Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy New Year

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I feel like I’ve been on my Christmas/New Year’s vacation forever and yet I can’t believe where the time has gone. It has been a wonderful holiday season for me this year replete with friends, food, fun activities and of course books. Santa delivered (too) many wonderful things to me as he does every year, chief among them eight out of the 11 books on my list.

In honour of a new year, the season of reflections and resolutions, I was going to do a “Top Five Reads of 2012” a la Globe and Mail and the like. Fitting though this would be for a book blog, there are two main problems: one, I rarely read books published in the current year and two, my memory is a bit like a sieve so if I didn’t blog about a book it tends to get lost in the chasms of my grey matter.

Alas, I’ve opted to post a different kind of top 5 – prepare to be enlightened!

Top 5 Positive Life Changes

  1. I quit my job.  My job paid very well but was no longer challenging, fulfilling or enjoyable so there really wasn’t a choice. Quitting was scary but probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; it opened the door to a world of new possibilities.
  2. I travelled. I could put this down pretty much every year but 2012 had some pretty special moments. I headed into the year in Vietnam, spent a week in Hawaii for a very dear friend’s wedding, booked a last-minute soul-searching trip to Paris, spent more time in interior BC than ever before and took a two-week long road trip with one of my bestest friends that put a whole lot of things into perspective. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  – St. Augustine
  3. I became a mom. Not to a child, but to a dog. People who don’t have dogs will shake their heads but those who do will understand wholeheartedly. Getting a rescue dog to start my summer of unemployment was, I think, pivotal to my happiness. Without Teddy I would have felt like I was wasting my time, I would have felt companion-less while Andrew worked and I would have felt selfish. Teddy gave me purpose, unconditional love and affection and seeing him come out of his shy skin has been a very rewarding experience.

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    Bless you T-dawg.

  4. I started blogging again. I started this blog back in 2010 and absolutely loved it. Life got in the way (or some other excuse) and it fell by the wayside but in the two years that passed without blogging I always felt like something was lacking. I tried filling the void a million ways but nothing really worked. Thoughts move a mile a minute in my head, the only way to slow them down (and sometimes make sense of them) is to write. Writing focuses me, is therapeutic and with each post I feel like a space for new ideas opens up inside me. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
  5. I started a new job. After four months without a paycheque I started looking for work again in late September and through a series of strange events landed in a new career that is very different from anything I’ve done before and different from anything I ever thought I’d want to do. I have a feeling that is a recipe for success.

I’m not prepared to follow this “look-back” list up with a “look-forward” one. I can feel triumphant about these changes since they have already happened. To write down my goals for 2013 means that I have to follow through – a terrifying thought! While I work up that courage to etch my list in stone, I hope everyone has a very Happy New Year! See you in 2013!

~ kate

P.S. Has anyone noticed it’s snowing on my blog?? 🙂

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

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Twas the night before Christmas, at readingpushkin’s abode

All the presents were wrapped, and outside it snowed.

Andrew sat by the fire with T at his side

Watching Love Actually, together they cried.

Ace counted the presents under the tree

She counted them twice, and counted with glee

There were big ones and small and some not wrapped at all

But a pile with her name on it looked like it could fall

“I better adjust them,” she said to herself

While settling in like one of the elves

She poked them and prodded

While Teddy looked on and nodded

“Oy, get yer feiving paws off those”

Said Andrew as he rose

“Caught red-handed”

He playfully chided.

And with a giggle and grin

He smiled and gave in

“You know what they are, I got the gist,

They are books, books from your list.

Then all of a sudden, a visitor appeared

Out on the lawn, a man dressed in red.

“It’s Santa!” squealed Andrew in delight

The pitch of his voice gave Ace quite a fright

They ran out to great him, to see him and meet him

But as quickly as he’d come he yelled out “my work here is done”

And over their heads he flew

Down the streets of Bankview

Behind him left, just one single gift

A small envelope atop the snowdrift

Inside was a message

Looking fancy and festive

With the moon as his light

Andrew read it aloud:

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night”

I Will Always Have Paris

It pains me to say this but I did not love Paris: A Love Story. The memoir is written by Kati Marton who is an award-winning journalist, the ex-wife of Peter Jennings and a former foreign news correspondent and it is meant to be a tale of her love affair(s) both in and with Paris. As the title indicates, Paris is the backdrop for many of her life stories: her first torrid love affair, her foray into the man’s DownloadedFileworld of news 
correspondence, her first encounter with Ms Barbara Walters, her jet-setting career filled with shoulder rubbing a la rich and famous and her penultimate love affair (the city itself being the ultimate, n’est pas?) In summary, it sounds exactly-like-my-kind-of-book. And again, it pains me to say this but, it wasn’t.

Instead of an intimate portrayal of a city that so many have fallen in love with, myself included, instead of a story of heartbreak, of romance, of lust and loss, it reads like a memoir that someone was paid to write. From name-dropping of both the celebrity and political type to sentences that drip with forced romance (“I am drawn to you like Pooh to his honey”) and historical commentary not-so-furtively laced with network associations (both Marton and Jennings worked for ABC) the memoir reads like a commissioned report where the instructor has indicate in no uncertain terms which components should be included.

As a result, it is hard to read any of the story as authentic. I’m not saying I don’t believe that Kati loved Jennings or that she loved Paris or that she was lost when her second husband Richard Holbrooke died but I did not feel any attachment to her or the characters in her life (or even her Paris!) since the constant plugs served to create an ever-widening distance between reader and page.

In retrospect, even the back cover seems manipulated: two out of the three reviews were written by one-time ABC journalists (the third by Diane Von Furstenburg……). I’m not sure who is stuffing whom’s coffers with this book but I’m left with a bit of an acrid taste in my mouth.

Of course this has not ruined my own love affair with Paris or the genre of memoirs but I’m definitely putting this in my kitty under “how not to write a memoir.”

If you’re looking for a visceral read that will leave you feeling like you’ve just lived the millions lives of the narrator, check out any of the following memoirs:

Lies My Mother Never Told Me by Kaylie Jones

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Glass Castle by Jeanette Wallis

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

~ kate

Everything Old is New Again

I remember going as a child with my mother to the Eaton’s store in downtown Toronto to do our shopping. We would pick up new socks or underwear for my brother and I on one floor, something for the kitchen on another, and finish up with our grocery shopping on the last. The department store retailer revolutionized the way North Americans did their shopping. Gone were the mom-and-pops and the speciality stores; one-stop-shopping reigned.

Today though, Eaton’s is no longer. Neither is Woolworths or Marks & Spencers (for the most part). Discount retailers like Kmart, Zellers and Walmart have taken their place offering the same convenience at a lower price.

Big box retailers came next, after the department store, with entries in the Canadian market like Future Shop, SportChek and Chapters. They eeked out, if not replaced, local suppliers such as (if you grew up in Edmonton), A&B Sound, Klondike Cycle & Sport and Greenwoods. These big box stores offered a new kind of one stop shopping – all your sports or electronic-related needs in one place – but with better specialized product knowledge and more selection compared to the conglomerate department store.

Present day retailers face the biggest threat yet they say: online shopping. Namely the likes of amazon which started as an online bookseller but now markets everything from music and electronics to tools and building supplies. Convenience, instant gratification and the lowest price are paramount to today’s shopper who wants the freedom of making a purchase from behind a desk, on the couch or on the bus.

When I was about nine or 10 years old my mom bought me a pair of winter boots called Moon Boots. They were pink and incredibly warm but someone teased me for wearing them so I hated them. Almost two decades later they can now be found at nearly every shoe retailer in Calgary. In the past couple of years I’ve pilfered my mom’s closet for everything from vintage gloves and scarves to a wool dress she wore in the 60’s. Before the advent of the internet business was based on relationships. When a webpage suddenly meant you could reach an audience of thousands it became less about relationships and more about quantity. Now that everyone has a webpage, social media has created a new niche where businesses can try to create relationships with their customers again. Everything that was old seems new again.

Books were the last to make the transition towards big box – Chapters opened its doors in Canada nearly  six years after the first Starbucks – and they seem to be at the tail end of the electronic revolution, only recently gaining real traction. I don’t doubt that the Kindles and Kobos will have their day in the sun but they too will follow this cycle and to some generation down the road the paperback will be as retro as vinyl and a hole-in-the-wall bookstore as popular as the newest hipster coffee shop. Teens will visit these bookstores to buy the books their parents and their parent’s parents read, asking the neo-hippy behind the register for recommendations, impressed that he knows the authors they’re asking for and slowly but surely books will witness a rejuvenation, replacing the e-books that fail to offer the romance of the printed word. Mark my words, that day will come. I may even be that neo-hippy behind the till spouting recommendations like Herman Hesse and Margaret Atwood, by then authors old enough to be new again.

~ kate

The Power of Many

Why is it that when something becomes popular, becomes approved by the masses, we are so quick to dismiss it? Redbull was cooler when you could only get it in Thailand. I liked the Black Keys better before they played at the Saddledome.  Restaurants are cool until everyone knows about them. As soon as something is “popular” we shirk it. I know I have quoted Oscar Wilde in opposition of this before but why do we think that a popular consensus on something general removes credibility? Especially when it comes to art. Like somehow exclusivity is directly correlated to the worth of a piece of art.

I thought about this idea again and again while reading Into Thin Air by John Krakauer. John Krakauer has received wild success writing bestsellerimages_4 after bestseller and so I covertly put it in my bag at a used booksale some time ago. Just as I sheepishly pulled it off my bookshelf the other weekend in search of a guaranteed sink-your-teeth-in kind of read.

And here’s the thing: Into Thin Air delivered all that I expected and hoped for. It was a well written page turner that left me hungry for more – more climbing, more daring, more adventure, and more altitude! I carried the well-worn paperback around with me everywhere I went for the two and a half days it took me to polish it off – sneaking in a couple of pages at my desk, Mount-Evereston the bus, in the bathroom, in bed, at the dinner table – wherever I could! I was completely immersed in the lives of the characters, waiting with baited breath to hear which character was to find their doom next. Krakauer’s writing is so visceral I started to feel my breath strain as he described what it feels like to simply exist, let along climb, above 26,000 feet. I wrapped myself in blankets in front of the fire while reading of the pain-inducing cold and I constantly checked the map in the front cover to ensure I was still on track with my fellow climbers. Suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Why then, did I shy away when someone asked me what I was reading, or hesitate to blog about it or feel like I was reading something in a beach category (with a scent of distaste)? Because Krakauer’s book has been made into a movie. Because it was an instant bestseller. Because many of the people who have read it have no idea who authors like Mikhail Bulgakov or Philip Roth or J.D. Salinger are. Because I am a book snob.

This idea of a starving artist is not a new one. There is a fatalistic romantic in me that imbibes the idea. And yet, as one of the blogs that I follow, Door Sixteen, posted the other day, an artist is human and needs money just like everyone else. I read for education. I read for enlightenment. I read for escape. But most of all I read for enjoyment. So, as Ms Crow said, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” I will try to remember this the next time I shun a book simply for its popularity.

~ kate

If you liked Into Thin Air, try Beyond the Horizon.

Back to business

You know the question you get asked in an interview, “What’s your greatest weakness?”. Well, I’ve been told by at least two of my former bosses what mine is. Straight up: I’m too passionate. My last boss told me my passion was a double-edged sword that led me to strive for constant improvement but also not know when to give up. In the grand scheme of things, I’ll take it.

Friends who know me well can also attest to this – I’m easily riled up and I LOVE me a passionate convo. There are a few key people in my inner circle who bring out these kinds of conversations and I never get bored of them so it should come as no big surprise that I fell hook-line-and-sinker for my latest grab off the bookshelf at work: The Leader Who Had No Title. Written by Robin Sharma in the same manner as the groundbreaking The Wealthy Barber, The Leader Who Had No Title takes place in the day of a life of a man who has started to give up on doing anything more than survive. That is until he meets an eccentric man who introduces him to “Leading Without a Title (LWT) “. The concept is delivered through interactions with several supporting characters who are part of a sort of LWT inner circle. To get the point across, each character describes their life story and the part LWT has played in it. To further motivate the reader Sharma peppers the book with famous quotes, anecdotes and a general “ask not what your country can do for you” kind of attitude.

51GhMP0raLL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_ The cumulative result is an intoxicating koolaid and since I started this post by describing how passionate I am, it should come as no surprise that I drank the koolaid to the point of inebriation. These days especially I find myself wandering around dreaming of the difference I can make – at work, in a hospital, at home, in Africa, in Central America, in my bank account, on the street… no place seems off limits and yet I am limited by two thoughts – can I actually make a difference and how can I make a difference?

The Leader Who Had No Title clearly details that one person can make a difference primarily through a series of small changes in the way we think. However, I found the book a little light on real tangible “how-to” kinds of suggestions that would allow me to take the ideas further then pen-to-paper. After buying into the idea I wasn’t sure what to do with all the swirling ideas in my head. It was a little like convincing me to buy a car before I had my license.

Additionally, about half way through the book the sappy language really started to irritate me. The main character started repeating his teacher’s lessons back to him with a little too much leave-it-to-Beaver gusto and the fable started to move further and further away from reality taking with it my interest in finishing the book.

All in all though I’d give this book about a four out of five. The writing was very average but the message is one to be lauded and it is delivered in such an accessible way that it really does have the potential to reach the masses which is why I’d guess Robin Sharma is a very rich man today no longer working the floors of a bookstore.

My biggest take aways from this book were:

  • “Nobody succeeds beyond his or her wildest expectations unless he or she begins with some wild expectations” (Ralph Charell)
  • Success comes from work hard, strong ethics, innovation and perseverance
  • The CEO gets buried next to the street cleaner
  • One of the biggest regrets a human can have is to reach the end of days having never inspired another soul
  • Each of us is responsible for our own journeys, there are no reasons we can’t achieve whatever we want, only excuses

So, go forth and, as Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

~ Kate