Category: books

Bookends

If I packed a suitcase for a journey to the end of the world, what would I bring? A toothbrush. Hand cream. My favourite sweater. Clean underwear. Then I would fill the rest with books. I would take worlds with me - realms of knights and dragons, realities of broken hearts. Laughter, tears, aching sadness, and unrestrained joy.

Books are the cornerstones of my life, marked and measurable. They shape and mould my past, present, and future. Contain it, but also set it free.

It’s difficult to find the words to describe the power of words.

Some of my favourite moments have passed inside pages. Somehow, in the pages of a book, I have always found meaning, found purpose.

It suddenly saddens me to the think that the books that decorate my life are intangible. In the past year, almost all the books I’ve read have been electronic. There’s nothing to touch of my 2013 favourites. When I think about this, I wonder if I’m missing those cornerstones now, forever.

I think I need to buy more books, to fill more space in my apartment and in my heart.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a beautiful, hopeful and heartbreaking book. It’s the story of a retired man from Kingsbridge who leaves his house one morning to post a letter, and ends up walking all the way to Berwick-Upon-Tweed in hope that he can save his friend Queenie, who he has not seen in 20 years.

On the surface, this book seems simple, just as walking does - putting one foot in front of the other. But in the middle somewhere, you are suddenly struck by the complexity of it. In the same way that Harold is not prepared for this journey, and neither was I as the book opens on a rather ordinary man with an ordinary life. What comes from it, from Harold’s spontaneous decision to walk across the country in his yachting shoes and a tie, is an at times overwhelming amount of insight into what it is to be human.

It unfolds slowly, as a walk across England might, revealing pieces of a life, of a man and his family, that is both heartbreaking and beautiful. Joyce keeps reminding us that we are all just like Harold Fry - complicated and simple, unique and, at the same time, all the same.

Sometimes it can be hard to relate to a book whose main character is so different from you, but this is not the case with Harold. Harold is all of us. He is a man who has made mistakes, who has lived and loved and done his best. Who lives with memories incredible regret and incredible joy, who finds it hard to believe in things, who says the wrong things, who often loses hope.

The characters that Harold meets on his journey are pieces of a puzzle that leads Harold to understand life, for the first time, and who help us to better understand Harold and his past.

Also, it made me cry.

Some favourite quotes:

“They believed in him. They had looked at him in his yachting shoes, and listened to what he said, and they had made a decision in their hearts and minds to ignore the evidence and to imagine something bigger and something infinitely more beautiful than the obvious.”

“Harold pictured the gentleman on a station platform, smart in his suit, looking no different from anyone else. It must be the same all over England. People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.”

“He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.”

“Again he felt in a profound way that he was both inside and outside what he saw; that he was both connected, and passing through. Harold began to understand that this was also the truth about his walk. He was both a part of things, and not.”

I don’t care about your band

Some of you, those who don’t know me personally, may not know this, but I have the worst track record when it comes to relationships. Or, more aptly, non-relationships.

I often wonder where this failure comes from, since I grew up surrounded by loving relationships and I’m quite good at friendships. But I suck at relationships.

In my defense, some of the objects of these relationships have been less than deserving.

Of course, I chose them, right?

I don’t care about your band by Julie Klausner is one of the most surprisingly good books I’ve read in a long time. I read the first few pages standing in a bookstore in Toronto waiting for a friend to meet me, and I was hooked. Julie Klausner is a hilarious writer. The surprising part, however, is that I don’t normally like non-fiction. And especially not self help… which, to be honest, this book is bordering on. Technically it’s the autobiography of Julie Klausner’s romantic attempts.. and failures. But it’s presented in a very “self help” type way.

But that might just be because I identified so much with it. Honestly, it might as well have been the biography of my own love life. Just a switch of a few names and she might as well have been talking about my life.

It was refreshing.

Refreshing to see that other intelligent, capable women make similarly awful choices when it comes to men. Refreshing to see that one can survive a series of bad non-relationships and still emerge as a relatively functional person.

Because I am largely surrounded by people who are good at being in relationships. Good girlfriends and good boyfriends, people who are always in relationships. Or people who have even less experience with relationships than I, largely because they make better decisions than I when it comes to getting involved with someone who, logically, is just not worth their time.

“There are two kinds of girls who drift toward the more unsavory characters in the dating pool. There are, first of all, the kind of girls who’ve been ignored, abandoned, or otherwise treated ambivalently by their dads, and look to creeps as a means or replicating the treatment to which they’ve grown accustomed…. The other kind of girls who wallow in the Valley of the Dipsticks are the ones who know they deserve better. These are the girls with the great dads; the ones who had their decks stacked from the outset, who knew it couldn’t get any better in the guy department than the one who taught her how to ride her bike… This category of girls, in which I include myself, has a tendency to exceed her allotted bullshit quota for boys she likes, if only because her stubborn mind will not reconcile the notion of wonderful things ever coming to an end.”

“And there are so many guys. I remember the first time a friend referred to a guy I liked as a ‘man’ and I made a face like I was asking Willis what he was talkin’ ’bout. A man is hard to find, good or otherwise, but guys are everywhere now. That’s why women go nuts for Don Draper on Mad Men. If that show was called Mad Guys, it might star Joe Pesci, and nobody wants to see that. Meanwhile, I know way more women than girls. There’s a whole generation of us who rode on the wings of feminism’s entitlement like it was a Pegasus with cornrows, knowing how smart we were and how we could be anything. The problem is that we ended up at the mercy of a generation of guys who don’t quite seem to know what’s expected of them, whether it’s earning a double income or texting someone after she blows you. There are no more traditions or standards, and manners are like cleft chins or curly hair  - they only run in some families.”

The book made me laugh. It made me cringe. It also made me think a lot about the kind of behaviour that I accept from “guys” that I like. Behaviour I would never accept from a friend or even a colleague.

Anyway, it’s a great book. Read it! Well… if you’re a girl.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

After reading a variety of fluffy romance type novels while I worked on my dissertation (see: the first 8 books on this year’s list of 50), I finally read something substantial this past week. Something I’ve been meaning for years to read. In fact, I think I bought the book about 5 years ago.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I know, it’s surprising that I haven’t read it before now. In fact, I could even talk about it before I did read it, since my Dad loves it and I know what it’s about (and I saw the movie, of course).

My love for sci-fi is a fickle thing. I was a Trekkie as a kid. I had a phaser toy and figurines of the characters. I had a t-shirt that said Property of Starfleet Academy. I had a huge crush on Wil Wheaton, aka Wesley Crusher. In fact, I still remember a dream I had when I was kid of Wesley Crusher saving all the kids in my swimming class.

This being said, I’m picky about my sci-fi. This is mostly because science makes no sense to me. All the talk of physics and mechanics and time space type things hurts my head. However, I love the prominent dystopia theme in science fiction.

So, some of my favourite books are sci-fi: 1984, Brave New World, Breakfast of Champions. Last year I developed a love for Stargate and watched all ten seasons of SG-1 and five of Atlantis in about two months. Last month I watched the entire series of Firefly. And I really love them.

When I finally sat down to read Hitchhiker’s, I knew I was going to like it before reading even the first word. I loved the movie, even though many people seem to hate it (I have no taste in movies, this is a well-known fact). What I didn’t anticipate was how much I would enjoy it. And in what way.

Hitchhiker’s is a really intelligent book. It seems random at times, but it is so smart. The entire time I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think he’s so much smarter than me! The vocabulary is great. Douglas Adams knows how to use language in every possible way and take it to it’s limits. It’s what other writers only wish they could do.

The plot wasn’t as interesting as I would’ve liked, probably because I’d seen the movie already. But I kept reading for the style. It was so entertaining. Funny, random and thoughtful.

The copy I have includes all four books in the trilogy, so I’ll have to read the others soon as well.

Theseus: completed

Last Friday, after many glitches and a great deal of emotional stress, I printed out my dissertation and handed it in.

I am happy with it. I am confident that I did everything I could to make it perfect, and there is nothing I would change. That’s all one can ask for, right?

Now it only remains to be seen what other people (namely my supervisor and two other markers) think about it and if I get a decent grade.

It was my life for an entire month. When it was done I was both immensely relieved and strangely empty. I had no idea what to do with my time anymore.

Luckily, packing came along to keep me busy. That and Firefly.

I’m proud of myself. For finishing this and for getting this far. This is the physical manifestation of all of the work I have done in the last 5 years, and everything I have learned.

And, believe it or not, I think I finally found my niche. Yes, I could talk about pots, myths and political myth making forever.

Theseus: a democratic hero

Title page

It's so beautiful!

180 pages