Waste not, want more

No variations on a theme.

Stack of Something

I can’t say that I’ve accomplished a lot in the three months since my last post. Life’s been rather crazy but without any discernable reason for its craziness. I find myself thinking that I must simplify and then I scrounge around the recesses of my mind looking for what actually  needs to be simplified. Recycling? Eating? Communicating with other life forms? All 3 of them?

All that said, I do have one physical sign of an accomplishment for this year (maybe some people have kids because they too need physical signs of their accomplishments):

Defying physics

Somehow, the stack hasn’t wavered even when I add much bigger books to that flimsy pocketbook base, but that’s not what I’m all in a knot about. I meant to start a list of books I had read at the beginning of this year but failed miserably. On the upside, I’m so disorganized, all the books I’ve read are stacked and waiting to be put away in the too full bookshelf. At least now I know what I’ve read. And I know that sleep trouble pays off in one form or another. Usually I rely on the library more, so I’ve never had a reading time capsule before.  It’s dorky fun, I have to admit. ButI just realized the Grapes of Wrath snuck in there, last year’s read. Oops – how embarassing.

My ill-informed, from memory, quick and dirty thoughts on these are as follows:

1. The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare. Reading a play in bed is not really the intended strategy and I’ve never really enjoyed it much but I was interested in two things about this one: a) The famous ‘is it anti-semetic?’ debate (I know nothing, but my most generous reading would be that Shakespeare is critiquing rigid cultural stereotypes of Jews, of people) and b) the theme? trope? metaphor? use? of a pound of flesh. It came to life (ew) for me.

2. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You – Alice Munro. I’m not much for short stories but I’m learning to love Alice Munro’s ability to create characters that are neither too perfect or too pathetic, that have palpable strengths and weaknesses. She also helps me recover from a sad story by following up with a funny one. But her penchant for infidelity always takes a bit of the fun out of it for me.

3. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. I really loved this book. There’s crime, wretchedness, salvation, last minute confessions, war, survival, confrontations with closeted skeletons, and a sewer scene. The survival parts are my favourite, though I always stress when people struggling to survive spend money on pretty dresses. I’m not big on musicals but reading this made me want to see the musical adaptation. Biggest lesson: some people can change and some people don’t.

4. This is an anthology from a days of yore comparative literature course. I did not read it all but I did read about half of it including Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Reading books about selfish people who never have to face their own idiocy never goes well with me. I’m preachy by nature. Also, more infidelity. Sigh.

5. Islands in the Stream – Ernest Hemmingway. Hemmingway does not exactly get my pants in a knot, though I did love For Whom the Bell Tolls. There’s three separate sections of this book: relatively happy, less happy and much less happy. I enjoyed it: the lively descriptions, the house on the beach mirroring the inhabitant’s isolation, and the protaganist’s familiar way of speaking with anyone that crosses his path. I especially loved the scenes including the three young boys, it felt like family. On the downside, I get bored with drunkeness and regret.

6. The Log from the Sea of Cortez – John Steinbeck. I do enjoy Steinbeck though I think he needs to check in with some women – he seems to have thought they make good props. This book is among the weirdest I have ever read. The first part is a description of Steinbeck’s deceased friend, Ed Rickets, who is also a character in Cannery Row. The second part is an introduction and explanation of the third part, which is actually a log from a species collection trip in the Sea of Cortez. I’m not much of a biologist, but somehow the combination of debauchery and nerdiness really cracked me up. Steinbeck also draws some interesting analagies between humans and sea life.

7. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho. I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, in part because I thought Coelho was Portuguese and I should read a Portuguese author’s work at some point. However, he’s Brazilian. I had of course also heard how wonderful this book is. This should have been my first clue. Perhaps the problem is me, but like the Celestine Prophecy, I felt this book has had a ton of buzz without much to back it up. Yes, wonderful things happen to the protagonist when he opens himself up to them, but for me the story had no complexity and when it comes down to it it did not get me in the gut. I’m not sure how people found it earthshattering.

8. Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry. I love reading fiction written from another cultural context. I feel like I’m learning slowly, by association, without reading a textbook. Apparently I need a human story in order to absorb anything. It provides conflicts and shared moments between generations that struggle to understand and refrain from tongue-lashing one another and cope with happiness, obligation, duty and morality. Lesson: the impossibility of making others happy if you don’t make yourself happy.

9. How Bad are Bananas? – Mike Berners-Lee. I was worried about the carbon footprint of bananas, so someone special bought me this book. It’s simplistic. It’s meant to be. It skips analysis for some items that it gives in others and I felt it really missed a few opportunities, but it’s a great way to get a sense of comparison. Buying bananas is not so bad as buying asparagus, which travels poorly and has to be flown in unless you’re buying it locally. Flying is like burning up mad swaths of forests for fun. Shopping for carbon footprint is not the same as shopping for other environmental concerns though. Bananas may be more devastating for soil erosion, deforestation, or methane. Life’s complicated.

10. Such a Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry. A rare double dose of author. Another story of family conflict that had me on the edge of my seat. Somehow readings books like this helps me understand my own relationship with my parents by showing the humanity of both parent and child trying to fumble through life without answers. It’s also just dark enough not to make me nauseous.

11. The Worlds Within Her – Neil Bissoondath. I have a severe love on for Neil Bissoondath, and it’s not just his name either. It’s to the point where I actually want to be friends with the guy, like I think I know him or something. This book is not my favourite but I still loved it. I wish I were better at t his because this novel really deserves it. What can I say? He takes a hundred potentially cheesy moments and makes them leap from the page with their simplicity and believability. His characters are cracked rather than shattered. They leak badly but find a way to keep it all in place.

12. All Families are Psychotic – Douglas Coupland. I find this guy hillarious and uncannily brilliant. How he can make a story so funny, so completely ridiculous and such a page-turner all at once is beyond me. This book contributed to my insomnia. I read it in 4 before bed sittings (lyings). An astronaut, AIDS, illegal surrogacy, inter-family gunshot wounds and Florida have never been so funny.

Obviously I haven’t done any of these books justice and you can’t possibly know anything about them from these terrible tidbits. But I feel better.


July 19, 2011 - Posted by | Books, Consumption |


  1. I have missed your long windedness more than anything in the entire world! LOVE LOVE LOVE your rants about your stack, and love the photo to prove it too.
    I envy you and your book stack my dear Rosey.. mine quite a few shy from being able to topple but none the less still turning pages.
    Cheese- mostly gouda.

    Comment by Katie Chipman | July 20, 2011 | Reply

  2. 3 Things!!!

    1. Merchant of Venice: I just read an argument that stated this was arguably Shakespeare best play, but not because of any of his skillz (I think Atwood’s Massey lecture, but not sure). Rather, it is an amazing play because of it’s chameleon nature. This writer argued that to play Shylock during Elizabethan times had almost no relationship to the way it’s played post Holocaust and so on. That essential it “takes the temperature” of the time in a way that many pieces of text do not. Does that make sense? Also, Atwood’s Massey lecture brings up many interesting points about the notion of lending and the totally hypocrisy that many Christians demonstrate in this area.

    2. Hemingway’s Moveable Feast is, I think, his best. It’s probably the best food writing I’ve ever read. Honestly, I didn’t just read the title of the novel. When Ry and I combined books, it’s one of the few we kept the duplicate of. And I hate stuff.

    3. I just had a conversation about How Bad are Bananas YESTERDAY (yes, I did just yell that). Too simplistic. Also, Ryan notes that major issue with anything that is a monoculture.

    Great post! Worth the 3 month wait!

    Comment by Cheyenne | July 25, 2011 | Reply

    • 1. That makes sense. I totally felt the temperature. I did read that lecture, now that I think about it, and remember something about lending…harumph, my memory.

      2. It goes onto the must read list. I thought you were anti-Hemingway.

      3. On the one hand I thought, well this is a good accessible first step for interested people. Then I thought it was a misleading and maybe frustrating step. Then I couldn’t decide. And I hadn’t thought about the monoculture point.

      Comment by Rose | July 27, 2011 | Reply

  3. […] for punishment. After a few concerted tries I absorb enough to follow – and enjoy – my beloved Bissoondath. But it’s a tense […]

    Pingback by Meandering through life keeping fed and watered « Waste not, want more | October 9, 2011 | Reply

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