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The Chick Lit Project

the rosie project

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion, HarperCollins, 2013, 288 pages

If I were to judge a book by it’s cover (which I always do; let’s be honest), I’d say that this one would be a quirky piece of chick lit with some sassy smarts on the side. Which is pretty much exactly what it is.

The Rosie Project by Australian author Graeme Simsion is a funny romance novel with a few twists. Don Tillman, Asperger’s-affected genetics professor, assumes that his lack of social skills make him universally unsuitable for love; yet, a friend’s comment that he would make a great husband prompts him to embark on a search for a partner  – a statistical, research-based search, that is. He approaches his quest with the same logical, academic rigour that he brings to every pursuit, creating a lengthy questionnaire for potential candidates of The Wife Project to complete. Along the way he meets Rosie Jarman who, by the questionnaire’s standards, is “completely unsuitable,” but also happens to be bold, beautiful, intelligent and a lot of fun. Don uses his genetics smarts to help Rosie track down her biological father, while Rosie chips away at his compulsive need for strict schedules and a practical (but unfashionable) wardrobe.

Don and Rosie are both lovable characters, though I found Don to be a bit of an Asperger’s cliche. Granted, there are not many primary characters in literature on that spectrum, let alone romantic leads, so it is refreshing to see in any capacity.  I also appreciated the novel angle Simsion utilized in writing it from a male’s perspective. Ultimately, the book is charming and unconventional, if not a bit simplistic. The ease with which Don overcomes his social awkwardness and need for routine in order to adapt to life with a romantic partner may be unrealistic, but it does make for a neatly-tied-up happy ending.

If I’m honest, I think The Rosie Project might have worked better onscreen (and word has it that it may find a home there in the future); it’s the kind of rom com I would actually enjoy. But when it comes to books I’m not an avid consumer of that sort. I find them light and fluffy, sweet at the moment but ultimately forgettable. The Rosie Project is definitely better than most, but I can’t say it changed my life. However, if you often reach for romances, this one is more than worth your while.

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Lemony Snicket and the First Book campaign

It’s been a long time since I’ve graced the digital pages of this blog. Mostly because I’ve been busy with school, part-time work, and other writing and photography endeavours,  for On the Danforth and Archenemy magazine. But I’ve been wanting to share for awhile about this fab non-profit, First Book Canada, which aims to combat illiteracy by giving free books to children from low-income families. Free books, people. Daniel Handler, the mind behind Lemony Snicket, is a supporter of the cause. Here’s a great video of Handler giving book-inspired advice on such issues as monsters under the bed and dealing with sibling cruelty. The script was written by some of my fellow Centennial publishing crew. Watch, share, and support First Book!


November, November…

The stretch of time between Halloween and mid-December – when the anticipation of Christmas will kick in and all will be brightly lit and well – is the dreariest time of  year. The leaves fall off leaving bare brown skeletons, it rains, it snows, it’s dull. There are also no holidays to look forward to in Canada, except Christmas, which still seems impossibly far away, despite shopping outlets declaring otherwise.

To get through this next dreary month or so, I’ve put together a “To Read Before Christmas” list. I’ve purposefully chosen books that I imagine will keep spirits up or offer some literary form of cozy fall warmth that is so desperately needed in these chilly, dark days. I may make a similar list once February hits; the other “longest” month of the year, in my opinion, even though it’s only 28 days long.

1. Ru by Kim Thuy. Strongly recommended by my lovely friend and housemate, this tells the story of a Vietnamese immigrant to Canada from childhood to motherhood, with all kinds of beautiful reflections on life, from sorrowful to hopeful.

2. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. Mindy Kaling  is hilarious. There’s no better way to break up the weather-induced blues than to watch or read something funny.

3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling. This is a re-read, but definitely justified during this season. In my most recent reading of the series, I left off at this book, and since it is also one of my favourites and the most successfully comical, now would be a great time to indulge in the lives of my favourite fantasy characters.

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The same housemate who recommends Ru also re-reads this book every Christmas because it is just so delightful. I have never read it. And I obviously trust her good judgment in books.

5.) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This book sounds like a magician-love-story meets Hunger Games. At the breathtaking Night Circus, two young magicians have trained to compete against one another in a high-stakes battle of magical prowess. Could be great, or it could really fall flat – either way, it sounds like an entertaining and vividly-painted read.

Any other recommendations for fall/winter reading, new books or old? I’d love to hear more suggestions.

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The Formula of Baking Cakes

baking-cakes-in-kigali-194x300Baking Cakes in Kigali – Gaile Parkin, McClelland & Stewart, 2009, 308 pages

 Angel Tungaraza has moved to Rwanda with her husband, Pius, from their homeland of Tanzania. Angel bakes cakes. Angel owns a cake shop. Everyone loves Angel’s cakes. People come from far and wide to order her cakes, and while they discuss the pastries, her customers inevitably share their life stories, complete with shortsighted and ignorant errors of logic. These always prompt Angel to remove her spectacles and wipe them clean. She is forever removing her glasses and cleaning them, so as to see her customers’ problems more clearly. Get it? Right. In the end, useful advice is dispensed, the customers go away happy, and a beautiful cake is made.

This is essentially the book; each chapter follows a very predictable pattern, and Angel is reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious RamotsweScattered throughout the story are purposeful streams of dialogue about Rwanda’s political state, social justice, and how the Rwandan people are remaining strong despite a past of trauma and hardship. I was surprised that a story like this can come across so lightly, one that deals with just about every heavy social and political ill that plagues the poorest of African nations. From HIV to genocide, child soldiers to prostitution, every issue one could think of is crammed in and given a quick, shallow treatment. I can see what Parkin is trying to do here, and in my opinion it is overdone, and yet underdone at the same time.

This book, while charming and pleasant and nice, reads like a series of overstated eccentricities which make the author’s point too obvious to be deeply meaningful. When you can see so clearly what an author is trying to accomplish, the actual point loses its poignancy. Angel’s life comes across as nothing but a series of formulaic events brimming with expository moralizing and heartwarming resolutions. One thing I can say is that the story did pique my interest in traveling to central Africa. Baking Cakes is an extremely light read, and one I  wouldn’t recommend unless you’re looking for a story with the sweetness and fluff of Angel’s cakes themselves.

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Fun Facts About Alice Munro – And Why You Should Be a Fan

Alice Munro inspires cross-stitched works of art. From www.slate.com.

Alice Munro inspires cross-stitched works of art. From http://www.slate.com.

Alice Munro, Canadian short story writer extraordinaire, was given the book world’s greatest honour in the form of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. The lady just seems so down-to-earth, full of humility and class. Here are a few fun things about Munro and her award that just may make you love her even more.

1.) Munro has more important things to do than wait around for phone calls from Swedish award academies – like sleep. She missed the call, and the Nobel Academy was forced to leave a message. She didn’t find out that she had won until her daughter phoned to tell her.

2.) Munro is the 1st Canadian author to win, and the 13th woman ever to receive the honour.

3.) She has been referred to as “Canada’s Chekhov.” Meaning she nails those short stories. Every country needs their own personal Chekhov.

4.) Munro is 82, and just last year announced that she will probably quit writing…though maybe the award will change her mind?

5.) In 1976, she was under a lot of pressure to “get serious” and write a novel. Thankfully, her publisher, Doug Gibson, encouraged her to stick with her strong suit…and never looked back. Munro’s are some of the few short stories I have truly loved.

6.) Munro beat out Haruki Murakami, Bob Dylan, Philip Roth, and fellow CanLit powerhouse Margaret Atwood for this year’s award.

7.) No vampires feature in any of Munro’s stories.

8.) Munro once worked as a tobacco picker to fund her way through university.

9.) There is an extremely niche sub-genre to describe much of her writing: Southern Ontario Gothic.

10.) Even David Gilmour loves Alice Munro.

What a classy lady. I personally am stoked to see her getting this recognition. So here’s a shout-out and hearty congratulations to the graceful Alice Munro for artfully winning the Nobel!

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Forays into CanLit: The Miracles of Ordinary Men

The Miracles of Ordinary Men

The Miracles of Ordinary Men – Amanda Leduc, ECW, 2013, 321 pages

It may seem odd for a Canadian who happens to be a lit lover to feel the need to remark on her indulgences of her own country’s fiction. You have to understand, I’ve been conditioned to think that I disliked CanLit since high school, when I took a Canadian literature course. I distinctly remember our many discussions about typical Canadian literary devices: the repeated flashbacks, the unresolved endings, the anticlimactic-ness of it all. Things my sixteen-year-old self just didn’t like. Our class thought for sure that reading Barometer Rising would be different; “it’s about a huge ship EXPLODING! It can’t be anticlimactic!!”

How wrong we were. The explosion went on for over a chapter.

I’m just beginning to learn that maybe my prejudices against CanLit aren’t entirely based in reality. Maybe I do like our nation’s literature, despite it’s slow-moving nature-filled quirkiness. That being said, it was quite on a whim that I picked up Amanda Leduc’s debut novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival.

Actually, it was largely due to the enthusiasm of the young editor who was working the ECW Press booth while I browsed. I don’t usually impulse-buy books that I’ve never heard of, but her testimony convinced me. As I grazed my hand over the soft, beautiful cover of this book, she caught my eye.

“That book made me cry — like ugly, messy cry — in the office while I was proofreading it,” she said, or something which equally conveyed her emotion and prompted me to further consider the book. Emotional read? Spiritual themes? I was intrigued. She also assured me that the “God stuff” wouldn’t put me off of the story, as it was more surreal and spiritual than dogmatic. Not one to be bothered by that anyway, I happily purchased the book.

It certainly was sad. And weighty, and pretty dark at times. I’m not sure how to describe a story about a man who is slowly transforming into an angel without making it sound incredibly cheesy, but you’re going to have to trust that it’s not. As Ms. ECW Editor had assured me, the angelic alteration is more of a surreal element for which suspension of disbelief comes naturally, precisely because the book is about so much more than that. It’s about transformation, becoming someone unknown, questions, doubts, and waiting for life to make sense. It’s about loneliness and the separation we all feel from other human beings and the closeness we, conversely, long for. To the weak at heart, a small spoiler warning: there is an abusive relationship which I found difficult to read about without feeling queasy. But this warning should be as much for myself as anyone else, because I tend to be more of a weak-stomached reader when it comes to these sorts of things than others.

And, yes, God is often discussed, and questioned, and remains in the end of mystery, a terrible, unfathomed mystery. If God is not something you’re keen on, you may not be drawn to this book. Likewise, if a clearly-defined faith is something you’re keen on, you may not like the speculative liberties taken in pondering the nature of the divine. I found it refreshing, to be honest, as I think genuine questioning, doubt and, sadly, pain are all a part of any journey toward faith. That the priests in the novel allowed gracious space for unanswered questions and queries was particularly welcome.

For a debut novel, Miracles is quite good. There is some really clean writing here, stripped of excess ornamentation but with enough vague layers to leave it to the reader to determine what the book means to them. Though I sometimes wondered what exactly it was that I was reading, I was always engaged. And, in an effort to explore CanLit more fully, what better way to accomplish this than by supporting small, independent Canadian publishers? Thanks, ECW.

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Books come to life: stop-motion madness

This video’s been around for some time, but I came across it again recently and enjoyed it all over again. If you like arty feats of stop-motion genius, you’ll probably be into it too.

That, and Type is an extremely cool store. I’m proud to say it’s local, and worth a look if you’re hanging around Queen Street West in Toronto.

The video was shot by a regular customer, who approached owner Joanne Saul with the idea and then filmed the production — completely up-ending the store in the process – over a period of four nights. It did a great deal to promote the store, and got them a lot of attention back in 2012, in the form of 3.8 million views on youtube, as of this posting.

That’s the kind of attention you can’t just generate out of thin air, and it’s another example of how using technology creatively is one way to ensure that books, and bookstores, remain relevant.

I sincerely hope this is actually what happens at bookshops after dark.