It’s still a bit early to list my favourite books of the year but I have a pretty strong hunch what will be topping the list. Last night I finished reading Heather O’Neill’s The Lonely Hearts Hotel. It was 11pm and I just sat there looking around the house for someone to talk to about it. Then I remembered that it was my lovely UofT instructor who pushed me to finally read it (it had been sitting in one of my piles for months) so I emailed her. There were probably too many exclamation points for that late at night but I didn’t care. It was the most amazing book.
It tells the story of Rose and Pierrot, brought to an orphanage run by crazy nuns in Montreal in the winter of 1914. Rose had been left in the snow: “the two bright spots on her cheeks had turned from blue to red then took two more weeks to disappear.” I don’t even have to same anything more, but I will. The two children are performers. Rose dances with an imaginary bear and Pierrot plays the piano, they perform for children before being sent out by the nuns to entertain the rich. They makes everyone happy as if by magic. Nothing I say can do this story justice. The narrative moves through their lives, they finally escape the orphanage and are separated. What they go through before being reunited is heartbreaking, but beautiful which is a major theme – beautiful sadness. O’Neill is the master of metaphor. I don’t remember the last book I’ve read where I’ve needed to underline so many sentences. Her images slow everything right down, silencing the story in the way snow blocks out sound, the only thing you hear is the pressing down of boots proving forward motion. It’s no surprise snow is a major image.
It reads like a fairy tale, magical without being fantasy. The greatest surprise is that it is one of the most feminist stories I’ve read this year. Nothing stands in Rose’s way, not men and not sex (of which there is a lot). She loves the conversation of women: “Rose adored the brilliant repartee of the girls. It was like the train itself, traversing in all domains – trivial and profound subjects, both at once.” She doesn’t bring them down on her way to freedom, she values and pulls them up alongside her.
As the years go on, Rose bursts through walls and ceilings with the ferocity of Eleven from Stranger Things – a weird comparison but one I couldn’t keep out of my head. I also was reminded of “La La Land” many times because of the haunting tune Pierrot writes for Rose that plays throughout the novel.
O’Neill is brilliant, bursting through her own walls and ceilings with this latest book. I’m not surprised, Lullabies for Little Criminals blew me away when I read it years ago. I’ve missed her short stories and second novel in between and will definitely be catching up. This novel is more powerful than Wonder Woman walking into No Man’s Land but is beautifully quieted by snow and sad clowns and heroin addiction and gangsters and prostitution and love. It is about endurance and the beauty of sadness.
So this is when I feel like a dork for the things I wrote and posted yesterday. I’m home with Bingo and I notice she isn’t making eye contact. I’ve perhaps embarrassed us both. But posting yesterday was at least a step forward rather than another day of staying still.
At work there is an older man who is there most days. He reads the paper and wears a ball cap. He has a little, scrunched up face and never smiles. My first introduction to him was when he asked me what else I did besides sit behind a desk and look good. He asked if I cooked and why wasn’t I at home doing that now. He hoped I didn’t make my husband do any other of that work, and when I told him he enjoyed cooking, the man told me there must be ‘something wrong’ (his air quotes, not mine). He later told me he was joking. But it keeps going and he is horrible but older and some others laugh him off. And because I am behind a desk and I am working, there is an expectation to be professional. But I am supported.
It is easy to imagine one day wearing my ‘nasty woman’ tshirt and telling him where to go. And I will, I will tell him he`s inappropriate and needs to stop. No, I will tell him he will stop. The last encounter was the other day and he asked me if I was going to attend a children’s pj storytime, if I’d be dressed up and looking good, maybe with a bottle of wine. I told him `of course not`and he walked away. Why didn`t I say more? We think nothing can shock us anymore, but it does every time and turns us into babbling dorks.
So when I think of this and what we have to deal with, I guess I’m not a dork for sharing my goals and things that are important to me. I have a community of family and friends who support me unconditionally. I need to stand up for everything that is important to me. No, I will stand up for everything that makes up my world.
Monday is never a good day in our house, especially for our kids when they first wake up. Sundays are getting tricky too. So we escaped. We packed up and took off to Toronto for a hotel night and swimming in what the kids pretended was Poseidon`s sacred pool. We relaxed in the rooftop hot tub, had a free hot buffet breakfast and a trip to the Science Centre. It was perfect and silly and goofy fun. We were all happy and had great talks. We laughed really hard. For the first time ever I fell asleep before the kids. We were in our beds and the plan is always to wait out the kids and then turn our lamps back on and read. But I was tired and it was such a great feeling knowing that I could just let go because everyone was content. It didn’t make Monday much easier, but it didn’t make it any worse.
I finished my first UofT writing course last week and I already miss it. My next one doesn`t start until the end of January. Until then my plan is to read (of course) and keeping working on my story that could turn into something longer and quite possibly my final project – a novel (bah!). I`ve been testing out saying that a lot lately and I like it. Writing here is also part of the plan, keep some structure to my writing days.
Today I am starting new things. I’ve signed up for a writing course through UofT and it began this week, all while I was home with sicks kid (but not today!) This course will be the first of many I am going to take in the next five years and will go towards (hopefully) attaining a Creative Writing Certificate – which means is I am writing and I am writing. Summer is over, kids are in school (new school for W. which is going really well, middle school). We are all trying to settle down and find our place.
I am reading so much which is wondeful! My favourite books of the summer are Less by Andrew Sean Greer (so so good), So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum and Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong. Right now I am finally reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and it’s amazing and also huge.
I am not going to announce these posts for awhile, so I’m not really sure who will be reading this, doesn’t matter. I am taking it slowly because last time I started writing here I was so excited and wanted to share it with everyone, so many supportive family members and friends. But then the sky opened up and this place was forgotten. So I’ll pitter and patter around here for a bit and hopefully it will start to feel like home.
Oh those days. The ones when I did nothing but half sleep and half nurse on our couch with a new baby nestled in one arm and a book in the other. There were always movies playing in the background, everything courtesy of our Shaw Branch library in Toronto, the little one we loved across the street from the Metro and the Shopper’s. That my friends was a big morning out. Unless I was exceptionally daring and stopped on the way at my favourite coffee place. Looking back now, I’m not sure why I didn’t do that more. But we were alone a lot, it was just the three of us, William, Scott and I during that year off and we didn’t get to know many people. Scott worked in the front office on his thesis, the same room where my dear friend Elizabeth Ruth wrote her gorgeous novel, Ten Good Seconds of Silence. That’s another story; how we got that apartment a few years after taking a writing course she taught at George Brown. She liked my story and with a wonderful group of women we formed a writing group and became friends.
William’s first year was quiet and safe and slow, the three of us wrapped up together in that most perfect apartment (our first that was in a house, at street level which meant our first mailbox!). I could and should write stories about the other people (and cats and birds) who lived in our building.
During that year I remember reading and loving Sarah Water’s Fingersmith, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, The Mermaid’s Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. I discovered Lisa Moore and Heather O’Neill! I wish I’d kept a diary of my reading then (I do now), it’s getting hard to remember.
When Rory was born we were in Waterloo and I remember breezing through the Shopaholic series and loving Jools Oliver’s book Minus Nine to One. I also remember on a particularly tired night (things are so different with a newborn and a toddler) lying on the couch in our newly rented house (not pretty) and opening up a book called Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and falling in love so deeply from the very first line. And that was where this post was supposed to begin.
It’s tough to start something new, or in this case, start over. I still remember the first post I wrote on the old blog, about two children under five who are now eleven and nine. But I’m not going to talk about them so much, because things change and they simply don’t want me to and really that’s not why I’m here.
I’m here to tell you about everything amazing I’ve read since then.
Here’s a new one from Christmas and it’s the one I want to start with.
I blame this gorgeous book, Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores by New Yorker cartoonist Bob Eckstein for getting me here. It is the prettiest book I own. Look here to see what I’m talking about, so many perfect postcard paintings of beautiful bookshops from around the world. I want to own and run one, just one, maybe the one in Portugal which may have inspired the staircases in Harry Potter. But instead I will work on this blog and see it as a bookshop not in selling but in collecting books and words and stories and hopefully community. Scott also said he’d build a little library for our front yard this spring so that’s almost the same and I’m sure Ann Patchett and Emma Straub (my bookstore-owning heroes) would totally agree.
So let’s go from here.