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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Swing Low: A Life

I have read three books by Miriam Toews in recent months. All are about a Mennonite family troubled by mental illness but lovable nonetheless. Two were novels based on the Toews family. Swing Low is the true story of Miriam's father, Mel, a sweet man who has suffered from bipolar disorder since he was a boy. He grows up to have a happy marriage, two children and a successful career as a much loved elementary school teacher. One wonders how exhausting it was for Mel to live a life with much responsibility attached.
Toews tells the story in Mel's voice. Swing Low is her version of her father's life and ends with his suicide. She writes about a man who succeeds in his career but only his family can see how he has sunk into the depths of despair. It's sad material but is written with great compassion. It's a wonderful book.

Sad Queer Novels, Fixed

“Gosh, being a lesbian was such fun. They decided they’d keep being lesbians for a long time.”

 – The Well of Friendliness, Radclyffe Hall

“What a nice room this is,” David said.
“Thanks,” Giovanni said. “It’s mine.”
Neither of them were publicly executed.

 – Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin

 The boys swam merrily, and no one was shot to death in the Easter Rising. That’s why the book was called At Swim, Two Boys and not Two Boys, One Of Whom Is Shot To Death During The Easter Rising.

 –At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O’Neill

More:The Toast

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Anne Sexton’s “Song for a Lady,” in an Animation Inspired by Oliver Sacks

Montreal-based artist and musician Ohara Hale brings to life Maria Popova's reading of Anne Sexton’s “Song for a Lady” celebrating the sensual love between two women.

"Song for a Lady" by Anne Sexton from Ohara Hale on Vimeo.


On the day of breasts and small hips
the window pocked with bad rain,
rain coming on like a minister,
we coupled, so sane and insane.
We lay like spoons while the sinister
rain dropped like flies on our lips
and our glad eyes and our small hips.

“The room is so cold with rain,” you said
and you, feminine you, with your flower
said novenas to my ankles and elbows.
You are a national product and power.
Oh my swan, my drudge, my dear wooly rose,
even a notary would notarize our bed
as you knead me and I rise like bread.

More:  Brain Pickings

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The best Alice in Wonderland events in the UK

It is the 150th anniversary of Alice In Wonderland this year and Britain Magazine lists some of the best ways to celebrate Lewis Carroll’s classic. My first stop would be the V&A Museum of Childhood's special exhibition, The Alice Look.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Epitaph To A Dog

Boatswain by Clifton Tomson (1808)

British poet Lord Byron wrote this poem in 1808 in honour of his Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, who had just died of rabies. When Boatswain contracted the disease, Byron reportedly nursed him without any fear of becoming bitten and infected. The poem is inscribed on Boatswain's tomb, which is larger than Byron's, at Newstead Abbey, Byron's estate.

Epitaph to a Dog

George Gordon Byron1788 - 1824

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808.
When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below:
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour’d falls, unnotic’d all his worth,
Deny’d in heaven the Soul he held on earth:
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas’d by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye! who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on, it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one—and here he lies.

‘The Green Road,’ by Anne Enright

‘David Leavitt's review of 'The Green Road,’ by Anne Enright

“Spanning 30 years and three continents; . . . the fragility of love and order. . . . When Christmas Day reunites the children under one roof, each confronts the terrible weight of family ties.” Oh God, I thought, not another family saga that ends with a bad Christmas! Chip on my shoulder, I began reading. “Plodding realism” I wrote in the margin of Page 10 — but kept going. And then, on Page 12, something unexpected happened. The novel started to bounce me.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Men's Don Draper Reviews Children's Books

Don Draper had a unique way of pitching campaigns to clients. Imagine what it would be like if the brooding advertising maverick pitched some classic children's books.

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
"Success comes from standing out, not fitting in. This little engine, who saw opportunity where bigger engines only saw risk and obstacle, isn't just an anthropomorphic piece of technology -- it's the American dream. You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself."

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

"Most people will tell you this is a story about good vs. evil. And about magic. But they're wrong. It's about a boy. A boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. There's a scar in all of us. There is no good, no evil, no magic, no Hagrid. Just us ... and our scars." 
*Lights cigarette*

More of Don's reviews: CBC Books  
Via: Nag on the Lake

The Very Particular Details of Emily Dickinson's Funeral

"After suffering from a long period of illness, Dickinson died on May 15, 1886. (She was diagnosed as having Bright’s Disease, but modern scholars believe she died of heart failure brought on by high blood pressure.) She was 55. Since so many of Emily’s poems focused on death and immortality, it should come as no surprise that she had very specific plans she wished to be followed upon her passing."

More: Mental Floss

Friday, May 15, 2015

Franz Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, dead at age 62

In announcing Mr. Wright’s death, Knopf posted his poem “Crumpled-Up Note Blowing Away”:

Were no one

here to witness it,

could the sun be

said to shine? Clearly,

you pedantic fool.

But I’ve said all that

I had to say.

In writing.

I signed my name.

It’s death’s move.

It can have mine, too.

It’s a perfect June morning,

and I just turned eighteen;

I can’t even believe

what I feel like today.

Here am I, Lord,

sitting on a suitcase,

waiting for my train.

The sun is shining.

I’m never coming back.

More:  Bookmarks 

Kent Haruf’s Last Chapter

Author Kent Haruf knew he was dying, so he wrote one final novel, with the help of his wife, Cathy.

More: WSJ

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mrs. Dalloway Mixtape

A literary soundtrack inspired by Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

See the tracks at The Paris Review

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

“So You’re Just What, Gone?” - BY JUSTIN TAYLOR

"It’s one of those airlines where you get your seat assignment at the gate, and they’re late to Logan and slow to get through security, so the lady at the counter can’t seat Charity and her mom together. Which means five-plus hours of freedom—hallelujah! Nonetheless, she pouts about having to sit with a total stranger, all because her mom was a spaz about the body scanner and they had to wait while a female agent was summoned to conduct a pat-down. Charity went through the scanner without protest, hands up like a criminal—it was kind of fun—standing in her sock feet in the chamber. She hustled out, in order to catch a glimpse of the agent’s screen, hoping to see her own skeleton, though she knew it wouldn’t be there. This wasn’t like X-rays at the doctor. What she saw was herself simplified to an outline: an empty female shape imposed over a green-gray field."
Read More:The New Yorker

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The School of English: A Story Hilary Mantel

‘Lastly,’ Mr Maddox said, ‘and to conclude our tour, we come to a very special part of the house.’ He paused, to impress on her that she was going to have a treat. ‘Perhaps, Miss Marcella, it may be that in your last situation, the house did not have a panic room?’
Marcella put her hand to her mouth. ‘God help them. The family go in together, or one at a time?’
Full story:  LRB 7 May 2015

The best feasts in books

A Thanksgiving feast (Marcus Nilsson/Galeries/Corbis)

From the humble madeleine to the epic banquet, food and festivities have provided some of literature’s most memorable moments.

Full article: BBC 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Did A Woman Write The Odyssey?

"Samuel Butler believed Homer was “a very young woman” living in Sicily. In his 1897 book The Authoress of the Odyssey he argues that the events in the poem fit neatly onto the province of Trapani and its islands."
Via Futility Closet

Thanks Bruce!