Monday, October 22, 2018

Stranded Sunday

Yesterday was a particularly frustrating day, made far worse by my interactions with the TTC.  To be fair, a bit was my fault.  I no longer trust the main transit app and the bus service on Pape (specifically the 72) has gotten so bad, I basically jump on any bus whether it is running north or south.  In this case, I was trying to get to the Eaton Centre (with my daughter), so I should have just waited it out for the northbound bus.  Instead, we got on a southbound one, and at that very moment, I saw a northbound bus turn the corner.  On top of everything else, every single southbound bus was turning at Dundas (due to the Toronto marathon).  So we had to transfer at Gerrard.  For some reason, the Gerrard streetcar was running very late, but then there were no buses going back north (they were all coming south!).  I got so frustrated I gave up and went to Gerrard Square instead.  (I've certainly run across quite a few people who will give the TTC a few minutes but then give up and Uber it.  I expect this will become more and more common every year.)

I decided that I really did need to do a few things downtown, so we took a cab.  The crosstown congestion was pretty terrible for a Sunday, presumably because Queen and King were blocked due to the marathon.  While I don't get as bent out of shape for the marathon, as I do for TIFF blocking the King streetcar (mostly because it is the weekend), these events really do impose a significant cost on the general public's travel experience.  I suspect that means that had I gotten on that Gerrard streetcar, it would have been a miserable stop-and-go experience.  Anyway, the cab driver let us off at Victoria and we walked the rest of the way, since it was faster! 

I stopped in at BMW and didn't manage to sell a single book (most of which were in very good condition).  I might have had better luck at the bigger store, but this is so depressing and basically shows how books and CDs have essentially no resale value at all.  What a depressing commentary on today's society, and how different my children's lives will be when they hit college.  Rummaging through used books and CDs will basically no longer be an afternoon's entertainment.  I did pick up Berryman's Selected Poems.  As it happens, I have his Collected (I wasn't entirely sure), though this did point me to a posthumous collection I wasn't aware of.  I can probably find someone to offer up the Selected.

We made a very quick stop at the Eaton Centre to grab lunch to go, then got on the subway.  It was definitely the better travel option.  I put in about two hours at work, and then we came home.  I suppose I can take some comfort in the fact that I pushed through and didn't let the TTC derail my plans, but I was not a happy camper for much of the day.  My cold came back pretty strong in the evening, and I asked myself if maybe I would have been better off just resting at home...

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Curse of the Bibliophile

I think one of the drawbacks of trying to read through "the canon" is that it expands dramatically the minute one decides to add works in translation (to say nothing of adding in poetry or short stories).  One could probably reasonably get through all the "important" books written by British (and Irish) authors or American authors (and I track my progress here), but then if one wants to read some key texts by the Russians, French, Germans, Italians, etc. then this really is a life-sentence.  Some days I accept that I won't ever get through all my reading lists (particularly as I often include interesting "mid-list" authors and keep adding just published books), and some days (particularly when there has been a really long stretch of disappointing books) this depresses me and makes me ask myself why I am bothering.  Many of the books that one "ought" to read don't live up to the hype.  Personally, I find Faulkner kind of hit or miss, and I certainly don't understand the hype around von Rezzori's The Death of My Brother Abel (I did see a contemporary review that hinted it was self-indulgent and extremely sexist).  For that matter, I don't really get why so many (including Calvino) thought that Gadda's That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana was so central to the modern Italian canon.  I didn't dislike it, but I just didn't think it lived up to the hype.

But I probably cannot escape being a reader.  It is foundational for me -- part of my habitus (as Bourdieu would put it).  I picked this up from my parents (who had books and book and more books in the basement), and I'll pass it on to my children, who both seem to be big readers (a true achievement in this internet age).  If anything, I probably should do a better job balancing the fiction and the non-fiction (I'm probably 95% fiction these days).

I think I have rearranged my lists so that I will hit most of the key "missing" books over the next 2-3 years, including:
Homer The Odyssey and The Iliad (sticking with Lattimore and Fitzgerald for now)
Virgil The Aeneid (a book that I really ought to have read in undergrad)
Fante The Bandini Quartet
Updike The Rabbit Novels (coming up quite soon)
Sinclair Lewis Main Street
Tolstoy War and Peace (I knocked off Anna Karenina a couple of years ago)
Conrad The Secret Agent
Musil The Man Without Qualities (some trepidation with this one)
Perec Life: A User's Manual
Faulkner The Snopes Trilogy
Dickens Oliver Twist (to get to David Copperfield in 3 years, I'd need to go out of sequence)
Hardy Return of the Native (to get to Jude the Obscure sooner, I'd also go out of sequence)
Austen Emma

On balance, I probably have read enough literature to feel I have done about 50% of the canon.  It is a significant accomplishment, but there is a such a long, long way to go.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Still Fairly Grumpy

Things are pretty much where they were last week.  My hands still hurt a fair bit: opening heavy doors (and even tight lids) remains a challenge.  I have only been going to the gym once a week, rather than 3 times a week, since I can barely use the machines.  I did go tonight and pushed a bit harder, using more machines, but cutting the weight to half of what I used to do.  Even that may have been a mistake, but I guess I'll know in the morning.  I think I am many months away from being able to do push-ups.  I probably would only have biked another month or so, but I think it is unlikely I will be biking before the spring.

While I am generally healing pretty well, I can't shake this cold, which is so annoying.  It does add to my general run-down feeling and kind of crummy mood.  (Not that day-to-day politics doesn't also add to my general malaise.)

I took a look at the David Milne catalogue (for the show that has opened up at the McMichael).  I decided that I don't truly rate Milne all that highly as a painter.  Certainly nowhere near the level of the Group of Seven (which is sort of the status accorded him at the AGO, though not at the McMichael).  I think there were only 5 or 6 paintings in the catalog that I liked much at all (and one was apparently not even in the exhibit!).  I just can't justify the carbon to go under those circumstances, even though there is a shuttle bus from downtown tomorrow and next Sunday.  I'm also not regretting my decision to skip The Nether at Coal Mine.

I basically need to decide tomorrow if I am going to try to make The Duchess of Malfi reading next Sunday (it may already be sold out*).  I think the next theatre outing after that will either be the Durang shorts at East Side Players or Churchill's Escaped Alone at Soulpepper.  Then I'll try to see Yellowface at Victoria College.  Mid Nov. will bring a concert or two and perhaps Video Cabaret doing a staged reading of Beckett's Happy Days.  While this is not exactly feel-good theatre, I'm still reasonably excited by these offerings.

* It is sold out, and frankly the venue is in a terrible location for me (so I am pleased that when they around to Othello in Feb, it is in a different location).   I've actually seen a full production of The Duchess of Malfi (here in Toronto all the way back in '93!), so I was always a bit on the fence.  I'm definitely more in the mood for a full production, though I'm even more in the mood for a full production of Congreve's The Way of the World or Jonson's Bartholomew Fair or even Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside or his A Mad World, My Masters.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Grumpy-time News

Not to be confused with Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies...  I suppose it is inevitable that the gratitude of not having any major broken bones is wearing off.  Part of the problem is that my hands are still in quite a bit of pain.  Some things, such as typing, aren't too bad, but writing, opening doors and even peeling oranges is extremely painful.  I went back to the clinic and they said that the healing seemed to be going fairly well, but I should wait another two weeks to let my hands heal more completely.  That definitely means no cycling (and almost nothing I can actually do at the gym).  Also I'll have to put my other wood-working project (to build a Little Free Library) off until next spring.  The doctor did say I could try heat compresses, so I picked up one of those at the mall today.

Still, this kind of casts a pall over this weekend, not that I had huge plans, other than to go to the symphony tomorrow.  I did try to get rush tickets at Coal Mine last night.  Even though I was first in line, they were completely sold out.  I then stopped and asked myself if I really wanted to spend the time (next week) to try to see a piece of feel-bad theatre that will just bring me down (basically the plot of The Nether involves an internet salon where pedophiles can act out their impulses).  And I told myself no -- life is tough enough already and it's going to be getting much worse in my lifetime as climate change really kicks in.  I don't need to wallow in something that is just going to make me feel even worse about the world (and all the shitty people in it).  I've decided that Hand to God (their third production this season) is also just going to be a huge downer, so I'm going to take a total pass on Coal Mine this year.  I've seen a few provocative plays there, but really the only one that was unmissable (and didn't actually leave me more depressed than when I started) was Annie Baker's The Aliens.

I have been very slowly making my way through von Rezzori's The Death of My Brother Abel.  I am very sorry to report that I don't like it at all; it's so pretentious and boring (all about a failed novelist who goes on and on and on about why he can't write his novel).  A few months I would absolutely have jumped at the chance to get the NYRB edition of Abel and Cain that adds Kain to My Brother Abel.  Well, it finally turned up as an Amazon pre-order.  However, it's pretty clear I would have to force myself to get through it (and I have no interest in reading Abel a second time!).  Sadly, I can't be 100% sure that any library here will pick this up, but I'll just have to rely on ILL and save my money for books that I at least have a chance of enjoying (such as the feel-good epic Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman...).

I could go on, but I'd just wind myself up even more.  Now is as good a time as any for a nap...

Friday, October 12, 2018

12th Canadian Challenge - 8th Review - Adjacentland

While I do admire Rabindranath Maharaj for trying something completely different from his books about the Canadian immigrant experience, I found Adjacentland to be frustrating and ultimately not worth the time it took me to read it.  The set-up is intriguing in that the narrator wakes up in a more or less abandoned compound with no memory of his past.  He tries to piece together his past from letters and drawings.  Much is made of the fact that all the books in the library have been scrambled.  He does encounter a few people who quiz him and ask him all manner of leading questions (and he tries to play it cool, not letting on how little he knows).  Much is also made of the fact that his memory seems to reset every 3 months.  The setting changes in various strange ways at each Stage of the book.

For better or worse, I feel Adjacentland shares with Cronenberg's eXistenZ the inability to commit to any ultimate ground truth.  I personally felt what we find out at the end is very thin gruel, not worth the 300+ page running length of this novel, but other readers are a bit more supportive.  Still, if I could go back a week in time, I would tell my younger self to pass on this book.

Beckett news

There is some breaking news that I neglected to include in my preview post.  I neglected to mention that Video Cabaret is remounting Krapp's Last Tape.  This runs through Oct. 21.  Tickets available here.

While Video Cab is recovering from their last foray into the History plays, they probably will return to them in a year or two.  Can hardly wait for that.

They will also do a rewrite of The Changeling, removing it from its insane asylum setting.  Not sure I would go to that much trouble, and I'll be skipping this (I saw the full play at Stratford last season), but it might be of interest to some.

What really caught my eye is that in Nov. they are going to be doing a studio version of Happy Days.  I assume they mean a staged reading, but hard to say.  I'll fill in more details as they become available, but this was pretty exciting news.

Monday, October 8, 2018

12th Canadian Challenge - 7th Review - The Outer Harbour

This is the first short story collection by Wayde Compton, who is more established as a cultural critic and occasional poet.  (I reviewed his earlier work here.)   These stories are set in Vancouver (or on a new island that appears at the mouth of the Burrard Inlet).  They range in time from 2001 to the very near future.  Many, though not all, are interconnected.  The overall approach is reminiscent of Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, though the scheme is not quite as rigorous.

To be honest, I probably did miss some of the connections, so I'm not sure I can exactly SPOIL the collection, but I will certainly be going into the over-aching theme of the collection, so be warned.  Overall, I thought this was an interesting collection, but one that also riled me up and portrayed Vancouver in an unnecessarily unflattering light.


In the first story, we are introduced to a performance artist who refuses to self-identify as Asian or Indigenous or any other racial category.  Her motivations aren't that clear, though she seems to want to undermine the idea that Canadians currently living in Canada have any kind of claim on the territory and/or can keep others out.  Clearly, this is mostly wishful thinking on the part of the author.

In the next story, "The Lost Island," we see the State reacting, and grossly over-reacting, to a different sort of challenge.  A small volcanic island has emerged in the mouth of the Burrard Inlet.  The government attempts to keep everyone away, but a small group of activists decide to claim the island in the name of Native Rights.  One of the activists spells out in the soil that they are armed, and shortly after this, an armed force "reconquers" the island, killing one of the activists.  It would be pointless arguing that this doesn't happen in Canada, but I think it is also true that in the post-social media era, the federal government has gotten much better at simply waiting out activists and squatters (as for example happened on Parliament Hill).  In this sense, I feel Compton is emphasizing the worst that could happen, as opposed to what would more likely happen.

There is a very droll follow-up story, "The Boom," told entirely through posters.  First, there are protests around the fallen social justice warrior.  Then the island is turned into luxury condos with a special water taxi to connect to downtown.  The final images are the different apartment layouts.

I've forgotten why the developer went bankrupt, but eventually the BC government takes the island back and uses it as a holding pen for people who have some spacial-shifting ability (this is where SF implausibility comes into focus, though not for the last time, since Compton has ghosts running about the island in the final story!).   I wouldn't say this thread is entirely satisfactory, but maybe 1/3 of the stories in the collection sort of deal with the real estate angle.

There is another major thread of two twins, who were conjoined at the head.  They apparently learned to play instruments and were in a band.  Then a rich jazz fan (who knew about their father) paid for an operation to separate the two.  (This is recounted in "The Instrument.")  One of the twins wants to become a film-maker, but the other one wants nothing to do with this project.

The artistic twin sets off on his own, getting involved with a quasi-cult-like group that re-enacts Medieval combat ("The Secret Commonwealth").  The payoff for this thread is discussed in "The Outer Harbour," though I wasn't sold on it.

There are a couple of odd pieces that don't entirely fit into the rest of the book.  One of them ("The Front") actually includes an interview with the author, Wayde Compton.  Basically, this lays out the idea that there are art installations that are designed to look like abandoned storefronts, but that will play music if one knows the key(s).  There was also a piece ("Final Report") that was reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem, where the report was about all kinds of different grants could win, including some where the applicant did nothing but would be contacted if s/he was the winner.  "Final Report" was amusing but did go on a few pages too long.

Clearly, this is definitely not a conventional short story collection.  It is mostly aimed at people who are fairly invested in cultural theory and are more interested in ideas than in characters or plot per se.  Whether this collection appeals to you is going to depend on how much you like experimental fiction.  I'm not sorry I read Compton's The Outer Harbour, but it also isn't going to be part of my top 10 or 20 books of the year.