Tag Archives: books

The Doubtful Guest

gorey google

If you have tried googling anything this morning, you may have noticed that today is Edward Gorey day on Google! Yes, apparently they are commemorating what would have been his 88th birthday* with a special logo.

*I wonder why his 88th would be of significance…I know, I will google it!** Hang on….

**Please note that this increasing dependence on machines to do our searching and thinking for us is one of the first steps in our eventual downfall as a species. Yes, you are witnessing the genesis of it all right here, friends. And perhaps one day, many years after our Robot Overlords have wrested control of the planet, a small rag-tag band of rebel humans will mount a resistance movement. Hacking into the matrix, they will search back through the annals of internet history in search of a clue as to how it all went downhill…and maybe they will find this post. If you are reading this, rebel humans, please allow me to extend an apology to you. On behalf of the entire human race, I am sorry that we were too distracted by pictures of cats on the internet to notice that the machines were quietly plotting their attack.

Anyway, back to Edward Gorey. A cursory search has failed to reveal why his 88th birthday would be of importance. There must be a reason for it though. Am I missing something? Is 88 a significant number for Gorey fans? Or for Google? The number 8 is basically the infinity sign flipped on its head, so maybe that has something to do with it. Is Google engaged in an ambitious rivalry with infinity? That would be just like them, wouldn’t it?

Whatever. Some mysteries are never meant to be solved. Like the mystery of Edward Gorey’s ‘The Doubtful Guest’…

Where did he come from? Why did he stay? Was he sporting the same pair of white canvas shoes for 17 years, or did he keep ordering new pairs? Is falling asleep in a soup tureen as uncomfortable as it sounds?

There are no obvious answers to these questions. But I do very much enjoy the Doubtful Guest sitting here inside of the Google logo, surveying the scene with polite interest.

the doubtful guest

“Do tell…”

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Ender’s Game

enders game

I just finished reading Orson Scott Card’s 1985 sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. It was great, on many levels – plot, characterization, evocative imagery, insightful commentary on the nature of the human condition. Aside from all that, though, one of the other aspects of the novel that I really enjoyed was the character names. First of all, ‘Ender’s Game‘ is a seriously kick-ass title for a book. It just sounds cool. The fact that Ender is the name of the main character is a bonus. And the entire story is populated by characters with interesting names. Here are a few of them:

  • ★ Ender Wiggin
  • ★ Valentine Wiggin
  • ★ Petra Arkanian
  • ★ Carn Carby
  • ★ Crazy Tom
  • ★ Sargeant Dap
  • ★ Dink Meeker
  • ★ Julian “Bean” Delphiki
  • ★ Rose the Nose
  • ★ Hot Soup
  • ★ Fly Molo
  • ★ Pol Slattery

I mean, would you not want to hang out with any and all of those dudes, based solely on their appellations? And sure, yeah, a couple of those are Battle School nicknames, but most of them are their legit birth names. Awesome.

Comfort Books

I don’t know about you, but I find reading to be one of the most relaxing activities in the world. There’s something about getting lost in a book that takes you out of your own head and into an alternate universe. Good writers are those who can create new worlds that feel just as real as your own, and make you long to be a part of them.

Reading can also provide a much-needed distraction when anxiety gets too intense. I devoured books as a kid and to this day walking into a bookstore or library takes me immediately to a happy place. Much like the adorable nerds in this video, when I was little I felt that books were my friends and that I was never alone if I had a good book to keep me company.

I think anyone who reads a lot develops, over time, a roster of books that are tried-and-true favourites, ones that they return to again and again because the characters and stories feel comfortable and comforting, like being around old friends. One of my favourites, Jilly Cooper’s Rivals, is a novel that I picked up at a sleepover when I was 12 (highly unsuitable reading for that age, fyi). I read it again in my freshman year of high school when I had my heart crushed for the first time, and then as a junior when I was studying for my SAT’s. I re-read it in my first year of university when I was homesick, and since then I’ve returned to it every couple of years as needed, in times of stress. The great thing is that no matter where I am in my life, the characters in Rivals are always playing out the same storyline, with the same outcomes. There is something deeply reassuring about that.

Here is my list of favourite comfort books. They may not be the best* or most literary books I have ever read, but they always make me happy.

*(Except that they secretly totally are).

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

huck finn

This has always been my all-time favourite book, and maybe it always will be, because I can’t think of anything more perfect than the idea of running away and following a river. Can you?

Don’t Care High – Gordon Korman

don't care high

I won’t say too much here about this excellent YA novel, because it really deserves its own post, but in my opinion Gordon Korman is a bizarre genius and reading his books as a kid helped to shape my worldview in ways that I am coming to understand and appreciate more and more each time I re-read them.

Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

gone with the wind

It kills me that this book is traditionally marketed as a romance novel (see cover, above). Yeah, sure…if your idea of ‘romance’ is cruelty and emotional torture.* The book is less of a bodice-ripper than a history lesson, exploring the economic, political, and social causes of the American Civil War. Aside from that, it features one of the most deeply rendered characters I have ever read. Seriously, after finishing it I felt like Scarlett O’Hara was more tangible to me than some people I have actually met in real life. Which is kind of crazy.

*And maybe it is! If so, cool – this book’s for you.

Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga – Stephen Davis

hammer of the gods

I’ve read this book at least half a dozen times, and even though many of the anecdotes within it are no doubt slightly exaggerated, it encompasses all that is amazing about the excesses of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I also love reading about the stories behind the songs. Plus, Zeppelin rules.

Rivals – Jilly Cooper

rivals

The aforementioned Rivals contains all that you would expect from a Jilly Cooper novel – intrigue, excess, glamour, backstabbing, sex, adultery, and unapologetic moral laxity. As a 12-year-old, it blew my mind. I think it’s a testament to the author that even though basically every character is a total degenerate and/or moral reprobate, and I’m not sure I really like any of them (except for maybe Caitlin), I love them all.

That’s my list. What are your favourite comfort books?

Another New Face at Mental Skillness HQ

owsley

Introducing Owsley, a friend of a friend. Apparently he was named after LSD guru Augustus Owsley Stanley. So I hope he is mixing us up a sweet batch of acid right now…

Just kidding. I don’t do (psychedelic) drugs.

Owsley is knowledgeable and wise, but also knows how to have a good time. So I’m pretty sure he’s going to fit in fine around here. In fact, he and Thaddeus have been blabbing away to each other for the past half hour.

Here are some pertinent Owsley facts:

– His parents were a fixture on the Haight/Ashbury scene and palled around with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. As a baby owl (owlet?) he was toted to numerous Grateful Dead shows and as a result he kind of hates their music (although he has grudgingly admitted to enjoying the song ‘Friend of the Devil’ on occasion). To this day, the smell of marijuana and patchouli reminds him of his childhood.

– His godfather is Timothy Leary, also godfather to Winona Ryder. He and Winona grew up together, and used to shoplift candy and trinkets from their neighborhood corner store. He assures me that he has outgrown these youthful foibles, but since we all know how Winona turned out I am nonetheless keeping an eye on my Marc Jacobs sweaters

pals

A young Winona & Owsley in her backyard in Petaluma, CA, circa 1983.

– He only has one ear! So if you don’t talk to him from his left side, he won’t hear you at all. I think this is kind of amazing, and probably quite useful when he feels like ignoring people he doesn’t like.

Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but it is a fascinating account of the Beat Generation and the ‘60s San Francisco scene. Since Owsley grew up in the middle of all of that I am seriously looking forward to hearing his first-hand recollections of the various characters and personalities that populated that landscape. We’re going to see the movie adaptation of On The Road when it comes out, and he’s promised to give me the full lowdown on what “Uncle Jack” and “Uncle Allen” were really like.

Palindromes & the ’80s

I was just gazing absently at my bookshelf, wondering what to write about today, when I noticed a book that combines two of my favourite things in the world:

S080S

First of all, the ’80s! And secondly, palindromes!

This is all very exciting.

Forever Young Adult

I love Young Adult lit. I’ve loved it ever since I was a young adult. I read a lot of books when I was growing up, and there are some amazing novels out there geared towards teenagers. I’m not talking about ‘Twilight’ and the endless other vampire series that have sprung up in its wake (although I am certainly not above reading a book about supernatural creatures, if it’s well written :) I’m talking about smart, thoughtful, engaging writing that doesn’t talk down to its readers because they happen to be below the voting age. J.K. Rowling proved that children’s books could be embraced — and in many cases, loved — by adults too, and I am a huge proponent of the idea that YA lit can be enjoyed by a wider audience than it’s target demographic.

Some of the best books I’ve read in the past year have included YA titles. There’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green, and ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline. I also loved ‘Flick’ by Abigail Tarttelin. All three of these are examples of books that are full of both humour and sadness — real, complex emotions, just as engaging as anything I’ve read recently in adult fiction.

My main source for finding out about upcoming YA titles is the awesome, brilliantly funny Forever Young Adult. When I first stumbled on this site I was thrilled by the discovery that there are other people out there like me…people who are — ahem — not exactly teenagers anymore, but still love teen books! All the girls at FYA are awesome and their reviews have become my go-to when I’m trying to decide what to read next.

In fact, I am such a huge fan of FYA that as I type this, I am wearing my new Forever Young Adult t-shirt. You guys, it is awesome! It has a rainbow on it, with a unicorn lolling in a martini glass, an olive speared through it’s horn. Any site that mixes a love of cocktails with passion for teen books is pretty amazing, in my view.

Thaddeus is wearing an FYA-designed t-shirt too. He just started reading ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins and is really into it so far.

Here we are in our new shirts!

An Alchemy Imperceptible

prairie

Within him something was opening, releasing shyly as the petals of a flower open, with such gradualness that he was hardly aware of it. But it was happening: an alchemy imperceptible as the morning wind, a growing elation of such fleeting delicacy and poignancy that he dared not turn his mind to it for fear that he might spoil it, that it might be carried away as lightly as one strand of a spider web on a sigh of a wind. He was filled with breathlessness and expectancy, as though he were going to be given something, as though he were about to find something.

— W.O. Mitchell, Who Has Seen the Wind