“And then it struck Oleg that Shulubin was not delirious, that he’d recognized him and was reminding him of their last conversation before the operation. He had said, “Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There’s something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of this universal spirit. Don’t you feel that?”
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward
I read the majority of this book last week as I lay on the blindingly hot sands of Oahu’s Waikiki beach.
I feel almost ill at ease admitting this fact. As if my enjoyment of the book should be muted, having loved it in a land so starkly foreign from the places birthed in its pages.
But like so many great works, all it did was awake a thirst.
Until about the age of twenty-one, I would only read real books.
“Oh me?” I would snottily opine. I’m a real Dostoevsky, Dickens, Austen, and Grass kind of girl.”
I could never understand why my boyfriend – my brilliant, cerebral and completely badass boyfriend (who now happens to be my brilliant, cerebral and completely badass husband) – read so many graphic novels, and books with picture of trolls, and dwarfs, and dragons adorning their covers.
How could he be interested in such stuff?
And despite his best efforts, for the first three years of our courtship I staunchly refused to crack one open.
“Sorry,” I would say. “I’m just not into that stuff.”
“You really have no idea what you’re talking about,” he’d say. “But I’ll wear you down eventually.”
And wear me down he did.
My first “non-book” (oh how wrong was I!), was V for Vendetta by Alan Moore which blew my brain harder than anything that had come before it (and I seriously thought I could ever again undergo anything as soul-shaking as the time I first read Devils and Crime and Punishment.) Next came the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman which I inhaled in about a day and a half, and then Watchmen, and Preacher, and about every other comic series on which I could get my hands.
It took me a little longer still to get into “fantasy” and “science fiction” (oh how I now loathe our need to classify so much brilliant literature as such!), but I finally caved and picked up A Clash of Kings a few months after my twenty-second birthday.
And once again, I underwent a kind of mind-exploding madness.
How could George R. R. Martin write so seamlessly and brilliantly from one character to the next? How could he be so heartless and beautiful all at once? WHY WERE ALL OF THESE PEOPLE SO AWFUL?
After burning through the entire Ice and Fire series (in what was then it’s most current incarnation) it was GAME. ON. The floodgates were opened, and it was nothing but a steady, raucous and ever more passionate ride filled with Bradbury, and Asimov, and Heinlein, and Tolkein, and Guy Gavriel, Scott Card, and Neal Stevenson, and Susanna Clarke, and so many more (and more and more and more!)
And then, ladies and gentlemen, Marc introduced me to one of the most brilliant, gut-busting, world-creating satirists English literature has ever known.
He brought me the world of Terry Pratchett.
This man made me laugh, cry, think, pace, question, believe, and most of all read.
My goodness did I love to get lost in his worlds and read!
To this day, I always know when Marc is (re-)reading a Pratchett book because of the sonorous laughs that all but explode out of him.
He’ll then read the offending passage aloud and we’ll both cry-laugh together. More often than not, we’ll just end up reading entire sections of the book to one another.
These truly are some of my most treasured literary memories.
And so when I found out last Thursday that Mr. Pratchett had died (via Guardian update from my mobile phone) I immediately phoned Marc to tell him the news.
I couldn’t even finish my sentence before collapsing into my tears. I sobbed straight into the receiver, my whole body wracked by a terrible, melancholy palsy.
And then, in the most Pratchett-ian of fashions, I was immediately catapulted back to laughter.
Marc, speaking slowly into the receiver, said, “This – this makes me really, really sad babe. But – unfortunately I have to go. The arborists are here.”
Because, of course, we were having the dead cherry tree removed from our backyard, and yes, at 8:13am on a Thursday morning, the arborists had arrived to facilitate that removal.
I immediately burst out laughing, even though my tears kept streaming steadily down my face.
I cried for the better part of the entire day, and I really don’t think I’ll ever get over the loss of such a brilliant, kind, compassionate, passionate, and life-changing man.
But I know that I, like the world, am so much better off for opening my mind, heart, and soul to his beautiful works, and the zany, madcap brilliance of Ankh-Morpork.
And like Marc before me, I’ll continue to encourage people to read his works.
There are so, SO many things of which I have to write, but while I get my thoughts (and pictures, and videos) in order, and oil up my oh-so rusty typing fingers, I am going to answer the ten funniest questions OF LIFE posed to me by the amazingly hilarious Great Unwashed.
Please go check out her blog. You will not regret this decision.
And now! My answers:
1. If you had to choose between Anna Karenina, War and Peace and Steve Martin’s acclaimed novella “Shopgirl” which book would be the best weapon in a bar fight?
First off, GREAT QUESTION.
My initial reaction was all, “UMMMM ANNA KARENINA YO.”
In terms of sheer weight (both literally, and literature-aly), The Jerk doesn’t have a thing on old Leo T. In fact, I am surprised he is even included here in the list. I would have expected something like – Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, and Les Miserables.
I only initially chose the adorable adventures of Kitty and Levin (and the insufferable angst of Anna and Vronsky) because it was first in the list. War and Peace would also pack one hell of a punch.
But I digress.
My decision in the end actually IS Shopgirl (and not just because I love the word “novella”), but because anyone who thought to start a bar fight with me, and then happened to espy that I was reading such dreck would probably realize that going rope-a-dope with me just wouldn’t be worth it.
My life would be much too sad already.
Side note: my husband really hates Steve Martin.
Like, a lot.
I don’t really care either way, but I do dig the fact that he plays the banjo.
2. What is the longest period you’ve ever gone without bathing? Please note, stays in Turkish prisons do not count.
Okay, first things first –
I LOVE TAKING SHOWERS.
They are firmly ensconced in my Top Five Things to Do By Myself.
Plus I just generally hate feeling dirty. Nothing feels as good as a great scrubbing.
The longest I have ever gone without showering was two weeks in grade ten when I was a camp counsellor in training.
I took part in a teenage Outward Bound-type excursion, and being that we spent the entire time in the wild woods, we also went the entire time sans-showers.
I tell you, even though we had the opportunity to swim almost every day, I was practically dreaming about soap and shampoo by the end of the trip.
3. You’ve decided to take on three additional husbands and or wives, who are they? Both living and dead people may be included, although admittedly an attraction to the deceased is a little beyond me.
4. What is your most unfortunate public transportation story?
I have drooled quite a bit on the metro in my day.
Also, once, while riding the last skytrain back home I watched a guy barf all over the floor.
That wasn’t very nice.
5. Go back in time, you’re attempting to sell your five year old sibling, what is your asking price?
ONE MILLION CHOCOLATE BARS.
6. In a bid to secure the Guinness World Record for “Longest and Highest Transport of Tom Cruise” you’ve decided to piggyback this superstar across the Andes. What phrase do you repeat to yourself during the tough parts of the trek to spur yourself onwards when Tom’s pointy hip bones are digging into your spine?
The following classic line from Top Gun:
“I WANT SOME BUTTS!”
(See below video.)
No joke, I use this line almost daily.
7. What do you consider to be a valid reason for a hunger strike?
I wrote a super long answer about torture and imprisonment without cause that was super, super grim (surprise, surprise!) so for the sake of brevity I’ll just say that weird pink chicken mcnugget sludge.
The thought of that stuff pretty much turns me off food for life.
8. Name three items you hide from your spouse or significant other or even better, yourself.
I don’t actually hide much, if anything at all, from Marc.
As many of you who read this blog might have guessed, I’m a pretty transparent person.
However, for years I denied that it was me who put the dent into our old VW Golf. I also only watch Drop Dead Diva when he’s either asleep or out of the house. One time I farted on the subway and convinced him that he was in fact the one who farted.
9. Where are the hiding places for these items? Wait! Don’t tell me, I’m a terrible secret keeper.
10. How do you feel about my interviewing skills? Will they make Oprah love me?
If the big O doesn’t love you, please take some level of comfort in the fact that I most definitely do.
So there you have it!
What about you dudes? What are some of your answers to the fab-tastic queries?
Please do share.
Because let’s be honest here, they are just too good not to.
So I wrote last week about how I’ve jumped back on the Russian literature train (the darkest, gloomiest, most morbidly hilarious train there is) and I cannot believe how much I have missed the ride.
(Alas, Wolf Hall has been relegated to the far corner of my bedside table, YET AGAIN. One day Ms. Mantell! One day I will finish your oeuvre.)
But back to the goods.
The Brothers Karamazov is a bloody long novel – my translation is 985 pages long (I’m a sucker for Penguin Classics and will go to my death promoting their superior products), but reading it doesn’t feel like a slog.
It feels like I am blazing through the work – paragraphs and pages flying by in the blink of an eye.
I need to emphasize that this isn’t a bad thing.
In fact, when I say that reading this work reminds me of travelling by train, that wasn’t just my attempt at a heavy handed simile.
As I sit and read, I watch as fantastical landscapes whiz past – bright colours, flashes of light, villages, country sides, peasants, gentry – all stream together, and I have make sure that I don’t get dizzy and lose my place.
Because the book is delirious; it makes me feel delirious.
And passionate, and hilarious, and brilliant.
Also, another thing that I seem to have forgotten is just how much Russian people (in particular, Russian men) love, LOVE to soliloquise.
(That is, of course, if I’m to take Dostoevsky’s prose as a truthful representation of 19th century Russian conversations.)
Because goodness gracious do his characters ever enjoy a monologue and a half.
And if they’re not monologuing, they’re falling prey to crazed, impassioned fits.
Sometimes they’re doing both at the same time.
Not that I have any right to call out anyone for their liberal use of hysterics when waxing eloquent on a matter at hand (pot being black et. al.)
HOWEVER, it never fails to leave me breathless and a little exasperated every time Dmitry starts beating his chest, or when old papa Fyodor starts acting like a classless arsehole (or buffoon by his definition.)
But mostly I am just bowled over by the writing. The attention to detail, the tangents, the word play, the physical descriptions of characters, ranging from the lowliest urchin to the highest ranking official – they all enthrall me.
They ravage, they provoke, they inspire.
I’m about a fourth of the way through, and I find myself fidgeting throughout the day, wishing that I could crack open this tome and once again lose myself in the provincial world of Alyosha and his brothers. To relish in their dialogues, their anguishes, their fears.
It also makes me reminisce about my trip to the motherland.
Two weeks gallivanting about St. Petersburg, presenting my writing around town, exploring museums and art galleries, dancing until the wee hours of the morning, eating dinner at midnight, and drinking coffee so strong it would tickle your fingertips.
What about you friends? What are you reading these days? I want to know.
There is some majorly wacked-out stuff going down all over the globe these days.
From the most horrific, to the most mundane, it’s bizarro world out there.
I’m not really sure what to think of it all.
However, of one thing I am sure.
This morning I learned that Ray Bradbury has died. He was 91.
And I am devastated.
In terms of books, I am not one to mince words.
If I like an author, I will make it known. If I don’t like an author, well, I won’t waste my time.
And I love Bradbury.
(I refuse to use this verb in past tense. Just because he died doesn’t mean I am magically going to stop celebrating his works.)
I love him.
His writings are of such majesty that they brings tears to my eyes, and gooseflesh to my arms, and warmth to my cheeks.
They bring me pain and strength and desire and need – to my head, to my hands, to my heart, to my feet.
I’ll never forget the first time I read Fahrenheit 451.
I was in grade eleven and I had just finished reading Catcher in the Rye. Reading these two books back-to-back exploded my brain so hard it’s amazing that I managed to speak in complete sentences for the remainder of the year.
I wanted to know more.
I wanted to know everything.
I re-read 451 for the first time in the summer of 2007. This time around I took it slowly, reading each chapter and then pausing – taking time to digest the words, the ideas, dissect my growing feeling of unease, of understanding how this fictional world was so alike the one I inhabited – flesh, bones, blood, mind, and heart.
It unnerved me.
And I wanted to know more.
I wanted to know everything.
After this, I read The Martian Chronicles. Sandwiched in between Asimov’s I Robot series and Heinlein’s The Moon is a Dark Mistress, I learned about the Earthmen, and Those Summer Nights; The Settlers and The Green Morning.
“Ylla” (like so many of the book’s other stories) moved me in such a way that I have a hard time communicating them through my typed words.
Everything seems too silly, too trite.
He made a world that I wanted to visit. Wanted to dream about.
All of his worlds – I wanted to know them.
My favourite Bradbury work is Something Wicked This Way Comes.
This book is probably the most terrifying, most beautiful book I have ever read.
Will ever read.
Often times, when I am feeling overwhelmed, or lost, I will pick up Mr. M’s and my dog eared copy and re-read the following passage:
“Why love the woman who is your wife? Her nose breathes in the air of a world that I know; therefore I love that nose. Her ears hear music I might sing half the night through; therefore I love her ears. Her eyes delight in seasons of the land; and so I love those eyes. Her tongue knows quince, peach, chokeberry, mint and lime; I love to hear it speaking. Because her flesh knows heat, cold, affliction, I know fire, snow, and pain. Shared and once again shared experience.”
I will think about good and evil.
I will think about the American Dream, and its evolution. I construct a world that I imagine Bradbury inhabited as he created his work. I deconstruct the world I inhabit when I read his work.
His books make me nostalgic for a time and place I have never known.
For a time and place I will never know.
I have nothing in common with Charles Holloway, and yet I feel for him. I yearn for him.
I am him.
If you have never had the chance, please, take the time and read this book. It is magic.
Bradbury was a literary giant, unmatched by most, in a league of few.
I sincerely hope that individuals, young and old alike will continue to read his works.