Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Banned Book Challenge!

How great is it that Canada has a Freedom to Read week? In the U.S., books are banned all the time. Books that aren't even bad. Books like "A Wrinkle in Time", Susan Juby's Miss Smithers, Judy Blume's Forever, Blubber?

OK, so Blubber's actually just restricted, not outright banned, but still.

Anyway, I hope that Stuck in Downward Dog would get banned. Why, you ask? Because if it did, there would be free publicity (and who doesn't want free publicity for their book? You can't BUY free publicity!) Plus, we all want what we can't have and we all want to do what we're not supposed to do, so then, millions of readers would buy my book just to find out what was so bad that made it get banned. Of course, considering Mara doesn't even have sex, and he's 28, and so even if she did have sex it wouldn't be unreasonable. So it's unlikely that it's going to get banned. But right, back to the authors who've actually had their books banned.

If you go to the Freedom to Read site, there's a list of more than 100 books and magazines that have been challenged in Canada.

I scanned the list and found that I've read the following books:

The Bible (Well, I've pretty much covered the New Testament, thanks to 13 years of Catholic school. I'm a little foggy on some of the lesser known chapters, but I think I can still say I get the gist of what the book's about)
Lord of the Flies
Snow Falling on Cedars
The Diviners
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Giver
Maxim. Yes, the men's magazine.
Lives of Girls and Women
Foxfire (I love this book)
Harry Potter (You see, my theory is right. J.K. Rowling is the richest woman in the world. Although, maybe that had nothing to do with her book being banned).
Catcher in the Rye (Why, you ask? Foul language. Good grief.)
Underground to Canada (because the word "nigger" appears 20 times)
Goosebumps and Fear Street books
Huckleberry Finn
Wallpaper (not actual wallpaper, unless it has rude words, but one particular 2001 issue that used a female model as a sex object to sell the magazine. Imagine - see Maxim)

There are dozens of other books I haven't read, which is why I've signed up (and you should too!) for the Banned Book Challenge, by going here. It's run by the Pelham Library, which is very close to the town where I grew up. Pelham is not a big town, so it's so amazing that they're doing something so important. You can sign up and read as many or as few (even just ONE book, if that's all you have time for) banned or challenged books as you can.

Why not? It's winter, it's cold. It's a perfect excuse to stay inside. And, it's much more wholesome than the other things you COULD be doing to keep warm. Things we cannot talk about for fear of being banned.

PS I'm now going to search the list of books that I still need to read that are waiting on my bookshelf. I'm hoping some of them have been banned or challenged, so that I can kill (I mean, injure, but not seriously) two birds with one stone.

Got Gubb?

So, as I've discussed many times, I'm obsessed with making lists. To-do lists, grocery lists, cleaning lists, work lists, people to call, friends to email, relatives to write, cards to make, presents to buy, recipes to try... I cannot stop making lists. And if I don't write the item down on a list, it doesn't get done. Take my driver's license and health card renewals for example. I got the notices months ago, but I didn't write them on a list. Instead, I stuck the notices in a drawer and forgot about them, until yesterday, when a girl at work was telling me about how she had to replace all the cards in her wallet for a second time in like, two weeks, because someone had stolen her wallet for the second time. Which is just crazy and awful. So anyway, I went home, found my renewal notices and started a To-Do list. Now, they'll get done this week because I love the feeling of striking items off a list.

So when I heard about Gubb I couldn't wait to check it out. It's a FREE list-making website. You log in, choose your list topic and then add all the items to it. You can change the background colour, and add details, and can even make shared lists with friends or email the lists to yourself. I love it, except, I don't get it. I mean, if you're going to email the list to yourself, why wouldn't you just send yourself an email, instead of logging into Gubb, making the list, then emailing it? I guess if I actually used my cellphone for things other than taking pictures of my cat and making phone calls (how old school!) maybe I'd want to get the lists on my phone, but honestly, the point, to me, of making a list, is to grab a piece of paper, a pen and write it down. It's quick, it's easy, and there's this incredible sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you ACTUALLY cross the item off the list. Plus, the list is super portable. Write it on a Post-it, stick it in your bag. Pull it out when you get to the grocery store, find the items. Put it in your pocket. Pull it out at home, stick it on the counter.

I get that after you create the list on Gubb, you could print the list out, and take it with you. But if you work in an office all day, it's not so discreet to have to print the list out on the communal printer, then rush over to pick it up before anyone else in the office sees that you need to pick up toilet paper or clean the litter box or buy new underwear. Plus, even though you can make the backgrounds on each list pretty colours, like pink or periwinkle, if your printer's black and white, it's just black letters on a grey list. And with purple Post-its, I just don't think I'm going to get stuck on Gubb. You know, unless they have little people inside the website who actually COMPLETE the tasks on your list for you, then send you an email to let you know.

We'll see.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Book #4: The Tipping Point

This is such an easy read, but still it took me a couple of weeks. Whatever -- I'm still done my fourth book of the year!!

The subtitle for this book is "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" and Gladwell's book is an example of this. The book came out in 2000, and now, newer versions contain an Afterword about companies and people big and small who've initiated a difference in their own ways and own lives after reading The Tipping Point. Like a library that wasn't clearly visible, that put out a sign around the corner so people could find it. Love it. (Oh, and I'm glad I read the Afterword even though I wasn't going to, because technically if I'd read the book in 2000 there wouldn't have been an afterword so I would've been finished the book a half-hour earlier, but really, what's a half-hour when it took me two weeks to read the book?

The book, much like Blink, uses examples to illustrate Gladwell's point, in this case, why some behaviours and events cause epidemics and why others don't. While Blink used shorter chapters and more examples than The Tipping Point, Gladwell's debut still brings up quite a few interesting topics, including a few of my favourites: cigarettes, Columbia House Records and Rebecca Wells' Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The Sesame Street/Blue's Clues chapter went on a bit too long. I mean, I'm just not sure how knowing how many times kids can watch the same episode of SS in a row without becoming bored can really help me in my day to day life. Still, I learned that Big Bird and Oscar weren't slated to interact with the people in their neighbourhood. And where would we be if they hadn't, you ask? Well we wouldn't have Avenue Q -- which isn't Gladwell's point but since Avenue Q is my favourite Broadway show, I thought about it.

Definitely a worthwhile (and quick) read. You know, for most people.

Which means, I'm on to Book #5!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What's on your Bookshelf?

A meme about Books and Organizing? Little Willow posted a Bookshelf questionnaire on her site. What are your answers? Here are mine.

How do you organize your books? By genre, by last name, by title, by publication date?
By size. The shelves in my office vary by size between and width, so the small books (paperbacks) have to go on the bottom shelves, while the large books (Vogue, Calvin & Hobbes) go on the taller shelves. That is it.

Do you have a shelf reserved for your favorite books and/or authors?No, but I do have a spot reserved for books I haven't yet read that I want to read. For more on this list, see my January List here.

What is the first title and author on your bookshelf?
What does this mean? Where is the first book? Top left? Top right? This question confuses me. I'm going to pick the first one I see: Zadie Smith's On Beauty.

What is the last title and author on your bookshelf?
Again, what does this mean? I'm going to say the book that's not on my bookshelf, since it will be the last one to go back on my bookshelf tonight when I'm done with it: Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook.

What genre dominates your collection?
Contemporary fiction.

Which author is the most represented? (You own the most number of books by . . . )
Sarah Dessen

You own all of the books written by . . .
Sylvia Plath. Does this count?

You own the entire series of . . .
I don't. I did, at one point, own most of the Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley Twins books. I also have a partial collection of Nancy Drew books, which I'm working on expanding. And I have quite a few Martha cookbooks, which is odd given that I don't cook. But they are so pretty on the shelf.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

True lies

Someone asked me today if I write any other fiction besides my novel. And I got to thinking, no, but I'm not supposed to, right? I mean, I work at a magazine, where I write fact, as expected. Because we all know what happens when you try to write fiction and pass it off as fact, don't we?

Still, it wasn't always this way for me.

Flashback to first-year university. In an attempt to make journalists out of freshmen, my Print-Journalism professor was constantly sending us on assignments for his class. To interview real people. Who would give us real quotes. Which we would then insert into the rest of our real story. It was awful.

I used to be afraid to talk to people. I'm extremely introverted, and would be happy to read a book all day. I'd even be happy to work on a writing assignment--even for my crazy professor. If it just involved writing. No interviewing, no talking to strangers. No finding a stranger to talk to, then talking to him.

It wasn't that I didn't try. Each week my professor would give us the assignment, and tell us where to go to get the interview. And each week, I would take the subway to the courthouse, a community centre, even to The CNE during the Royal Winter Fair, wherever we had to go that week. I'd walk around for hours trying to get my nerve up to talk to someone--anyone. But usually, my nerves would win out and I'd return home, or to school, without the quote. And then I'd have to go back the next day (because we often had at least a couple of days to do the story, so I was able to, unfortunately, procrastinate). It wasn't that I didn't want to do the assignment. I loved writing the story and I could usually do it within an hour. The problem was getting the real facts and the real quotes.

Thankfully, after a few weeks we had to start turning in the story by the end of the day, so I wasn't able to procrastinate, at least, not as much, anymore. I couldn't go home, eat cookies, and go back to the courthouse the next day to try again. I had to find someone to talk to me. At most, I could duck into the high-crime courtroom for a few minutes, but usually, the guilt of avoiding the task at hand would taint the experience and I'd force myself to return to the parking ticket courtroom in session. The problem was, I knew how I wanted to the story to play out, both sides, controversy, angle, and all that. But because I was so shy, I just wouldn't ask the right questions (or enough questions) to get the source to tell-all, or even to give me an A-worthy quote. So I'd just make it up. Not the whole story, just some of the quotes. I'd just make the source sound much more intelligent than he really was. I'd make him reveal his passion for parking in places he wasn't supposed to, his contempt for the convenience store that called the authorities.

It was so wrong, but finally, that course ended and I moved on to magazine writing, where I realized that it is possible to write stories about topics I found interesting and that real people actually have more fascinating quotes than I could ever make up. Oh, and I also learned to bargain with myself. Get the real quotes, go to Second Cup for hot chocolate. Finish the story without making anything up, buy myself a new handbag.

It worked. And my fiction journalism days were over.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A dead body request

One of my favourite author bloggers – Maureen Johnson - has written a hilarious post today and letter to the Law & Order dead body division, asking if she can be considered for the role of a dead body in an upcoming episode, and she needs help getting the word out so that someone at Law & Order will read it.

It's her birthday today and she wants to make this wish come true by her birthday next year. So read the post and forward it to everyone you know.

Even if it wasn't her birthday, she should totally get to do this because she's so ridonculous (in a really good way).

Good luck, Maureen!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Book #3: Eat, Pray, Love

Well I gave myself a deadline of finishing this book last Friday, when I was seeing the friend who lent it to me. But I didn't finish it. Then, I told myself I'd finish it by Tuesday when I was seeing her again. And I didn't, which is just so ridiculous. Whatever. Thankfully, she said to me, "Stuck on India?" Which I was. I mean, meditating takes a lot of patience, but try READING about someone trying to meditate for 36 chapters. Okay that's not true - it was totally engaging, it's just that I was trying to read that section on the treadmill while A Different World was on the TV. Now I'm definitely not saying that Whitley and Dwayne are more interesting than spending four months in an Ashram in India, but well, I'm easily distracted. Anyway, I made it through and I'm so glad I didn't put it down. The book is a memoir (I love a true story!) of a woman (the writer, Elizabeth Gilbert) who, after getting divorced, decides to spend some "I" time, by travelling for one year, stopping for four months each in Italy (where she eats), India (where she prays) and Indonesia (where she falls in love), and what could be more romantic than reading a true story about falling in love on Valentine's Day. And what could be more exciting than finishing Book #3 this year?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

20 Book Challenge 2006

As I've stated before, my goal this year is to finish books. And then today, Scarbiedoll posted that her goal was to read 20 books this year. Twenty books actually doesn't seem like a lot of books, but Scarbie said that last year she only read 15 (which she could REMEMBER and wrote really thoughtful reviews on). And then I started to think about how many books I actually read last year and when you try to list them, 15 is actually a lot, because that's more than one book a month, and while I can read several books on one vacation, as I've mentioned before I'm still battling the book flu, which knocks the book out of my hand midway through (usually somewhere in the mid-200s) and I never pick it up again, so I never know how the book ends.

So this year, given that I'm trying to free myself of this book flu bug by finishing books, I'm going to also challenge myself to read 20 books this year. Surely I can do this. I've got two down, already, and a third on the way. Of course, we know what that means, since I could just as easily put the third book down as finish it (and today, when I read only 4 pages on the treadmill before deciding to instead stare blankly at the TV screen that had A Different World with subscript - but seriously how could I NOT watch Whitley and Dwayne and Jelisa even if it was the season after Lisa Bonet left the show). But I am seeing the friend who lent me the book on Friday and there's no better incentive than to finish the book so i can give it back.

And if I finish book #3 (I mean, WHEN I finish book #3) by Friday, I'll be well on my way to reaching the goal, since that means I'll be averaging more than one book a month.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Where's the fire?

Every day, I walk past my favourite grocery store (which shall remain nameless, but rhymes with "Ali Babba" ). The Ali Babba is at the base of my condo building so I walk past it every day when I leave or return to the condo. Year-round, there are green stands outside the door. In the summer, they are filled with fresh strawberries, avocadoes, cantaloupes and watermelons. In the fall come pumpkins and gourds. At Christmas there are those funny birch reindeer and Christmas trees. Now, there's firewood. There's been firewood for about a month and a half, since the start of the new year, and I walk by it every day, never thinking much about it, until yesterday.

Why is the Ali Babba selling firewood? I can understand the selling of firewood at a grocery store, that's not it. But at a grocery store that's at the base of a condo building, across the street from three condo buildings, beside a hotel, down the street from another half-dozen condos and otherwise surrounded by one-off apartments above storefronts. There's not a house in sight. So either there's an alternate use for firewood (other than for making a fire) that I don't know about, or there are condo suites with fireplaces. And if so, I want one! A fireplace, that is.

In Stuck in Downward Dog, Mara has a soft spot for fireplaces, which I share. Right after I graduated from university I moved into an awful, small, ridiculously laid-out apartmnent (the kitchen was bigger than the bathroom, bedroom and living room put together, and I don't cook). But I fell in love with the place because there was a fireplace in the bedroom and it seemed romantic. Only it was romantic at all, because it wasn't even a fireplace, it was just an alcove that had been tiled over. There wasn't even the option of it being a fireplace since if there had ever been a flue it had been filled in with drywall. What was worse I couldn't even make it into a fake fireplace with candles because the only place my bed would right up against the "fireplace", which hid it from view. So it was either no bed or no fake fireplace.

Today, when it's blizzarding outside, wouldn't it be nice to just stay home and sit in front of a warm, pretty fire with a mug of hot chocolate? Just walking past the firewood after work gives me a hint of that feeling. Of finally being home, and being able to go inside, where it's warm and cozy, with no reason to go back out into the storm. Maybe that's why the Ali Babba has the firewood on display. Maybe no one ever buys it, but that way, the stack never diminishes. It's there, like a beacon of hope, indicating that you're almost home. At last.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Baggy shoes

My shoes are baggy shoes. I'm concerned that my feet have been channeling Nicole Richie or Posh Spice's diet regime (which, I've heard, consists of not eating, which is a fairly easy regime to follow, considering there are no decisions to make, obscure groceries to buy, weird meals to concoct), and may have an eating disorder (one sign of an eating disorder is wearing baggy clothes, so if my feet did have an eating disorder it would make sense why the shoes are baggy, but none of my other shoes are baggy, so I don't think that's the case).

These shoes are so baggy, that I have to clench my toes into them to keep them from falling off in the middle of the street. This makes for an unsual shuffle-type walk that not only gives me toe cramps but also looks ridiculous, I'm sure. But, they are cute shoes! And, they're low heels, which, if you're going to wear heels through the snow, ice and slush, is a more practical way to go.

Since there seems to be an answer for everything on (such as How to Date a Pisces, one of my favourites), I looked up how to shrink shoes. There is no solution. But there is an article on how to give your shoes a little wiggle room, which includes the following steps:

STEP 1: Get two ziplock freezer bags and fill them with water. Make sure that the ziplock bag is secure. Remember, green and yellow make blue
STEP 2: Take the ziplock bags and place them inside the shoes. The water will naturally mold to fit the inside of the shoe
STEP 3: Take the shoes and place them inside the freezer for 2 days. The water will expand as it turns to ice.
STEP 4: Finally, pull the ziplock bag out and try your shoes on.

This seems so weird to me. Don't things shrink when they're cold? My feet shrink when they're cold, and expand when they're hot, so how does this method work? And if it does work, does that mean I should heat my shoes to shrink them?

I think this calls for a beach vacation in a sunny, hot destination, where I can wear my shoes on the beach until they shrink.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Book #2: Blink

So despite my attempts to break my New Year's Resolution to Finish Reading Books That I've Started Reading (which I modified to be "Finish Books That Are Worthwhile Finishing That I've Started Reading"), I have just finished Book #2: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

And I've already started Eat, Pray, Love. I'm out of control. What's next? Finishing a book in one weekend?

We'll see.