Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Slow Let Down

I really tried to make it through Réhel's Tatouine.  As I mentioned a week or so ago, this is definitely an interesting narrative voice, though coming from a character I would completely avoid in real life.  I'm not of the mind that "disabled" characters need to be paragons or flawless, but this guy had no ambition in life (other than moving to Tatouine where he could be away from everyone) and apparently he decides to try to live out this fairly stupid fantasy in Algeria, as it was Lucas's inspiration for Tataouine.  Setting aside that he has basically no life skills (not sure I've read of such an incompetent person since some of the feckless artistic types that I hated so much in Barbara Comyns's work), doesn't speak the language* and needs intensive medical assistance for his cystic fibrosis, what could possibly go wrong?  Anyway, the guy just stumbles through a fairly meaningless existence in Montreal, making one bad decision after another.**  It's like the literary equivalent of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, but without the star power of David Cross behind it.  Nonetheless, some people like watching slow-moving train wrecks, but I do not.  I couldn't even get through one episode of Todd Margaret (and I have also largely given up on Ricky Gervais who sort of specializes in this sort of dire comedy), and I am now bailing on Tatouine about halfway through.  

I still have reasonably high hopes for the other books from QC Fiction, but maybe I will temper my praise a bit, given this disappointing first outing.

I am also not entirely sure if I will stick to the Canadian book review challenge.  If I do, I imagine I will mostly be reviewing poetry, given how many books I have from Brick Books still to read.  Given that I didn't finish this book, it would not be fair to consider this a formal review, though clearly I would not be recommending it to anyone...

* Granted he should be able to find a moderate number of Algerians who speak French, due to its colonial past, but if his intention really is to move out to the hinterlands of Algeria, then he will mostly be encountering nomads who speak Berber or more occasionally Arabic.

** Not that I am that likely to ever finish my own novel about a somewhat hapless character in Toronto, but I think I will have to give him a bit more motivation and inner spark, even if he is often a bit over his head, just to avoid coming up with someone who the readers tire of so quickly.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Romance Texts

I am not referring here to romance novels but the tales (and epic poems) of chivalry.  These are on my mind lately, primarily because I am slowly working my way through Don Quixote, and the Don's brain has been turned to mush by reading too many romances, most of which (according to Cervantes) are very silly, aside from Amadis of Gaul by Vasco Lobeira, which I've never read and am not that likely to, though I suppose never say never.  It's not entirely clear to me if Cervantes would have been aware of Malory's Morte D'Arthur, but probably not.  Though he was aware of the Arthurian legends in a general way.

As it happens, after a delay of many, many months, I finally fired up the DVD player last night and watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail and their extremely silly take on Malory.  (It looks like I should be able to get to Life of Brian and Meaning of Life next weekend, of course I said that already back in January!)

While I have detoured very much from my original path, I've actually done moderately well in reading the missing Greek and Roman texts (at least until we get to the various histories) from my undergraduate education.  Based on this list, I should aim to get to On the Nature of Things, Juvenal's Satires, Horace's Odes and then Ovid's Poems of Exile (if I can ever get back over to Robarts!) and then I will feel I've done a decent job in hitting the highlights at least.

For whatever reason, I actually did read an awful lot of middle English and romance texts, starting in high school and ending in graduate school.  In fact, leaving aside Amadis of Gaul, I think I've read everything on this list except for La Chason de Roland, The Heptameron and the poems by Chrétien de Troyes.  But I also have to admit that I don't remember a lot of them in any great detail, so I am at least considering rereading (or re-skimming) some of them.  I am going to cheat a bit by adding some of the bawdier precursors to this list (where there are gallant knights in some tales but also more nefarious goings on, and a peculiar obsession with cuckoldry!), and those would be the ones I would likely start with.  The dates in the list will refer to date of composition or first publication where known.

La Chanson de Roland (c. 1115)  Lots of uncertainty around this text.  I'll probably tackle it in an Oxford edition with the old French and a modern English translation.  

El Cantar de mio Cid (The Song of the Cid) (c. 1140) Not familiar with this work either.

Chrétien de Troyes: Yvain, the Knight of the Lion (c. 1180) Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (c. 1180) and Perceval, the Story of the Grail (c. 1190)  Not too familiar with his work.  If I do read any, I am not sure if I will stick to only what de Troyes wrote or dip into the the Four Continuations.

R Boccaccio The Decameron (1353)  I'm actually not entirely sure where my copy has gotten to (and whether I had the Penguin or Oxford edition).  

R Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c 1380)

R Chaucer The Canterbury Tales (c. 1400) I actually read it (in middle English) in Honors English. Nevill Coghill's modern English adaptation often gets high marks.

R Malory Le Morte d'Arthur (1485) I think I'd stick with the Oxford version called Works.

Lobeira Amadis of Gaul (1508) The Robert Southey translation is out of copyright and seems to be the primary one on the various free download sites, so if I ever do read it, it will likely be that way.

R Ariosto Orlando Furioso (1516) This is definitely epic in scale.  I feel the Barbara Reynolds translation (Penguin) is really the best way to read it, though there is a much more modern, freer translation floating around.  I actually lost one volume from the set, though I was able to eventually replace it.  While this does deserve to be reread, I am just not sure I will ever find the time.

Marguerite de Navarre The Heptameron (1558) I think I do have a copy of the Penguin edition, but am not sure where this is either.  When I stumble across it, I'll see if I can set aside the time to read it then.

R Spenser The Faerie Queene (1596) I read this in graduate school.  It had its moments but definitely felt too long.  I can't remember much of it, and am fairly unlikely to reread at this point.  I did see that there is an illustrated version that just focuses on the story lines of the various sections. I might check that out instead.

After taking another look at this list, I will surely sound out La Chanson de Roland and will likely reread Chaucer and Boccaccio. I'm also likely to read The Heptameron sooner rather than later. I'm less sure about Malory or Ariosto or tackling de Troyes, and frankly I'm fairly unlikely to read Amadis of Gaul or reread The Faerie Queene.

Edit (11/10) I will take it as a sign that a copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ended up in my Little Free Library.  This translation (Marie Borroff) may well be the one I read in Honors English, but I can't recall.  It is quite a short text (60 pages including all the notes), so I will be able to read it and put it back in the library right away.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

First Impressions (books)

I'm sure that I have written more than once that I need to trust my instincts and just give up on books a lot more quickly than I did in the past.  Of course in the distant, distant past (my late teens through mid-20s) I was so determined to finish every book I started, but with time I realized this was just foolish.  In terms of books that simply didn't get any better but I did finish (though I should abandoned at the 50 page mark or before) I can put Faulker's A Fable (though I suppose in this sense I am a completist and will eventually want to read all of his novels) and Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival firmly in this category.  Brigid Brophy's In Transit wore out its welcome long before it ended.  And if I am being brutally honest I have kind of regretted reading all the Kundera books I have read to date.  In the case of Mann's The Magic Mountain and Musil's A Man Without Qualities and even von Rezzori's The Death of My Brother Abel, I knew going in these would all be grinds, but there were at least some interesting bits along the way (though not that many in My Brother Abel) and there was no serious thought on my part that I would abandon them.

So consequently I have started dropping books sooner, particularly if I didn't have a truly compelling reason to read this book in the first place.  (I generally do a quick scan of Goodreads, discounting all the sycophantic 5 star reviews, to see if there are readers who found the book improved but more often than not, I find myself in agreement with the 2 and 3 star reviews.  And frankly, I don't think I have enough time left to me to read that many 2 or 3 star books...)

I'm actually starting to try to get a sense within the first 5 pages (rather than 50) to decide if I will continue a book.  I stumbled across a positive review for Jane Igharo's Ties that Tether, so I gave it a shot.  But I realized that it was only a step or two above a romance novel, though one with an inter-racial and inter-cultural twist.  

Most of the reviewers agreed that Igharo leans pretty heavily on romance tropes (whether this is a good thing or bad thing depended on their taste), but it definitely turned me off.  I then read some SPOILERS that said there was a surprise pregnancy (which naturally should have come with a trigger warning...) that came up quite early in the book, so this already had me thinking this was a rip-off of a plot device used in The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (not that Igharo has probably ever even heard of that TV show, as it never came out on DVD).  But I read a couple more pages until there was a ridiculous plot twist (with the narrator finding out that her one-night stand was now working at her company) that came straight out of a romance novel, and I said to myself, I simply cannot read any further.

On the other hand, I read just a few pages of Jean-Christophe Rehel's Tatouine (also recommended by Star book reviewer I believe), and I said this sounds like quite a unique narrative voice.  Not a person I would want to spend any time with in real life, but still worth following through the book.

The narrator is living with cystic fibrosis in a basement apartment in the suburbs of Montreal.  He has a somewhat vivid imaginary life (shades of Walter Mitty) but his thoughts are largely colonized by LucasWorld, and he wishes he could live on the desert planet Tatouine, primarily so he can be left alone.  While I am not sure it is a conscious riffing off of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground (with its anti-social anti-hero), I wouldn't be surprised if Rehel was making a link between the two.  At any rate, this is a book that sold me (on continuing) within a few pages.

I spent a bit of time looking at the other offerings from QC Fiction, which is an imprint that translates books by Francophone authors from Quebec.  Almost all of them grabbed me just through the book blurbs, though I haven't had a chance to get that many out of the library.  They have some decent sales (3 books for $45 plus shipping) but you can't mix and match.  I wish they would do something like Brick Books where you could order a lot of the e-books and drop the price down to $10 or so.

Fortunately, the library has a copy of virtually the entire run.  I'm actually quite interested in Listening for Jupiter, Prague, The Unknown Huntsman, The Electric Baths and Songs for the Cold of Heart (which has won a number of awards).  The next one I am likely to read is In Every Wave, as it is the shortest!

Because Eric Dupont's Songs for the Cold of Heart is quite long (just breaking the 600 page mark), I think this is one I would prefer to own rather than attempt to read from the library.  I actually biked past BMV on the way home on Monday and hit the jackpot.  They had a nice used copy for $10, whereas I had been thisclose to paying $13 (plus shipping) from Amazon.  I would probably have picked up The Electric Baths as well, but that wasn't in stock at BMV.*  Hopefully, my Spidey sense isn't malfunctioning, and I will more or less enjoy Tatouine and Songs for the Cold of Heart all the way through. 

* Another great pick-up was Richard Ford's Canada for $5.  I had just seen Richard Ford talking a bit about his newest story collection, Sorry for Your Trouble, at the Toronto International Festival of Authors.

Sunday, October 25, 2020


I've mentioned a few times that I mostly still go to the office, though last week I did work from home on Wed., as it was supposed to rain most of the day.  In the end, the rain cleared up after a few hours, and I could really have made it in.  I didn't make that mistake on Thursday or Friday.

At any rate, I did have an unbelievable number of MS Teams and Zoom meetings, pretty much from 9:30 to 6 pm.  However, in most of them, I was just listening in, so I did my absolute best to multi-task while muted (and with the camera off obviously).

I had promised that I would cook dinner but fell asleep the night before, so the first thing I did was finish putting this casserole together and threw it in the oven.  I then did most of the resulting dishes.

On the other computer, I began a fairly lengthy digitization process, starting with some random News from Lake Wobegon.*  I have an entire box of cassette tapes if you can believe it.  A large number of them are just random hits off of the radio, and most of those I don't need (having either upgraded to CDs or decided I didn't like the songs all that much after all).  However, I did come across some cassette promos, including this one I got not long after washing up in Toronto (the first time) for grad school.


I'd say about 1/3 of the remaining tapes are still random stuff off of the radio, 1/3 are interviews I did (either with urban planning students for a project that never materialized or visitors to hostels and hostel workers (ditto)) and the last are me dictating** my memories of my undergraduate career and working in an inner-city high school and then a whole string of tapes I recorded on my way to and back from my mother's funeral.  It's a little ironic that the most important tapes were those where I had recorded transportation professionals and environmentalists as background for my dissertation.  It looks like I tossed these after I had the interviews transcribed (by my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, who was paid for her labour).  Inspired by this, I spent an hour poking around and did find the word documents of the various interviews, so at least that wasn't lost, though there were some hiccups along the way in converting from Mac documents over to PC land.  (I could spend several paragraphs talking about how much I probably lost along the way as floppy disks(!) got corrupted or hard drives damaged, but probably all the things I really care about, my poetry, my dissertation and my various creative writing projects, have been saved in a couple of places.  I also could talk about how these various drives down memory lane are moving me in the direction of actually wrapping up some ancient projects, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.)  This time around, I am just digitizing them and may or may not transcribe them, but I don't really have an urgent need to have them transcribed (so I probably won't get around to it).

On top of these other tasks, I was able to do a load of laundry, and later on helped my daughter a bit with her math homework.  I wish she had been more productive over the weekend (and asked for my help when I was available), but that's another story.  Because the rain had stopped, and the last session ended at 6 (when I had thought it would end at 7!), I ran out and did a mini-grocery store run.  So it did feel like quite a productive day.  It was almost relaxing the next day back in the office when I had far fewer distractions!

* While I do think Garrison Keillor has shown himself to be a very weak liberal ally (and a bit of a creep), his tales are still pretty entertaining.  I had several commercially produced cassettes (Local Man Moves to the City and Stories), which I digitized ages ago, though not entirely sure where the files (or the original tapes) went to!  But now I am working through bits taped directly from the radio, almost entirely from the mid 1990s.

** It's weird enough listening to your own voice on tape, but then to listen to it taped at various years and at quite different tape speeds is particularly disorienting!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Still Not Getting It

It's so frustrating seeing a small (but still too sizable) minority of Canadians are arguing over mask rules.  The new argument seems to be that if X person (usually a bus driver or policeman) doesn't wear a mask, then I don't need to.  Really childish.  And there is almost no point in arguing with such people, but simply avoid them (and if you are an anti-masker, I am not going to publish your comments here).

Friday I decided that since it was probably one of the last nice days before the weather got much colder, I would walk over to Simcoe Place.  (While I probably will gradually wind down my trips to work as it gets colder and I also am generally not eating a full lunch as I am watching my weight, I do eat lunch occasionally.  At any rate, I can visit the Union Station food court and the one over at RBC Plaza without heading outdoors.)  Anyway, I was going to go to a Thai place at Simcoe Place that I like and hope to help keep in business.  The lady at the counter wasn't there, so the cook was serving a customer.  And he had no mask on!  Really?!  Now I am wondering whether he doesn't wear his mask while cooking.  The whole situation completely turned me off, and I am simply not going to go back until the pandemic is past.  That probably means I won't be going back to Simcoe Place until next summer or even later (unfortunately).  While Freshii's is fine (and that is what I had instead), I don't care enough about it to go out of my way.

It's a little different when I read about industries (like gyms and tourism/hospitality) complaining that they are being punished (by the various restrictions) and the evidence is still on the thin side.  It is a tough balancing act between trying to keep the economy limping along and reining in the cases, but the cases are really staying stubbornly high in the GTHA even after 2-3 weeks of these restrictions, and the hospitals are starting to get overwhelmed, which is really what is driving most of the decisions to shut down.  What is so frustrating is that the only thing that really will help us is a much expanded testing and then contact tracing operation.  The Provinces should have thrown everything into this and they simply didn't over the summer.  So it is little wonder that average people are fed up with a situation that doesn't look like it will ever get any better until a vaccine is ready (and even that will likely prove to be disappointing).  But that is still no excuse not to wear a mask anytime you are around others in a public setting!

I'm debating whether to post some pictures of a Borat pro-mask poster in my neighbourhood that has been defaced by ani-mask fools, but that may just be too meta.  I'm actually pretty turned off by the Borat approach, though some people really liked the first movie, though the sequel has been getting consistently poor reviews...

I'll post it after all, mostly because of the "The Mask is a Muzzle" graffiti...

I'm sorry I have to share a planet, let alone my city, with these dolts

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Making Progress?

While Toronto's new case counts have come down ever so slightly, that cannot be said of Ontario as a whole.  Peel and now York remain major problems, particularly on a per capita basis.  The most scary thing recently is that 61 cases in Hamilton have been linked to a spin class where they followed all the rules, but the rules do allow masks to be removed during exercise.  And the patient zero was completely asymptomatic, which is increasingly the case, and will make tracking down those who have the virus simply impossible without truly widespread testing, which just won't happen.  So we're basically screwed.

What most likely will happen is they will close gyms through the entire GTHA or they will say no more exceptions - exercise in a mask or not at all (and won't that be fun to enforce?) - or both.  I'm not quite backing off my previous criticism because Toronto hadn't shown the evidence before making the call to close gyms down, but now we have the evidence and the gyms will close along with restaurants. 

I'm actually talking more personally.  While it has only been a bit over a week since I've cut out large lunches and tried to improve my snackage, I do think a couple of shirts are fitting a bit better.  Naturally, I am quite cranky when I am dieting.  That's nothing new.  It takes several weeks before this becomes the "new normal" and my body just accepts it won't get as many calories in the middle of the day.  Waking up hungry in the middle of the night remains my single biggest problem, however.  I'll just keep trying to make some slight progress in the next few months before winter hits (and I lose all will to do much of anything aside from hibernate).