Sunday, August 29, 2010

GBC Question #5

Here we have the oddest question (so far): A non-fiction book that you actually enjoyed.

I prefer non-fiction so to pick one I actually enjoyed would be pretty much all of them or else I wouldn't keep reading non-fiction. I liked Shannon's answer when she decided to pick a cook book which could be read like a book (as you should be able to do with all good cook books as far as I'm concerned). I thought that was a great idea. (Non-fiction? I'll show you non-fiction!)

I decided to go with Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin. The book gives a comprehensive but quick overview of Mandela's incarceration, the secret meetings which lead up to his release and the end of apartheid before moving on to the problem of uniting a divided country and the decision to use the Springboks, a symbol of the white ruling class to most black South Africans, to do it. I could not put this book down and I ended up finishing it in a weekend. The copy was on loan from a friend and I still debate about buying my own copy so I can loan it out to other people because it's just that awesome.

One of the things I found most incredible about Mr. Carlin's writing was that, despite watching the game in 1995 and knowing full well the outcome, I found myself getting antsy and worried that the Springboks might not pull off a victory. That's a talent that very few writers have. Playing the Enemy would later serve as the basis for the film Invictus which was a decent adaptation of the book even if, in the words of my rugby playing brother, "the rugby looked choreographed." Um, ya think? I also really appreciated that although the book is a look at how rugby was used to unite the nation, it's very accessible for people who know nothing about the sport.

Have you ever read a non-fiction book about a game that had you doubting the outcome?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Internet Wins This Round

My Internet has been playing evil, evil tricks on me for the last 36 hours. It finally seems to be lasting for more than 10 minutes at a time, but I'm now very, very behind in pretty much everything I planned to do online since Monday.

A beautiful sunset on Tuesday night drew me out of my house and down to the water when I was planning on getting a lot of writing done (not just blogging).

Looking South-West from Dallas Rd. towards Albert Head.
Venus is that spot towards the top right corner.

By Wednesday night, my Internet was playing peek-a-boo. Tonight it stayed up long enough for me to work on a post, but not to actually get it finished. Maybe tomorrow... if the Internet lets me.

I'll get you next time, Internet Gadget!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

GBC Question #4

Today's question is: a book that reminds you of home.

Easiest question so far: The Best of Robert Service

My mom and dad both had copies of it and I used to pour through them as a child. My love of Robert Service started in gr. 5. It was the anniversary of something to do with him, I can't remember what, and it was mentioned on the CBC before I went to school. That day in class, the teacher asked a question regarding that day and the significance to Robert Service. I was the only one who knew the answer. We were given additional homework: memorize The Cremation of Sam Magee by Friday for extra marks. Not surprisingly, I was the only one who did.

I started a ritual of reading Robert Service any time I came home from a trip. It wasn't a conscious decision. In fact, it mostly started because my dad kept his book in the bathroom. Even if it was just to Vancouver for a weekend, I'd return home and read a poem. About six months ago I finally broke down and bought a copy of the book. Now I read Robert Service at least once a month.

Is there anyway to make Robert Service better? Only if you have Johnny Cash read his most famous poem!

Update: ACK! It's not letting me embed the video even though it's a video that allows embedding. Boo hiss! You can find what I wanted to post here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

GBC Question #3

Today's question is: a book that complete surprised you (bad/good).

Good: Harry Potter
I missed Harry Potter when it first came out. I vaguely remember a few conversations about it when it first came out, but I ran away to backpack around the non-English speaking part of Europe so I didn't pay much attention. I came back for University and found quite a few of my friends talking about it. I ran away to the non-English speaking part of Europe to live and returned to find everyone I knew talking about it and a movie had been made. I had to check out what the big fuss was about. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the books. I'm not a huge fanatic, but I do own the Philosopher's Stone in German. What? It's good practice.

Bad: The DaVinci Code
Where as Coming Down From Wa never engaged me, I actually really enjoyed the first 7/8ths of The DaVinci Code. The pacing was good, the writing was decent, and the plot (although based on fabricated documents) was interesting enough to keep my interest. Then something happened in the last few chapters and now I hate the book. I detest it with every fiber of my being.
Monty Python has more historical fact in it than the DaVinci Code.
(Picture, originally from Worth1000, found here)

Am I the only one who feels that way about this book? Well, me and Stephen Fry?

Monday, August 23, 2010

GBC Question #2

Question Two from the 30 Day Book Challenge found by Shannon is: Least Favourite Book.

I struggled with this one because I couldn't actually think of any books that I disliked. Every really horrible books which I read on Zanzibar (Come Easy, Go Easy -- a perfect example why people who aren't fluent in their second language should not write a book in it) still provide laughter. And then it suddenly hit me: Coming Down from Wa by Audrey Thomas.

My mom got the book out of the library because she had read great reviews on it. When she finished, I asked her what she thought and she responded with "it was interesting." That should have been my first clue right there. It's not a thick book and there was over a week before it was due back so I started reading it. At the end of every chapter I thought I should just put it down, but again, good reviews. I was waiting for the book to get... well, good. Heck, I would have even taken 'decent' at that point. By the time the big reveal came, I had already figured it out three chapters earlier and wasn't shocked in the slightest. Not a single thing about it was unexpected. I was left not caring what happened to the protagonist or his relationship with his family or if he even returned to Canada after his trip to Wa, Ghana. I just. Didn't. Care. It was the first (and as far as I remember, only) time I had read a book and honestly couldn't find anything to recommend it. I wanted to demand my money back but a) it was from the library and b) it was my mom who took it out.

The only part of the book that I enjoyed was when the main protagonist explains that he went into Art History for his major because he has the artist's eye but can not draw. It was explained that he could look at something and know that it would make a beautiful painting, he could even see the painting on the canvas, but when he tried to paint it, it never looked like what he saw. I remember that because I have the same problem. I can look at something and see where I should put the lines on the paper in front of me to make the picture, but what ends up being drawn looks like a step about stick figures. Unfortunately, I was left feeling that the author has the same problem with writing books: she can see what makes a good story, she just can't translate it onto the page... at least with this book.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

GBC Book Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I stayed up late last night to finish this one because I knew if I didn't, I'd be back into the work week. No way I was putting this book down so I could fulfill my legal obligation to go to work!

A million people had recommended this book to me before I read it (okay, eight people, but it seemed like a million because it came up in every single book conversation I've had since April) but the thing I remember most about the recommendations was my step-mom telling me "it starts slow as he lines up the cast of characters, but stick with it." I'm the type of person who will stick with a book even when I hate it unless it actually becomes painful to read (*cough*Twilight*cough*)so I didn't really need the advice but I can definitely understand what she meant by it. I'm a huge fan of the old school murder mysteries where it's more about the detecting (think Agatha Christie, I love her 'And Then There Were None') so this was right up my alley. I was trying to figure it out along with the two main protagonists right up until the reveal. Without spoiling it, I will say that there are enough red herrings to really keep you unsure of the final outcome.

I was really happy that there was a little snippet of the next book at the end of this one. Although I would have gladly read the next book with no hesitation, but the little snippet really wet my whistle, so to speak, and I want that next book rightnow!  Oh, Stephanie, my lender of addicting books, I really hope you're home this afternoon...

GBC Question #1

Shannon at the Great Book Challenge found this list of questions and I decided to play along with them as well. Question One: Your Favourite Book

For me, this question is like asking a parent to pick their favourite child (the one who is wildly successful, remembers to call every week and has children who remember to say 'thank you'). I had to really struggle to finally get it down to one, and even then I'm still not really sure if I'm right, but... One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I first read this book three years ago. I had bought five second hand books from Russell Books only to leave all but one of them on my dresser so I ended up buying a few books in the airport for the long flight to Tanzania (it's a two day trip). One Hundred Years of Solitude ending up being one of those books I wish I had read earlier in my life because I don't think I will ever read it enough times to be satisfied. I love that such strange and fantastical events are told as if they happen every day, as if they are as common as washing one's face; and the language was just so rich and beautiful--I could almost taste the words in my mouth--they made me want to read it out loud to my roommate, they were too beautiful to be read in silence. Every time I read it (I've re-read it three times since then) it rekindles the desire in me to improve my Spanish. If this is what it sounds like in English, imagine how glorious it must sound in Spanish? (And if Javier Bardem could read it to me, I promise I would never complain about anything in my life ever again.)

Runner Ups:
Shake Hands With the Devil by Romeo Dallaire - this man is the reason I went to Africa
The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier - I still regularly quote this book. Just seeing its cover makes me happy
Trinity by Leon Uris - It was this book that taught me that history is not black and white and even the 'good guys' can be guilty.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ol' Satchmo Was Right

Two ladies who I know only by sight were sitting in the lunch room during their morning break when I happened to come in to fill up my water bottle. They were looking at pictures of one lady's trip to Mexico or Costa Rica or Cuba (somewhere warm with Spanish-influenced architecture, for the sake of the story, I'm saying Mexico) and she was describing in great detail an area of her resort where there were games. The other lady kept saying 'wow' like she was rehearsing to be the next Sham-Wow sales(wo)man until she finally interjected to say that she'd be too scared to go. Having heard only part of the conversation, I assumed she meant on some ride or zipline or tequila drinking challenge. No, she meant she was too scared to go to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico!

The other woman explained that there was a gate at the resort and everyone had to pass through it to get in or out, that you had wristbands so they knew who was a guest where, and that is was totally safe because the locals couldn't get in unless they worked there. "Still," the other lady continued. "I envy your adventurous spirit." She must have repeated this about four times in the space of one minute. Over and over again. Every time she said it, I felt my anger rise a little more and I had to refrain from giving her a lesson in what the definition of what adventurous actually meant. Again, in case you missed the bolded bit above, her friend went to an ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT in Mexico!! As I was leaving the lunch room, trying my best to crush my water bottle through the brute strength of anger alone, the lady who had gone on the trip was talking about the amazing food "especially the burgers!"

I understand that everyone has different levels of comfort, and maybe everyone else's idea of adventure doesn't include buying a samosa through the window of a rusting bus which is being driven by a guy who smells of pot while the bus is stopped in Mombo, Tanzania. I get that, but to consider going to an all-inclusive resort with a freaking gate and everything you need so you never have to leave the resort is not adventurous by any stretch of the definition. It would have been more adventurous (and possibly deadly) to go camping at Sombrio Beach with an open food container.

I felt a lot of anger about the situation because it's obvious this woman believes what the media tells her about how unsafe the world is. After thinking about it though, I just felt incredible sadness for her. She will never know what it feels like to salsa dance with a young Cuban man, or listen to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D- in a darken Gothic church while a bat flies above her, or jump off a dhow into calf-high water and stride towards the beach on Zanzibar with her bag on her head, or to watch one of the great games of soccer ever played on the world's tiniest TV with the receptionist at her Paris hostel, or to strike up a conversation on the S-Bahn with a little German child who wants her to know that he learned the English words 'witch' and 'Halloween' at school that day, or watch a thunderstorm in Venice and cry because she hasn't seen the ocean in five weeks and she's missed it, or to spend a rainy day in Clifton singing songs with a group of locals she's just met because they were also avoiding the rain by sitting in a pub.

It's such a beautiful world out there filled with beautiful people and beautiful experiences. It is a shame that this woman will never see it because her idea of adventure is a gated, all-inclusive resort in Mexico.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Memes and w00stock

On August 10th, this post appeared on the Chive. It quickly made the rounds on twitter and facebook. After fooling a lot of people (myself included), the Chive fessed up that it was a hoax and that 'Jenny' was really a hired actress. The damage was done, so to speak, and a meme was born with people doing their own adaptation of it. Jump to today when I posted a link on facebook to my favourite version of the hoax from the guys who bring us w00tstock. My friend, Carolyn, commented that she also hopes to someday attend w00tstock and then she suggested we have some fun with wipeboards. I took that as a challenge and I rarely turn down a challenge.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Where Will My Friends and I End Up?

**Names have been changed to protect the innocent... or the not-so-innocent in most of our cases.

I have never been exactly sure of how they all met. I know Edmonton was involved; I know there was rugby but I don't know if that was before or after the meeting; I know there were meetings in Europe, but again these may have been after the initial meeting; I know there was a ride to the hospital for one of the couple's first born which has always been told like a first meeting of the wife, but I'm not sure if it actually was. In essence, I know that they all met at some point, I know that they all lived in Edmonton at some time, and I know that they were all immigrants who bonded over rugby and beer at many points and times.

Then 'we' started coming along.

Suddenly there was less room in the cars for booze during the camping trips. Slowly (and some through other countries), they all relocated to Vancouver Island and weekends were spent shuffling the kids around the island to each other's houses for get togethers. We were the closest thing any of us had to extended family that wasn't a plane ride away, we (well, not me, I was too young) called each other's parents 'Uncle This' and 'Aunt That', and I think there are more pictures of me being held by them then there are of me being held by my parents.

Then the divorces happened.

Everything, understandably, changed after that. There were no more camping weekends with the whole gang, sides were picked in the 'who you invite to the house party', and we, the children, never really hung out again except for the odd Christmas party in which other kids were there. Our parents, to some degree, all kept in contact with each other, so it's not like we all dropped off the face of the earth to each other, but we got older and stopped going to those Christmas parties, we moved out and no longer attended the dinner parties, we developed lives of our own and just became names in stories our parents would tell when we saw them. "Did you hear about so-and-so?" "What'shername is over in Vancouver now." "Yourman has gone travelling." We were destined, it seem, to remain that way. Names we'd tell in stories to our kids. "I always remember this one time at Uncle This's house with Cousin Yourman..."

Then I got a facebook friend request.

Last time I had seen July, her youngest was still in diapers; now he was playing rugby and lacrosse, about to turn 10. I friended her sister; she had just had her first child. I was invited to July's summer BBQ. I had bussed out and was walking up the street, apprehensive that I'd spend the entire night talking to myself because I'd know no one but the hosts. I spotted July's oldest daughter heading out with a friend. I hadn't seen her in easily 10 years but I instantly recognized her. I said hello and introduced myself as 'Andrea'. "Oh," she responded. "Your my mom's cousin." The rest of the night, I was introduced as 'the daughter of...' and it seemed like everyone knew my parents and all had stories. It was a great night. We had a few more social meetings (most notably a return of the famed Christmas parties of years past), and then one night just the three of us ended up hanging out. We started talking about my brothers and what they were up to and this eventually ended up at what the other set of kids was up to as I regularly had updates on them. "We should have a big BBQ with everyone," July suggested. We hummed and hawed about the idea, bantered it about like cats with a mouse, never really making a commitment to making it happen. Then I casually (drunkenly) mentioned it to July's parents at the Christmas party and their excitement at the idea pretty much cemented that we would have to do it.

"Alea iacta est" (The die has been cast.) ~Julius Caesar

Today it finally happened. After half-ass attempts and attempts that were much more than we wanted to do (*ahem* some of you know what I'm talking about), we finally had our BBQ, or as I like to call it CCM Gen 2.0 BBQ (CCM is our last names). There were a couple of unfortunate absentees, but the majority of CCM generations 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 were there to partake in our non-family reunion. We had glorious sun, lots of delicious food, and over 20 years of stories to catch up on. In hindsight, I'm very happy that my incessant need to babble on and on while I'm drunk put us in a corner where we had to make this happen or be forever shamed by generation 1.0. To my family, my "aunts and uncles", and my "cousins", I thank you for coming. It was a wonderful afternoon. Perhaps we can do it again some time... in another 20 years.

Forty-five years of friendship, emotions, and forgiveness went into making this picture possible.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Slowly Taking Shape

The good thing about being confined to the apartment for most of the day is that there's a lot of time to get things done, even when you procrastinate for hours. Step by step, things are taking shape around here!

I've added tabs for the two projects I mentioned in the last post (the Great Book Challenge and Project 365) so you can find more information about them there. For the Book Challenges, I was going to wait until September to officially start it, but I'm pretty much done The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo so that will be my book for August (and I don't think I really want to wait to read the next two so perhaps I might even have multiple books for August). I went around my bookshelves this weekend (and the occasional unpacked box) and wrote down all the books I own that I haven't actually read. I figured that's a good place to start for this challenge before I start searching for books. I do, however, excuse myself from having to read the copy of Ulysses that currently sits on my shelf, at least for the time being.

I've started Project 365 with this:
I'll be honest, my cats are probably going to be in a lot of my pictures. They are my babies after all who drool like dogs and snuggle like children. This is Tosio, the one most likely to headbutt my hand while I'm typing to tell me to pay attention to her. My other cat, Linden, is most likely to drool on the keyboard to cause a short circuit so I have to stop typing. Really, having two cats is not really conducive to the blogging life. Sigh.

Anyway, just want to let you know that I am tinkering about on the site. Also, to say that I have a big of a girl crush on Shannon now because she also does PostCrossing. She's like my new, best, imaginary friend. Sorry Pedro, your reign of teaching me fake Spanish in my dreams is over, I have someone I have to make a cup of fake tea for.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Little Corner of the Internet

Woo-hoo! My first blog post as AndreaClaire, well, MsAndreaClaire (because the other one was taken by someone named 'Anne'... hmm). I actually started this blog back in January on another blogging site, but although I found many things I liked better there, I was used to the blogger layout so I stopped writing there after two weeks. As I alluded to, I already have a blog: an anonymous place where I discuss my crazy plan to do something, well, crazy. The only problem is that it’s a very specific blog; it has a purpose and as much as I love it, I needed something for writing, to share stories not related to my crazy plan, and quite frankly, to not be so anonymous. Most of the people reading the other blog know that it’s me doing the writing, but if someone was to randomly stumble across it they’d know that I’m a 30-year-old girl who lives on Canada's West Coast and I just might be certifiably insane; my friends are initials, my job is rarely discussed, and my background is only what is required to explain my story. I am proud of that blog and the changes it has brought about in my life, but I’m a story-teller and not telling the story about my Uncle Frank threatening to make us all walk to Dublin kills me just a little bit inside every time I realise it won’t fit with my theme.

So I decided I needed another blog, a blog which was not limited to being about a specific goal or the fear of giving away too much in my attempt to be anonymous. “This will be a blog,” I told my cats. “Where I can post old stories I’ve finally written down, new stories I need to write, or even just ponder about ideas and life. It will be about me and my life, not a specific goal.” My two cats, who I’m sure will feature prominently, seemed delighted with the idea. So delighted, in fact, that one of them got up and used the littler box. Excited to the point of a bowel movement? It doesn’t get much better than that! I have a couple plans for 'side projects' for this blog (namely this and this) which I will create pages for in the next few days. In the meantime, welcome to my blog. Forgive the lack of content while I get everything set up. Happy reading.