August has been a month of waiting. I learned on July 29 that have a new job awaiting me on September 3. I applied for a lateral transfer in my library system to work at a different branch – which happens to be the one closest to my home. I am keenly looking forward to walking to work as much as possible! The new job will be a big change for me. I have always worked in inner city libraries and my expertise is in working with “at risk” or marginalized people. This will be the first time I’ve worked in a suburban setting with The Privileged. However, I know perfectly well that my suburb, like any other, is the home of many social problems. Much of my job, as before, will revolve around managing staff, providing customer service, and learning about local needs.
As a perk, the library is in a community centre that has a pool, ice rinks, gym and weight room, martial arts, and massage. With a discounted membership, I could spend my time getting buff 🙂
On the fitness front, I did get out rollerskating a couple more times at the speed skating oval, which is exhilarating!
Meanwhile, August has been quiet. Rom and I have spent up our entertainment budget on ticketed shows for the Fall. We have 5 events coming up but none were in August. We hustled to get tickets to see John Cleese in September, then learned, to our delight, that the incomparable Eddie Izzard will be performing here later in the Fall, too! I just love him and can’t wait for the show.
We missed out on the Buskers Festival and don’t have plans for the Film Festival or The Fringe (although they’re on now and we could still squeeze in some shows). There is just too much going on! Unfortunately I am home for the long weekend with a miserable cold and I hope to feel at least partially recovered by Tuesday when the new job starts.
I mentioned previously that Rom and I spent a sunny day as tourists in our own town this month. There was also another parade to be seen to celebrate the city’s birthday.
One thing I am “celebrating” is saving bucket loads of money on our garden shed. The roof and part of the floor had deteriorated and I thought the whole shed would need to be replaced. The average cost of a kit to make a wooden shed that size was $3500 plus labour (ours or not). My brother has a rural property and has constructed or reconstructed many sheds, so he priced up a repair job and completed the whole thing for us for $700 with all materials at cost. What a deal! Meanwhile, Rom sanded and painted the deck. I am now feeling like I live in a very sexist household in which the guys do all the manual labour. This month my contributions have been limited to weeding, shrub trimming and lawn mowing, rather than the big projects.
I made pickles with my mom for the second year – I participated more this time and didn’t need to take notes. Maybe someday I will have the ability to become an independent pickle maker 🙂 The tomatoes are not in yet, and my source has dried up, so I may buy enough local tomatoes to make the roasted tomato sauce (from Heidi’s recipe) that I enjoyed last year.
In August, Rom and I continued watching Big Bang Theory on DVD – it is on TV every day, but we are watching the series in order. I watched two DVDs. They were both billed as comedies, and had strong comedic aspects, but both of them had underlying serious themes as well (which you wouldn’t have guessed from the promotional blurbs):
East is East
A 1999 film about a UK couple in the early 70s who run a chip shop. The dad is a traditional Pakistani Muslim who insists his British wife and their children obey the Old Country ways, including arranged marriages. Little does he know that the kids are already leading Western lives behind his back, with their mom’s support. Despite being full of slapstick comedy, this movie really packs a punch. The racism and sexism are appalling, and at times played for laughs, but that makes the final scenes even more affecting. The performance by Linda Bassett as Ella is especially good – she should have won the BAFTA! I will now need to see the 2010 sequel, West is West.
Another touching film billed as a comedy. It would probably be safe to say it’s a chick flick. Two sisters have grown up with their dad after their mom’s suicide. Both of them are at loose ends as adults, and, in fact, so is dad. Rose feels humiliated that her best days might have been as a high school cheerleader, and she’s now cleaning the house of one of her former classmates. Norah is afraid she’ll always be a fuckup after being fired from her waitressing job. The two of them go into business doing crime scene cleanups, and needless to say, their jobs put them on the scene of many murders and suicides, with somewhat predictable results. But did I mind? No. It was very satisfying. I loved seeing Emily Blunt in this role after having recently seen her in Young Victoria. There was also a charming performance by character actor Clifton Collins Jr. as Winston, an oasis of calm amid all the chaos.
I got through 6 books this month, although two were graphic novels and another two were quite short!
Stitches by David Small
OMG, this book was scary! It is the true story of the author/illustrator’s childhood, in which he has surgery for cancer and finds out his parents may not have had his best interests in mind after all. This book left my heart on the floor. I have read his children’s picture books for years and would never have guessed at his background, or his mastery in telling about it.
Building Stories by Chris Ware (Spoiler Alert)
This publication is irresistible. It’s a box containing 14 related comics in various formats such as pamphlets, zines, and newspapers. Most of them focus on a main character, a woman who is very lonely and is always hoping for more meaning and happiness in her life. She had a mostly happy childhood despite a debilitating accident. However, her fortunes changed in her 20s as she learns more about her parents’ lives, and deals with a personal situation. She settles into an isolated existence. Within a few years, though, she has a loving spouse and child, yet she is full of worries and regrets. She claims to be happy, but she is always questioning her choices. I ended up feeling frustrated with the character. If I think of her as Every Woman, then the author has not done a good job. I feel it’s more of a male midlife experience to be constantly thinking of what might have been. I also think this character finds motherhood less satisfying than most women, despite her occasional pronouncements to the contrary. However, if you think of Building Stories as the chronicle of a particular woman who has deep depression and possibly PTSD, it makes a lot more sense.
Because you can read the pieces in any order, it creates some suspense about the character’s past or future, and you are always wondering about her relationships with the other characters who live in her building. I didn’t find any of them sympathetic, though.
The precise drawings, the arrangement of the comic panels on the pages, the choice of larger or smaller papers for different parts of the story – all of that is remarkable. The author/illustrator also depicts extremely intimate scenes from life which are seldom shown in comics or any illustrated media, really. I think the work excels as a technical achievement. I just didn’t “like” it.
In nonfiction, I read Barbara Garson’s Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession. Yet another economics book! I recommend this one because the personal stories are gripping and they are backed up by an overview of trends in the 20th century. It has a journalistic tone, like reading magazine articles, so it’s very accessible. The overarching theme is that while individuals can be blamed for their financial choices, they were also victims of societal forces that were hard to avoid.
419 by Will Ferguson
This is a Canadian literary bestseller which also happens to be a thriller – well, after the first 1/3, anyway. A 419 is the name of the money-scamming email schemes from Nigeria. (Can we transfer some funds into your bank account?) The beginning of the book jumps among several characters and locales which are not well-defined and are meant to give a mysterious foreboding tone. I just found them irritating. Then the story picks up and turns into a wild ride as a Canadian woman travels to Nigeria to confront the scammers who ruined her father’s life. I don’t read much crime fiction so I actually found this quite intense and scary! You learn about the guys who work out of Nigerian Internet cafes and in the oil industry, and the corrupt bosses they report to. I found the book a bit “teachy” in parts – the author was clearly trying to educate the readers about what goes on. I ended the book feeling more sorry about the devastation inflicted upon Nigerians than sorry for the Canadian family’s financial and personal losses.
An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: a Memoir of an Outsider in Paris by Stephanie LaCava
This book is a series of essays based on, but not identical to, the author’s life. She moved to Paris as a child when her father was an international “businessman” (possibly in national security) and she attended an American school with wealthy ex-pats. Although her father was rarely around, he liked taking her to antique shops and flea markets and they had a shared love of odd curiosities (such as glass eyes). The book describes Stephanie’s deteriorating mental health and how she either found joy in physical objects, or became focused on them rather than on people. I would have loved a happier ending, but this is real life we are talking about, so we readers must take what we can get.
Sadly, I read this as an e-book, with disastrous results. Each chapter has delightful drawings of the objects, with copious footnotes explaining the lore of each, and a huge bibliography in the back. It was really difficult to flip around in the e-book format, which completely ruined the experience. Make sure to read the print edition!
Finally, I am reading Skios by Michael Frayn, the author of the play Voices Off and the screenplay for Clockwise. It is an action-packed comical farce and just the thing for a sick day. It begs to be made into a movie. Because of the author’s reputation, the book received attention in literary circles, but it’s really just a bit of fluff like a Wendy Holden novel (not that that’s a bad thing!)
I will leave you with another image from the grown-up picture book I giggled over this month, The Art of Clean Up by Ursus Wehrli. Have a great September!