good reads

A Feast for the Senses

There seems to have been an influx of amazing books, movies, and music in my life lately – incredible stories, stunning effects, brilliant lyricism, and sheer imagination that just make me want to give humanity a standing ovation. It seems almost unfair not to share the joy with everyone else! If you’re looking for recommendations, I’d highly recommend checking any of these out:

I’d originally seen The Ghosts of Belfast (“The Twelve” in Europe) last year in one of Chicago’s many wonderful bookshops, and had made a note to order it as soon as I got back home (I’d only taken a rucksack, which was chock-full by the time I had to leave!). Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be released in Canada for another six months, so I pre-ordered it as soon as I could. The premise captivated me immediately: Gerry Fegan, an ex-IRA hit man is haunted by the ghosts of the 12 people he killed, and soon realises the only way they will give him rest is to systematically assassinate the men who gave him his orders. What a brilliant premise!

I’d never ventured into the realm of thrillers or crime fiction before, but when it’s mixed with otherworldly elements (and set in my favourite place on earth), it’s the ideal way to start. It took a bit of getting used to a story comprised primarily of heavy-cursing men and politics I hadn’t studied in as much depth as I would’ve liked, but I was soon fully absorbed in the characters, and literally read with baited breath through chilling scenes of a dozen ghosts miming execution around the men Gerry encountered. Neville’s writing is nothing short of brilliant, and imagery of “bruised” and “scarred” landscapes was a literary feast that added to the ongoing air of trepidation. The story is a haunting rollercoaster of suspense, forbidden romance, politics, survival and the supernatural, and ends with an extraordinary twist that’ll make you want to stand up and give a round of applause.

I don’t often watch movies, but last week we saw two that ended up being a couple of the best I’d seen in a very long time. I knew I was going to like Source Code as soon as I heard the premise: an action, sci-fi thriller revolving around a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man, and discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. He’s sent back into the last eight minutes of a passenger’s life before the explosion repeatedly until he discovers enough detail to find the bomb, and stop the bomber’s future attacks. Most of you will know that I probably wouldn’t need to even know the synopsis if a movie’s filed under “sci-fi” and “thriller” (Inception and District 9 are some of the best premises I’ve ever seen), and this was just another to add to the list. Great visuals of a city I’d fallen in love with last year combined with great imagination and another excellent twist at the end that left me thinking about it for days. Trekkies will be fans: the story was reminiscent of the Voyager episode Relativity where a character is sent back in time repeatedly to find a bomb and discover the identity of the bomber to stop the destruction of the ship. But this time, “it’s not time travel. It’s time… reassignment.” Epic.

We also watched The Experiment, a remake of a 2001 German movie – a highly intense film about a real-life, controversial psychological study in which 26 men are chosen to participate into the roles of prisoners and guards for 14 days in an environment simulating a state penitentiary that ultimately spirals out of control. I’ve always liked Adrien Brody – he’s had interesting roles in several movies I personally enjoyed thoroughly, but seem to have fallen below the radar of critical acclaim (The Jacket; The Village), but this is probably my favourite performance of his. (Though this may have been slightly affected by his long hair and gorgeous tattoos). When I watched this, I had no idea it was based on a true story, which made the already frightening premise even more disturbing upon discovery, but the psychological aspect made it simultaneously fascinating and thoroughly gripping. Vanessa, this one’s for you!

Lastly, I can’t not mention my favourite album around at the moment. There was a tonne of hype about these guys when their first demo leaked on the Internet, and it started getting national radioplay before a proper recording had even been made! The Vaccines’ album, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? is a short punch (less than forty minutes total, which each song clocking in around two minutes) of feel-good, infectious good old punk rock. And the first single off it is so catchy it makes me a)  jump around wherever I happen to be, b) air drum my arms off (or c) a frantic, flailing, highly attractive combination of the two) every time I hear it. We played them on the radio a few weeks ago, and even had people write in to ask for the tracklisting because they liked them so much! Crank it up!

What movies, books or bands are rocking your world lately?

Unwinding has never been so scary

It was one of my New Year’s resolutions last year to read at least one book every month. At the beginning of this year, I was lucky enough to get a week off work during which I finished one book it seemed I’d been reading all of last year – the last Harry Potter novel – as well as one I’d seen countless recommendations for around the blogosphere – The Lovely Bones. [Sidenote: do not, I repeat, do not see the movie – it was the Time Traveller’s Strife all over again!] Since then, with Sweet being on board with rediscovering our mutual love of reading, we’ve found a system that seems to keep us both on track: a Read-Off. We will each read as many books as we can in 2011, and the loser has to buy the winner a gift voucher to Chapters. And possibly ice cream. 🙂 Current status: I am being thoroughly thrashed, having read a measly three books to his seven [!]. But since I’ve always enjoyed sharing absolute corkers when I come across them, whether that’s in song, on screen, or in literature, I thought I’d add a review here and there throughout the year; share the good, the bad, and the ugly, and keep track of my standing along the way. 🙂

I was a bit of a n00b to GoodReads, but once I’d signed up, it rapidly became one of my favourite things on the Internet. I could so easily read reviews, see ratings, and collect favourite quotes from beloved authors – it was like Rotten Tomatoes for books! One that quickly caught my attention was Unwind – though considered a teen novel, I’d heard such great things about stories in similar categories that I thought I’d give this one a go – especially with such an incredibly captivating premise. The book is set in the not too distant future, after the “Second Civil War” over reproductive rights during which America was divided into pro-life and pro-choice armies. The “Bill of Life” that ended the war stated that though traditional abortions were forbidden [the mother of an unwanted child could simply leave her baby on somebody’s doorstep; if she was caught, she would have to keep it, but if not, it was legally the responsibility of the unsuspecting homeowners], parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are harvested for transplant into different donors, so life “doesn’t technically end.” How deliciously sinister!

The story begins with Connor, a 13-year-old, slightly troublesome boy who stumbled across three tickets for a Caribbean vacation in his parents’ study, bearing the names of his mum, dad, and brother. At first, he thinks his has been misplaced, but soon comes across the signed forms for his unwinding. Their holiday is scheduled for the following day. Instead of flipping out, as would be expected of him, he spends the next couple of weeks being the best son and brother he could possibly be, in an attempt to make his parents feel terrible for the decision they had made, before escaping one night while everyone slept. On his journey to get away, he meets a girl named Risa, another Unwind, a talented piano player who wasn’t quite good enough, and a boy named Lev, a tithe, one of 10 children whose parents’ definition of “give 10% of everything to the church” extended to include him, and who thoroughly believes his own unwinding is his life’s purpose, and is quite looking forward to it.

The story follows a roller coaster journey of betrayal, of desperation, of horror, of survival, and of revolution, though including perhaps one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever come across in fiction – a chilling description of a living dissection. The plot is ingenious, thoroughly imaginative and clever, however the author really should have invested in a better editor – I can’t stand it when I come across a typo in a published book, let alone a full on plot mistake, and I found the errors so irritating it immediately smashed my suspension of disbelief. The annoyance didn’t last long however – and though I don’t think I ever quite got used to YA-style writing, I found myself thoroughly glued to every page by such a riveting storyline.

I could go on for paragraphs, but there is simply too much action and too many spoilers. I probably would’ve loved this when I was a kid, and I think if it had been written for adults, I would have absolutely no reservation in giving this book 5 stars. It definitely gets 4 though, not for the strength of writing in the slightest, but for strength of imagination, for evoking a reaction in me, for the gripping plot and the brilliant twist at the end. This would make a fantastic movie – with the right director, of course. Steven Moffat, if you have a wee opening in your schedule post-DW:S6, I reckon this one’d be a right corker to add to your repertoire. 🙂

A Basic Tool in the Living of a Good Life

Every day I take the bus home from work, I spend a few minutes waiting at the stop outside the city’s biggest library, outside the entrance of which I see these words immortalised on a stone plaque, subtly reminding me I really should be reading more. One of my goals for 2010 was to read at least a book a month. I know this sounds ridiculous, what with certain dedicated people attempting to hit A HUNDRED in a year (!), but I had to start with something – over the last few years, my reading time has gone from being spent absorbed by books to being spent in front of a computer screen. Though blogs do equal great connections and often provide fantastic food for thought, I seem to have fallen off the literary bandwagon along the way. Which is a Big Deal, because the written word is one of the things I hold dearest to my heart! I don’t know about you, but I have several bookcases in my house, each half full of books that either have broken spines and folded pages through countless loving re-reads, or books that are as pristine as the day they arrived, never having been cracked open once. I seem to fall in love with blurbs and recommendations and hastily stock my shelves, but when it comes to making the time to sit down and actually read, these days, I’m pretty rubbish. I think it comes from the mentality of always having to be doing something “productive” – working, cleaning the house, doing laundry, writing, replying to e-mails, going to appointments… if I have three hours to myself on a Sunday night, I feel like I should be putting them to good use. Working at something. Not relishing in great literature – I almost feel guilty doing it.

But last weekend, I was given those three hours. And instead of making beds or ironing clothes, I put on some beautiful background music, poured a glass of merlot, and cracked open the Deathly Hallows. I’m late enough to the Potter Party as it is – and I love the stories dearly – so by jove, I was going to take some time to read something I truly enjoy, without feeling guilty about it! Life’s too short, sometimes, for doing the dishes.

There are lots of books I want to read this year. One that’s come up in many a conversation of late: Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz; written in the ’60s by an early cosmetic surgeon, it tells of his findings around the topic of self-image, comparing people who undergo surgery with people who simply follow a system of ideas and attitudes instead. He stumbled on several interesting phenomena: he found the plastic surgery patients often went in with expectations of self-image that weren’t met by the surgery, and continued to behave as “ugly” or “inferior” even after significant procedures had been performed. However, a system of behavioural therapy techniques and shifts in mental focus without surgery resulted in increased self-esteem. It’s no secret I’d love to get surgery if I could, but I can’t shake the advice my nearest and dearest are giving – to read this book, and try working on inner attitudes instead.

One of the first books I’m picking up post-Potter is one my eye was drawn to in a bookshop in Chicago last September – a new hardback I hadn’t had room to bring home, and one that wasn’t released in Canada until recently. It’s going to be a delve into unfamiliar territory – thriller crime fiction! Now, I’m one of the biggest scaredy-cats around – I’m the girl who went home and stayed awake for 48 hours following The Ring and to this day refuses to watch anything rated R – but I couldn’t pass up the intriguing premise of Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast. It’s been lauded as one of the best Irish novels ever, a superb thriller, and impossible to put down, and on top of being set in one of my favourite places in the world, it’s got more than a hint of the supernatural. Which pretty much equals complete amazeballs. The premise basically follows an ex-IRA killer in northern Ireland who, now that peace has come, is being haunted by the ghosts of twelve of his innocent victims, and in order to appease them – he has to kill the men who gave him orders. Fascinating! I’m slightly nervous, but thoroughly captivated, and I think it’s great to branch out of the familiar every once in a while.

As you know, I’m also a huge lover of the classics. I’d name my first-born after Chaucer if ‘Geoffrey’ wasn’t such an atrocity. 🙂 It’s definitely a goal of mine to add a few more to the archive this year, and I’m starting with Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I’ve been in love with the song since childhood, and the story sounds utterly haunting, desperately romantic, and fantastically passionate. I can’t wait for this one – and to watch the recent BBC remake, too!

There are a few others on the list for 2011: Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mixtape, the “unadulterated nostalgia-geekfest” that is Dalek I Loved You, the hot pick around the blogosphere from 2010, The Hunger Games, and a recent recommendation, Primates and Philosophers, a collection of essays exploring the nature and evolution of human ethics and morality. If I can stick to it, I think this year’s going to be a brilliant goody bag of fantasy, thrills, imagination and education. What’s on your list for 2011? Anything else I couldn’t possibly miss on mine?

Acceptance: A small step towards ‘A New Earth’

I’ve mentioned this book for a little while now, and lately, I’ve been making an extra effort to really live out the teachings.  Well maybe not “teachings”; ideas? Concepts? I must admit I was a bit of a new kid on the Eckhart Tolle block, having heard of his huge association with Oprah (is there something wrong with me if I’ve never seen an episode?), and shrugging it off as “another self-help author”, but A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose was introduced to me early in the summer, and with the path I feel I’m being called to be on lately, it was rather aptly timed indeed.

I cracked open the book one night in the bath. I don’t often take baths because I get terribly bored, and I don’t often read in the bath because everything gets terribly soggy, so this was slightly out of the ordinary. However the experience remains ingrained in memory – I’d put some on pretty music, lit some candles, and had the window half open so a breeze seeped in, refreshing against the steam coming off the bubbles. I’d grabbed a bath pillow and began to read. At first, I was a little hesitant. The first chapter was about the first flower ever to appear on planet Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, opening up to receive sunlight, marking an evolutionary transformation in plantlife. A bit New Age, if you ask me, but I kept reading the analogy, in which he refers to human consciousness – a similar transformation, which has already begun, which, if every human being decided to focus on purpose and awareness, be free of the Ego, and of all the self-imposed limitations and negativity perpetual thinking gives rise to, could bring about a “New Earth”.

Once I passed the first chapter, however, I was hooked. I carried it everywhere and found myself sitting in coffee shops nodding along as I highlighted something on pretty much every other page, wishing there was a way I could steal the words away from the page and install them into my brain where I’d forever be guided and reminded. It’s not a religious book, but the author makes reference to a variety of different religions and spiritual practices, not to add to the reader’s beliefs, but to create food for thought, and hopefully, a shift in consciousness.

One of the main notions of the book is that we, as humans, are trapped in our own minds. Our Ego wants to have an identity, whether good or bad, and we are also conditioned to thinking that if we have more, then we will be happy. Along with thinking and wanting more, comes focusing on lack – lack of money, of friends, of attractiveness, of happiness…  “If the thought of lack – whether it be money, recognition, or love – has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience lack. Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life, all you see is lack. No matter what you have or get, you won’t be happy. You will always be looking for something else that promises greater fulfillment, that promises to make your incomplete sense of self complete and fill that sense of lack you feel within.”

The author explains, in a way different from other books I’ve read, that it’s not the Ego itself that is bad, but our identification with it that causes the most suffering. If we identify ourselves by our jobs, our possessions, even on the flipside, by our suffering or hardship – as long as we perpetuate that identification, we are not simply living in the present and accepting things as they are.  The goal is to raise personal awareness of our behaviour, allowing ourselves to simply be in the present moment, rather than getting caught up in in thinking about and reacting to it, or living by the roles we give to ourselves. And aren’t we all guilty of that?

The way we go about the world is shaped, in large part, by our past experiences, by our inner critic, by our fears and by worrying about what other people think of us. We act differently, though maybe only very slightly, around different groups of people. We may act one way around our partner, another around his or her family, another around our boss, and yet another around our closest friends. We ever so subtly fall into different roles shaped by how we want society to see us, or by past hurts or anxieties. Some may have a heightened sense of Ego, going about the world in fancy suits and filling homes with expensive decor, fuelled by the notion that more is better. Some may have latched onto the other end of the spectrum, carrying the weight of their past hardships or present sufferings with a frown on their face and a cloud over their head. The book teaches it doesn’t matter what identification we have with the Ego, as long as it has an identity. And the only way to truly be at peace is to recognise that, detach from those thought patterns, detach from the material things that are ultimately ephemeral, and detach from worry about things over which we have no control.

I took a LOT away from this book, but most of all, I took away the power of awareness and acceptance.  The moment you notice a pattern of behaviour that is no longer working for you, recognise it, change it, and you are on your way to becoming more enlightened and living a more purposeful existence. Instead of allowing reactive emotions to take over in response to unfavourable life events, accept them as they are. Instead of feeling wronged or holding on to grudges, just let them go. And, though painful sometimes, accepting the path a loved one has chosen even though you may believe it’ll end badly. People ultimately only learn from their own mistakes.  There was a great section about peace vs. drama which is something I think we can all identify with, explaining that though we all want peace, there’s something in all of us that also wants drama and conflict. We’re not acknowledged, we have an argument, we feel wronged somehow, and the mind races to defend itself, attack, or blame someone else.

“Can you feel that there is something in you that is at war, something that feels threatened and wants to survive at all cost, that needs the drama in order to assert its identity as the victorious character within that theatrical production? Can you feel there is something in you that would rather be right than at peace?”

The Ego would rather be right than at peace, and the only way to lessen its grip is to become aware of it – the voice in our head that “comments, speculates, judges, compares, dislikes… etc.”  You can catch yourself in these situations, and choose to accept and be happy, rather than insisting at any cost you be right. Since I finished the book I’ve caught myself out slipping into old thought patterns that are ultimately Ego-driven – reacting in arguments, becoming upset over situations I can’t control, worrying about things, and beating myself up. None of this does anyone any good and is never going to pave the way to being at peace, and I think this book should be mandatory reading for everyone who’s concerned at all about finding happiness, and living a good life of intent, peace and purpose. If everyone lived by the teachings of this book, the world would be a very different place indeed. But as with all big movements, they start with a small step. And if I can introduce someone to this reading material and it impacts them the way it did after it was introduced to me… then I’d like to think this was mine.

On Writing… and Reading to Hundreds of Strangers!!

A few weeks ago, I had a bunch of really good news.  We’d booked our trip to England, I was starting my new position at work, Nan was doing better, we’d signed up for dance classes, and I was just about to start my Creative Writing class.  Since then, things have continued to be great.  We’ve discovered Sweet is, hilariously, a NATURAL at ballroom dancing (while I’m still stuck on which foot goes backward) – but each class has been filled with fun and laughter, and it’s the perfect way to start our weekends.  I also phoned my Nan last week – and not only was she thrilled, but apparently she’s well enough to go home – to HER home, not a care home! – within the next two weeks! Work is going well, we’re making all sorts of plans for the UK trip, and Creative Writing class? ALL sorts of awesome.


I’m going to tell you a secret: I never finished university. I grew up hugely academic, spending my high school years continually on the honour roll and spent Saturday nights in the university library, reading Chaucer for fun and gazing out at the city’s skyline, as the sky turned from pinks to blues and the streets below came alive. I loved school. I love to learn, to challenge myself, to succeed in something I adore – but at 20 years old, life started to happen.  I’d moved out just as I turned 19, with A Boy, which lasted about a year – we broke up, and after a short stint on my parents’ sofa , I got my first apartment. I was working part time, and had no savings – or furniture – so I reluctantly decided to take some time off from school, get my life in gear, and work for a little bit in the Real World.

I was lucky enough to find jobs that led me toward graphic design. In school, I’d been studying medieval English literature and psychology – which would serve me really well in the real world [ahem] – but through work, I found I loved graphics. I was offered real-world experience, networking opportunities, and the chance to build a real portfolio.  This led me into marketing and advertising, which I adore – but I’ve also realised I have a passion for writing. Blogging has become just about the best hobby I’ve ever had, but I’ve always secretly loved to write fiction, too. I get lost in the worlds of incredible authors, surrendering my mind to their vivid imaginations, and longing to visit these fantastical places in the real world. I love the art of crafting a piece of prose as that’s as beautiful as a masterpiece painting. I love the English language.

Mr Flay appeared to clutter up the doorway as he stood revealed, his arms folded, surveying the smaller man before him in an expressionless way. It did not look as though such a bony face as his could give normal utterance, but rather that instead of sounds, something more brittle, more ancient, something dryer would emerge, something perhaps more in the nature of a splinter or fragment of stone. Nevertheless, the harsh lips parted. ‘It’s me,’ he said, and took a step forward into the room, his knee joints cracking as he did so. His passage across the room – in fact his passage through life – was accompanied by these cracking sounds, one per step, which might be likened to the breaking of twigs.
– From Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Isn’t it beautiful? (The text – but yes, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was in the miniseries, we can refer to  him, too :))

So two weeks ago, I started my Creative Writing class. I had all sorts of hopes of meeting new people, of indulging my creative passion, and of a place my imagination could really take flight.  The first class wasn’t quite what I expected – I don’t think the instructor expected a group of only six, either! – but I was in my element.  I’m not usually one to pipe up in groups, but I instantly felt comfortable in a place where creative thinking was encouraged and praised.  In class, we all have to read our assignments and classroom activities out loud in front of each other.  This is slightly intimidating – but I’m hoping may be just the ticket to keep me going on the whole breaking free of fear journey.  Last week, we had to write a “character”, which I initially struggled with – I wasn’t used to having such open-ended assignments! But the second I sat down to write, I couldn’t stop. I ended up with something I was really rather proud of – I can’t use literary techniques and flowerly language on the blog, but I indulged on my assignment. And it went down really well!

We were also told about our final assignment, due in about 8 weeks. It’s open-ended in that it can be a play, a short story, a review, a poem… anything we like. But we’ve been booked a spot at one of the city’s biggest bookstores, where we will do a reading. In public. This is quite possibly one of the most intimidating tasks I’ve ever been given.  The way I got through facilitating my classes at work was to tell myself I was in a position to pass along information that would ultimately help people.  The desire to help surpassed my fear, so I was able to do it, no problem.  But putting something I’ve created out there, where it can be judged by other people? SCARY.

I’m trying to tell myself this is just another stepping stone in my ongoing journey. That I’ve learned how to live without worrying constantly about other people judging me, so I should be able to do the same with my writing.  Hopefully the next few weeks will be practice enough that I won’t bomb it in the end… and I’m feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement.  Let’s just hope the latter dominates.  Until then… hold my hand?

One More for the Life List

Last night I crossed off a big something on my Life List.  Not only did I meet one of the superstars of the literary world – I met my hero.

I first found out Neil Gaiman was coming to Winnipeg about a month ago.  On Halloween, numerous independent bookshops all over North America entered a contest.  The entry: host a graveyard-themed party in celebration of Neil’s latest release, The Graveyard Book.  The prize: a visit, reading and book signing from the man himself.  My best friend and I braved the cold and headed down to our local branch of McNally Robinson to find a wondrous emporium of the macabre, decked out in a breathtaking array of ghoulish displays; costumed staff, a Wheel of Misfortune, tombstones of the “late” Dave McKean and even personalised death certificates, authorized by Misters Croup and Vandemar of the Kingdom of Stormhold.  It was incredible, and it’s safe to say I was pretty much in heaven.

Yesterday morning, I received an email from the shop explaining how the day was going to go.  They’d received such huge feedback and HUNDREDS of confirmations, so they were going to have to issue admission tickets prior to going in.  Luckily it was our work Christmas party (a lovely, fancy lunch) and we were dismissed at 3:00, so I headed straight down to see if there were any left.  Already piles of people were accumulating, but luckily I snatched two tickets before they closed for half an hour to set up for his arrival.  It was the craziest thirty minutes of my life.  Literally hundreds of people piled into centre court, while security guards tried to herd us into some sort of order, endeavouring in vain to maintain some semblance of stability in the middle of a busy mall.  Right before Christmas.  Somehow, I ended up near the front of the queue, and as mentioned in today’s Free Press, nigh on six hundred people piled behind me, ready to cram in to a little shop with dreams of meeting a legend.  Sweet arrived from work, out of breath from dashing madly through the shops, with seconds to spare before the doors were reopened.  We piled in like a raging monsoon, pouring rapidly down the stairs and flooding the floor, drowning the shop in a sea of impassioned anticipation.

We stood, packed in like sardines for almost an hour; any sense of claustrophobia was stifled by the imminent dream.  A few minutes after six, he arrived, as dishevelled, becloaked and eloquently spoken as I’d ever imagined.  An (unnecessary) introduction by the staff passed, and he began to speak.  I’d always imagined how he’d sound; the voice behind the tales of immeasurable imagination by which I’d been swept away.  He sounded just like Alan Rickman, which only fuelled my adoration.  He stood in the centre of the throng of literary fanatics, charismatic, charming and effortlessly brilliant.  He answered questions, read us a passage, and told us he was happy to stay ‘til 1:00 in the morning if he had to, to make sure everybody’s books got signed.

Unfortunately, our section had received the number which would be last up, and all children were going to be seen first; it was already nearly eight and I had a mass of Christmas baking to do before morning – so I grabbed a couple of pre-signed books, took countless photos and a few videos of the master in action, and headed home, thoroughly exhilarated.  (I later heard from a rather annoyingly less busy friend, who gave up at about 10:00, when they were only on number three!)

It’s okay if it doesn’t say “To Emily” inside – I now have a copy of my favourite book signed by the legend himself.  I got to be a part of a huge following of people who’ve been moved by his sheer brilliance of imagination as much as I have.  I have him on film, so he can read me a bedtime story whenever I like, and I have photos from mere feet away.  This was one of those moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The Time Traveller’s Strife

Okay guys, I have to own up to something. I caved.  I went to see The Time Traveller’s Wife.

I’d heard bad things when it first came out and decided to wait until it hit the cheap seats; I’d loved the book so much I re-read it with Sweet immediately after I finished it the first time, and it’s become one of my most loved books ever.  I knew movies based on books had a tendency to be completely disappointing and frustrating – but it was the BEST BOOK EVER – I had to see it on the big screen!

Sweet reluctantly came along, telling me on the way how he knew what was going to happen – I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it because I’d be thinking the whole time how different it was in the book, and I’d leave annoyed and wanting my two hours back.  I hadn’t realised I was engaged to a prophet, but I left annoyed, wanting my two hours back, and angry that those people all around the world who hadn’t read the book never would after watching a puzzling, unexplained tale of two characters who go from first date to marriage with no sense of attachment, intrigue or passion.

Don’t read ahead if you haven’t read the book.  Go and buy it now, while I rant about how much I hated the film.

The movie fails to explain the science that is so expertly and admirably undertaken in the book, in which the author sews the intricacies of time travel seamlessly into a timeless take of star-crossed lovers, desperately living with the curse of a genetic mutation that pulls Henry to moments of time, past and future, of emotional gravity.   In the book, Henry is an intense character, weathered and rough, charismatic, worldly with a turbulent past but an intense passion for the woman he’s loved all her life. You come to know both Henry and Clare intimately, flaws, passions and all, and genuinely empathize to the point of tears by the end.  In the book, Henry is a character.  He’s scrawny, beaten, etched and imposing.  Movie Henry was just a Generally Nice Man – Hollywood handsome, too-short hair, well spoken and well dressed with no sense of character at all.

I’d imagined the Meadow to be so vast – so immeasurable in size, somewhere you’d lay out a blanket in a sea of wild grass and knee-high dandelion clocks and see the landscape extending all the way to the horizon.  In the movie – it was somebody’s back garden.  Moments of intensity in the book are bypassed or treated with disinterest; Henry’s episode of arriving naked in the middle of a harsh winter and struggling to survive the frostbite is unremarkable on screen, with no blizzard, no hypothermia, and no intensity.  The intricately planned concoctions created to get Henry through his wedding day without disappearing are a simple Valium tablet.  Clare’s depression following Henry’s death is practically nonexistent.  A broken-glass ridden body, displaced in time for an instant, is unforgettable in its narrative power, compelling the imagination and evoking feelings of fear, distress and danger, just shows up on screen slightly bruised and disappears again.

Key characters are omitted (including our protagonists’), details are left out and passion is lacking.  I almost cried out at the end of the movie when they left out the best part of the book (the letter I sobbed over for hours? The part when Clare’s an old lady?) and rewrote it to be a Happy Hollywood Ending.  It makes me wonder just how much say an author has when their work is taken to the silver screen.  Is there really any amount of money that could replace your art, your imagination, and allow such butcherings to take your work to the masses? This movie destroyed the very soul of the story, and I hope and pray it doesn’t discourage people from experiencing the real tale.  I can only imagine the pangs of regret seizing Audrey Niffenegger as she sat through the film.

During the credits, I noticed Brad Pitt was listed as Executive Producer.  I suppose that would explain something.  I kind of want to get in on this time travelling thing – even if it is solely for the purpose of going back to the day he came on board, and punching him in the face.


What constitutes a hero?

As a child, my hero was probably either Captain Jean-Luc Picard, or someone named Saracen/Zodiac/Wolf/Unicorn/Trojan off of Gladiators (yes, really – was there a Trojan in US Gladiators?), and as a teenager, my heroes grew into those of the English language.  I devoured all the Shakespeare I could, used Peake in an art project, and memorised Chaucer by heart.  As an adult, my heroes once again changed.  No longer celebrities or people who passed away hundreds of years ago, today I look up to people who simply desire to change the world.

According to the dictionary, the primary definition of ‘hero’ (in a non-sandwich related sense) is “a man of great strength and courage”, with a further definition of “someone admired for his qualities or achievements, and regarded as an ideal or model”.   Now, there are a lot of people out there who use their talents, morals and dedication to make a positive difference in the world, and significantly less caped, muscular crusaders zipping about the skies battling evil, and I think these people ought to be given a lot of credit.  Heroes of the written word and the silver screen may have battled monsters and other terrible foes, but they did it for the sake of others.  Translate it to the real world, and your everyday heroes may not be the strongest, handsomest, butt-kickingest demon-slayers, but courage, altruism and grace are certainly transferable skills.

So my heroes today are people that change the world.  People who volunteer for hours on end for a cause to help the less fortunate.  People who give up their Christmases to give the homeless food and somewhere warm to eat it.  The kind-hearted geniuses that came up with It Starts With Us, and everyone who carries out every single one of their weekly missions.  People who go on great feats of endurance to raise money for charity, and people who decide to use their talents to make the world a better place.

One of the people who’ve made my world a better place is author Neil Gaiman.

In a world where future generations of kids will develop arthritis and obesity sitting in front of televisions and computer screens, he churns out literary ingenuity, satiates our appetite for imagination and transports us to other worlds full of fantastic characters that’ll have you begging for his next book two birthdays before its publication date.  He’ll lead you through familiar places – the London underground, an American road trip, give you a relatable protagonist (a young Scottish businessman, maybe, who helps a girl on the street, or perhaps a recently released convict, let out early on account of the death of his wife), add in centuries worth of folklore, cultural symbols and mythology and transport you on journeys you’ll never forget.  There’s not a whiff of a wizard or a dragon that give the realm of fantasy such a stereotype, but his wit, intellect and sheer imagination make him a master of the genre.  I’ve loved Neil Gaiman for years now, loved him for all the times he’s made me rush home or cancel plans just so I could savour another journey into the impossible, and loved him for everything he’s left for generations to come.

And this afternoon, I found out he was coming to Winnipeg.  I read the words and my initial reaction was to scream, however managed to temporarily stifle my exhilaration by quickly holding my breath.  I couldn’t hold it in, so I quickly did some laps around the office and did everything I could not to skip through reception.  NEIL F***ING GAIMAN IS COMING TO WINNIPEG.  You never think you’ll actually meet your hero – so what the heck do you say if you do?  I met someone from Star Trek a few years ago at a convention (hush), and naturally proceeded to clam up, turn beet red and squeal something unintelligible while he signed a photograph for me.  I don’t want to make an even bigger arse of myself in front of the most talented and respectable man in the world.

So if you had the chance to meet your hero, what the devil would you say to them?