Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Better planning. . .

. . . would have got me new glasses today. Instead, I have to postpone things because the optometrist's office I usually just drop in to is booked until next week. Woops.

That did give me an excuse to check out a couple of used bookstores on Yonge, one I'd never been to (NDJ) and one I hadn't been to in a while (Eliot's).

NDJ was a revelation. I'd always passed it by because it looked too small and chaotic, not worth the while when Eliot's was just up the street. I was wrong. After reading a favourable review on BlogTO, I knew I'd have to pop in. While the selection isn't earth-shattering, the trip is worth it just for the chance to talk with the owner, Nebojsa Knezic. A serb from Sarajevo, he immigrated to Canada after the war in the early 90's and opened a bookstore.

Every once in a while, you meet a thoroughly interesting person, someone you could talk to for hours and not get bored. This was one of those meetings. From books to travel to the serbian language, we had a wide ranging conversation that was the perfect antidote to the dreary day outside.

On his recommendation, I picked up Joseph Heller's Picture This. I'd read Catch-22 years ago but had never gotten around to any of his other novels. Apparently, this is a source of frustration for Nebojsa as he always has people who come in looking for the one big novel by a writer - Catch-22, The Great Gatsby, etc. - while ignoring the rest of the writer's output. He has a point, I guess.

Eliot's was good, as usual, though there was nothing terribly interesting. It was just nice to poke about for a bit in a store that is 3 levels of floor to ceiling books.

Well, I'm back home and I've just brewed a pot of tea. I think I will step away from the computer and try to put a dent in my TBR pile.

It's time. . . But. . .

Well, it's finally the weekend again for me. After a 6 day stretch of way too long shifts, I get a 5 day weekend. Of course, that's when the snow decides to start, as well. . .

But I will try to get stuff done. First up is a new pair of glasses as my old ones are far too old and bent (I've never really been kind to my glasses). So it's off to the optometrist, which is kind of freaking me out. Last time I went, I sort of ducked out of the whole fluid that dilates the blood vessels thing because I was on my way to work. This time I want to do it but I'm also freaking because I just don't like the idea of blurred vision for hours afterwards. I've never done it before so I have no idea how blurry it will be. Furthermore, I am enough of a closet hypochondriac that I worry they're going to find something earth shatteringly bad. I know it's all so absurd and foolish but, at the same time. . . .

Anyways, I shall get it done with. And then I will come home and veg and listen again to the Fleet Foxes who are getting heavy play on my stereo. Well, them and Willie Nelson's Stardust album. I kind of go back and forth.

That's it for now. If there is any upside to all of this, it's that I can get all of my errands done without going outside. The joys of living in a place with indoor access to the subway.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Something to think about. . .

I just stumbled upon this NPR segment about Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land - Before you dismiss the 'private property' verse as an artifact of a different time, just think about it for a moment. We live in an era where our public spaces are under assault by commercial interests like never before.

I think of Yonge-Dundas square, a 'public' space that is a) walled by billboards and b) policed by security staff that will tell you what you can and can't do in public. Across the street, Ryerson students have morning classes in the AMC movie theatre. Up on Bloor St., you can walk by the Royal Conservatory of Music which just happens to be housed in the 'Telus Centre for Performance and Learning'.

Luckily, we big city dwellers still have some mostly non-commercial public gathering spots, like Nathan Phillips Square. For most smaller cities, public space has been co-opted by commercial spaces like shopping malls. If you think you have any sort of freedom in a mall, think again.

The problem with this corporatization is that, for all their supposed benevolence, corporations aren't fond of dissent. In fact, they will actively move to stifle any opinions that run contrary to their commercial interests. If we are entrusting corporations with our public spaces, we are also entrusting corporations with our democratic rights to gather or to protest. Scary thought, eh?

Now some might ask why we need space to protest? I mean everything's ok, right? Uh, no. We're tiptoeing on the edge of a depression. We have an elected government that will do anything possible to subvert democracy if it will keep them in power. We have a society where wealth and power is concentrated in an increasingly small number of hands at the top of society while middle slides downward and the bottom swells. Eventually, people are going to get frustrated. When they do, where will they be able to go to voice their frustrations?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some days I should stay away from Wikipedia

Did you know that Canada's largest publisher is Harlequin? I almost wish I didn't know that. So a strange set of connections led me to looking up the Harlequin group on Wikipedia. It turns out they publish those Mack Bolan adventure novels that used to be everywhere. Makes sense in a way.

Anyways, the truly bizarre tidbit I learned today is that Harlequin has an imprint devoted to romances set in the Nascar world. Really. There are so many things I could say right now but they would all be off colour and far too easy. Sometimes it's best to leave the low hanging fruit hanging.

Anyways, I will offer up two videos of the same song, sort of a before and after. Enjoy.

Revolutionary Road

One thing I did manage to do this weekend (that isn't really a weekend but is for me) is to go see Revolutionary Road. What a wonderfully bleak, haunting movie. It's a winner for sure. Richard Yates has definitely made it onto my TBR pile.

The interesting thing for me is how much the lifestyle portrayed in the movie echoed the lifestyle in Phyllis Brett Young's The Torontonians, a book I reviewed in the last Canuck book challenge ( The dissatisfaction, the angst, the thin veneer of normalcy - it's all there in spades. I'm thinking I may wind up rereading The Torontonians sometime in the near future.

It was also interesting to see Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio on screen together again. These are two blockbuster actors who really haven't gone the blockbuster route which is great. Adding Kathy Bates to the mix was, of course, a very good thing.

Waiting for the man. . .

I actually wanted to get out today but I have to wait around for Staples to deliver my new laser printer. That's what I get for being impulsive.

You see, I have a dell computer. I've had a few dells and they've been pretty good so I've stayed loyal. Anyways, the last time I bought a computer from them, I took advantage of a deal and bought a cheap inkjet printer off them. I rarely print graphics. If I want a photograph, I send the files to a photo shop and get them done right. Basically, I use the printer for 1) reciepts for online purchases 2) the occasional letter when it strikes my fancy (who doesn't like getting an actual ink and paper letter, especially in the email age?) and 3) printing the occasional story I may write. So a cheap printer should be fine, right?

Wrong. In an attempt to reduce the cost of the thing, the makers of the printer decided they didn't need a dedicated black ink cartridge. Which is fine, as long as you are not planning on printing black text. What this particular printer attempts to do is combine the other colours to create black. Any text I've written winds up looking kind of dark greyish on the page, kind of like using a typewriter ribbon that's on it's last legs but maybe not as faint.

It's irked me since I bought the thing but I've been too cheap to do something about it. I couldn't see buying another printer when this one sort of worked.

So yesterday I hit the breaking point. I wrote a letter, printed it and saw again how bad the quality really was. I went on the staples website because I'm kind of fond of shopping in my pyjamas and found an entry level laser printer that was on sale. I figured if I'm going to do a bunch of writing then I should look at the lasers as they apparently do the best text. Even better, there was free next day shipping on the thing.

So now I'm drinking tea, listening to some discs I haven't listened to in a while and wishing they had an option where I could just go pick it up at the store.

Progress. . .

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The internet makes me feel worldly. . .

Will post more tomorrow when my weekend starts. I promise. Between work and a couple of good books, haven't been spending much time online this week.

But I had to dash this quick note off while I take a break from cleaning the kitchen. I've been listening to BBC radio on the internet lately. It's something different and far more interesting than anything I might find on the flickerbox. The best thing with radio as opposed to tv is it leaves your eyes free for more worthy pursuits, like reading. Or making sure I get the spots off the silverware, I guess.

Anyways, I'm listening to BBC Radio 1 and they're starting one of those top 40 countdown programs. Number 40? Jeff Buckley doing Hallelujah. I was going to switch to another station but any program that includes old Cohen covers can't be all bad.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

People you knew in high school. . .

Thanks to Adam for showing me this site:

All that bad hair. Didn't somebody tell them?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A brief how do ya do.

No, I have not fallen off the edge of the earth though there was a point early yesterday morning when I would not have minded.

I topped off a fantastic trip to Sarnia, where I got to hang out with all my ridiculously talented artistic friends, with a train ride home that started off well enough but soon devolved into repeated trips to the washroom to purge anything I might have ingested over the past week (at least it felt like that). This continued through the night and into the next morning.

So now, it hurts when I laugh. . . Or breathe too deeply. . .

The show was great, fantastic and amazing and I will hopefully post more later.

Ever since I heard NQ Arbuckle's Part of a Poem by Alden Nowlan Called Ypres 1915 over on the Zombie's blog, I have wanted to read more of Nowland's poetry. As chance would have it, I found a copy of his selected poems - on sale no less - at Sarnia's The Book Keeper bookstore. It's great stuff. I may even contradict my vow never to read a poetry book cover to cover again and read this one for the Canuck book challenge.

Here is one reason why I love Alden Nowland:

A Poem About Miracles

Why don't records go blank
the instant the singer dies?
Oh, I know there are explanations,
but they don't convince me.
I'm still surprised
when I hear the dead singing.
As for orchestras,
I expect the instruments
to fall silent one by one
as the musicians succumb
to cancer and heart disease
so that toward the end
I turn on a disc
labelled Gotterdammerung
and all that comes out
is the sound of an sick old man
scraping a shaky bow
across an out-of-tune fiddle.

I know I have more to write and some blog reading to catch up on but I must be off as I have to work at 4am tomorrow morning.

Ugh. . .

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I don't read near as many magazines as I once did. At one point, I couldn't get through a month without going through Rolling Stone and Spin cover to cover, among others. I even added Wired to the monthly list for a while.

Eventually, though, I sort of fell out of love with magazines. The stories got shorter and the details more superficial. Nowadays, it seems most magazines are ADD fests with nothing that will take longer than a few minutes to skim through. You wind up spending more time looking at the pictures than reading the story. Which is just as well, because most of the stories don't say much more than a pro athlete says after winning a game.

Nowadays, when I do pick up a magazine, it's usually either Harper's or Poets and Writers. At least they have articles you can sink your teeth into. I also subscribe to taddle creek but it's hard to count a mag that only comes out a couple times a year.

Well, it's time to go fold some laundry. I go travelling tomorrow so I want to get some sleep. So long all.

Friday, January 09, 2009

On your mark. . . Get set. . . Rant.

Actually, I don't feel like ranting. I just watched a couple hours of MTV Canada and I am just too depressed. Reality shows? Not real, just creepy. They've got a show where people compete. . . to become some reality star's friend. At least with Survivor, there's the chance to win some cash.

Enough of that. I really should stop watching stuff that is guaranteed to irk me.

Tomorrow, I'm taking the train down to Sarnia. My friend Adam is having a grand opening for his studio and it should be an amazing show. Jim Chevalier, The Chocolate Robots, the aforementioned Adam (Miner, that is) and a few other acts. I've been looking forward to it for a long long time.

Speaking of Chocolate Robots, here's a video:

Haven't blogged much this week because I had my father staying over for a few days and just did not wind up with much time for the internet. It was a great visit. After 35 years with CN, he retired yesterday. While it's a great thing, I think we all just feel a little strange right now, my father included (if not most of all). The railway was a big part in not just his life, but in our whole family's life. It was a career that took him (and us) all over Ontario in a number of moves. Now, he's up at the homestead with my mother, relaxing and looking forward to a much quieter life.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Cleaning Day Music

My apartment now smells of equal parts lysol and windex, which is nicer than it sounds. If there is anything worse than apartment cleaning I haven't found it. Fortunately, the result - a clean apartment - is enough of a reward to get me scrubbing and dusting with abandon.

One of the things that really helps a day of cleaning is good music. Of course, it can't be just any music. I've found the best cleaning music is familiar - songs you know by heart, preferably - and not something that is going to bog you down. I usually wind up playing a series of albums though I have tried the occasional itunes playlist. The problem with itunes, though, is it involves using the computer and I am way too easily distracted to go anywhere near the computer while cleaning.

The soundtrack for this day of cleaning?

1. Howlin' Wolf - The Definitive Collection - built for comfort and with a voice that kills.

2. The Beatles - Help - do I really need to explain the Beatles presence here?

3. The Beatles - Rubber Soul - ditto.

4. Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison - I'm still partial to San Quentin but this is a great one to caterwaul along to.

5. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois - wonky, but great, an album I've played to death but have yet to get bored of.

6. The White Stripes - Icky Thump - Jack White is about the most versatile singer/guitarist out there. From his early blues stomps to the fuller sound of the later albums, I listen to his stuff in a constant state of amazement.

7. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood - Strange songs and a voice that kills. Most musicians move to the States to make it big. It's nice to see someone reverse the trend and come to Canada to start a career.

After the cleaning, I unwound with:

Brahms' String Quartets Numbers 1 & 2 performed by The Emerson Quartet
Ron Sexsmith - Exit Strategy of the Soul (an album that's really starting to grow on me)

So, what music do you clean to?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sure, Canada won, but. . .

Did it have to be by shootout? How ridiculous. You play a game for 70 minutes and wind up tied so you play an entirely different game to find a winner. Why not play tiddlywinks or thumb wrestle for the win?

If it's a tournament game where a winner and loser must be decided, they should play it out until someone wins. If it is a league game, they should bring back the tie. If they want to have shootouts, then just have shootouts. Just don't mix it with an actual game.

In other news, I'm beginning to fall in love with used bookstores again. For the last while, I've generally just gone to one of the branches of BMV books. While the books are cheap, they don't really sell all that many used books any more. It's all remainders.

This week, I spent some quality time in both Seekers Books and Ten Editions books and it was a really nice change. There's something reassuring about used books - the pencilled notes and dog-eared pages, the softer feel of a book that has been opened many times, even the yellow tinge of the pages of an old penguin. A good used bookstore is a magical place, a place where treasures lie waiting to be discovered.

The treasure I found this week was The Shorter Pepys. I went looking for Yates' Revolutionary Road (I want to read the book before I see the movie) but found Pepys instead. It's a very detailed diary of life in the 1660s kept by an English Naval Administrator. It's filled with wonderful information about life in the 17'th century and will be on my bedside table for some time.

Even better, Seekers has a great kids section and it was nice to wander in there and see a whole wall of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew's and Bobbsey Twins. I loved the Hardy Boys as a kid. They were kind of the gateway drug that got me truly hooked on reading. Must return when the niece gets older.

Other than that, it's a low key weekend. Tomorrow, I will don my armour and wage war against the diabolical dust bunnies. Right now, I'm going to go read for a bit.

So long for now. . .

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I've been blurbed. . .

I was helping my sister find my blog on her computer last weekend when I found something interesting amongst the search results - I've been blurbed.

For a passage on Quarrington's King Leary, offers up this tidbit from my review, duly cited: “...for a funny book, it wound up packing a punch that was both unfunny and surprisingly effective.”

Intrigued, I searched on and found: “A really good book and still worthy of devotion.” from my review of Mowat's Lost in the Barrens at the same site.

Cool. That puts my readership up to at least 7 people. Much more of this and I'll have to take off my shoes to count readers. Sadly, that will also probably scare some readers away.

Driving Sucks. . .

A celebration of my favourite way of getting around the city:

Some people read books while travelling the TTC, others compose catchy videos.

Sadly, the Spadina bus is no more. The Spadina streetcar is great though. I take everyone on it as it's a great way of seeing a great part of the city.

Ah, the 80's. I know I've posted this vid before but I couldn't resist. A true nostalgia trip. Quick, somebody find me a roller rink!

No smoking in the cars, but on the platforms was just fine.