Stoner by John Williams-Impressions

I have a weakness for books,

with colleges or universities as settings.

Ditto for,

all boys schools and all girl schools.

Goodbye Mr Chips, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie,

A Separate Peace, Tea and Sympathy,

a total sucker for them.

I love teachers and academic types.

Perhaps in the heart of BB lies a dormant teacher?

We will never know:-)


Stoner by John Williams,

a touching and inspiring book.

I don’t mean sappy or uplifting,

I mean touching.

William Stoner, is a Midwestern farmer’s son,

he goes to the University Of Missouri,

to study agriculture.

His father and the county agent,

think it’s a good idea,

the land isn’t what it used to be,

and perhaps these new scientific ways,

will help.

William is a dutiful son,

a quiet man,

if his father thinks he should,

he should.

William works hard on a cousin’s farm and,

 studies hard,

 soil chemistry and such.

In his second year,

something happens,

he falls in love with,


He changes his course of study,

he is not tortured about it,

he just does it,

 he must.

He goes on to get his graduate degrees,

and becomes an assistant professor.

He marries a woman he loves,


 it is not a happy marriage,

his wife is deeply troubled.

He stays with her, she needs him.

He has a daughter who he adores.

He teaches for forty years,

without great success or fanfair.

He retires and soon after passes away.

I realise this makes it sound grim or even boring.

But, it’s not.

William, is an inspiring character.

He does nothing really out of the ordinary,

no heroics or Everest climbs,


he follows his bliss.

Something we should all aspire to.

There is no rebellion or dramatics,

he just lives for his passion.

His is a quiet success,

 a personal success.

A life of the mind.

What is utterly fascinating about William,

is that on appearance,

 he is a square, conventional man.

He isn’t,

 he loves classical and medieval literature,

and spends his life exploring and teaching it.

A conventional man would have,

gotten a degree in agriculture,

returned to the family farm,

and married the neighbor’s daughter.

He has an imperfect life,

we all do,

there are glitches and jealousies and rivalries,

there is a passionate love affair that must end,

and yet he is happy,

he does what he loves.

Deeply moving and masterfully written.

NYRB Classics are right to include it in their series,

more people should read it.

Stoner is a tragic hero worthy of Willy Loman.

I don’t do it justice.

I am glad I read it.

Later girls


Brideshead Revisited, impressions

I finished Brideshead Revisited.

This is my first Evelyn Waugh,                                         

apparently his stuff is usually,

biting and satirical.

Brideshead, is a sweeping novel,

and deals with multiple themes.

The downfall of British aristocracy,

the influence of faith in our lives,

the nature of sin,

love in all it’s forms,

the powerlessness of man in the face of war.

A book that must be read,

 slowly and with attention,

no throw away trash.

It took the better part of a week to get through,

not because I didn’t like it,

or contemplated giving up,

I didn’t,

it was the complexity of the themes,

and of the characters.

I really don’t think this novel is for everyone,

but I am glad I read it.

I enjoyed the layers and trying to figure it out.

The narrator is Charles Ryder.

At the start of the novel,

Ryder is a captain in the army,

his unit is moved to an estate and,

 he realises that it is,


the estate of his friends the Flytes.

In the second part,

which is flashback,

Charles meets Sebastian Flyte at Oxford.

They become friends,

almost more than friends.

Sebastian is a strange and intriguing man,

 he carries around a teddy bear named Aloysius,

he has a love/hate relationship with his mother,

and with his church,

the Catholic Church,

he drinks way too much.

Charles and Sebastian,

share a special love for each other,

they are not lovers,


there is a strong homoerotic feeling.

In the final part,

Charles becomes involved with Julia,

Sebastian’s sister.

I hesitate to say more,

about the plot,

actually there isn’t much plot,

it’s more about feeling and atmosphere,

ideas and theology,

a representation of a world that no longer exists.

Brideshead, should be a slow read,

a savoured one,

for a sunday afternoon when you have time and,

are in the mood for something,


Worth your time,

if you are interested in British society,

as it was between the wars,

and in the nature and meaning of sin.

I think I will be grappling with it’s meaning for some time.

Maybe a re-read candidate for next year.

Later girls


The Bookshop

I believe most of you know by now,

I own a used bookstore.

It’s small and honestly,

 kind of dusty but,

it’s mine.

I love books and,

 book lovers?

They are my people,

my tribe.

I read books about books and bookshops,

 with a genuine interest.

A few months ago,

 I saw references to The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald.

Probably on one of the British book blogs that I peruse.

On my last library visit I looked it up and took it out.

It is with anticipation nearing excitement that,

 I started it early last week.

It wasn’t what I expected or perhaps,

 more accurately,

what I needed.

Some of my favourite reads of the last few years,

have been set in bookstores or been about them,

it’s a passion.

I won’t bore you again with how much I love,

 84 Charing Cross Road.

I will however say that Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s,

 The Shadow of The Wind,

is one of the most imaginative novels I have ever read.

I read several memoirs of bookshops and bookshop odysseys,

Time Was Soft There,

Jeremy Mercer’s memoir of time spent at the mythical,

Shakespeare and Company in Paris. 

Shakespeare And Company by Sylvia Beach,

the woman who founded the original bookshop in 1919 and,

 published James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The Yellow Lighted Bookshop,

 Books v. cigarettes, a series of essays by George Orwell,

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry.

All this to say,

 I like the genre.

I usually find them to be funny and uplifting.

Filled with eccentric, quirky people.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald,

is very well written novel.

It is a subtle book,

about a small town in East Anglia and the people who live there.

It engaged me and showed me a part of the world I don’t know.

But, it ultimately, made me sad.

It achieved this by being perfectly honest,

 about how the world works.

The hard working and honest people don’t always make it,

sometimes the snobs and the bourgeois do.

I wanted a David, convincing and winning over Goliath story.

That’s wasn’t what this book was,

 this in no way diminishes it’s merits,

just my enjoyment.

I was looking for an ode to the love of books,

 and the sharing of that love.

What I got,

 was a book about the great difficulty of changing peoples’ attitudes,

and how you can’t fight City Hall.

It left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I think this is a perfect illustration of what a reader brings to a book,

one’s life experiences makes a book different for every reader.

Forgive me for stating the obvious,

 and for giving away too much of the plot.

I just had to share what I thought.

Later girls


The International, an appreciation

Check out this blog,

it links and lists Queer blogs of all types in Canada.

I am proud to have been included in such interesting and diverse company.

Well, I finished The International by Glenn Patterson.

A good chatty novel.

The action takes place on one Saturday,

 in the International Hotel’s Blue Bar.

It tells the story of the people who work in the bar,

as well as it’s patrons.

A truthful funny book,

about a Belfast that no longer exists.

The very next day,

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association,

 would be founded,

 in the very same Hotel and bar.

It would mark the start of a quarter century of bloody violence.

The IRA era, the troubles.

What struck me most about this book,

is how ordinary peoples lives are affected,

 by political upheavals and violence.

This is not a political or a violent novel,

it’s about real people with real lives and real jobs.

It is about the whimsy and despair of everyday.

It’s beauty and it’s pettiness.

One line ran through my mind frequently as I read it:

There, but for the Grace of God, go we all.

The late sixties were a time of violent protest and upheaval.

Students all over Europe and North America,

 were attempting to change the world.

Nationalism and it’s violent manifestations,

were very present in my hometown and my province.

Quebec’s French Catholic majority,

 were very much a colonised people.

We were also under the thumb of the Catholic Church.

What is known as our Quiet revolution had started in the early sixties.

With the founding of necessary institutions such as a Ministry of Education.

Some revolutionaries inspired by the Irish, Algerians, Cubans,

took up arms.

They believed things were not moving fast enough.

Bombs were set off in mailboxes in bourgeois English neighborhoods,

and in National Defense recruitment centers,

these were considered symbols of British imperialism and American Capitalism.

Our version of the IRA was the FLQ,

The Front De Liberation Du Québec.

A British diplomat and Quebec cabinet minister were kidnapped.

Sympathy ran high for the revolutionaries,

until Minister Pierre Laporte was assassinated.

Quebec society did not become involved in long drawn out bloodshed,

 that would have torn our country apart,

as it did Northern Ireland.


 laws were put in place to protect the French fact in North America.

To achieve a better equilibrium.

The response has not been unanimous,

 and did cause political instability.

Some would even say,

 the pendulum swung too much to the other side.


 today Quebec is a more stable and prosperous society.

We have our problems,

many in fact,

but we are no longuer,

 the poorest and least educated part of Canada,

we were up until the mid-seventies.

On a par with Salazar’s Portugal.

After twenty five years,

the IRA and the British government ceased fire.

I don’t mean to draw to close a paralell,

just to say,

 talking and laws are a better solution.

This book made me feel for the people of Belfast,

and how brave it sometimes is to simply live your life.

Later girls


**I make no apology for violence. Oppression does however, lead to it**

Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein, a review

Bloody cold, making me cranky and miserable.

November feels like the longest of months.

I finished Hell Gate,

 and it is well worth the read.

A good tight mystery.

The plot centers around the shipwreck of a vessel from the Ukraine.

The women on board,

 were brought to New York under false pretenses.

They believe they are coming to the land of opportunity,

as domestic workers and restaurant wait staff.

In fact they are being brought in as sex slaves.

I have read a few novels with similar themes in the past few years,

a sign of the times,

 I guess.

What I like about this novel,

 is that there is no attempt to gloss over the horror

of these womens reality,

 and yet,

there is no sensationalism.

The plot contains many twists about history and politics,

 and the ongoing exploitation of women.

In keeping with her style,

Fairstein also educates us about the history of New York.

In Hell Gate,

 we learn about the origins of Gracie Mansion,

 which is the official residence of New York’s  mayor.

For me it adds a little extra to a strong contemporary story.

Always entertaining, the history is anything but dry.

The plot has many layers and is not predictable.

The modern crime novel,

 is a powerful tool for the discussion of ugly truths.

These stories need to be told.

When they are told with as much competence and compasion,

they add a very human texture,

 to the statistics of the news and non-fiction.

This is a real good read about victims but,

also about the everyday heroes who work all over the world to stop this kind of horror.

In Linda Fairstein’s world they are Alex, Mike and Mercer.

Good, smart people,

 sacrificing much to help others and,

 to bring these exploiters to justice.

They are also funny and cranky and human.

Fairstein’s novels do much to debunk the myths about the honour of criminals,

 and the ugly world of the sex trade.

She always makes me think and shakes my complacency.

Give her a try.

Later girls


A good, dark mystery by a terrific writer

The weather has been surprising, warm.

The Habs are on a winning streak.

What more could a girl want!

I have been reading the Bartholomew Gill,

Death of An Irish Tinker.

It’s really quite good,

top notch mystery.

It’s also kind of scary,

to think that there are so many evil people preying,

on the young and innocent and helpless.

Mysteries are fascinating,

 because when they are good,

 they show the ugly underbelly of society.

A snapshot of society at it’s worst.

but, also at it’s best.

Evil and good squaring off.


not the best reading to restore your faith in humanity,

or for the approaching winter.

Still, I enjoyed it.

I learned about the tinkers or travellers,

the Irish equivalent of the gypsies.

I love Gill’s work it takes me to Ireland,

not the Ireland of leprechauns,

the Ireland of grit and also of noble, smart, hard working people,

who try to make things right or at least punish evils.

If you are interested in a mature well written mystery a la Ian Rankin,

or even Henning Mankell give Gill a try.

Gill, was in reality Mark McGarrity,

an American from New Jersey.

He decided at one point to write about Ireland,

 the land of his ancestors.

He died a relatively young man,

 late fifties,

 in a freak accident.

He had forgotten his keys,

 and tried to get into his home via a window,


 hit his head on the pavement,

 and died.

Knowing this,

somehow adds to the melancoly mood of his writting.

His work deserves to be read,

his Peter MGarr is a strong character.

Perhaps his work is his portion of immortality.

I don’t mean to be dark.

Probably fatigue,

 and a slight case of November blues.

Next post,

 more upbeat,


Later girls


Biting The Apple

It’s a cloudy day,

 looks like snow is a real possibility.

I don’t know why,

 but I’m feeling strangely optimistic.

Maybe I should buy lottery tickets?

Maybe a voluptuous woman is about to drop into my life?

Oh well…

I am officially out of my book slump.

This week I read two books that I liked very much.

I have already discussed My Year Of Meats,

the other is Biting The Apple by Lucy Jane Bledsoe.

I loved this book.

It left me feeling buoyant.

The last book I read that I enjoyed this much was,

 Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw.

Oddly enough,

both of these novels,

 have former Olympic athletes,

 as protagonists.

Eve Glass, is a former track and field star.

She competed in the 1500 metre in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Eve had shown great promise and star power in Montreal,

 and was considered a real medal contender for Moscow in 1980.

But, 1980’s games were boycotted by the west,

 and she never got her chance.

Now in her forties,

 Eve is a successful writer,

 she wrote a book about going the distance,

 to attain success,

 and has recently penned one about Grace.

Like everyone,

Eve has a past,

and like everyone sooner or later,

 she must deal with it.

Joan is a freelance journalist,

 she knew Eve when they were sixteen.

Eve and her coach Nick,

 changed Joan’s life.

 After twenty five years,

 they are back on each other’s paths.

This novel is short and  dense.

So many ideas, so many themes and yet,

it is a flowing and thoroughly enjoyable read.

There are no heroes and no villains just people,

who live their lives.

With the past casting shadows, light shadows but,


Your forties are a time,

 when you wonder about your life path,

are you really living your life,

 or going through the motions set up

by the the road you took in your youth.

This book made me think.

Not a splitting headache kind of think,

more like a smooth reflective think.

The kind you have,

 after a really good philosophical talk,

 with your smartest friend.

Beautifully paced, beautifully written.

An enlightening quiet book.

No telegraphing, no cheap plot devices.

Real, organic.

Worth your time.

Track it down.

Later girls


My Year Of Meats, for The Book Club

 Good morning all,

 and welcome to the first installment of the bookish butch’s book club.

I came up with the idea of the Book Club,

 because two of the women who were in a club with me last year,

 moved to Toronto.

Since they were the founding members,

 the club fell through.

Instead of joining a local book club,

 to end up reading Nicolas Sparks or some such stuff,

 that I don’t want to read

I decided to host my own,


So without further ado…

I finished My Year Of Meats.

It is a good book,

 a challenge,

 not so much because it was difficult structurally,

 but because of the subject matter. 

My Year Of Meats,

 is the story of Jane Takagi-Little.

A documentary filmaker,

 who recently got a job with a Japanese  advertising firm.

Their objective is to sell American meat to Japanese households.

The way they intend to do this is,

 by showing the wholesomeness of meat.

The ad agency comes up with a plan,

make a television program titled

My American Wife.

Jane’s job,

 is to scout wholesome American families,

 and show through documentary and recipes,

just how healthy and All American meat is,


 the American empire is great,

 because it was built on and by, meat.

Promoting cultural stereotypes about the west and capitalism.

Jane needs a job,

 so she takes it,

 and we follow her journey and her discoveries.

The fact that Jane is half-American, half-Japanese,

 is essential to her understanding her crew,

who are from Japan,

 and the American wives and their families,

 who will become the subjects of the “documentaries”.

My Year Of Meats, is also in parallel,

 the story of Akiko Ueno,

the wife of the Japanese executive in charge of the program.

Akiko has been given the mandate by her husband,

 to watch and rate the television show,

also to cook the recipes.

Akiko is unhappily married and rudderless.

No life of her own, she is bulimic and miserable.

Her husband is crass and cruel and abusive.

The program brings her,

oddly enough,

to self-realisation.

Jane and Akiko are very different women,

 and yet,

 they both long for a place in the world,

 and someone or something to call their own.

I don’t want to give too much away but,

This book deals with spousal abuse,

 and the horrors of the meat industry.

The sick, criminally insane things,

 that people are willing to do,

 to make a buck.

Let me be clear,

I am a life long omnivore,

which means I eat meat,

 amongst other things.

For years I have avoided reading books like Food Inc and their like,

 because I knew that they would upset me,

 and make me question my ethics,

and give my conscience difficulty.

I am an animal lover,

and like most city dwellers,

know nothing or next to nothing,

about the raising of cattle, pigs and other animals,

 to be consumed as food.

I know that steak doesn’t magically appear wrapped in cellophane, but,

that is practically the extent of it.

          “Ignorance”. In this root sense, ignorance is an act of will,

           a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information 

           overwhelms and knowledge has become synonymous with impotence.

                   My Year Of Meats- Ruth L Ozeki

I’ve never thought of myself as ignorant but,

I think this sentence sums up,

the fact that I am.

A very upsetting and disturbing book,

these are not light subjects.

Strangely enough it also made me laugh.

The parts that deal with cultural differences and cultural stereotypes,

the sheer idiocy of the documentary for advertising purposes,

the fact that we all have secrets,

 some big, some small.

Jane and Akiko are well drawn characters,

 you care about them.

The secondary characters are all well fleshed out.

Some I Will not soon forget.

What I take away from this book?

A well written, thought provoking, multi layered read.

It deals with the ugliness of the meat and advertising industry,

but, also with the ever changing notions of family,

 and how everyone needs a port in a storm.

Worth your time and the effort.

If you aren’t a vegetarian,

 you might become one after reading this book,

I know it shook me,

 to my omnivorous core.

There is a queer element to this book,

 but I don’t want to give it away.

This book should be read,

 especially by us complacent meat eaters.

It is not a work of non-fiction,

 which is probably why it had an even bigger impact on me,

strangely enough,

 novels tend to make things real for me,

 because it becomes about people.

I give it high marks.

I hope those of you who read it got something out of it.

Those who didn’t,

 I hope this post made you,

 at least consider it.

This concludes the first installment of the Book Club.

I used a stream of consciousness type of structure,

 I hope it wasn’t confusing,

 and that it served it’s purpose.

 The Book club,

 like the blog,

 and indeed life,

 are works in progress.

Later girls


*for end of November The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman.

Good things do come out of Texas.

I love the fall, but, sometimes I think I’m the only one,

me and French tourists.

Very quiet at the bookstore this week.

Last night the Habs lost in overtime.

Yuck, what a bummer.

On the positive side,


 I met someone who I have been corresponding with for a while,

the delightful editor of,  Alexandra.

She was in town with her partner,

who is  just as nice.

We met for coffee and,


 it was as if we had known each other for years,

yakking away.

The magic of blogging and the Internet,

meeting of like minded people.

I’m almost finished Cadillac Jack and honestly, I love it.

I’m going to read more McMurtry, something about his style,

and colourful characters, speaks to me.

He makes me laugh and I learn things,

almost without realising it.

It has this good ole boy quality to it.

Cadillac Jack, is about an antique scout who travels all over the U.S,

in his Pearl coloured, peach interiored, Cadillac.

While telling us this story of Jack,

 and the antique people he encounters,

McMurtry, is commenting on the culture of acquisition and,

 the pillaging of National treasures by richer, more dominant States.

It’s not a new subject but, it bears revisiting.

Especially in this quirky and light way.

Everything should not be for sale,

to the highest bidder.

He also has a real sense of people and how they speak,

 an observer and chronicler.

His observations on political types and bureaucrats as well as the very rich,


Funny without meanness.

I find him just as interesting,

 as some of his eastern contemporaries,

Updike et all.

A whole lot less self-absorbed,

 and funnier than Roth,

 for instance.

Good things do come out of Texas.

I have read two of his books,

 so far,

and I intend to read more,

a keeper.

Later girls


Coffee Will Make You Black

But the only important thing in a book is the meaning it has for you; it may have other and much more profound meanings for the critic, but at second-hand they can be of small service to you.”

W. Somerset Maugham


 I finished Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair.

It is fabulous.

As usual my friend,

who recommended this book and many others,

 was right,

 she said I would like it,

 and I did.

 Coffee is a coming of age story.

I have, over the years read many of these types of books.

It is a genre I enjoy.

For a while when I was in High School,

when dinosaurs walked the earth,

were talking eighties,

I read many books by and about inner city black youth.

One sticks in my mind,

 Manchild In the Promised Land by Claude Brown.

This book left quite an impression.

It was about growing up in Harlem in the forties and fifties.

This was the first generation born in the northern ghettos,

their parents were part of the massive migration from the south.

Manchild and later the works of James Baldwin,

one of my favourite writers,

gave me a glimpse of what being black, meant.

Victims of ingrained, institutionalised racism.

Manchild was also about a boy of great intelligence and sensitivity,

who makes it out of the ghetto.

A winner, a survivor.

It was a bleak story that did however,

 contain hope.

Coffee Will Make You Black  is not like that,

 Jean (Stevie) is a smart kid,

 and she comes from a loving family.

You never doubt that Stevie will make it.

Her family has lived through the wars.

Her grandmother, in the south,

her parents on the south side of Chicago.

We are now in the 60’s,

 the freedom rides, the march on Washington, the war on poverty,

have all come and gone.

Things are easier for Stevie,

 not easy,


She has a real chance,

 if she can resist the peer pressure about sex and drugs.

Stevie is also struggling with her emergent sexuality,

is she “funny” ( Lesbian)

and if she is,

 will she loose her friends and family.

Stevie’s family have their prolems, her father drinks a little and her mother rides her.

But, they love her and each other.

I just loved  it,

it was inspiring in a quiet way.

It was also  funny.

No, hand wrigging teenage angst.

You know,

 this girl.

 has what it takes to surpass racism and homophobia.

The back cover says Sinclair is working on a sequel,

I’d love to see what happens to Stevie and Nurse Horn.

Fingers crossed.

A good read.

Not as dramatic as Manchild but, I suspect,

 it will be just as memorable.

Later girls