both hinders and propels Catherine through life.

Over a decade after he has been reported dead in Nazi Germany, Jerome returns to Montreal. That's how the story starts. There is more - lots more - but that is for you to find out.

One thing I liked about this book the first time through and that I like even more now is that this is a book not of the ones who went to war, but of the ones who stayed home. The ones who could not or would not make the leap from rhetoric to action. We get so used to war novels being about great daring men and their battles that it's nice to see one that deals with the people who did not go.

But, as I said earlier, this is a book about love and loss more than one of war. It is also a very Canadian novel, painting a portrait of life in Montreal that is all but lost now.

I was reading an interesting interview with Barry Callaghan the other day and he said that MacLennan basically disappeared when he died. Sadly, he may be right. I mean, how many people really know about MacLennan aside from seeing his name in the title of a Tragically Hip song?

I hope not. He is far too good a writer to be forgotten so quickly.