Archive for August, 2011


Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

I did my Ironman race this past Sunday and so, according to tradition, I am now an Ironman.  Not an Ironwoman, not an Iron(wo)man, or an Ironlady, certainly not an Irongirl, and nothing like an Ironperson.  There is merchandise clearly targeted at the Ironman of the female variety, all pinks and mauves and the occasional flower, but nowhere in this gear does the IM symbol (see image on the left) become a W with an I in the middle instead of an M with an I.  Female ironmen along with the men get this IM symbol, and no other, tattooed on the back of their right or left calf.  There is merchandising for Ironmates, Ironmoms and Irondads, but nowhere will you see the expression Ironwoman.  Anyone who finishes one of these things is called the same thing, making the expression perhaps not so much inclusive but completely neutral.  A surprising and wonderful phenomena for an expression that contains the word ‘man’.  I might not be a man (and have no desire to be) but I am an Ironman.

I’ve Seen That Book

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I recently gave my niece my old book set of the Narnia series.  She’s a sweet kid and she very sweetly thanked me for them but couldn’t help but point – a little apologetically – that, well, she had already seen some of these books.  I panicked on her behalf.  Had seeing the movies ruined the books for her?  Or worse yet, undermined a desire to even pick up the books and give them a try?  Would she never experience the great pleasure of putting down one Narnia book and eagerly reaching for the next so that she could once again go through the wardrobe?  My panic increased.  What if she saw one of the ill-conceived Harry Potter movies before she was old enough to read the first book of the series and be enchanted rather than unenthused?  To make matters worse, I realized that she had recently watched the CBC miniseries version of Anne of Green Gables, and no matter how perfectly cast, it just wasn’t the same.  Not even close.  I have nothing against making movies out of fiction but perhaps parenting guides should warn them of the risks of early movie-version-of-the book exposure.

King vs. Cronin

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

I like a good story and have huge respect for authors who can come up with a real page-turner.  I have no patience, however, for bad writing so when New York Times book reviewer, Janet Maslin, included Stephen King’s Under the Dome in her top 10 picks for 2009, I was intrigued (she referred to it as having “the scope and flavor of literary Americana”).  I was similarly intrigued by the appearance of The Passage by Justin Cronin on Time’s top 10 for 2010 (Cronin is an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate and his other two novels were applauded as “quiet … literary explorations”).  Neither book disappointed.  Both fell into the “I stayed up too late reading” camp of novels.  Both have outlandish premises – vampires in The Passage and a dome cutting a town off from the rest of humanity in Under the Dome.  As such, a reader who is not keen to suspend too much disbelief should steer clear.  But, given the premises, it was only the Cronin book that made me (occasionally) roll my eyes in that “come on, really?” sort of way.  Perhaps it is not fair to complain of an “unrealistic” plot turn given the nature of the work but a fantastical setting should not be a carte blanche.  One can’t help but think that the author came up with the additional bit of fantasy (perhaps not quite a deus ex machina but verging) to get him out of a sticky plot situation.   King, on the other hand, doesn’t venture out of the parameters of the (strange) world he’s created.  That is not only more challenging but also more satisfying.

That’s So Cliché

Monday, August 1st, 2011

This is a conversation I overheard the other day:
Man: “I just need to know there is mutual respect.”
Woman: “Well, it’s a two-way street but lessons have been learned.”

Most self-respecting writers wouldn’t write such dialogue unless their tongues were very firmly in the their cheeks, but, apparently, people do in fact speak this way. 

This put me in mind of an article by Zadie Smith (“Fail Better”, 2007), wherein she berated herself for having someone “rummage in their purse” in each of her novels.  She claimed that “to rummage through a purse is to sleepwalk through a sentence” and is a failure – albeit a small one – on the part of the author.   More generally, she notes that in using a cliché, “[the author has] re-presented what was pleasing and familiar rather than risked what was true and strange.”  Sure maybe, but wasn’t the character just trying to find something in her purse?  Unless the description of such a search provides insight to the character, if I read anything other than the character “rummaging”, “searching” or even just plain “getting” something out of her pursue, in all but the most exceptional situations I would think the author was being too clever by half.  Perhaps even self-indulgent.  Ms. Smith, of course, didn’t have just the small clichés in mind (although, she had those too), but rather whole paragraphs, chapters and books worth, and I’m mostly with her on that.  However, if there is an obligation on the writer’s part to self-authenticity – “a duty to express accurately their way of being in the world” – this can also mean that some lessons are simply learned, and respect is mutual, and talking (or even writing) in clichés may be “true and strange”.