This book was a fun and quick read that I finished over on train ride this weekend (I was in London to visit with Mike and my brother). It's a kind of dark comedy western that follows a pair of hired guns in Oregon and California. The narrator (one of the two brothers) is fantastic and his descriptions of events drive the book right to the end.
I just finished up two books by Jonathan Franzen ('Freedom' and 'How To Be Alone') and I read a third ('The Corrections') just before I started to blog about my reading. All three were great. Both 'Freedom' and 'The Corrections' follow the lives of the members of a dysfunctional mid-western American family while 'How To Be Alone' is a collection of essays.
Franzen is known to be disdainful of many of the advances in technology that have occurred in the last fifty years and that certainly comes through in his writing. From my point of view it's easy to brand him a luddite, but reading his work does make one try consider the net benefit of all the miraculous stuff we now have. The timing of my reading lined up nicely with my recent experiment in 24 hours of disconnection. Not that I'll be changing anything since my job depends on all this technology, but I think I will at least try to be more mindful of it all.
The two novels were great stories and by the end of each I loved all the characters (some take a while to warm up to). The essays were neat too because a lot of them reflect on the act of reading itself (reading fiction/literature in particular). He struck a lot of familiar chords when discussing growing up as a child who reads and then trying to remain a reader as an adult. Really fun stuff.
Yesterday being a rather troubling anniversary, I took the day off work. But I also decided to take the day off from (digital) communication and media consumption. I didn't turn on my phone or computer and I avoided TV, radio, books, magazines, and all people (where possible). Instead I rented a car and drove around south-western Ontario. I visited a few places of special significance and took a few long walks along the way. It was very relaxing and liberating, but I don't think it led to any great advances in or revelations concerning my overall psychological or emotional health. It certainly did no harm though.
The most interesting outcome for me was how insidious information is. My average day is just a steady stream of pure information of varying quality. From the moment I get up and turn on my computer to read the Internets while eating breakfast I am rarely not consuming information of some kind. Each day I read the news online, follow dozens of sites in my RSS reader, keep track of friends on Facebook, read and write many emails, send a random number of text messages, talk on the phone, read articles in Macleans, read some of whatever book I'm reading, watch an episode or two of some random TV show and all that is just the baseline. It does not include what I do at work or any "extra" Internet stuff I do like researching future activities or random bits of useless but interesting information. Also, I often do several of these activities at once and there are several other information-heavy activities I'd like to pursue given more time (albeit they are more creative than consumptive).
My observations did not come so much from the lack of all this information I experienced yesterday, but from the catch-up I did today. I had fallen behind by just a day and it took three or four hours to get back to where I would have been. And again, this does not include the catch-up I'll need to do at work on Monday (blegh...so many emails will be waiting).
I'm not sure what the lesson is from this. I love my information and I regularly adjust my sources to try to filter out the crap. I don't see myself changing but maybe it would be good to take more breaks now and then. It didn't hurt to go a day without reading about the latest stupid, embarrassing thing Rob Ford did (can we has new mayor yet?).
I experienced much culture this weekend. Possibly too much as I'm totally exhausted tonight.
Thursday night after work I saw my first two TIFF movies. Room 237 was great. The conspiracy theories and secret meanings behind the movie The Shining are not very credible but the presentation in Room 237 was most amusing. My favourite theory is that The Shining is both an admission of guilt and an apology by Stanley Kubrick for faking the footage from the original moon landing. The theorist was quick to note that he does believe NASA landed on the moon, just that the footage was fake. I'm really glad I re-watched The Shining just last week as it added a lot to this film. Student was a much harder movie. I had forgotten how dark and serious the novel Crime and Punishment is; the movie adequately reminded me. The cinematography was great though and it was amazing the beauty presented in the dilapidated suburbs in which the movie took place.
Friday over lunch I saw Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. This was by far my favourite of the four films I saw this year. It was shot over twelve days using the original script from Shakespeare and the set was just Joss Whedon's house. You could tell the cast and crew had a great time making the film and that it must have been a big fun party. The result was fantastic and enjoyable and everything you'd expect from such talent. Watch this movie. I also made the effort to read the play before seeing the movie and this definitely added to my enjoyment. I really need to go see Shakespeare more (I think I've only seen two of his plays ever). Stratford is so close...I need to exploit that.
Friday night a couple friends came over for a Scotch Tasting Night. As much as I enjoy fine beers I'm trying to find a back up drink for when I don't feel like consuming many pints of liquid. Scotch seems like a good drink to pursue because of the complexity of flavour and the many many years of history behind it. We managed to bring together 7 or 8 different kinds and then spent the evening moving through them while playing board games. We had good variety and I'm definitely interested in trying more in the future. The winner of the night for me was the Cragganmore 12 Year Old Single Speyside Malt.
On Saturday Matt and I went to our first Tafelmusik concert of the season up at Bloor and Church. It was good as usual and it was a great day to walk so we walked there and back from downtown. After the concert we met up with Adrienne and got supper before heading out to Echo Beach at Ontario Place for the Sheepdogs concert (again walking). There were three opening bands: Zeus, The Sadies and Yukon Blonde. I really enjoyed the Sadies and of course the Sheepdogs and it was a pretty good venue (despite being a bit chilly). After the concert I walked home for a total of about 20km of walking on Saturday.
Today I had my final TIFF screening, The Suicide Shop. I was a bit surprised to find that the movie was in 3D and so I had to wear the glasses. I try to avoid 3D movies because it normally doesn't add anything. They didn't do a bad job for this film, but again, it didn't need it. Despite the 3D, the animation had great style and I loved just looking at the film. The story was fantastic for the first three quarters but the ending struck me as trite and simplistic. The movie sets itself up to deal with the very real and serious issues of depression and suicide (through farce and dark comedy) and then doesn't really follow through. Overall though it was worth watching and I'd definitely watch it again.
The pace of my reading has slowed lately, mostly due to my busy August. I did read two books though, which I'm going to unfairly compare based on their only common feature: both are English translations of the original.
Love in the Time of Cholera is by a Nobel Prize winning author and although I cannot read or speak Spanish I feel like the translation (by Edith Grossman) must have captured the feeling and lyrical quality of the original because it was so very enjoyable to read. The words and sentences flowed in a way that made the book feel like it was written in English by an especially gifted author. The story and characters were fantastic too, although I admit to having personal difficulties with sections discussing the progression of married life. I feel very robbed of all that and some of the more moving parts left me a bit bitter.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest has certainly made a lot more money and maybe been read by more people than Love in the Time of Cholera, but obviously it is not in the same league from a literary point of view. Also, when I read the Stieg Larsson books I find the sentence structure and language a bit rough. I don't speak or read Swedish but I feel like the problems are an artifact of the translation. The translator for Love in the Time of Cholera is quoted as saying "...a translation is not made with tracing paper. It is an act of critical interpretation." I feel like Stieg Larsson's translator didn't subscribe to the same school of thought. Perhaps it is actually a problem with the writing (the source material isn't exactly high literature), but it doesn't feel like it. Despite these issues, the book itself was just as gripping as the previous two in the series and I finished the second half in a marathon reading session one night after climbing.
It's fun to intersperse trashy thrillers with Nobel Prize winners; it makes for interesting comparisons.
August was rather busy for me; I had two weddings plus the bachelor party, rehearsal, and other planning for the second wedding since I was one of the best men. Chris and John's wedding was fabulous and it was a privilege to be John's best man. I think I did OK with my speech and we all had a great time at their joint bachelor party up at Blue Mountain.
September is looking like it will be a bit quieter, although I've just added a bit to my schedule by buying tickets to four films at TIFF.
On the evening of Thursday the 13th, I'm seeing two films: Room 237 at 6pm and Student at 9:45pm. Room 237 is documentary about the secret meanings and conspiracies behind Stanley Kubrick's film, "The Shining" which is based on the book by Stephen King. Student is a rough interpretation of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" set in modern-day Kazakhstan; I'm interested because "Crime and Punishment" was the main book I used for my OAC English ISP.
On Friday the 14th, I'm seeing Much Ado About Nothing at 11am. It uses the original text from Shakespeare and was shot in just twelve days. Most importantly though, it's done by Joss Whedon and it stars many of the typical Joss Whedon actors: Amy Acker (Angel), Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel), Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly), Sean Maher (Firefly), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson in the various Avengers movies).
Finally, on Sunday the 16th I'm seeing an animated film called The Suicide Shop. It's a black comedy about a family run business that sells suicide. They run into difficulties when their son turns out to be inappropriately happy and optimistic. I love animated films and the style of this one looks great.
If anyone is interested in seeing any of these shows please feel free to attempt to buy a ticket (I think there are still tickets for the shows I'm seeing but they sell out fast) and then let me know. We can meet up somewhere and go together!
In between all these films, on Saturday the 14th, I'm seeing The Sheepdogs, along with The Sadies, Yukon Blond and Zeus at Echo Beach with Matt and Adrienne. It should be a good show!