January books as reviewed by an extremely tired person.

G. Brender à Brendis. A Wood Engraver’s Alphabet. Erin: The Porcupine’s Quill. n.d.

We happened to be walking by the artist’s studio while staying in Stratford last October and stopped in to see what was inside and ended up having a lovely little visit/tour of Brendis’s studio (including his 19th-century printing press and happy Pekingese, Smudge!) A picked up a puffin print and this alphabet book with a flower engraving for every letter of the alphabet. The engravings are tiny and exquisitely life-like. (My only regret is that I didn’t actually pick up a print of Smudge, though I love my little puffin friend.)

Steve Burrows. A Siege of Bitterns. Toronto: Dundurn, 2014.

Was feeling ho-hum about this mystery at the beginning, but kept going and found myself really needing to know how it ended. It’s not super great at female characters, but otherwise a solid book. Plus: birds!

Alan Garner. The Owl Service. London: HarperCollins, 2017.

Modern-day retelling of the Blodeuwedd story in the Mabinogian. Was creeped out in the first half of the novel in that nothing-overtly-horrific-is-going-on-but-everything’s-a-bit-sinister way of 19th-century ghost stories. Pretty good stuff.

Hiromi Goto. Half World. Illus Jillian Tamaki. Toroto: Penguin, 2009.

Oh boy did I love this novel. Warm, fast-paced, but also thoughtful, with meaningful (and hopeful) things to say about recovering from trauma and loss. Half World (the place people go when they die to work through their worst moments) is incredibly weird and terrifying. Melanie is a delightfully imperfect heroine. And there’s a talking cat. (And rat.) (And a raccoon with a magic eight ball.)

Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Mozart’s Starling. New York: Little, Brown, 2017.

Haupt rescues and raises a starling to understand how Mozart lived with his starling. Many delightful anecdotes about starling problem solving and mimicry. There’s also a cat named Delilah. (I really enjoyed the mix of history/biography/ecology/music in this book.)

Danez Smith. Don’t Call Us Dead. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2017.

A collection of poems about living in the intersection of blackness and queerness in contemporary America. The first section, ‘summer, somewhere’ (from which the collection’s title is taken), imagines an alternative heaven for black boys who’ve been killed by white violence, is raw in its anger and mourning, and is absolutely devastating.

Hasan Ali Toptaş. Shadowless. Trans Maureen Feely and Jake Anglis. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Reading this book is like having a weird dream where you’re talking to your neighbour but your neighbour is also your childhood best friend (who looks nothing like your neighbour in real life) and you’re standing in the middle of an old spooky factory going ‘what a great restaurant!’ and absolutely nothing makes sense and that’s what Shadowless is like except with a cat that turns into a horse and dozens of barbers in a strange old-timey town where people keep disappearing.

(I really enjoyed it.)

David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest.* New York: Black Bay Books, 2016.

Urrrrgggggghh noooooooooooo.

*AKA Dystopian Tennis Boys.

Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things. Eds Sheree Fitch and Anne Hunt. Macintosh, Halifax: Nimbus, 2017.

This anthology of poems for children from/about Atlantic Canada  is gorgeous in all possible ways. It’s beautifully designed and comfortable to hold, and the selection of poems is excellent. The editors mention in their introduction that they picked poems especially meant to be read aloud and the selections fit that bill quite nicely. They poems range from very silly, playful poems heavy in alliteration and rhyme to beautiful wistful selections (the title is taken from Charles G.D. Roberts’s ‘Sleepy Man’, which I found eerie and moving all at once). The range of authors is also excellent and diverse, and there’s an extensive author bio section with lots of suggestions for further reading. Plus (unusual in a young person’s anthology), a small, very readable literary-critical-style introduction to the poems. (You can tell academics made this book but it never ever forgets its main audience of young people.)

6 February 2017

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October books.

I started keeping a reading journal this year (at long long last) so now I can obsessively keep track of what I read and What I Thought About It (like, in 10-20 words: this is deeply uncomplicated stuff; also I doodle in the margins).

Anyway, for your pleasure, here’s what I read last month and brief (and deeply personal) recommendation notes:

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Wizard of the Crow. New York: Random House, 2007.

Highly recommend if you like tricksters/magical realism/post-colonial satire. It’s 700ish pages so proceed with caution if you’re not into long books?

Anthony Horowitz. Magpie Murders. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2016.

I thought it was gimmicky at first and then really enjoyed it. Think the ending deeply underserves the female narrator though.

Charlotte Brontë. Villette. New York: HarperCollins, 2015.

I now have a profound love-hate relationship with this novel. Just kidding I love it deeply. I imagine it is…not for people who like plain old likeable narrators?

Laurel Snyder. Orphan Island. HarperCollins, 2017.

Compellingly readable. At first I thought I hated the ending but then I couldn’t stop thinking about the book for two days after I finished and now I think it’s maybe great? (Pretty sure it’s about how adults fail.)

Matthew Beaumont. Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. London and New York: Verso, 2016.

I love London and I love walking and I love writers but this didn’t quite do it for me. UGH SORRY.

Cixin Liu. The Dark Forest. Trans Joel Martinsen. New York: Tor, 2015.

The first third made me so angry. The last third is really thoughtful but left me incredibly sad. Worth reading but not as great as the first book in the trilogy.

James Tiptree Jr. Up the Walls of the World. New York: Berkley Publishing, 1978.

This book made me so happy. Also: SPACE SQUIDS. (There is also a space Labrador.)

Ben Aaronovitch. Rivers of London. London: Galloway, 2011.

Are all the London books going to let me down? Page turning, but there’s a spirit of meanness (and casual misogyny?) about this book that left me feeling disturbed.

Colson Whitehead. The Underground Railroad. New York: Doubleday, 2016.

Everyone needs to read this book right now. A horrifying and traumatic history/present elegantly told.

 

That’s it. Nothing but the most informative book reviews from me.

7 November 2017

Bad things the cats have done (this week).

  1. Eaten soap. (Lady Jane)
  2. Repeatedly broken into the cupboard below the sink. (Lucy)
  3. Deleted all my MLA search results before I could save them. (Lucy)
  4. Hung up on a Skype call with B. 5 times in a single conversation. (Cynthia)
  5. Climbed the screen door. (Lucy)
  6. Escaped into the hallway while I was bringing the laundry in. (Cynthia)
  7. Broken the ceramic covered soap dish in a bid to get at the delicious soap contained within. (Lady Jane)
  8. Nearly ate a set of headphones. (Lucy)
  9. Went into the grocery bags and pulled out the new bar of soap I bought to replace the one that got smashed all over the bathroom floor (see #7). (Lady Jane)
  10. Went into the garbage and pulled out all the crumpled up balls of paper and dropped them in the bathtub. (Lucy)
  11. Ate my soup. (Lucy)
  12. Repeatedly tried to eat my breakfast. (Lucy)

24 October 2016

Stuff I have learned.

I’m trying to write after I finish books (or collections of articles) as a way of processing thoughts and putting things together. But I am either out of practice, or there’s not enough coalescing in my brain after reading 1-2 books. But here is some stuff I’ve learned about theatre/performance theory so far.

It seems (though this may be a limited perspective) that performance theory in Europe/England/North America in the last century or so has been mostly dominated by realist and non-realist traditions. So on the realist side is the idea that plays ought to be mimetic of reality (Hamlet’s ‘to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature’ comes up a lot around this point). From what I remember from my lit crit/lit theory classes, this is a pretty age-old concept that has roots in classical dramatic and aesthetic traditions (see Plato, Aristotle, Dryden, etc). Realist theatre is also influenced by the character development ideas of Stanislavksy (or he is influenced by realist theatre?) which suggests that when on stage the actor is subsumed into the character she or he portrays (and seems the basis of method acting principles?).

The other major performance theory seems to be Brecht’s (or heavily influenced by him). I’ve read a bit of Brecht before in a class on Jewish modernist philosophy. Brecht was himself a Marxist/socialist, and so he believed that theatre’s job was to show audiences the social relations that resulted in certain events/conflicts. Rather than being lost in a narrative, identifying with characters, and being brought to some emotional catharsis audience members should be invited to see how actors create characters, theatre apparati create theatrical and narrative effects, and, through the concept of gestus (repeated, signifying gestures or actions), how characters and events are the result of social conflict.

My reading right now is focussed on the way that contemporary critics have adapted different performance methods and ideas to represent gender. So far what I’ve gleaned is that realist theatre has the potential to highlight the lived realities of women (but doesn’t necessarily question the social constructedness of those realities). Brechtian theatre (non-realist theatre) has the potential to highlight the way that social relations construct ideas around gender, to show how these ideas might be changed/changeable. But perhaps non-realist theatre creates less of an emotional impact for the viewer (I’m not entirely clear on how this strand of theory makes a place for emotional connection between audience and stage)?

I’m also trying to think through how these modern ideas make sense of early modern play texts. On the one hand, I’m really interested in looking at contemporary productions of early modern texts, which are obviously heavily influenced by modern performance theory. But I also want to balance that consideration by thinking about how these texts might have existed and been presented on their own stages (since contemporary productions most always work with theatre historians and early modern critics while preparing productions for the stage, as a way of better understanding their meaning, and how to make connections between ‘original’ meanings and contemporary situations and audiences.

But mostly I’m wondering if I should go back and read Brecht and early performance theory. I’m never very good at drawing liens around these things.

29 September 2016

[Caveat: I probably don’t really know what I’m talking about yet.]

Bibliography.

Dolan, Jill. The Feminist Spectator as Critic.Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.

 

Since I’ve had…

a more relaxed schedule I’ve been playing with the cats more. They’re pretty active and into things to the extent that I mostly tune out any strange noises I hear around the place and have mostly lost my startle response when objects crash to the ground nearby. (‘What are you destroying in there?’ I’ll casually call over to the next room. Or ‘Good job knocking things over!’ when I see rampant destruction happening in front of me.)

But everything I’ve ever read about trouble-making cats has added up to ‘play with cat more=tired, well behaved cat!’ Except in the case of my cats it seems to have made them more active and into everything.

Case in point.

badcats4.JPG

This ended in a broken plate.

26 September 2016

 

 

Time off.

So I’m doing this entirely novel thing where I take whole weekends off. I don’t think I’ve done that since maybe the summer after second-year undergrad (literally ten years ago) because since then I’ve always had at-home research jobs (where I was basically terrible at keeping regular hours) or a thesis or dissertation to work on (where deadline anxiety meant I pretty much worked or at least thought about work every weekend) or summer course prep (there’s no taking weekends off in summer courses).

Also there was that one summer I took extra Latin courses and there’s also no taking weekends off when you’ve got a million pages of Apuleius to translate.

One of the things I’m trying to do with my time off is make time to go to more shows. I used to be pretty darned good about finding  concerts and performances to go to on the weekends (this is a pretty good city for that kind of thing) but I got out of the habit of it in the last year when walking and standing got difficult.

But I’m feeling pretty adventurous lately. So I just need to find out where all the random organ concerts are being held these days.

24 September 2016

 

This week in books.

I finished reading Hedda Gabler this evening. I didn’t enjoy it much. I’m trying to figure out why — I suspect it’s that Hedda falls a bit too much into the ‘problem woman’ stock type and doesn’t feel very real to me. Maybe I just have a really bad imagination and seeing more productions of the play would help fill out the character. Enh.

I’ve been picking away slowly at Alice Major’s The Office Tower Tales (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2008) for the past several months. It’s something of a mix of The Canterbury Tales and 1001 Nights, but with a modern backdrop. (Scheherazade, Aphrodite, and Pandora work in the titular office tower, with Scheherazade telling stories on their breaks.) Reading it very slowly over a long period of time has allowed me to spend a lot of time thinking about the structural and thematic connections in the poem as a whole. Hopefully will have more thoughts on this after it’s done.

I also finally finished the Welcome to Night Vale novel (Cranor and Fink, New York: HarperPerennial, 2015) which was really fun. I hadn’t realised how much the weirdness of Night Vale had seeped into my brain until I was reading one of the Alice Major poems and a character opened a(n ordinary desk) drawer and my brain automatically supplied hot milk drawer. WTNV is so weird but the weirdness comes off as completely normal.

Finally, I started Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters (London:Penguin, 2012) and it is funny in a way I didn’t at all expect (Gaskell is very witty, and intentionally so, I think). It’s 700+ pages so expect lots more melodrama in the coming weeks.

(For work I am reading Jill Dolan’s The Feminist Spectator as Critic (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1991) but that is for work so I’m not going to talk about it here.)

23 September 2016

Starting again.

I’ve recently started a new research project-position-thing in earnest. Doing so has made me realise the extent to which I have not been doing research in the past two years while I have been doing contract work, taking care of some unexpected health issues, and (half-heartedly) applying for jobs. At least, I haven’t been engaged in the same kind of focused, long-term reading and writing that goes along with something like writing a dissertation.

Which is to say I mostly feel like I’ve forgotten how to research.

The feeling is also doubtless because the new project requires a very different sort of methodology than I’ve previously used. I’m still looking at plays, but reading them primarily as performance texts rather than written texts. And theatre and performance studies has its own theoretical apparatus and methods with which (somewhat surprisingly given that I’ve been working with plays for nearly a decade now) I have a spotty familiarity.

So I’m pretty much in a reading phase right now: reading some preliminary and foundational books on theatre and performance theory. But I’m also trying to write at regular intervals as I finish texts, just as a way of processing thoughts in a loose but still tangible way.

(I say this but so far the only thoughts I have on reading are that I am really really enjoying have the time and space to read with curiosity, but without urgency. It’s a huge privilege, but also a nice reprieve from the last two years which have been veeeeeery difficult and painful in the literal senses of those words.)

At the same time I’m reading theatre and performance theory, I’m reading and watching plays regularly. Early modern ones, but also any plays — particularly ones that come up during reading. Currently in the midst of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. So far I’ve been laughing at Hedda’s scornful portrayal of Tesman’s academic habits, getting irritated at Tesman’s assumption that he’s just going to waltz into town and take a professorial job (‘I have every expectation of being a professor one of these days’), and then feeling anxious at the mere mention of job competitions (ugh).

I don’t really have an ending for this post. Random random thoughts.

21 September 2016

Gross.

Preface: Lucy had an upset stomach yesterday. Which lead to the following:

Lucy: [eats a bunch of food]

Lucy, half an hour later: [throws up a hairball + bunch of food, walks away]

Lucy, 15 seconds later [circles back, sees regurgitated food] food. NOM NOM.

Human: [cleaning up hairball + regurgitated food] Ugh, gross. Don’t eat that! Gross!

Lucy: [stands by, disgruntled, while regurgitated food is taken away]

Human [throws down cloth to wipe the floor afterwards, leaves to get soap/water]

Lucy: I have an idea for a fun game.

Lucy: [rolls on cloth/floor where she just vomited]

Human: WHY ARE YOU SO GROSS?

Lucy:gross

22 July 2016