December 29, 2007

Keepin' on with the book readin' thang...

They did so over a year ago, but hey, I've never claimed to be on top of things. The UK's Association of Librarians & Museum-ians who put it together. Each person was asked, "What is one book every adult should read before they die?" These were the 30 top vote-getters (in order, apparently).

Lists are predictably controversial. As this is a British poll, it's unsurprising that The Bible's represented but (apart from the very preachy Life of Pi) there are exactly zero alternative religious texts -- but as a Greek classics hobbyist, it's disappointing that Austen & Bronte have shown up Homer & Virgil. And hey, Dickens and Golding I get, Steinbeck even -- but how does the lone Canadian entry end up being Kenneth Graham??!?!? No Atwood? No Ondaatje? No Leacock? Apologies to Mr Hardy, but Tess of the D'urbervilles does NOT outrank Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Oscar Wilde's exclusion is criminal; equally sad is their naming Winnie the Pooh over, say, Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Richard Adams' outstanding Watership Down.

All complaints aside, there's not a volume here I'd turn away out of spite. Turns out I'm 33% finished my pre-death reading assignments. I've read 10 of these, and marked them with asterisks.

1. *To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. The Bible
3. *The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
4. *
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

5. *A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
6. *
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
7. *
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
All Quiet on the Western Front by E M Remarque

9. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman

10. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

12. *The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

13. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

14. *Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne

16. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

17. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

18. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
19. *
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

21. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

22. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

24. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

25. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Life of Pi by Yann Martel

27. Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

29. *A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

30. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzenhitsyn

December 27, 2007

Books, books and more books

I've always liked books, although I probably talk a bigger game than I actually play. I mean, I read and everything, but I'm not as well-read in the classics area as I probably should be. This year, I finally hit my goal of sitting down to read, cover to cover, at least 50 books in a calendar year; unlike the original 50 Book Challenge that I got the idea from, I include graphic novels, online books and non-fiction books in the total. I didn't count magazines, articles, essays or websites.

Of the 50-some books I kept track of this year:
- 19 were traditional novels of fiction
- 14 were graphic novels
- 8 were straight up children's books (15 if you count the Harry Potter series)
- 9 were non-fiction
- 2 were online publications
- 4 were purely academic reads (essay compilations for a Latin American history course)
- 8 more were books for courses that (luckily) doubled as pleasure reading
- 6 were classics (7 if you include the English Patient)
- 14 were repeat reads, not including multiple reads necessary for writing papers for courses

Some books fall under more than one category, of course, so if you're trying to get me on shaky math, nyah, nyah, nuh-nyah, nyah.

I normally don't get involved in memes, but here's one I grabbed from the ever-impressive erin-go-blog:

These are the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. This list has not been adapted, nor edited, by me -- I've just followed the rules for bolding and such. I haven't hated any of them, but here are the rules, loathing instructions included...

Unfinished Book-ness Meme
Bold what you have read, italicize books you’ve started but haven't been able to finish, and strike through books you hated. Add an asterisk* to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those on your TBR list.

Jonathan Strange & M. Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick

Madame Bovary
The Odyssey****
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Iliad**
The Blind Assassin
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The Historian

A portrait of the artist as a young man
Love in the time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray*
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels (In fact I blogged at length about it.)
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
A confederacy of dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The unbearable lightness of being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves**
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid*
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit*********** (I lost count, but it's a lot -- it's a great book to use for high advanced ESL students.)
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

November 14, 2007

Missing: one dream, answers to 'Epiphone'

"You write stuff down, don't you? Like, in a journal, and everything? Dude, can you pinpoint when you lost your dream?"

-- Craig Norris, CBC3's R3-30

November 13, 2007

literary nepotism

cover: Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient The actual name of this phenomenon escapes me at the moment, but I love when a writer references another work in their fiction. It's not just that I enjoy seeing how one artist influences another -- Homer's Odyssey directly or indirectly inspiring Dante's Inferno, Milton's Paradise Lost, or even Spielberg's Indiana Jones -- although that's fascinating in its own right. Rather, I enjoy when an author has a character read or somehow become involved with a story within that story. Por exemplo:

"She opens The Last of the Mohicans to the blank page at the back and begins to write in it.

There is a man named Caravaggio, a friend of my father's. I have always loved him. He is older than I am, about forty-five, I think. He is in a time of darkness, has no confidence. For some reason I am cared for by this friend of my father.

She closes the book and then walks down into the library and conceals it in one of the high shelves."

-- Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

In writing this brief episode, how does Ondaatje's choice of book inform his audience? Would the reader interpret this differently if Ondaatje had instead written about Hana scribbling in The Jungle Book or Jane Eyre? Would Lady Chatterley's Lover have been too racy a reference, distracting the reader unnecessarily, or perhaps over-sexualizing her observations about this older man? As the English Patient himself collects clippings in Herodotus' Histories, would it have been hopelessly elitist to depict Hana defacing a copy of The Iliad?

Things become even more complicated once we start asking whose choice it was in the first place: if we argue Ondaatje's the one who chose that tome, we're asking all kinds of metalingual questions. He picked that book for the literary references inherent in the years that have passed after James Fenimore Cooper published the novel. To imply a connection between a sympathizer to a conquered people and Ondaatje's own Caravaggio. For the simplicity of borrowing an entire text's popular relevance without having to weigh down his own text even further.

If, however, one supposes that Hana, the character, chose the book, the connections become less about Ondaatje's cleverness, and more about his character's completeness. Does she make a deliberate move to place this journal entry in this volume, or is it mere random chance? Earlier in the novel, we are told that Hana has little if any literary knowledge; are we then supposed to guess that she's been educated by her experience, enough to understand the complexity of her choice? Or should we attach a pseudo-schoolgirl naivete to it, that "oh-it's-just-so-romantic" squeal that belies true understanding of a deeper text?

As a writer, as a teacher, hell, as a lover, I know it's the little things that make all the difference. Here, and a nod is needed to rebobadob's The Luck Key, this is a case of the tiniest detail colouring an entire text. Literally.

October 29, 2007

October 9, 2007

Linguistics: a primer

The latest in my string of post-secondary courses taken to keep the ol' brain alive, English 329 at UBC, presents a basic overview of linguistics. There are obvious applications for linguistic theory in my work as an ESL instructor, but some of the things that impress me most about the course thus far aren't pedagolically minded. They're just damned sharp observations.

Last week's lecture included this gem from instructor Jessica de Villiers:

"A society of listeners expects clear enunciation -- a society of speakers, however, pretty much slurs everything."

This statement speaks to more than just various styles of learning. Yes, Korean and Japanese learners (for the most part) tend to focus on paper skills, grammar rules, and what we'd call book-learnin', and thus have difficulty a) speaking English in non-classroom situations, and b) listening to casual English as spoken by non-classroom teachers. And yes, Mexicans and Italians (for the most part) tend to focus on speaking first, which them an advantange in casual conversation but forever stigmatizes them as not being able to use the language correctly, especially in writing. But for me, the most interesting implications of this statement aren't to do with people from outside the English-speaking community. It's the ramifications for societal differences within a given lingual group that fascinate.

As educational levels go up, what goes down are the tendencies to speak first and face consequences later. As most of our parents tried to teach us, those who listen get ahead. Cases in point: the lower classes tend to resort to knee-jerk reactions, while upper crust types calculate responses. Street-level violence goes hand in hand with lengthy explosions of profanity; white-collar crime, more often than not, is hidden in carefully crafted legalese. Needless to say, this presents itself as a two-way street... naughty words will always be seen as low-class, while the hoity toity -- oh crap, he says, re-reading this very post -- will pontificate no end.

No matter how we evolve, or where we go as a society, or how open minded we pretend to be, we'll pretty much always come back to the My Fair Lady form of class distinction. That's not necessarily a function of class superiority, as commonly espoused by us left-wingers, so much as one of lingual expression.

Fascinating stuff. Looking forward to more of the same.

September 29, 2007

Neil Gaiman - The Wake

cover: Neil Gaiman: The WakeHow does one write about Neil Gaiman without falling into cliche, falling into repetition, falling prone at his feet in worship? The man has so rightfully been praised up and freakin' down for his Sandman work that it almost seems silly to chime in with my own reaction.

Perhaps the most useful thing I can say is that this particular volume contains one of the single most moving stories within the Sandman arc: that of Master Li in Exiles. A sparsely illustrated tale of a former counsellor of kings, Exiles exemplifies the complex, challenging, pan-cultural writing that is Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.

September 11, 2007

All hail JT

Okay, I know the guy came from cheesy beginnings, but I have to admit the guy's got style. First he brought sexy back. NOW he's bringing back decent comedy. He got a special category Emmy for this, and deservedly so.

SNL Digital Short: Dick in a Box

Bourne again

Sad to say that my summer has been defined not by sunshine and outdoor excursions, but rather by the popular culture consumed on opening weekends. I've only been hiking once yet this year (stair master masquerading as a mountain, the Grouse Grind, notwithstanding), and suffered a migraine for nearly half of that three day excursion -- but I happily devoured both Harry Potter book and movie, the Simpsons feature, and a couple of weeks ago, The Bourne Ultimatum.

The Bourne Ultimatum - Foreign Lobby Poster
Frankly, this string of Bourne films has now outdone every other series of movies I can think of. Each of the triptych is taut, smart and dammit, balls out fun. Matt Damon doesn't damage the movies, as he really doesn't have to flex any acting chops here, per se: his dialogue is limited to perhaps eight lines through the entire film. Don't get me wrong, he's better by far than, say, Keanu Reeves or even his buddy in writing, Ben Affleck. But I think we can all admit that Mr Damon isn't going to win a bevy of performance Oscars any time soon. What he does provide is believability in the role of a seriously dangerous killing machine who can't quite figure out how the hell he gained these skills.

Holy crap do the fight scenes in this flick keep the old juices flowin'. I can't remember the last time I saw this many people visibly energized by a film... People were rocking forward in their seats, faces in their hands, nervously running fingers through their hair... The entire audience was drawn, together, into this outstanding, tense universe of Jason Bourne and the 'properties' on either end of the chase.

There isn't a traditional bad guy, or good guy for that matter, in this series. The hero is a killing machine clawing back from the state of mindlessness instilled in him by his government. Even those in charge of the program have had their disrespect for human lives programmed into them by their superiors and predecessors.

The adjectival gymnastics employed by critics to describe this film are well-deserved. Even more than the first two films, this is a project that transcends genre -- it's by any stretch of the term, a masterpiece of modern art. Every member of the audience at my opening weekend showing of The Bourne Ultimatum left, breathless, limping into the lobby, weary with the glee of having seen the best action film, and one of the best films, made in decades.

August 11, 2007

Viva las brujas

Cover: Sexuality & Marriage in Colonial Latin America Okay, it's not my best-ever paper by any stretch of the imagination. But the source material is fascinating, and the end product I've come up with is probably worse for how much I actually enjoyed reading the essays cited here. The book itself, Sexuality & Marriage in Colonial Latin America, edited by Asunción Lavrin, is not all about witchcraft -- in fact only one of the essays therein actually deals directly with the phenomenon of female magic. But the theory that absolute male power begat X-Filesque feminine occultism is a truly interesting one.

Apologies both to my instructor and to the authors of the (much better) essays in Lavrin's tome.

Viva las brujas, a poorly constructed paper, by Jason Kurylo

Throughout history, very few cultures have offered women social power. In fact, where and when it has existed, female power has been largely mistrusted (Behar, 181). The same held true throughout colonial Latin America; with very few exceptions, men ruled the roost. All of Christian society was built upon a male-dominated model that spun fractally downward from the king looking after the people to the husband looking after the household (Boyer, 252-253). Even in private domains such as the bedroom, a woman was expected to fulfill a sexual debt to her husband; whereas a man could withdraw from the marital bed for months at a time or engage freely in extramarital relations, a reluctant wife could expect physical punishment or even church interference (Lavrin, 78).

Women, like servants, were far removed from decision-making; men ruled financial, political, and religious arenas, and held distinct advantages in social situations as well. Ecclesiastical decrees, royal proclamations, civil laws and family inheritance were all conceived, proclaimed and enforced by men. In fact, being female sometimes exceeded enslavement for lack of power. King Charles III’s Real Pragmática excluded dark-skinned subjects from the throne’s stringent rules (Socolow, 210), and was placed more strictly upon white Hispanic females. In church doctrine, even the Holy Mother was a virgin, placing an unreasonable yoke of moral responsibility upon women’s shoulders. The expectation of absolute abstinence meant women were either judged to be ‘in control’ or ‘out of control’, with no shades of grey in between (Twinam, 123-124).
This presented numerous instances of confusing public policy. Women of all colours were often ill-treated, even by those within the church, and yet were accused of being the main reason for their own hardship. Women, due to their fragile will and weak honour, were easily hoodwinked by sweet talkers (Lavrin, 59). They were expected, however, to deny the advances of men, who were afforded the luxury of misconduct – to carry out affairs, father illegitimate offspring and mete out physical abuse to women and children (ibid., 64-65). Indian women, however, were assumed to have loose morals and thus to be beyond expectation of honour (ibid., 67).

Bishop Mariano Martí acknowledged that, in the pursuit of sexual seduction and conquest, women were often unfairly pitted against male power, rank and abuse of church doctrine. Women were also lured into disrepute by the promise of impending or eventual material gain (Waldron, 158). Rather than placing blame for these transgressions upon male suitors and promise breakers, he called women moral polluters whom he “blamed... for much of the sexual misconduct in his dioceses”. Martí’s reasons for these epithets, however, only listed worldly manners of enchantment, for example, flirtation, revealing clothing, and inappropriate consort (ibid., 170-171).

In public complaints and marriage disensos, women were nearly always called to question over their sexual conduct, whereas men were accused more often of less ‘dirty’ vices, such as joblessness, gambling and deceit (Socolow, 220). Direct offences against their wives and consorts were actionable in some cases – but even leaving the home needed permission from church authorities (Nizza Da Silva, 314). As official recourse was limited when men exhibited excessive carelessness, philandering or violence, women were left to use “whatever tactics and resources were at hand to defend themselves and try to modify their circumstances” (Boyer, 280). Sometimes this meant turning to a less traditional source of softening the brutality of their mate: namely, witchcraft (Behar, 197).

Each side of this story used different words to describe their struggle for control. Just as the church aimed to ‘educate’ and ‘civilise’ heathen natives through subjugation and oppression, men related tales of magic used por asimplar, amansar y ligar — to ‘stupefy’, ‘tame’ and ‘tie’. For their part, women searched for ‘remedies’ to combat their husbands’ philandering, carelessness and violence (Behar, 179).

From the male point of view, this dark magic presented an out should he not live up to cultural standards. Undue feminine sway over a man was in such opposition to established power structures that she was automatically assumed to be a bruja. If she displayed unusual fortitude or manly behaviour, such as brazenly cuckolding her husband, the man had few options at his disposal. Having already suffered from immeasurable dishonour, the man was compelled to take control of the situation by punishing his disobedient wife. If he could not, an admission of weakness was not an option (Nizza Da Silva, 318): his only possible explanation was witchcraft (Behar, 178-179).

On the other hand, witchcraft offered hope to women across racial and social spectra of ‘remedies’ for their husbands’ unfaithful or violent ways (ibid., 179), and allowed them to use their sole arena of control — the kitchen, or more specifically, food preparation — to their advantage (Behar, 197-199).

Where in northern Europe, and later in a young United States, witch hunts were borne and whipped into social frenzies out of political and religious paranoia, Hispanic powers that be mainly dismissed as harmless the whispering networks which sprang up between women of all colours and castes. Spanish, Italian and New World complaints of witchcraft tended to involve activities of a more intimate nature — fabled methods of rendering a cheating husband impotent, love potions and sex magic. The Inquisition found these stories unworthy of attention, as magical practices tended to give the user only individual, fear-based power (ibid., 183-184).

Hispanic women were not strangers to witchcraft, as evidenced by similar female spell casting reported on the Iberian peninsula. In colonial Latin America, however, the upper classes most often had a distant relationship with magic. Money helped some to create status, and even pass between some racial boundaries (Twinam, 126-127). It also allowed some rich women to seek out a dark-skinned practitioner — who added local or foreign flavour to Hispanic legend — and trade a combination of food, shelter and money for folkloric assistance. Due to their otherness, these mulattas, mestizas and Indians represented multiple sources of power: the ‘inherent’ female magic and the traditional powers of their racial groups (Behar, 192-193).

Works Consulted
Behar, Ruth. “Sexual Witchcraft, Colonialism, and Women’s Powers: Views from the Mexican Inquisition.” Lavrin, S&M 178-208.

Boyer, Richard. “Women, La Mala Vida, and the Politics of Marriage.” Lavrin, S&M 252-286.

Calvo, Thomas. “The Warmth of the Hearth: Seventeenth-Century Guadalajara Families.” Lavrin, S&M 287-312.

Gruzinski, Serge. “Individualization and Acculturation: Confession among the Nahuas of Mexico from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century.” Lavrin, S&M 96-117.

Lavrin, Asunción, ed. Sexuality & Marriage in Colonial Latin America. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1992.

Lavrin, Asunción. Introduction. Lavrin, S&M 1-43.

Lavrin, Asunción. “Sexuality in Colonial Mexico: A Church Dilemma.” Lavrin, S&M 47-95.

Nizza Da Silva, Maria Beatriz. “Divorce in Colonial Brazil: The Case of São Paulo.” Lavrin, S&M 313-340.

Socolow, Susan M. “Acceptable Partners: Marriage Choice in Colonial Argentina, 1778-1810.” Lavrin, S&M 209-251.

Twinam, Ann. “Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America.” Lavrin, S&M 118-155.

Waldron, Kathy. “The Sinners and the Bishop in Colonial Venezuela: The Visita of Bishop Mariano Martí, 1774-1784.” Lavrin, S&M 156-177.

August 6, 2007

Saartje's Bootees

Saartje's Bootees
Originally uploaded by helloyarn
It's a weird thing of mine, but I love pictures of shoes. There's such a sense of possibiity.

Strangely, I rarely take shots of shoes myself -- I just adore it when I come across a shot like this.

Thanks to helloyarn for a great inspirational moment. I simultaneously thought of hiking trips, the creative impulse, my parents' respective button collections, and my wife and me having kids (coming in a couple of years, mom, I promise).

July 22, 2007

Obligatory Harry Potter 7 review

Not unlike many others, I ensconced myself in my flat all day Saturday to avoid reading, hearing or overhearing spoilers from the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. JK Rowling isn't the best writer, technically, but as a storyteller she's without modern peer. Her ability to weave bits and pieces from myths throughout the ages is stupendous -- and beyond the pages, her effect upon the publishing world has been nothing short of, well, magical.

-- Attempts, and failures, to prevent spoilers below --

Cover: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Book 7 uses Lord of the Rings perhaps more than any other Potter book has lifted from any one influence; but who else other than Tolkien can claim to have manufactured such a complex, believable universe so similar, yet so unique from our own? Rowling is one of the few modern writers who could do this and get away with it -- but here's hoping she eschews the temptation to release the widely reported, encyclopaedic Potteralion, with all the background and history of each place and character.

Of course it's possible to nitpick. The last few books have been criticised for awkward bits of prose, but they mirror aptly the confusion of the 17-year-old protagonists. Her reliance upon the gimmicky Pensieve (lessened, thankfully, in book 7) is, in the scope of her 10,000 pages of Potterlore, a minor indulgence. And hey, can anyone find me a book by Charles Dickens that isn't fraught with show-offish bits of loquacious cleverness? By Tolkien that doesn't smack of naïveté? George Orwell, pomposity? CS Lewis, preaching? Oscar Wilde, ego? Just as altruism hints at selfishness, publishing reeks of idiosyncrasy and tics of personality. That doesn't make Rowling a slouch -- merely human.

The first three books were above average, if not inspired children's lit. They stayed within a fairly well-defined formula: an otherwise unremarkable boy is shipped from a horrible homelife into a stunning world of magic and mystery, and is revealed to be not just unusual, but "The Chosen One." He learns of friendship, experiences pre-destined enmity, and overcomes trials that make his previous suffering seem banal in comparison. Heck, that initial triptych is practically a Roald Dahl story with a magical train for an elevator, and a megalomaniacal Dark Lord in place of corporate espionage. Rowling even has chocolate frogs!

Starting with book four, however, Rowling turned up the black light. The Goblet of Fire introduced the finality of death -- in any other story, as the text implies, Cedric Diggory would have been the hero, would have held aloft the trophy, would have lived.

Rowling made it clear in book four that she was going to go in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks, who always had death or disfigurement to balance out the good and the glorious. And after the Brothers Grimm, who didn't shy away from calling a spade a spade, then using it to bury the protagonist. Books five and six have famously continued this plunge into darkness -- a nod to common contemporary thought: to catch the killer, you must think like the killer. Indeed, in books five and seven, Harry is literally inside Voldemort's mind, and must deal with the psychological baggage that comes with that repulsive attachment. Nothing new here, right? It's become an industry unto itself, as the sixty-seven CSI franchises will attest. Need more? Ask Fox Mulder, Clarice Starling, Dominic Da Vinci, or Robert Langdon.

Where Tolkien's hero is elevated to sainthood by his crusade to destroy the superhuman Sauron, Harry Potter starts his adventure swathed in celebrity. The object of his quest is normalcy. The result of his victory, a good woman and a truckload of kids. By the end, Harry has proven to be more Samwise Gamgee than Frodo Baggins, more everyman than tragic hero.

In her wildly anticipated finale, Rowling leaves few threads dangling (unlike, say, Lemony Snicket's largely unsatisfying, triskaidecodic The End), yet avoids longish explanations and overly cumbersome epilogues (apolgies to the venerated Mr Tolkien). This is a welcome change, frankly, from her book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where at the very climax of the book Harry falls asleep and must hear the conclusion second-hand from a longwinded Dumbledore. Harry's anger at feeling left out was an adequate portrayal of many readers' feelings at having the resolution of that otherwise brilliant 1200-page tome come down to a couple of anecdotes.

Book Seven will be similarly critiqued and second-guessed by many in the weeks and months to come. It's natural for people, especially those of lesser talent, to seek out fault in great works. In time, the entire series will be highly regarded, even studied, not just as a good collection of popular fiction, but as being a genuinely uplifting piece of well-crafted literature.

July 1, 2007

The double edged sword of *sigh* NHL news in July

I am, as all three of my regular readers know, a huge hockey fan.

I'm also the first one to admit that the current season is waaaaaaay too long. The Stanley Cup should be awarded several months before June, and I'm not the only puckhead to feel this way. So it's with divided allegiance that I comment on the annual free agent frenzy that goes down July 1.

Chris Drury signed with the Rangers instead of the Nucks It's freakin' summer. Hockey should be in bed, hibernating until fall. Hell, I even think training camp starts too early -- let 'em sleep till October, like they used to. The only guy who even worked out in the summer was Bobby Hull, and that was on the farm. (Well, okay, I'm sure other guys baled hay, too, but Hull was the first one to show off a buff torso while doing so. I tried and failed to find the picture that was all over the papers back in the day, of Hull with his shirt off, pitchfork in hand, looking like Superman.)

That said, there is hockey news afoot here worth kibbitzing about: while I hate the freelance nature of modern sports -- specifically classy, should-be-franchise-players like Daniel Briere and Ryan Smyth playing roster leapfrog for a few extra million bucks -- I have to say I'm disappoiinted that Canucks bossman Dave Nonis hasn't jumped in on the action. Yeah, it's sad that by losing Briere and Chris Drury, the Buffalo Sabres won't have a prayer of building upon the last two (amazing) seasons. And yeah, it always sucks when deep pockets like the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers go around the league buying up all the big names. But once, just once, I'd love to pick up the morning paper to see a couple of in-their-prime scoring studs suddenly pulling on Vancouver colours.

Roberto Luongo is the best thing to happen to Vancouver hockey in a luoooong time. I'm ecstatic to have Roberto Luongo here, and I think Markus Naslund has turned from one of the best scoring threats in the league to one of the best two-way players around. But when our team routinely gets outhustled, outbustled and outmuscled, we should be trying to land gutsy players like Smyth and speedy gamebreakers like Briere. You don't think Paul Kariya would look better here than in St Louis? At this point we'll be lucky if Nonis bucks up to sign semi-retired power play specialist John Leclair.

We've got a stud in goal. The Sedin twins are good for a goal a game or so, but the rest of the team only scores when moons turn blue. Let's give Roberto a little more offensive support this season, shall we?

Okay, we now return to our regularly scheduled summer vacation.

June 25, 2007

Okay, I'm the last one in the world...

... to see this, but I've gotta put it up anyway, just in case any one of my dozen or so readers hasn't yet either.

Congratulations to Dove yet again for their realistic, and thankfully enlightening, look at "beauty." When a company does stuff like this to demystify the so-called beautiful people, they deserve to do millions in sales.

June 23, 2007

They still love Lanny in Calgary

Ode to Lanny
Originally uploaded by stodmyk
I forget the name of the restaurant, but it's only a few blocks away from the Calgary Tower. A great ode to Calgary's most-loved player, who is the only opposing captain to ever accept the Stanley Cup in the Montreal Forum.

A lot of us have mental pictures of Lanny in a Leafs jersey, but does anyone else remember this guy wearing a Colorado Rockies uniform?

June 6, 2007

Well... Good on the Ducks I guess

It's a sad statement that the last three teams to hoist Lord Stanely's Cup were borne out of Gary Bettman's expansionist greed, employed more marketing guys than they have fans, and, worst of all each one beat a far more entertaining Canadian squad.

That said, you gotta like the fact that a hardass GM like Brian Burke put together 19 Canadian players (the highest ration of Canucks on any NHL roster), and basically pummelled the rest of the league into submission all year long. And no one, but no one, can begrudge a classy guy like Teemu Selanne his sip from the Holy Grail.

Anyone want to join me in a trip to Cranbrook with the Niedermayer boys bring the Cup home to roost this summer?

PS. It's another sad statement that Martin Brodeur has never has his name engraved on the Conn Smyth trophy. I mean, Cam Ward has a playoff MVP honour, but Marty Brodeur doesn't?

May 28, 2007

What a beauty! (And Denise is easy on the eyes, too)

My business partner and best friend Denise joined me in hitting the Memorial Cup this week -- game start times were an absolute nightmare, leading to a surprisingly low attendance rate by hockey freaks like me, but there were some perks.

Like necking with a fellow named Stanley.

May 14, 2007

Nothing to say, really...

Originally uploaded by stodmyk.
I just like this shot, and am doubly proud that I took it with my crappy little automatic digital camera on a walk while (rightly or wrongly...) angry with my significant other.

(Hi, sweetie! I love you!)

The point is, even in the bad moments, we can produce some good things.

May 4, 2007

What hockey's all about

Backyard Hockey
Originally uploaded by stodmyk.
When I get frustrated because the Canucks come out flat -- you had a great seasion, but come ON, boys, it's your ELIMINATION game, how can you be so legless? -- I remember moments like this.

On the Easter long weekend, my wife and I drove out to Calgary, and I got to play ball hockey with my nephews. THIS is what the game's all about. I tell ya, these guys don't EVER play without passion.

April 18, 2007

This Postcard Land of Mine

This Postcard Land of Mine
Originally uploaded by stodmyk.
Dang, Canada's pretty. Every time I jump in my car, I pass by some place or other that just knocks my Canuck ass off.

April 12, 2007

My day with Stanley

Stanley Cup and... ME!
Originally uploaded by stodmyk.
It's only fitting I post this after last night, when the Vancouver Canucks beat Marshall's old team, the Dallas Stars, in the sixth-longest OT game in NHL history. Hopefully I'll get another shot like this one very soon, only beside Brendan Morrison or Trevor Linden, taken at, say, English Bay. Anyway, for the full story, check out the full shot on my flickr page.

April 11, 2007

It's a Hockey, Hockey, Hockey, Hockey World

The playoffs start today. That means important hockey nearly every night for the next eight weeks -- for men across this great country, I have to say in advance:

"I'm sorry, honey. The game's on."

April 3, 2007

Whaddaya say?

I keep telling my students to write, even if they don't have anything to say. But then, some dumbass colleague of mine teaches them the axiom, "Practise what you preach." So here I am, at the indignant behest of one of my charges.

Just wait, my instructional brethren -- I will soon enough enact my idiomatic revenge. Maybe I'll teach my class, "I know you are, but what am I?" Or my personal favourite, "Shut up, you hook-nosed bastard."

Whaddaya say?

I keep telling my students to write, even if they don't have anything to say. But then, some dumbass colleague of mine teaches them the axiom, "Practise what you preach." So here I am, at the indignant behest of one of my charges.

Just wait, my instructional brethren -- I will soon enough enact my idiomatic revenge. Maybe I'll teach my class, "I know you are, but what am I?" Or my personal favourite, "Shut up, you hook-nosed bastard."

Whaddaya say?

I keep telling my students to write, even if they don't have anything to say. But then, some dumbass colleague of mine teaches them the axiom, "Practise what you preach." So here I am, at the indignant behest of one of my charges.

Just wait, my instructional brethren -- I will soon enough enact my idiomatic revenge. Maybe I'll teach my class, "I know you are, but what am I?" Or my personal favourite, "Shut up, you hook-nosed bastard."

March 21, 2007

My wife loves lions.

22nd Avenue Lion 4
Originally uploaded by stodmyk.
I love this sidewalk ornament, as pic'd on 22nd Avenue one day last summer. Most days I see stuff like this, I've left the camera at home -- once in a while, however...

March 5, 2007

The Italian Secretary - Caleb Carr

Caleb Carr wrote a book a few years back (1994) a wonderfully dark portrait of a doctor playing detective in turn-of-the-century New York City. Dr. Lazlo Kreizler is a dark protagonist whose methods of investigation -- tainted as they are with such unholy things as the scientific method and psychological profiling -- are scoffed at by local law enforcement. Picture if you will Silence of the Lambs, about 20 years prior to World War I. Kreizler's efforts to catch the world's first recognized serial killer are buoyed only by his street rats, a social leper in the form of a sensationalist newspaper writer, and a relationship with his old school chum, New York City Police Chief Theodore Roosevelt.

The Alienist was a revelation of sorts, turning me on to contemporary historical fiction and inspiring me to walk through their inspirations.

While Carr's work since then has disappointed -- in both the sequel to the Alienist (The Angel of Darkness) and his attempt at futuristic espionage (Killing Time) the man seemed enamored with his own smarts -- it was with not a little bit of excitement that I picked up The Italian Secretary, his authorized foray into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's signature character. Sherlock Holmes is ably portrayed, but the pattern has, alas, persisted. Carr's insistence upon showing off just how clever he is ruins any chance he had at getting it right.

You see, Mr Carr, Conan Doyle succeeded only because he made Holmes look clever, without bringing attention to his own cognitive abilities as a writer. No one walks away from an Agatha Christie masterpiece with a nagging feeling that she was showing off; Christie's characters, rather than Christie herself, show guile; her stories are smart; her plot twists are without peer.

February 17, 2007

Callejón del Beso

In honour of love...
Originally uploaded by stodmyk.
The Callejón del Beso is a funky little spot in Guanajuato, México that celebrates the eternal romance of... you guessed it... the kiss.

Here's the balcony where the myth played out. Apparently, a wealthy shopowner didn't like his daughter's boyfriend, so he forbade them seeing each other. The enterprising youth paid the neighbour for access to the balcony, which, as you can see, is within whispering distance of the wooee's bedroom.

The father came home as the two were holding hands, and, enraged, killed his daughter with a kitchen knife. The suitor was distraught but unable to do anything as the window was too small to get across to save the girl. As she slipped away, he kissed her hand to show his everlasting love -- and thereby named this narrow opening, "The Alleyway of the Kiss."

Locals, between offers to take your picture in the alley for $5, will also tell you that should you visit here, it's bad luck not to kiss your honeybunch on the third step. Why the third? Perhaps because the first two steps are worn out by too many American hiking shoes. What if you visit with a college buddy? Hey, what happens in México, stays in México.

February 8, 2007

Note to self

It's kinda funny that an evangelical Christian schoolmaster is named "Swindoll." I mean, really. Sometimes they make these things too easy.

February 6, 2007


While I'm not much, generally, on Christian fundamentalist dogma, occasionally these bible-toting jokers get something right. Case in point: I've been thumping the idea of perspective, of attitude, into my students for years. The Chancellor of the Dallas Theological Seminary, Charles Swindoll, in addition to his right-wing, capital R Republican views, actually happens to make sense when it comes to how we, as people, can utterly alter our lives through the adjustment of something firmly within our own control: attitude.

Italics and bolds below are mine, but the words are all Swindoll. (A shout out to Taby, the new teacher in the staff room, for passing this passage along.)

By Charles Swindoll

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you... We are in charge of our Attitudes.

February 1, 2007

Marvel 1602

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman's post-Sandman endeavour, entitled Marvel 1602 due to the simple fact that he's taken the Marvel universe and plunked it firmly in the final year of Queen Elizabeth's reign. 1602, to be precise.

Well-written, and a fun spin on the whole Jack Kirby/Stan Lee character empire. Mutants are called Witchbreed, and are hunted by the Inquisition.

Strangely, the character I'm most into is Daredevil, all-too brooding and self-absorbed in his usual incarnation; here a blind minstrel with a penchant for one-liners.

A fun read, I must say, especially necessary for me right now, since most of the time these days I'm knee-deep in non-fiction Latin American history or fighting through intense Shakespearean analyses.

Oh, and did I mention the bitchin' scratchboard covers by Scott McKowen? They're, well, bitchin'.

January 31, 2007

January 22, 2007

Failed again in 2006

For the second time in a row, I failed to read 50 books in a calendar year. Both times I was less than 10 short of the goal, but short I fell nonetheless. Here are the 40-something books I did finish last year; my only qualm is, should I count books I use repeatedly at work, such as my students' texts, in 2007 as well?


45. A University Grammar of English - Randolph Quirk & Sidney Greenbaum
44. Colonial Latin America - Mark Burkholder & Lyman L Johnson
43. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
42. A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin
41. Res Gestae Divi Augusti - Augustus Caesar
40. Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times - Thomas R Martin
39. Roger Hargreaves
38. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
37. The Elements of Style - Strunk and White
36. First Certificate in English Masterclass - Simon Haines and Barbara Stewart
35. CAE Focus on Advanced English - Richard Walton and Barbara Stewart
34. Dave Cooks the Turkey - Stuart McLean
33. Stories from the Vinyl Cafe - Stuart McLean
32. The Sandman: Brief Lives - Neil Gaiman
31. The Last Temptation - Neil Gaiman
30. James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl
29. 100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call - Brian Azzarello
28. Lullaby - Chuck Palahniuk
27. Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
26. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia - Samuel Johnson
25. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling
24. Mortimer - Story by Robert Munsch, Illustrations by Michael Martchenko
23. Fables: Legends in Exile - Conceived & Written by Bill Willingham
22. Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare
21. The End - Lemony Snicket
20. The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
19. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
18. Essential English Grammar - Philip Gucker
17. A Midsummer Night's Dream - William Shakespeare
16. ¿Cómo Se Dice...? - Ana Jarvis, Raquel Lebredo & Francisco Mena-Ayllón
15. Cash Flow Quadrant - Robert Kiyosaki
14. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Bill Oakley
13. Deception Point - Dan Brown
12. A Storm of Swords - George R.R. Martin
11. Superman: Red Son - Mark Millar
10. On Bullshit - Harry G. Frankfurt
9. Angels & Demons - Dan Brown
7. Augustan Rome - Andrew Wallace-Hadrill
8. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
6. The Watchmen - Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
5. Civil War - Lucan, translation by Susan H. Braund
4. The Aeneid of Virgil - Virgil, Translation by Allen Mendelbaum
3. The Magician's Nephew - C S Lewis
2. Coraline - Neil Gaiman
1. The Island of Dr Moreau - H G Wells

January 2, 2007

El Pipila

El Pipila
Originally uploaded by stodmyk.
As my millions of fans know, Nadia and I spent the first two weeks of November in Mexico. We renewed our vows in grand Mexican fashion, and took a mini-honeymoon to Guanajuato, a gorgeous little tourist town a couple of hours away from Guadalajara.

This is El Pipila, one of many revolutionary figures made legend across Mexico. The statue sits atop the hill abreast of Guanajuato, and is truly magnificent as he looms over the city.

It's just one of many memorable bits from our trip; I'll be posting more over the winter, if for no other reason than it lets me contemplate something other than Vancouver's incessant winter rain.