Lori's Book Nook

Archive for July 2006

Have you folks seen Before Sunset? Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke reprise their roles as Celine & Jesse, meeting up again 9 years after they parted in Before Sunrise.

Nine years ago, the first one wowed me with its natural flow and realistic conversations…I found myself thinking more than once “I’ve had that conversation!”.

Before Sunset takes place in Paris, starting in the bookstore of bookstores, Shakespeare & Co….right across from Notre Dame [My purchase there: Delta of Venus by Anais Nin and Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.]

Jesse is a writer, and is touring on his popular novel, based on that one night in Vienna almost a decade earlier.

Of course Celine shows up.

The rest of the movie is shot essentially in real time, as they walk and talk before he has to catch a plane back to the USA.

Again, amazing conversation…Who writes like that? I remember reading that the actors and the director wrote the script together, basing it on their intimate knowledge of the characters.

It is so unusual to read dialogue like that in a novel — why is that?

Can anyone recommend a writer whose dialogue hits you in the gut? It’s not the realism I’m looking for. Too often we speak, uh, you know…like I said yesterday…what’s the word? Yeah. Dumb.

No. I’m talking about the idealized conversations we remember having that were so damned significant — I want that in a novel.

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We’ve all got one, right? A quote we carry around in our heads, or on a slip of paper in our wallets. At least one. It’s your email signature maybe, or just something you repeat to yourself to keep from exploding.

One has haunted me for awhile…and I lost the slip of paper, and I haven’t seen the book in eons…From the Female Man by Joanna Russ, an icon in Feminist SF from the mid-70s:

In my other incarnation I live out such a plethora
of conflict that you wouldn’t think I’d survive,
would you, but I do; I wake up enraged, go to sleep
in numbed despair, face what I know perfectly well
is condescension and abstract contempt, get into
quarrels, shout, fret about people I don’t even
know, live as if I were the only woman in the world
trying to buck it all, work like a pig, strew my
whole apartment with notes, articles, books, get
frowsy, don’t care, become stridently contentious,
sometimes laugh and weep within five minutes
together out of pure frustration. It takes me two
hours to get to sleep and an hour to get up. I
dream at my desk. I dream all over the place. I’m
very badly dressed.  But O how I relish my
victuals! And O how I fuck!

It must be read aloud to appreciate the headlong downhill sprint of the words — they flow.

And it still is a clarion call to women to eschew expected, ‘correct’ behaviour.

Over on my other blog, I just posted about my 20 year high school reunion (in two weeks!). Then I popped over to Writer’s Almanac…lo and behold, the poem that got me into trouble in Grade 12.

You heard me right, I got in trouble over a poem in high school. It was the only time I ever did get into trouble in school — gads, was I ever a nerd!

Here it is…a classic, but powerful (and mercifully short!):

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

In Grade 12, I was in a small English Lit class, and our teacher was wonderful. He enjoyed what he was doing, we had great discussions, and he really challenged us to think for ourselves.

Then, something happened with him. I don’t know what it was (why is it that every time a teacher takes an extended break, everyone says “oh, nervous breakdown”??), but we felt the repercussions, ’cause we ended up with a cold cow of a teacher for the rest of the year.

Well, one day in class we were discussing this poem. No, not ‘discussing’, we were reading it, and then she elicited our analysis…and when we got to the line “The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed”, we deduced the accepted meaning, that it was the scultor’s hand, and Oxymandias’ heart. She said, “No, it’s this…” (can’t even remember what it was) We argued back and forth, and then the bell rang. My buddy and I went to the library and bloody well looked it up. We went to her after school, and were pretty vehement about saying Look here, this is it, we were right, because she continued to fight for her analysis.
She called my mother in for a meeting about me. Over a poem.

Turns out, as she explained to my mom, during the reading of the poem there in class, she was struck by an alternate meaning that she wanted to examine and discuss. Instead of approaching us as equals, she kept up the teacher-power armour up, and never just said: “Hey guys, I just thought of an alternate meaning. Want to discuss it?” So what she got from us, instead of a teachable moment, was anger, frustration, alienation, and a parent-teacher meeting.

As a teacher, I always learned my best lessons from what teachers I’ve known have done wrong.

“It was on this day in 1940 that Bugs Bunny made his
debut in a short animated film called “A Wild Hare”.
He was modeled on Groucho Marx, with a carrot rather
than a cigar. Mel Blanc gave him a Brooklyn accent.
The story line of the cartoon involved Elmer Fudd
hunting rabbits, only to have Bugs thwart him at every
turn. Bugs Bunny’s first line in the cartoon, when he
meets Elmer Fudd, is, “What’s up, doc?” It was a
phrase that one of the writers remembered people
saying where he grew up in Texas.”

Ah, that ‘wascally wabbit’ turns 66, a nice round number.

Thanks to my man for pointing this out to me, from his daily visit to the Writer’s Almanac. A big kiss, dear!

Bugs is truly one of my heros. Yeah, I know, he ain’t real, but just pause and consider his attitude. Here is a rabbit whose lust for life gets him into all kinds of scrapes, so he has to use his joie de vivre, quick wits, and sense of humour to extracate himself.

Plus, he has those wonderful magic pockets in his fur, where he always finds the correct tool for the job.

On a side note: Is anyone interested in buying my enormous collection of Bugs Bunny paraphenalia?!?

This is something that has cropped up a couple times so far, since I began this blog. What makes a secondhand bookstore great, or mediocre?

New bookstores — well that’s easy. Whatever Chapters ain’t. Knowledgeable staff. A broad range of books on the shelves, including small press stuff and lesser known authors. Good ordering policy. Chairs scattered throughout. Intriguing displays.

But 2ndhand bookstores, that’s different. Lots of stock, piled high, but not too high. Lots of space to house an ever-changing population of books. Piles of books kept to a manageable level…customers should be able to walk down your aisles, not pick their way precariously. Stools and chairs scattered about. At least one cat.

Most importantly — an aggressive acquisition policy. One of the used best bookstores in Vancouver Albion Books (523 Richards Street, downtown Vancouver. Tell Dave I sent ya!) is great because the owner pays cash for new stock, and he really knows his books (and music). So Axiom #2 is “Pay in store credit, you’ll get crap.” [I’m keeping Axiom #1 open for a larger insight…]

And a used bookstore needs a constant influx of fabulous stock…or people like me will pick it dry quickly. Then it has to lie fallow for 6 months to a year, before going back in.

Admit it — you know what I’m talking about!

Anyway, what are your favourite bookstores? Anything else to add to my criteria for a great one?

Years ago, I realized that I only took pictures of buildings and streets when I traveled (Drove my husband to distraction on our honeymoon, 100s of pictures of urban scenes, none of us!).

Then, I discovered that I enjoyed reading about buildings, architecture, urban design when the new 2ndhand bookstore near my opened up with a whole shelf of books on the subject (That bookstore then fizzled…as all the good books sold, and their terrible book acquisition skills took over.)

One of the great books I found was Looking at Cities, by Allan Jacobs, probably one of the most well-known urban planners. This book was written in 1985, and instructs on how to view the elements that make up a city, and learn, well, what can be learned from that observation.

Another book on that shelf, now on mine, was The Social LIfe of Small Urban Spaces, kept in print by the Project for Public Spaces. Cool.

Years later, a friend married a woman who was a Landscape Architect. So she and I had things in common, and one day she had Allan Jacobs Great Streets out of the library. In it, he defines why some streets are great, and other merely mediocre, based on various parameters of visibility, usage, etc.  We went to see the great man himself speak in Vancouver — very interesting.

So, if you look at my wishlist, I still covet one of his books, The Boulevard Book: History, Evolution, Design of Multiway Boulevards. One day.

I just spent an utterly delightful hour and a half over coffee with a new friend — turns out we have a lot of similar literary & cultural interests, which is always a pleasant surprise.

I, of course, imposed my will, and made her write down some books to read, based on the paths our conversation took.

We discussed trends, among other things, and two books jumped to mind:

Bellwether by Connie Willis. Here’s a tidbit review from a computer science prof’s webpage (apt, for SF):

Review:
Sandra Foster is a sociologist trying to understand fads, Bennett O’Reilly is researching chaos theory. They both work for HiTek, a research corporation with a Dilbert-esque Management from Hell, where, due to an amazing series of blunders and coincidences, they end up working together.

This is a sheer delight, breathlessly paced, and wittily observant. Sandy is a fun, believable character: her obsession with fads, which she cannot stop herself seeing in every event around her, and the consequent hilarious view of modern life, are beautifully drawn. Her technique to stop her public library selling classic but unchecked-out books — by constantly checking them out — is one of the many wonderful subplots.

And Pattern Recognition by the man himself, William Gibson. The first link there is to a synopsis of the book — I recommend not reading it, just go find the book. Gibson is always best read unintroduced…let his magic just roll over you.


Book Discussion Pages

Here on the Book Nook you can discuss: The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, as well as the next two books in the Deptford Trilogy, The Manticore and World of Wonders, and if that's not enough for you, see what's up on the forums at BookTalk.org!