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



JUNE2Today  I was doing some lecture prep on John Evelyn — a writer  with whom I am becoming a bit more familiar (he’s writing near the end of the early modern  period, and certainly outside the scope of Jacobean drama, so is definitely not in my immediate research field). Out of curiousity I started poking around his works on EEBO and discovered just how much he wrote on plants: gardening almanacs, treatises and talks on tree planting and cultivation (including one work on which trees could clean the London air), works on edible plants.

There’s something really charming about almanacs and manual, bestiaries and miscellanies: I think it’s something to do with the combination of the everydayness of the knowledge presented and the variety included in such texts: we get to  learn the everyday habits and opinions of people related to all aspects of fishing, or animals, or gardening and there’s something really fun about that. I loved reading Walton’s The Compleat Angler in comps year, and last year I read through Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts just for fun. I think the next extra-curricular early modern text I’ll read is Evelyn’s Kalendrium Hortense, which in addition to displaying lots of interesting snapshots into the world of early modern gardening, is sort of adorably tiny.

1 June 2016

(Also, I find Evelyn’s advice to look after the bees incredibly poignant, given everything that’s going on, bee-wise, these days.)

Vegetarian pasta: a three-part drama.


Me: [trimming spinach]

Lucy: Spinach!

Me: Stay off the table.

Lucy: [jumps on the table] Spinach!

Me: Don’t touch the spinach, please. Stay out of the spinach! Stay out of the spinach!

Lucy: [stands on edge of bowl, knocks bowl to floor, runs away with mouth full of greens] SPINACH!!


Me: [Slicing lemons.]

Lady Jane: Scratch my ears, please.

Me: There’s lemon juice all over my hands tho’.

Lady Jane: Scratch my ears now.

Lady Jane: [shoves face under hands]

Lady Jane: Lemons.

Lady Jane: [sneezes, yowls]

Me: I told you.

Lady Jane: Lemons all over my fur.

Lady Jane: [more sneezes, yowls]

Me: Sorry.



Me: [opening pasta]

Pasta: [explodes all over the floor]

Lucy: Pasta! Pasta!!

Lucy: [eats dried pasta. scatters the rest to dimensions unknown.]

Me: [holds broom hopelessly.]

Lucy: PASTA!!!

25 December 2015

(Happy Catmas.)






The Lost Lady.

I’m trying to get in the habit of reading early modern drama regularly. Immediately, I’m working on putting together a proposal for a new project and I want to have a range of plays to draw from — but I also want to have a fuller sense of early modern drama more generally. My dissertation focussed on Jacobean and Caroline comedies, but this means there are still tragedies (and tragicomedies) from those eras (as well as loads of comedies by the less canonical playwrights), and so many works (including masques, pageants, and closet dramas) from the Tudor reigns, and works from the early Restoration.

This week I’m reading Berkeley’s The Lost Lady which so far is a typical Caroline tragicomedy with lots of murder and revenge, but also lots of bawdy jokes. Actually, there’s been so much of the former that it’s a bit difficult to imagine how it’s going to end happily. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

8 April 2015

The problem with writing.

I’m at another point in which I’m busy working on things (transcribing a play-text, writing a proposal, revising an article, doing research for a new project, various conference prep, job stuff). A lot of energy goes into actually writing/editing/reading, and by the end of the day I find myself unwilling to spend yet more time writing about things. But I also think it’s difficult to write about projects that are either at their very beginnings or their endings — the former because enough of an idea hasn’t yet materialised to write about in any focused way, the latter because the project has been rewritten and read and edited so many times that one can’t bear to rehash it again without a healthy break.

I find the middle part of projects most exciting — when I’ve gotten things past the preliminary ‘idea’ stage, done some research and am in the process of formulating arguments. At this stage writing about a project is helpful as a way of thinking through and developing ideas alongside things I’m reading.

So I predict I’ll have something to write about in another month or so. For now, it’s just idle thoughts.

Bear with me.

5 January 2015

I watched…

King Vidor’s Wine of Youth this week, because a wonderful friend sent it to me, and it was amazing. And I realised that even though silent film is obviously film, it’s also very like a play in terms of structure and gesture.

And now I want to see more.

4 December 2014

Here Comes the Cat!

I thought, when coming to Vladimir Vagin and Frank Asch’s’s Here Comes the Cat! that I was discovering something new — but I was really encountering at last a delightful American-Russian collaboration from twenty five years ago. Vagin and Asch’s book is another example of words and images working together beautifully to tell a story. As in Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat, the story functions as a book-long joke, with the exclamatory titular words and accompanying pictures of agitated mice (in a town in which the chief residents are all mice) seeming to suggest a predictable sort of cat-and-mouse narrative. When the cat finally arrives it does so in a surprising fashion. I won’t spoil the ending, but I loved the last three pictures in particular.

The book is, appropriately, bilingual, with all text given first in English and then in Russian. There isn’t much text altogether — mainly the repeated phrase “here comes the cat” as the little mouse announcing the impending feline runs all through mouse town, giving warning to all the residents. Occasionally, a ladybug in the illustration will say “hello/привет” or the signs on the buildings will be in both languages. For children of a reading/writing-learning age, it’s kind of a neat and approachable way of showing that different countries have different kinds of letters, without the fact becoming distracting.

I should also mention that the illustrations are gorgeous: a cross between a comic style and watercolours in a warm and vivid palette. In the version I found in my local book store, the dust jacket also doubled as a fold-out poster, so children can enjoy Vagin’s art even when they aren’t reading.

17 December 2013 ~ Hamilton


Asch, Frank and Vladimir Vagin. Here Comes the Cat!/Сюда Идет Кот! San Francisco: McSweeny’s, 2011.