Thursday, November 25, 2010


You know, spending a lifetime immersed in reading, following, and teaching Literature can have certain drawbacks and even embarrassing moments. Let me explain. First, there's the cringe factor: every time I see usually a young person being interviewed on TV, there's inevitably 4 grammar faux pas or colloquialisms uttered by this individual. They are: I seen, like, basically, and "and stuff". "I seen" is a grammar mistake. It's I have seen, or, the not often used, "I saw". "Like" is like used all of the time. "Basically:" well, hey, it's a big word; makes you sound educated and stuff. "And stuff": I haven't a clue why so many people use this; it's inclusive, I suppose. It's handy because it keeps the person from elaborating. So a sentence spoken would go this way: "yeah, well, I seen 'em and thar like all dressed up in robes and stuff, basically putting on a show". Cringe.

I'm a compulsive reader---I read everything I see. It's a quirk I have, probably stemming from my early childhood when I had a little difficulty learning to read. I practiced daily on signs, notices, papers, etc.---anything with writing on it. I'll give you an example of my compulsion. Waiting in a doctor's office can take more than an hour sometimes, and while I'm sitting and waiting I'm reading all the signs and posters on the wall---many times. One doctor use to have a poster listing 100 things you should do to live a healthy life. I read all 100---many times. I'd groan when I had to go to his waiting room. Oh, it's not debilitating or anything like that, and I am relaxed and can divert my attention at any time, but as the time wears on I will eventually start reading signs and posters again. My wife counts. Yes, like that Count muppet on Sesame Street. My mother counted too; I didn't know that until late in life. My dad use to keep time to the songs from the always-on jukebox playing in a loop in his head. I read. You know, the mind is indeed a strange thing sometimes.

Sometimes my reading compulsion combined with being a stickler can result in a rather embarrassing moment. This is an example of that; it happened recently.

I walked into the office of a local garage wanting some work done on my car. The proprietor behind the desk was busy talking to another costumer about tie rods or the like. I waited my turn, and so, I looked at the wall, saw a sign and read. This was one of those changeable message signs with white letters seemingly stuck in certain grooves. I read it. The sign was stating the garage's policy, I suppose; giving its mission statement including privacy, integrity, and value. It ended by saying that they value the costumer alot. "alot". I've dealt with this word a lot in teaching over the years. "a lot" is TWO words, not one, yet many people insist on combining it.

I stared at the sign, and wondered whether it would be an easy maneuver to pull the "lot" away from the "a". The two guys were deep in the discussion on tie rods, and I had the time to do this, and saw a need, obviously. I headed over to the sign, but immediately encountered much difficulty in trying to slide the "lot" away from the "a". I tried to force it, it nudged a bit. The proprietor said to me, "Can I help you? Is there a problem?" I without thinking said, "I'm trying to slide the "lot" away from the "a". Then I quickly realized just how oddly strange my retort must have sounded. I wheeled around to face the two men who were now watching me with intense, concerned looks. I stammered a bit saying that "a lot" is two words, not one. That there's no such word as alot. Then I realized to my added embarrassment that that statement is not true, and I said, "Well, allot IS a word, but its spelled a l l o t, and means to give out, or to...ah, but this a lot...a lot is two words. I was just fixing..." The customer with crinkled brow piped up and asked me, "Are you an English teacher?" I sighed, calmed down and said weakly "yes". They kind of shook their heads, and went back to the tie rod debate. I thought that amazing. This odd behaviour is easily explained by the fact that I'm an English teacher. "English teachers, they do that sort of thing." But when the costumer had left, and I was still trying to nudge the "a" away from the "lot" , the proprietor smiled and said that he would fix the sign later. And I did get my car fixed.

Hey, I'm a granddad! We have a beautiful, beautiful grandson. Sometimes in life absolutely wonderful things will happen. This is definitely one of those times.

Oh, sorry, I didn't talk about books this post. But I will in the next. I would like to take the top ten books sold this month and explain why I won't bother to read them. That should make lot of people upset.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I've been reading many non-fiction books lately. I find the Fiction/Novel output to be seriously lacking these days. Perhaps it's just my age, or dashed expectations, but I find novels written today on the whole to be disingenuous, predictable, or just plan bad. However, non-fiction seems to have leapt to soaring heights. And that's good---for me. Sometimes, the real, true story is often more amazing than what is made up. It all depends of course on the author: his/her writing style, the subject being explained and discussed, the approach the author takes with this subject, and always the truth---or near-truth--- of the reporting. Non-fiction writers are never afraid to say that they or anyone else does not know for certain, and that's fine.

So the books I've read over the past three months are: 13 THINGS THAT DON'T MAKE SENSE (THE MOST BAFFLING SCIENTIFIC MYSTERIES OF OUR TIME)by Michael Brooks. this is a delightful little book exploring the many anomalies in science as well as in life itself. What is amazing about this life and with science that tries to explain it, is that whenever anything is almost totally covered and understood there is always some part that is still a puzzlement. And that goes along with just about everything. How many times have you heard doctors or scientists say that something works but they really don't understand why? Or something happens, they can predict it, but they're not sure why it happens. These are the kinds of things Brooks takes on. His writing is quite natural, easy to follow, and personable. It's a good book, quite amazing really. An example: Did you know that life itself is an anomaly? They can break down life to all its components from atoms, molecules, and chemicals, but they don't understand what it is that animates it all into a breathing, thinking being. Interesting.

WAR by Sebastian Junger. Junger is the author of THE PERFECT STORM, a wonderful book made into an excellent movie a few years ago. In WAR Junger follows a single platoon based at a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan. It's a disturbing book chronicling the lives of very young men in a hellish place. He tells how they wake up from a disturbed sleep, have coffee, grab their rifles and return fire at the hills where fighters are practising their skills shooting at the Americans. Unbelievable. These are just young men on both sides fighting a senseless and stupid war. It's a very powerful book.

THE TIGER by John Vaillant. John Vaillant also wrote THE GOLDEN SPRUCE which won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction---a great book. In this book he takes on the Siberian Tiger in north east Russia. It's an amazing book about a region---the Primorye---in eastern Russia where not many people from the West know about, and the rapid decline of the Siberian tiger in that region. The tiger is being killed by poachers in staggering numbers. But it also is a story of a hunt for one particular tiger who has targeted humans, and who shows such cunning and obsession that the scientists had to revisit this species to see if it is as intelligent as it appears to be. Vaillant's writing is smooth and enjoyable although he tends to over-dramatize certain situations, and drag impending climaxes out for effect. It's sometimes annoying.

THE WAVE, by Susan Casey. I'm reading this now, and have reached to halfway point. I'm enjoying the realizations of the mysteries of the ocean, and the waves. Again, scientists are unsure why there is certain Rogue Waves or Freak Waves going on in the ocean, but they are there and many ships every year are going to the bottom because of them. Interesting. The only thing I really don't like about this book is the amount of time she spends on Surfing and surfers. I don't think that this is necessary, for me anyway. Also her writing is very plain, and sometimes awkward. But it is a very interesting and well researched book.

HITCH 22 by Christopher Hitchens. I'm not into biographies, autobiographies, or memoirs. I'm really not interested in other people's lives, I'm barely interested in my own. So, even though it is so well written, and thought provoking, I found myself dreading to get back to it. I do like Hitchens though. I'll get back to him in a later post.

My wife is reading THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST, by Stieg Larsson. She won't tell me anything about it, even though she knows I liked the movie so much and am now interested. We are going to watch the second movie next weekend. Cool.

I'll be back soon. Busy weeks ahead. Keep reading.

Monday, September 20, 2010


This is a bee story; it goes like this...ahem. On a beautiful, sunny July morning, I made my way to the old barn in the backyard. Oh, by the way, I love my barn. It's old now---like me---and is imploding in on itself(like me, too), boards are discoloured and rotten around the base and in certain areas of the backside wall. It stinks also(unlike me), but it has a nice country stink which is pleasing to the discerning nose. I like my old barn a lot. My wife says that the old barn has to go, and will be replaced in the Spring. I guess she's right: the old barn ain't what it once was...then neither are we all, I guess.
Anyway, I opened the creaky door to the old barn---it protests every morning when it has to behave like a barn. Sad. The night before I threw in a rather large quantity of rope---really good rope--- which is now right in front of the opened door. Oh, by the way, I actually found that rope on the beach a few months ago while out one early morning for a stroll in the sand. I think it came from the fishing boats. They lose a lot of paraphernalia while endeavouring to catch a fish. This is very good quality rope of high value and cost, I'm sure. I carried it the whole length of the beach to my car, and shoved it in the trunk. Now it's in the barn next to the other 5pieces of rope I found the past years. Anybody want some rope? My wife asks me why I need so much rope? I tell her that you never know when you will need enough rope to hang yourself or rope a cow. It's a good answer because "need" is ambiguous. I will be going to the beach this week; maybe I'll find some more rope, hope so.
Anyway...where was I?... oh, yes. This rope which I actually needed just yesterday was in a heap on the floor in front of the now opened door of the old barn.---you with me? I leaned down to pick it up and wind it in a circle....oh, by the way, not many people know how to do this: wind rope in a circle, I've found. I learned how to do this from my mom who would always ask me to wind the clothes line up when she finished drying them---the clothes, I mean.
Ah, I leaned down to pick up the rope when I heard a buzzing sound. It was a frantic buzzing sound; a buzzing sound of distress, of panic. I looked over to the corner of the front door where I believed this angst-ridden sound was emanating and I saw a bee, a big bee, who seemed to be caught in a webby, dirty, entanglement and was trying really hard to get free. I put my hand down and with a couple of sweeps cleared all that nasty stuff away. The bee flew a bit to the front of the barn and dropped down on the cement block. Once there she (the bee) seemed to be pruning herself and giving her wings a few revs. She was coming out of shock, I think. I was winding the rope---which I can do quite well, by the way, and watching her go through her system checks. She was there quite a while. I wondered if she was all right.
Then this bee flew up and around the yard in a full circle, and headed back to me. She seemed to be OK, all systems good. I stood watching her coming closer to me, closer and closer. I didn't move, and she stopped and hovered right in front of my face---just for a few seconds. She was hanging in mid-air just a few inches from my nose. We were eye ball to eye ball yet I couldn't see her eyes because my aging eyes are not that good lately. Then she turned and flew over the house and was gone.

I thought it odd. I went in to tell my wife.

After I explained the whole scene without too much embellishment, she said this:

WIFE: So, what are you thinking? Why are you telling me this? What did you think happened?

Bernie: Well, it looked to me... well, it seemed...well, what do you think?
W: You're thinking he, this bee, thanked you, aren't you?
B: It sure seemed like that.
W: He didn't thank you, Bernie. He an insect, not a human. He doesn't know "thank you".
B: Worker bees are females. It's a she. She thanked me.
W: He was...SHE was probably deciding whether to sting you or not. (laughs)
B: How do you know that she wasn't thanking me? We don't know these things, you know.
W: OK, maybe he...
B: she
W: she was thanking you, but you don't know for sure. So, I wouldn't tell people that he..she.. this bee actually said "thank You". OK? Just don't tell people that. OK?
B: Why?
W: I just don't want people to think my husband talks to bees. (laughs)
B: OK. But you know what? She's probably telling her hive sisters all about me right now.
W: Oh, good lord.

I had a couple of books about bees that you should read, but I think I already mentioned them in a former post. Remember, bees are our friends. They're also fun to watch, and if they get really close to you, tell them I said hello.

Next: Tiger book

Friday, September 10, 2010


Way back, I think it was 1969, there was a rumor circulatting about that Paul McCartney of the super fab group The Beatles was dead. As fervent fans of the Beatles, along with being young and stupid, my friends and I took this news seriously.
We decided to gather all the evidence provided by our close inspection of album covers (You have to realize that the Internet was not available), and extra-close, discriminate interpretation of all the Beatles songs and solve this thing once and for all. It was an arduous task to be sure.
We all gathered together (there were 5 of us) in a house available at the time, and settled down for a full evening---and late night/early morning, if necessary--- of intense concentration and deductive reasoning which would ultimately lead to a truthful conclusion on this most important matter. We then would share this hard-won item of interest to the world---for a price, of course. We fortified ourselves with bottles of booze of various strengths, and other eye-opening "stuff". We deemed these necessary---nay, essential--- accouterments for our sojourn through Beatlemania in our quest for truth.

It WAS an noble endeavour indeed.

We started with ABBEY ROAD. The infamous cover shot of Paul in bare feet and out of step with the other Beatles. We played the entire album many times, all the time imbibing whatever was near and taking scratchy notes. We brained-stormed afterwards, coming out with actually surprising insights into the "true" meaning of certain lyrics and sounds. It was all very clever. There were times when we were quite sure we had it! but it would later fall apart for overlooked, obvious facts. The more we drank and other things, the deeper we dug into this now widening chasm of innuendos and sly hidden clues. It became exhilarating yet very tiring.

By 2AM half of us were asleep, the other half diligently soldiering on. We had actually gotten nowhere. The most enthused of us(a hyper-active person) came to the dubious conclusion that Paul's father didn't exist! That one took a while to process. It occurred to us after some time that if Paul's father didn't exist, than Paul didn't exist. WOW! That one would take us on an even deeper, scarier path. But I had had it and threw in the towel, as they say, and eased my way home. I had had enough of this nonsense.

We were to meet again in round 2 in five days, but it so happened that Paul addressed this vicious rumor publicly saying in effect that he's fine, living and breathing in Scotland right now. I received a call from our hyper-active friend who laughed at the announcement saying that it was not Paul who gave it, and that everything about this public announcement was false. He went into all the things he saw and slyly perceived telling him that Paul is really dead despite the article. I began to wonder just how close this is to madness.

The Paul's Dead thing was all a hoax. We know that now.

I told this story(all true) to underline the fact that conspiracy theories are usually baseless, and in a sense, inane. They take on a life of their own, and become bigger than the actual subject itself. Our brain has the aptitude and ability to read between the lines and see hidden connections. It's one of our innate and wonderful abilities. But when the subject is bogus, these so-called connections are all wrong, misleading, and at times silly, other times dangerous.

There's a whole slew of Conspiracy Theories on the Net, and people, especially young people, are wasting not only their time but their youth chasing these ridiculous scenarios. Sometimes things are what they are.

The Shakespeare Conspiracy claims that Shakespeare did not write all those plays. The people who follow this will say that since Shakespeare was just an actor and director and farmer with a public school education, it was impossible for him to write all those exquisite poems, plays, and to have such insight into human nature. They insist that they were written by a nobleman who went to Oxford and was present in Queen Elizabeth 1 court.

James Shapiro( my favourite Shakespeare scholar) in his book CONTESTED WILL takes this on, and does so in grand fashion, I would say. I can't see how anyone who believes this nonsense would feel the same after reading this book. But people believe what they want to believe and discard the rest, I suppose. I don't really want to go into all the details of this conspiracy for risk of boring everyone, but it can be said that there is enough overwhelming evidence to support Shakespeare as the true author of these wonderful plays. It should end there.
As a teacher for most of my life, I can comment on the education aspect of this conspiracy. It's a known fact that it is never the really bright student who sits up front and answers all the questions that goes on the greatness. It's the gangly boy(or girl) down the back of the room, looking out the window, slightly bored, and a mind that's far away in the courts of Henry V.

Shakespeare DID write the plays, the rest is nonsense.

Next: Summer mystery 1. This is a good one. I'm just trying to connect a book to it in order to stay within the perimeters of this blog. I promise this entry will be very soon. Really, I promise.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Summertime for me always seems to offer up certain strange, mysterious occurrences; odd sightings; baffling natural behaviours; and downright spooky events. I'm sure there's a logical scientific explanation....but, still. A good buddy of mine says it's because in the summer we are closer to nature than anytime throughout the year. And nature sometimes puzzles us. Yes, that could be so, or just maybe this reality of ours is not that solid as we think it is. Maybe the ancients are right to say that our reality is an illusion. However, we will leave that for our philosophers.

On a rather hot summer's day just last week, my wife and I harvested our string beans, and picked out two tomatoes off our thriving plants. We had dinner with these fresh vegetables mixed in a salad. Later that day when it cooled off we walked across the road and picked two liters of blueberries of which a portion was made into an excellent blueberry cake that evening. Life is good. Cape Breton is a great place to live.

Two nights before this bountiful day was a rough one, to be sure. The North East wind was blowing up a gale, and the rain was extremely heavy. I was heading for bed around 12 o'clock that night wondering if the house is going to hold and the rain to stay out. I heard an airplane overhead. It sounded like it was very low heading for the airport. I stopped and foolishly looked up to the ceiling wondering who could be out in a plane at this hour and in this weather. It actually bothered me. The next day there was a news announcement that a small plane was lost over the ocean, and that SAR were sending helicopters to look for debris. I couldn't get it out of my mind.

That day when my wife and I were picking string beans and blueberries, the Search and Rescue helicopters were flying overhead raking the shore line looking for some sign of the missing plane. The whole experience that day was a reminder of how everything that's wonderful and wholesome can be tinged with tragedy.

I don't know if you have ever seen Bruegel's ICARUS: a painting of the middle ages where farmers and other workers are going about their day's labours not aware that Icarus has just fallen from the sky and is now drowning. The great poet Auden used this in a poem about how people do not notice human suffering unless it directly effects them. I thought of that often that day. But---and this is interesting--- everybody you talked to in those days were saddened and puzzled about this tragedy. It certainly didn't go unnoticed. People were really concerned, saddened and worried. Perhaps Auden is not right about this.

More about the mystical summer later.

Books my wife and I read and are reading over the summer are: tada--- CONTESTED WILL (about Shakespeare) by (my favourite scholar) James Shapiro. I loved that book, but was angry with some of its contents. My next Blog is on this. WAR by Sebastian Junger. An excellent book on the war in Afghanistan---more of that later. I picked up HITCH 22 by Christopher Hitchens. I haven't read this yet, but am looking forward to it. He's a wonderful writer and intellectual. My daughter gave me BEATRICE & VIRGIL by Yann Martel. I said I wasn't going to read this, but now I will. She(my daughter) liked it a lot and I value her opinion. My wife is reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson. She like it a lot and intents to read the other two books out by him. These books are blockbusters, sold everywhere.
She is also now reading WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte. I love this book; I'm sure she'll enjoy it.

Next: Shakespeare conspiracy

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Busy, busy. Between tending the garden, tweaking the roses who need constant care, rebuilding the old barn, watching our resident bee in her travels around the yard, running for supplies, watching International soccer on the TV, reading, mending the usual snafus that always arise in daily living, I totally neglected my blog. Sorry. I'm afraid I'm a poor blogger, and as a matter of fact I'm not much for the computer world anyway. Certain techie friends are exasperated with me telling me to get on Facebook and Tweeter in order to promote my blog, but ...ah...nah, I really don't want to do that. The computer is a "by the way" rather than a "this is it"!

Anyway. Books. Yes, I do enjoy summer reading but for whatever reason I enjoy it more when I have a book about the sea, and usually go in search of a book cover that proudly displays a clipper ship. I did just this with my wife last week. We sojourned on to Coles in a quest for the most exciting summer reading book. I had a list of books garnered from the Net in which I was quite optimistic I could procure at our only bookstore. I was wrong. None of the books on my list graced the racks of Coles that day. It shouldn't have been a surprise. Too bad, so sad.

However, I did find a gem---actually a few gems. I picked up THE LAST STAND by Nathaniel Philbrick. I also found CONTESTED WILL: WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE? by my favourite Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro. I also picked up two other books I found of interest on that day, but my wife intervened. You see, my wife, also known as the Finance Minister---deputy minister, too--- of the MacKinnon Family thought it wise, nay prudent, to ease up on book purchases in these tough financial times. Amazingly enough, with silent pleading from my doleful, blue, albeit aged eyes, which use to work so well in the past, did not deter her from her cause to save money. I returned the books. So sad. There was a deal on, by the way, where if you buy three books you get the fourth one free. I thought that an excellent plan. My wife did not, unfortunately.

THE LAST STAND by Nathaniel Philbrick: OK. Maybe this is not for everyone, but, good god, I'm so interested in Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, and have been since I was a tyke. What an amazing story. I read books by Mr. Philbrick before. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA and MAYFLOWER. He's an excellent writer of History. His research and unbiased approach as well as his flawlessly fuid writing makes for an enjoyable read. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I read other accounts of this battle, but Philbrick's contains the "Indian" or Native American side to a great extent. This certainly rounds out the picture in much better detail. And it always amazes me how difficult it is to find the truth or actual facts in such an incident when you have so many Human factors involved. It must be a daunting task for writers of history.

I visited the Little Bighorn Battle site in Montana way back when I was a young man on a free-spirited car trip across the American west. I was in awe---I was only young, come on. I was there at the close of day when the sun was sinking beyond the bluffs and sagebrush. A coyote howled at that exact time, and the hair stood up straight on my neck. Scary; and yes, I did have hair then. Anyway, this is a very good book for those interested in old American history.

I did manage to buy CONTESTED WILL by James Shapiro---just this week, to be exact. I'll let you know about it when I finish. I love books about the Bard, even though it's mostly conjecture since there is little they actually really know about this great man.

My wife picked up THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson. She wants to check out this latest craze. I'm not much into mystery books; I usually don't like novels with too much plot.

Next: I promise to be more prompt as a blogger.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


This is part of an argument I had witnessed recently. It is quite telling; it's also embellished---a bit. It goes like this:

...No, no, listen, you got it all, that's not the way it, but, you said she...that she... What? Where did you get that? Oh, that's a way off...listen, listen to me...that's not right, that's...But you won't give me a chance to explain...OK, listen, when she said that...well, she was only thinking that...she was only saying what she felt at the time of...No...but see, it doesn't make a, because...because there was nothing there...nothing...Yeah, well, that was the first time, and...but you're...listen!, you're stuck on this one thing, this one thing,! See, there you go again. this all has to do with what happened, what? three years ago? Unbelievable, no, I keep telling you that's a fallacy...that's not true. You''re...Oh come on, let it go. I can't believe you're...What? What'd you say? Oh sure, that makes sense now. No! I already explained don't listen...I don't know what else to say...See, see, you're doing it again. There's no sense talking to you when you are in this state...I've explained everything, and you won't listen. No, I won't! That makes as much sense now...OK. That's it then. You can go on and on about this...What? But you don' don't................

It goes on and on alright and gets nowhere. There is an art to the argument and has been written up in literature since the ancient Greeks. Aristotle of course is the master, who itemized all the important elements of the argument in Rhetoric. It's a bit regimented when you adhere to this form of argument, and doesn't go down well when you tell your opponent that his line of argument is illogical. Mostly because nearly all arguments are illogical and nonsensical, I think anyway. Most people who revel in argumentation usually just like to hear themselves speak. I tone out quite quickly.

The world is filled with nonsensical arguments: Does life begin with the fetus? Should gay or lesbians be married? Is morality a religious concept? Euthanasia? Is Elvis still alive? Do blonds have more fun? The true nature and aerodynamics of angels?

There are many books on the Art of Argument. Notable is THE ART OF ARGUMENT by Aaron Larsen. Also THE ART OF ARGUMENT by the Cambridge University Press. You'll find everything in these books to further your skill to keep on topic and even win an argument.

I'm really not that great at arguing; I give in too easily. Sometimes it's best to do so when you realize just who you are arguing against. For instance, a mule will not listen or change its ways.
My wife and I rarely argue, if we ever did. She has that fiery French temper that I was mentioning earlier, but it seldom comes out on me. But she has a unique trick of turning an argument back on me which I find confounding. Such as: I'll be upset over something she said or did. I'll announce this upset at the appropriate time in a rather raised voice. She, in turn, will match my tone and criticism and stomp out of the room. This is done in such a manner that I will wonder what just happened. I'll follow her and say:

Bernie: Hang on, hang on, Why are you mad?
Wife: Why are you?
B: Wait now. I was mad at you first.
W: Why?
B: ...ah, I'm not sure now.
W: Well, when you find out, let me know.
B: But why did you say that?
W: Say what?
B: Out there, when I was mad at you?
W: I didn't say anything, you were the one having a fit.
B I don't understand.
W: You're just tired. Have you had your nap today?
B: Don't change the subject. I'm upset with you...I think.
W: No you're not. Let's go out to eat tonight.
B: Oh, OK. That'll be good.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I finished reading Ian McEwan's SOLAR a few weeks ago. It was amazingly good; I enjoyed it thoroughly. It seems a departure from his usual style, but nevertheless brilliantly written and interesting. The humour in this book was as precise in timing as a good stand-up comic. I laughed out load many times. I don't really remember McEwan being that funny, but it just goes to show you the extent of this writer's talent. As usual, too, his writing was crisp and smooth---I'd give an arm to be able to write like him. I would definitely recommend this novel to all interested in a delightful story of a deep thinking scientist who trivializes his life and his relationships. I think that if there ever is a moral in this novel it would be centered around the idea that when you focus on the big picture to a great extent, you miss the important things that are going on around you. And these in the long run are the most important. Excellent book.

But I noticed that SOLAR has dropped down on the best-seller list, which is a pity. I could never understand that list anyway. Yann Martel's BEATRICE & VIRGIL have been riding high on the list for some time now despite the fact that it received scathing reviews. This doesn't surprise me at all. I wrote about his earlier novel LIFE OF Pi in a former post. The novel left me wondering that maybe a better writer would have brought this all to a satisfying point. He certainly didn't. But there was so much hype surrounding this novel with web sites and facebooks and such that it began to soar---for reasons that elude me. Therefore, it seemed everyone waited with anticipation and money for his next venture. But it is all hype; the novel doesn't deserve that.

Another book---not a novel---that's taken off now is THE BOOK OF AWESOME by Neil Pasricha. It's a list of things that we all enjoy, like the cool side of the pillow, bursting bubble wrap, and so on. First, I absolutely hate the title and the overused word "Awesome", and secondly, I couldn't imagine a more boring book to read than a list of things that may or may not make you feel all fuzzy. It's a huge waste of time and paper, but some folks like this trivial stuff. I don't get it. Maybe someone should write a book called THE BOOK OF BUMMERS, and list this book as one of them.

I swear, if it doesn't start to get warm around here, I'm moving away in search of the sun. This Island is constantly wrapped in cloud, mist, fog, and dampness...oh, and wind---lots of wind. My Dad use to say that our ancestors chose to live here because the weather was like that in Scotland, but had no idea that there were sunnier and warmer place on this Earth. My wife tells me I'm becoming an old crab, so be it, just don't put me in that cold, damp, foggy ocean. Brrrr.

Next: summer reading---if we ever get a summer.

Monday, May 3, 2010


There was a definite concern within our household this weekend, mostly to do with books. While I am pretty well set finishing off Ian McEwan's SOLAR(excellent novel, more about that later) and ready to dive into FLAWLESS by Selby and Campbell, my wife is without a read. This happens sometimes. So my wife dug out a short story collection by Margaret Atwood, and proceeded to read them as if nothing is amiss. Margaret Atwood. Now as far as I'm concerned, this is a disturbing regression. One that requires immediate action. Then this happened:

I was reading the Globe & Mail Saturday evening when, low and behold, there was an advertisement from Chapters/Coles announcing a two day sale consisting of a buy one get the other half price. How wondrous is that? I informed my wife, and we planned a Sunday jaunt to the Mall, which we rarely ever do.

I must take this time to thank Heather Reisman for this unexpected joyeous shopping romp. And I must apologize to her for calling her 'mean' in my last post. Sorry, didn't mean it. I received a detailed courteous response from the VP of Chapters(posted in comments) explaining their situation and how everything played out regarding the Coles at the Shopping Center. It's just the way things happen, there's no one to blame. I thank her for that. But I wish that when they bed down for the night, when eyelids are heavy, and sleep is nigh, the idea of a Chapters in Sydney, CB, flutters by; and they say," Hmmm, good idea!" By the by, that the exact time you get your best ideas. That's proven, I think.

My wife and I spent well over one hundred dollars at Coles on Sunday. And the capable, affable young clerk at Coles took 50% off. Excellent, I must say. My wife got THE BOOK OF NEGROES by Lawrence Hill, and a couple of other bargain bin books. By the way, I picked up a 1st edition of a Joyce Carol Oates novel in a bargain bin this year. How cool is that? I bought PARROT & Olivier IN AMERICA, by Peter Carey. Carey is one of my favourite writers(Written up in an earlier post). We also bought a couple of books for a friend as a gift who is leaving the country for awhile.

Altogether a good experience, AND Margaret Atwood is gone back to her coveted place on my wife's bookcase. Good for Margaret.

Next post will be Ian McEwan's SOLAR. Fascinating novel.

Monday, April 26, 2010


(I've been away from my Blog lately---so sorry. Detailed renovations, heavy yard work in Spring, and a delightful, unexpected family news which has rendered me a bit giddy.)

OK. Coles in the Sydney Shopping Center is now closed! That's NOT good. I have to TALK to Heather Reisman about this, but first I must explain the situation. In all Cape Breton we only have(had) TWO bookstores, and they are both Coles. One is in the Mayflower Mall, and one USE to be in the Shopping Center. They are doing extensive renovations to the Shopping Center and Coles announced it was closing for good. I'm upset---so are quite a lot of people around this fair Isle. I'm really upset because of the following:

For years I have been trying to get the ear of Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo/Chapters, to listen to me. This is what I was saying: Heather buddy, I'm no business man, BUT I think it would be a capital (pun on that word) idea to close both Coles stores and build a Chapters on Spar Road next to the WallyMart. Employ all the people there from the closed Coles. It would be an excellent addition to our thriving economy, and provide easy access to books for children and us old folks. in short it would be a really good thing to do. I've been saying that for years now, sending emails to her, blogged it one time, letters to the paper, and to anyone who is in ear shot. But to no avail. Heather. She doesn't answer. And then this happened:

When my wife and I were in Halifax this past month, I heard that there's going to be a new Chapters built at Dartmouth Crossing. Now, that would make THREE(3) Chapters in the Halifax/Dartmouth area---hardly fair. To add to this unsettling news, I found out that Coles is closed in the Shopping Center! Any visions of a Chapters here are fading quick. Good grief. This is bad news indeed.

I don't know Heather Reisman personally, but I'm beginning to believe that she is a mean person with no regard for Cape Breton. Hey, we're nice people, and we read books too, well, some of us...a lot of us.

You can order books on line though, and get them here within a week. From Chapters. But I like better (Hear that Heather?!) But still it's not the same as perusing the aisles of clean, new, first editions in a well lighted store.
I'll say no more about this.

The second topic I wish to discuss is this: I(we) have about ten boxes filled with books sitting in the basement(recroom) with a stern order from my wife to turf them. They've been sitting there for a while now. But I've done this before, many times over the years. I've just given them to the library---CBU library, and the Regional. Sending clean, like-new, first editions to the library is akin to putting your favourite star-gazer lily in the compost. Ugh. But I've done it. But I'm not going to do it this time, and don't really know what to do with them. It would be nice to get some money for them, but that's not going to happen, I'm sure. I rarely make money on anything. During a Yard Sale one year, I was giving things away with a buy one get two logo. My wife told me it would be better overall if I just went inside the house during the sale. She tried to remind me that the reason for Yard Sales was to make money. Oh.

I actually don't mind sending the books on their way. I'm not a hoarder, and after awhile they begin to stack up. And my wife is such a clean and tidy person that if anythings lays about for a few hours unattended, she'll sweep it away out of sight to places you'll never think of looking. She's French Acadian, you see, and if you know anything about French Acadians you'll know that they are super clean. You'll be hard pressed to find a dirty house in Cheticamp. They also have that French temper, shhhh, we won't talk about that.

So. I still don't know what I'll do with those books. Maybe I'll send them to Heather! Yes! Good idea. She could send them on to one of the THREE(3)Chapters in Halifax. Oh brother.

Next: New novels just out.

Friday, April 9, 2010


When teaching Literature to my High School students, I would always try to explain the difference between Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels. They never really got it, and it always surprised me---I don't know why I was surprised. So I'm going to reprise my efforts here---just for fun.

It goes like this: Science Fiction novels always adhere to some form of Laws of Physics, either real or imagined. That means characters cannot perform their duties or exploits without a set of laws to guide them. These laws are either really governed by physics or they are made up to seem so. Example would be the Teleporter in Star Trek. The Teleporter is a machine that breaks the body down into all the essential elements, transports these elements at lightning speed to a pre-set coordinate, and reassembles the body back to what it is. It's cool, it's made up(doesn't exist in our reality), and I wouldn't go in it for Captain Kirk's hair.

I like Star Trek. I watched all the episodes way back in the 70's when it was rehashed for TV. I always worried about the Teleporter, and wondered how it worked. But in many episodes this darn machine was always malfunctioning. Scottie: "Captn, I canna beam ye up! The anti-matter facilitator is reacting with the sub-fusiliar causing gamma rays influction....." Oh good Lord, That's bad, right? That anti-matter facilitator is ALWAYS acting up! Good God! Who made it? Mattel? Then Scottie would run around with a Canadian Tire wrench in his hands to fix the damn thing before it blows up the ship and leaves Jim stranded on that hostile planet. This is good stuff, and I forgot my point. Hang on, I'll read my opening paragraph.

Oh yes. Well, this whole thing about the Teleporter is contingent on laws of physics and working parts, even though it isn't real. In other words, this story is based on science- real or imagined. Star wars is good, also, although you tend to cringe at the dialogue. The first three episode of Star wars only. Oh! Alien with S. Weaver is absolutely great. There you have a combination of Sci-Fi and Horror. Didn't we all jump when that thing came out of John Hurt's chest? I never saw him the same since. It seems every Space movie made today has at the very least one scene stolen from Alien. I'm off track again.

OK. Fantasy. You see, when you go into a bookstore, you will see that they divided these sections---Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Other bookstores put them together. In Fantasy there are no set laws to confine the characters, yet there are usually set behaviours. Example are standing in your backyard, you sprout wings right out of your back, take to the air, and fly to Halifax to get some home-made fries from that old bus parked on Spring Garden Road in front of the old Library. Those fries are the best in the world, by the way. The grease they use is so old, and so used, it carries the best taste ever. On a hot summer's day, everybody hangs around the old Library with its stone fence and trodden lawn to sip pop, eat those fries, and taste their equally good hot dog smothered in relish and onions. Mmmmm. When you sit there, you can watch that scrubby statue of Winston Churchill where the pigeons like to stand on his head and shoulders. I often look at Churchill. He's quite determined looking in his statue stature. He looks as if he desperately wants to break free, and head for the bus to get some fries. Poor man.
I like Halifax a lot. It's not like a major city really. It's like a big bunch of people coming together to shop and hang out and eat famous delicious fries.

I think I digressed---again.

OK. Fantasy is...ahh...Peter Pan. You know, of course, that Peter Pan is an allegory. You know, Peter Pan the man who never grows up but embraces life in all its forms. Wendy the sensible, down-to-earth woman who likes to throw a wet blanket on everything. I like Tinkerbell, the mischievous, delightful sprite who reminds me of Puck in Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. (Hang on, I'm trying to stay on topic here)

To sum up, Fantasy is just that: flights of fancy where anything and everything is possible, and not dependent on certain scientific laws. There done. Usually here my students are giving me that blank look, and I know they are all thinking about those fries, and how nice they would be right now.

I'm really not a avid reader of any of these genres. I remember reading A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert A. Heinlein way back when. I enjoyed it a lot. And of course, BRAVE NEW WORLD by A. Huxley. I remember my wife loved Zenna Henderson's ANYTHING BOX. And also the old novels by H.G. Wells, especially THE TIME MACHINE. But lately I have been reading Philip K. Dick novels. He's quite different, and quite delightful. I came to him after watching---and loving---BLADE RUNNER. That is an absolutely amazing, wonderful, and unusual movie. It has an aura of other worldly, and quiet resignation about it. Quite fascinating.

Anyway, I will revisit this topic in a future post.

Next: I have a bone to pick(My mother use to say that) with Heather Reisman. She's the CEO of Indigo/Chapters Books. She doesn't seem to be listening to me---just like my former students.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I like Adventure books; my wife, not so much. She doesn't like them at all, to be exact. I can never understand this bit of literary preference. By Adventure Books I mean those true accounts of extremely courageous men and women who defy all odds and the various curses of the gods to perform a dangerous and ultimately inefficacious deed. These books are quite amazing if written properly, and contain facts and enterprises that at first glimpse seem quite embellished and untrue. Yet, they are very much factual.You have to Remember that sometimes things that actually happened were so bizarre as to seem contrived or unbelievable. I believe it is this fact that attracts me to these books. My wife doesn't read them, as I say, but she hears all about them from me as I follow her around the house retelling each chapter as I'm reading. I thinks she enjoys that, but I've noticed she never stays in one place too long as I'm telling the story. I take that as excitement, and not being able to just sit and listen. Sometimes she actually goes outside. Sometimes I shout out the window to her, especially if there's a very exciting scene that I figure she should hear about. So we both enjoy this book, in a way.

My latest Adventure Book(I just finished reading it) is THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann. This book is a national bestseller that just came out in Trade Paperback. It's the true story of the legendary explorer Percy Fawcett, who spent almost all his life exploring the Amazon in the early part of the 20th Century. His last exploration, when he was in his late fifties(accompanied by his son), he completely disappeared. On this trip he was looking for the lost city of Z which purported to be hidden somewhere within the dense jungle of Amazonia. Z was actually Fawcett's code name for El Dorado. El Dorado is that legendary, illusive, metaphorical place where practically everything is made of gold, and riches pour down like honey on all who find it. It doesn't exist---at least it hasn't been found to date. It's like Shangri-la, the Fountain of Youth, Eden, and so on. These places reside only in our imaginations and desires rather then in reality.

However, Percy Fawcett, driven by his great desire for fame and fortune and probably bitten too many times by Amazon mosquitoes, believed in El Dorado firmly, and was determined to find it somewhere in the Amazon jungle before he died. It was madness. But the tragedy really is that Fawcett took his oldest son and his son's best friend along with him. They all perished. Fawcett had his son so brainwashed and so excited about this Lost City that it actually borders on abuse---I think, anyway. You may have your crazy delusions, but keep them to yourself, I say.

This is an excellent book for other Adventure Book lovers like me---and my wife. It's an unbelievable story of bravery, endurance, and unspeakable dangers lurking in the dense Amazon jungle. It's also a book covering the disturbing and unsettling topic of obsession. One thinks of Captain Ahab and the White Whale. If your into this kind of literature, pick up this book, you won't be disappointed.(That sounds like a blurb).

These are other books I would recommend for adventure lovers: INTO THIN AIR by Jon Krakauer. This book about the disastrous Mount Everest climb in 1996 is actually a story you cannot wholly believe, and a book you cannot put down. Excellent. INTO THE WILD by the same author was made into a successful movie. It's the sad story about a rather disturbed young man who went off to Alaska to live alone in the wilderness with fatal results. Others are: GODFORSAKEN SEA by Derek Lundy. This is a true account of the 1996-1997 Vendee Globe yacht race that went terribly wrong and claimed many lives. There are many other adventure books available. It only depends on your interests.

I will be picking up Ian McEwan's new novel SOLAR which is out now. I really like McEwan and have read nearly all novels by him. But I must say the last two novels SATURDAY and ON CHESIL BEACH I really didn't enjoy. Still I'm anxious to start this new one, they say it's one of his best.

I just finished THE LOST CITY OF Z, WHICH I mentioned before, but my wife is not home just now, so I am unable to fill her in as the conclusion of this great Adventure Book. She will be home soon, and I'm sure she's anxious to hear what exactly happened to Fawcett and his troop in the Amazon. I imagine her excitement is palpable; we'll see.

Next: Sci-Fi books

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


My wife and I went to the movies last weekend. We saw ALICE IN WONDERLAND, a Tim Burton production in 3D starring Johnny Depp and various odd creatures. I especially wanted to see it because of my affinity for this excellent children's novel by Lewis Carrol(I wrote about this in an earlier post). I set myself---and my wife---up for a major disappointment. I should have known better. The whole movie experience went this way:

We sat in the upper middle row of the theater, 3D glasses in hand, and mostly surrounded by noisy children supervised by inattentive guardians. My wife was munching on rancid(I'm sure) popcorn from which she would later receive an annoying stomach ache. I usually don't eat at the movies.
As the lights began to fade signaling the start of the movie but not before there are never ending reels of movie promos, public service announcements, and ads for award-winning Toyota SUV's, an older couple arrives and sits two seats away on my right. The female of this couple, whose girth made it challenging for her to wedge into the seat, was carrying a huge carpet bag bulging at the seams with something. I soon found out that this bag was filled with a variety of food stuffs and drink.
The main feature began(finally!) and we were prompted to don our big glasses. I found the 3D effect in this movie not as engrossing as in AVATAR.
From the opening reel, I realized that this rendition of ALICE IN WONDERLAND is not going to be, in any shape or form, loyal to the book. Actually, this was NOT Alice In Wonderland! I don't know what this was, or why Burton would call it thus. I settled down to be entertained, nevertheless.
At some point during the early part of this movie I could hear a lot of rustling, tearing open of bags, munching, and crackling. I looked over at the rather big couple next to me and noticed the carpet bag was now wide open revealing many carefully wrapped food articles of which our happy couple were now partaking with relish(They had that too, I think). As I watched them I could hear heavy breathing to the point of a snore. I checked my wife sitting on my left, and, although I couldn't see her eyes because of the glasses, I knew she had nodded off---not an uncommon occurrence. I would have let her catch up on her sleep, but the noise she was making was beginning to drown out the ripping at plastic and munching sounds coming from the ravenous couple on my right. I spoke gently into my wife's ear informing her of the disquieting situation. She---I presume---opened her eyes and said OK.
The movie sets and cinematography in this film were quite amazing, but went by so quickly you couldn't really get a good look at them. The dialogue was awful, the story was becoming predictable. I was mostly bored. I checked on the insatiable couple on my right; they were now opening Tetra-packs of juice, inserting straws, and making audible sucking sounds, and I think my wife has gone back to sleep again. I let her sleep this time. What's the use?
I watched the movie with a determination to see it through, but noticed my eyes were beginning to droop. I closed them for a minute---I thought. There was a huge "BOOM" which opened my eyes immediately. The sound was the music for the last Great-Battle scene, but I jumped wide awake saying "WHAT THE!" as I tried to grasp what was happening. The couple on my right with food particles on their face looked over at me annoyed at my disruption, and I could hear my wife chuckling to herself.

The movie ended---finally.

We got up the go, and my wife asked if we keep the 3D glasses? I said, "Sure. We can put them on outside and see the world in 3D! Oh wait, We DO see the world in 3D". We had to go out on the left side because that couple still had their glasses on watching the credits on the screen and still eating. The carpet bag was about three quarters gone. A day at the movies.

By the way, Alice in this movie was a woman in her twenties. Not portraying Alice as a child is a travesty. It underlines the great disregard and disrespect for this important children's novel.

Next: My orders to get rid of "old" books.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Predictability, the knack of figuring out what will come next, is a human trait that helps us "understand" the world and aids us in our social constructions. But predictability is not always reliable, and not always good.
In music, predictability seems to be very important; it's why we keep enjoying the same songs over and over again despite hearing it numerous times. While listening to a song, we wait for that great chorus, or guitar riff, or piano solo, and are quite satisfied with the experience when it's over. We may even play it again---and again.
In movies---I find, anyway--- knowing how things will turn out, and knowing that the movie is progressing firmly in a linear direction, bores the hell out of me. It's an age-old formula where the action and plot follow in a linear direction, and people seem to prefer that everything adhere to this discipline. I would think this acceptance of a predictable linear story line is why so many people watch all the CSI's on TV, and enjoy them, even though one episode is actually indistinguishable from the other.
It's the same with novels. One of the reasons I don't read Mysteries is that, despite the many twists and surprises inherent in the story, the plot does follow the same well-trodden path: victim found, murder case, detectives on it, twists and surprises, solved. Authors will in many novels strain to keep their characters on a linear path---this is contrivance, and it's quite noticeable. I usually see it coming. These novels are good if you only want a neat, nice story---with a happy ending.
It's interesting to note that when an author strays from the linear, and predictable telling of a story a lot of people have a problem with it. Some will discard the book entirely, others will pick it apart while seeming to be lost in their reading. The Canada Reads book by Douglas Copland GENERATION X is written like this, and is getting a lot of flak lately, and I'm noticing that reviewers really don't know what to say about it. It's written as a kind of mind set for a generation, and seems to resonate for that particular generation only. They seem to understand the characters and the actions, and care little for the non-linear style.
I enjoy novels that are character based and do not follow a set predictable outline.
I really don't think life in general is linear, even though we try so hard to make it so. I also think that our belief that life has a determined path(Determinism), and our endless struggles to keep it on this path, leads to unhappiness and anxiety. In that great novel ZORBA THE GREEK by Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba tried so hard to build the water conduit. He put so much money, labour, time and sweat in the building of it, only to see it fall to pieces on its first run. What did Zorba do? He danced. He laughed and danced---and drank wine.

Hey, let's hear it for HURT LOCKER. It is an excellent movie. Oh, there you have another example of a non-linear story. Many people were complaining that this movie doesn't make sense because it doesn't do anything---there's no satisfying climax. But this movie is amazing on so many levels, you have to give up your expectations, lower your predictability bar, and watch it for what it is. It's much more enjoyable that way.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I read a lot of books on historical events. I find them quite interesting and entertaining. You know the old saying on the difference between fiction and non-fiction?---fiction has to be believable. You'll read about absolutely amazing exploits and digest timeless insights with non-fiction. If the author writes with skill, it could be a very pleasant reading experience.

I don't really like biographies or autobiographies,I've only read a few over the years. I'm just not that interested in other people's lives no matter how famous they are or what they have achieved. They bore me actually. I find biographies are usually the same where this person has overcome great obstacles to become who they are now. But there's a lot of people who read only biographies. Whatever you like, just not for me.

There are two authors of historical non-fiction I want to cover here. One is Anthony Beevor, a British history writer who is excellent and whose books have captured many awards. I'm reading his new book now called D-DAY: THE BATTLE FOR NORMANDY. My wife rolls her eyes, but I find the literature on the wars absolutely fascinating. Anthony Beevor also wrote STALINGRAD and THE FALL OF BERLIN 1945.(I've read them both). He's an amazing writer who balances the statistical and tactical information(which can weigh you down) with personal stories and insights from the soldiers and generals themselves. Overall, you become amazed at the numerous stories and shocked at the sometimes graphic violence in these wonderful books.

This is just a note on history and the last great war, but practically the whole world got involved in WW11 which started because Hitler and Germany invaded Poland. The Allies did not want to see Poland occupied and came to its defense. The great irony of this war is that after five years of fighting and millions of people killed, the Allies let the USSR(Russia) take over Poland. Unbelievable.

The second excellent author is Erik Larson. He's an amazing writer who writes his histories in a novelistic style which is based on real events, but he doesn't take liberties with the facts or distort them in any way. I think he just fills in dialogue and some references which would be impossible to verify. Otherwise, it is a true history of events. He wrote THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY which I hear is being made into a movie and will be released sometime in 2011. It's the story of the Chicago Exposition in 1893. This is a Fair that actually changed the world on many levels. It was astonishing the "firsts" in practically everything we see and have today have come from this Fair. Quite amazing. Along with this story Larson Chronicles the gruesome killings of the first serial killer, H.H. Holms, who lived in the city at this very time. It's a wonderful juxtaposition that keeps you on your toes all the time when you are reading this great book.

I've also read ISAAC'S STORM about the devastating Galveston, Texas, hurricane in 1900 where the meteorologist at the time thought that it was a "crazy idea" that the approaching storm would do any damage. It did. The whole science of weather watching and meteorology changed greatly after this huge storm.
I also read THUNDERSTRUCK about Guglielmo Marconi and his rise to prominence in the wireless communication business. It was fascinating. I really didn't know much about marconi(in detail) until then. Larson again inserted a murderer, Harvey crippen, who was caught on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic mostly because of Marconi's wireless. I found that, in this book, I was more interested in Marconi and his inventions than the murders committed by Crippen. That was mostly because Marconi has a connection with Glace Bay, I guess.

These are excellent books; check them out.

NEWS: My wife has finished reading THE BISHOP'S MAN and absolutely loved it. She actually couldn't put it down, reading it during commercials when watching the Olympics. She said that it's excellent. I asked her about the writing, and she said it takes a little time to get his rhythm, but once you do it just flows. So there it is, an A plus on THE BISHOP'S MAN. I think now I may read it. I trust my wife's recommendation.

Next: books to movies

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I don't like figure skating. I have a difficult time assessing whether this is a real sport or not. My wife likes figure skating. She has no problem in assessing whether it is a sport or not. I was watching the Olympic hockey game last night and turning it over to figure skating during the intermissions, she was pleased---we do have another TV, but it is downstairs in the den and is too far away. The third period was coming on---real soon!---and she got up to go to the kitchen while this blonde-haired Swedish dude was doing pretzels on the ice. I switched it over to the hockey game. When she returned from the kitchen, she looked at me and asked me if the guy had finished? I said, "Oh yeah, he did a triple clutch on a broken axel followed by an inverted cowtao. 'Well done', they all said." She laughed, but I know she was waiting for the game to end. The Olympics are great---some of them.

This is interesting: My wife is reading Linden MacIntyre's THE BISHOP'S MAN and she pointed out something to me about the cover. First I have to tell you that my wife has excellent concentration and powers of observation. It amazes me always. When I'm around people I seem to always check to see who they are and what they are doing, but that's just my natural paranoia---checking to see if everything is safe. But she seems to see everything---signs, colours, directions, obstacles. She even overhears snippets of conversations. Amazing! At a concert let's say, I'll say to her that maybe we should go in now, and she will say no we can't because the couple we just walked past were talking and said the doors aren't opening for another hour. Amazing! I think a lot of people don't have an acute sense of observation anymore. Maybe people feel too safe.

Anyway, my wife took the book---THE BISHOP'S MAN--- over to me and pointed out the picture on the cover. The picture is of a rather tall man looking out over the ocean. The problem is the man's body is distorted. He's too tall with rather a smallish head. She said the cover has bothered her since she got the book, and it's true that the picture is distorted. I also noticed that the horizon is not straight. I've stood on many a beach looking out at the ocean and the horizon was always straight, except for those occasional times when my brain was chemically altered, but that was during the wild times and not to be mentioned in detail here---or anywhere for that matter. So I was thinking that the designer of the cover was making a statement about the Bishop, probably. You know, this religious man is out of sync with the world; distorted image of the world and his awkward position in it; bishops are aliens?; the ocean's blue?, I don't know.

I really don't know what my wife thinks of the book since she hasn't finished it yet, but she does complain about the writing, I know that. She says it reads like a journalistic composition trying to sound like a literary novel. That was a good critique, I liked that. She cited the lead sentence in chapter 2: "The sun was slow in '94." We both laughed. The sun is hot, the sun is bright, the sun will not come out tonight. I'll see what she says about the novel when she finishes. I'm not going to read it.

The other book written by a local author is CAPTAIN ALEX MacLEAN by Don MacGillivray. This book actually cost be about $80, no kidding. I love books about the sea, and this one focused around a character (Captain Alex MacLean) who was the inspiration for Jack London's SEA WOLF. Jack London was and probably still is one of my favourite writers. I've read a lot of London. I debated for a long time whether I should buy this book because the price was well out of reach. But my wife got some Chapter's gift certificates, gave them to me, and encouraged me to go and buy the book. I did. I have no idea why it was so expensive. I was terribly disappointed in this book. It was well researched, well written fo the most part, but it read like a University thesis. Everything said about the main character (Alex MacLean) was in quotes with footnotes to boot. You did not get a feel for this character, or even care about him after awhile. Too bad. And too bad I had to spend so much money for it. I have it here and if anybody wants it, you can have it.

Next: I think I said Historical fiction, but I think I want to discuss Histories or historical non-fiction books.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Well, you see, my wife seldom reads my blogs---for whatever reason, but it behoved her---for whatever reason, to read a few the other day. Very gingerly, she brought up a couple of things that...ah....concerned her. Mostly, the soft critique centered around the fact that she thinks I just might come off as a sour crank. Yet I saw no problem with that, really, but she pressed on further relating other people's views and beliefs which she believes should be honoured. uh ha, hmmm. I sensed a reproach, yet her demeanor belied no hint of a scold. I thought much about it, and decided to revisit certain topics and authors I smashed along the way to at least clarify.

Nostradamus and 2012: It really is bunk though, but I can give a benefit of the doubt if any one can interpret his quatrains properly without over-reaching and exaggerating certain terms. The Book of Revelations in the Bible is the same thing. But people believe such things and who am I to say otherwise.

In defence of myself, I'm a skeptic, a confirmed skeptic. I always think and truly believe that things are not what they seem, that any "known fact" is never certain, that every leading consuming topic is never as dire as they put it out to be, that you can pretty well cut in half these topics to get close to the truth, that there usually is an ulterior motive to get people to think along certain lines, and so on. It just human. And imagination.

My wife said I should explain that......I did.

Malcolm Gladwell: My wife said I gave this popular author of BLINK and other such cra... too hard a time, and that maybe he was actually on to a lot of important things. Well, he's not, really. I saw him being interviewed the other night on the telly. I certainly think that his easy approach to decisions, success, etc., reflects the Western way of thinking---that in order to get things, there must be a trick, or easy way. Life doesn't work that way, I don't think. There's too many variables along the way to say for sure that this is the only way to go about it, or that this is what happens all the time. It's a wild position. I always wonder what people educated in sociology or anthropology, and know and study these things, think about his simplistic view of events. I also wonder at his popularity.

I was also going to write a blog on Charlize Theron, but my wife said that it probably wasn't appropriate and on topic. I was going to say that I am much enamoured with this young female actor. Not only is she such an excellent actor in anything I've seen her in, she is absolutely a beautiful woman. Her radiant face is flawless, yet in her roles in movies she plays this down in order to reach the character she portrays. There are many female actors who would not take such roles because it would make them look ugly, yet Ms. Theron's objective is always the character she's portraying. She's a true actor. And beautiful with gorgeous eyes! My wife is right, so I won't write anything about Charlize Theron. Oh, I have to say that the problem with Charlize Theron is that her roles in movies lately are becoming redundant, but that's mostly because there's no good screen plays written for women. This has always been a problem for female actors. And it seems a blatant problem today with the movies out now. Anyway, I wasn't suppose to write all this.

So that's it, I think. Historical fiction next.

Monday, February 1, 2010


BEFORE THE BIG BANG by Brian Clegg is quite the interesting science book, full of information regarding the scientific study of the universe by astrophysicists and cosmologists. He lets you know just where the study is today and how viable it all is.Good book.

I made up a conversation between two scientists discussing this very thing. It goes this way:

1st Scientist: The universe seems to be expanding! What do you think?
2nd Scientist: Which means that it all came from one singular source. Right?
1st S: Yes, I guess so.
2nd S: A singularity, a Big Bang.
1st S: Oh. Can it be proven?
2nd S: No. Not yet.
1st S: But where did all the matter come from?
2nd S: It was made in the stars. But there is so much lost matter---the math doesn't fit.
1st S: Lost matter? What is it?
2nd S: Dark Matter. It's all out there, we can't see it. But it all makes sense if you put Dark Matter there.
1st S: Can you prove it's there?
2nd S: No. But it has to be.
1st S: What's driving the Dark Matter?
2nd S: Dark Energy. We can't see it, but it has to be there.
1st S: Can you prove that there is dark energy there?
2nd S: No. We are working on it.
1st S: What's causing the galaxies to spin like that?
2nd S: Black Holes. We can't see them but we know they are there.
1st S: Can you prove that Black Holes are there?
2nd S: No. But they have to be.
1st S: So we can't prove that any of these thing actually exist?
2nd S: No, but we are working on them. They'll fit if have to doctor the math to make them fit.
1st S: I see.

A very learned professor at University once told me a very long time ago that once you go outside our immediate solar system, everything breaks down and nothing makes sense. It's a puzzle out there, best not to think about it. But scientists are determined to find out just what all this is, and why it's there. They are remarkable men and women and have a huge task in front of them.

It seems to me that if we could find out what exactly gravity is, we could unlock all this. We know how to use gravity; we can measure it and predict its outcome, but no one really knows what it is. The key may be there.

Nostradamus: I've read Nostradamus many years ago when I though that this man and his so-called predictions were authentic. They're tenuous at best. He writes in quatrains, and these are heavy with odd pairings, connections, and words---it makes no sense. Example: "It rained blood and milk..." The word "milk" will throw you, but some people interpret it as something that is close to our reality. In other words, it is all interpretive. I think it is a waste of time reading him, he says nothing. Oh, by the way, he said nothing about 2012.

2012 is suppose to be the end of the world. I've gone through this scenario so many times over the years. This time it is based on the Mayan calendar which is so accurate and ends on December 21, 2012. Well, it had to end somewhere, right? One comedian said on TV once that if the Mayans were so clever, why didn't they predict their own demise? Good question.

People do go on with all their foolishness. But 2012 will be an interesting year---it will make good television. I think we are all safe.

I told my wife that they think the world will end on 2012. I ask her what she thinks about this. She said, " Oh that's just great, that's when our new car is paid off!"

Next: History books

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


You can see the mountains of the Highlands just off the point. They're streaked with vibrant white snow giving them a beauty that's almost indescribable. You can see them quite clearly all the way to Smokey Mountain. This sight is not always possible because of fog, mist, or just poor environmental conditions, but the thing is you can see them now with absolute clarity. My wife mentioned it to me the other day, and pointed out that in all the time we have lived here, she has never seen them in such detail. Maybe it was just that week, but this is a few times now that we've witnessed this awe-inspiring vista. Perhaps the atmosphere is clearing up, don't know, but It's quite beautiful.

I like winter. I don't think I'm alone in this. I like the cool, crisp air; the crunch of snow under foot; the snugginess at home on a blustery night watching a movie or reading a good book; the sense of survival or hibernation or shelter from the fierce elements. You don't want to go out in that, skin can freeze quickly. What I don't like is the wind---the Nor'easter. God, it blows; it blows hard making a groaning noise that no matter what I do, I can still hear it. As the saying goes, that wind will blow right through you. My wife knows of my uneasiness with this wicked wind, but doesn't bring it up as an issue. Sometimes, when she decides to go to bed early, leaving me quietly puttering around the house, and the Nor'easter arrives and announces its presence with a soulful groan and a threatening moan, I will join her, usually waking her up. "The wind", I'll say, in a distracted way. "I know, dear", she'll reply putting her arms around me. Hey, we all have our weaknesses. Mine's the North East wind.

My wife finished reading Stephen King's UNDER THE DOME---all 12 hundred pages of it---and I can't seem to get a decent response form her about this novel. I read a review saying that this novel was the absolute best book King has ever written. I wanted to know if she agreed, but all I get is that it was good and entertaining but definitely not his best. So I guess that's all I can offer on it. I don't think I will read it---I'll wait for the movie.
I'm now reading BEFORE THE BIG BAND by Brian Clegg. I'm beginning to believe, from reading this book, that scientists, especially cosmologists, astrophysicists, etc, are a strange lot. More about that in another post.

I read GALORE by Michael Crummey, and I must say I really enjoyed it, overall. Michael Crummey is a Newfoundland writer whose first novel THE RIVER THIEVES almost won the Giller last year( Did I ever tell you that I don't like that prize?). Crummey is an excellent writer. I was amazed at his writing skill, and his imagination. Outlandish, vibrant characters; fantastical, unreal world; unworldly events make up this amazing novel which all takes place in a small rural village in Newfoundland. The humour is actually laugh out loud.

The novel spans over four generations of families in this area, and details all their relationships and foibles. Amazing! But(You knew it was coming, didn't you?) I rarely read novels of family generations spanning hundreds of years. I just don't like them, usually. My wife loves these kinds of novels, though, and wants to read it next. I find I get a bit confused about who is who and who belongs to who and who did what to who in such novels. But Crummey actually has a diagram/family tree at the front of the book where you can check to see where all the characters belong in this story. I checked it often. Good novel, check it out.

Next: The universe and everything

Thursday, January 7, 2010


My wife and I spent the Christmas holidays in Halifax. I love Halifax; it's a cool city. We dined with family at somewhat fancy restaurants, shopped (she did, I don't like shopping) at fancy shoppes(fancy spelling there), visited a really packed Mall where my wife's coat almost got eaten by an escalator---by the way, that could have been bad since she was still in her coat at the time. It stopped the escalator dead despite the instant grumbling of those ascending people on the stairs. My wife, in her usual fashion, strode along head held high as if nothing uncommon had happened, carrying her now crumpled and dirty coat in her arms. I suggested that maybe she should report it, to which she replied that she wouldn't be able to devote the time to all the paper work involved. She had a point. We(whole family) ended the holidays at the IMax watching AVATAR. Absolutely fantastic movie!

And my wife and I spent a cold rainy afternoon at Chapters.

I must admit, Chapters is a great store, and on that day it was just filled with people buying books. Heather Reisman would be pleased, she's the CEO of Chapters/Indigo. Yes, and I would like to thank Ms. Reisman for this excellent bookstore, and the many discounts on books, but I still won't read her "Picks". Sorry. BY the way, there should be a Chapters in Sydney, Cape Breton! I've been saying that for years now, obviously to deaf ears because there seems to be no response. So here's my pitch: Hey Heather(if I may be so bold), call, email, text, tweet, me, and I'll fill you in on the details about said Chapters bookstore in Sydney. OK?

My wife and I spent around two hundred dollars on books that day---it was a delight.
MY wife got Linden MacIntyre's THE BISHOP'S MAN. I knew she would. She asked me if I would read it and I said no, don't think so. To be noncommittal about it, I'll just say that I grew up at a time heavily influenced by priests and nuns, and have had my fill with those people.
She also bought SOUTH OF BROAD, by Pat Conroy. He also wrote THE PRINCE OF TIDES a while back, a novel my wife greatly admired.
THE LITTLE FRIEND by Donna Tartt was acquired by her also. The author also wrote THE SECRET HISTORY. An interesting writer.

While we were perusing the racks, laden down with our selected books, a very amiable young woman who is employed at the store came over to us with a rather neat carrying bag we could use while shopping. The bag was brightly coloured, and very handy. We liked it. I asked this astute, helpful young woman if we could keep the bag, to which she replied---all the time with that winning smile---indeed no, you give it back at checkout. I thought, we'll see. At checkout, I informed the cashier that that this young employee told me I could keep the bag. The cashier said, "No, she didn't.", and she took the bag and threw it in a box on the floor. Well, that didn't work. Bright people these Chapter's employees.

Oh, oh, by the way, I neglected to inform you about an overt omission on my wife's part regarding the purchasing of new novels. It is this: She did NOT get Margaret Atwood's new novel BEFORE THE FLOOD. Aha. I see this novel actually went nowhere on the charts. So much for speculative literature, Margaret. Try Science Fiction. I actually brought this apparent oversight up to my wife when we were in the store. She said that she thinks she'll pass on it for now, and that she doesn't want to discuss it right now. OK. Fine with me, I responded.

I bought Kurt Vonnegut posthumously published book LOOK AT THE BIRDIE. It's a book of short stories. I read them all over the holidays. I must say, they were a little disappointing. These stories were not ready for publication, and I think they were written many years ago, probably when he was honing his skills at the craft. Every once in a while you could get a glimpse of his sharp, comic, wit--- a taste of what was to come. But I enjoyed them, nevertheless; It was just good to be reading his stuff again.
I also bought Carlos Ruiz Zafon's THE SHADOW OF THE WIND. I wonder if this book will put me in a spin like ANGEL'S GAME did in the summer on that hot August day. I like this author.
Also got BEFORE THE BIG BANG: THE PREHISTORY OF OUR UNIVERSE, by Brian Clegg. A science book. I know, I know, but I'm really interested in what the big brains are finding out about our universe. It could be useful. I've long ago expunged the word "heaven" from my vocabulary; maybe one could boot it to another dimension. My wife gives me that look when I read it. I say, "It's my never ending search for our rightful spot in this our universe". "Cute", she says.

Hey! this is my 50th blog! Thank you, thank you, I don't deserve it...really. I want to thank God...ah, no I don't, I want to thank my wife---my raison d'etre---
for all the anecdotes and silliness I retell constantly---life shouldn't be taken too seriously, we're just passing through, and after I read that book I'll let you know why we are here. I'm sure they know---that's sarcasm, of course. I do another 50? You bet.