"There's no point in spending your life in the pursuit of something that's easy." - Alice Kuipers

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer Reading List

I've noticed a lot of my favourite authors putting out their summer reading lists of late, and it inspired me to do the same. However, there is a twist. This is not a list of books I recommend you read this summer. This is a list of books that I intend to read this summer. I can't say for sure whether or not they'll be good, as I haven't read them yet, but you're more than welcome to read them along with me. I'll be posting updates on the books as I finish them, letting you know which ones I find good and what not. But as for right now, I give you: The List.

Skipping a Beat - Sarah Pekkanen

Now, this book I've actually already read but I decided to put it on the list just for your benefit. This is Pekkanen's second book, the first being The Opposite of Me (another amazing novel), and I have to say, she's an amazing writer. Her characters are exquisitely written. They're complex and empathetic and you can't help but feel everything they're feeling. Her stories are beautiful and unexpected, and I honestly can't say enough good things about her books. So give this one a try, and if you haven't read her first one I highly suggest you add it to the list as well.

My Fair Lazy - Jen Lancaster

I know what you're all thinking, that book's been out for a long time. Jen already has another book out (her first work of fiction - Wish You Were Here). But here's the thing. I love Jen Lancaster and her work. I have to own it, but I only like seeing paperbacks on my shelf so I've been waiting for the paperback edition to come out. I could have rented it from the library in the meantime, but the thought of having to bring it back was torture so I very impatiently waited until it finally arrived on my bookstore's shelves. She has quite a few other books as well, which I highly recommend. (My two favourites are Bitter is the New Black and Such a Pretty Fat)

Gourmet Rhapsody - Muriel Barbery

I read her other book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and positively loved it. They are translated from French and her prose are beautiful. She offers a profound look at human nature and philosophy, all wrapped in exquisite story telling. The first book was a little dry at first but well worth staying with it. I'm hoping Gourmet Rhapsody is just as good.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley offers the unique idea of a Nancy Drew type character (the lovely Flavia de Luce) that solves actual murders. She's also obsessed with poison and chemistry, often using chemistry in solving the crimes. So far there are three books in the series. The first is the above, the second is The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, and the third is A Red Herring Without Mustard. I must confess, I've already read the second one. Yes, I'm reading them out of order! But I can tell you this, they're charming. They're unexpected and the character of Flavia is enamoring. It's a fabulous concept.

A Red Herring Without Mustard - Alan Bradley

No need to elaborate on this one.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

I have been staring at this book on the bookstore shelf for ages now, thoroughly intrigued. I've never read anything by Aimee Bender but the concept for this novel is too enticing to pass up. It's about a young girl who begins tasting her mother's emotions in the food she bakes. She realizes her mother isn't as happy as she appears and it leads to the uncovering of family secrets. Intrigued yet? I am.

Bite Me, A Love Story - Christopher Moore

I won't lie. I've read everything he's ever written, and with the exception of Fluke, I've loved every one of them. This book is the third of a series. The first being Bloodsucking Fiends and the second You Suck. I highly suggest you read all of his works, especially Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, The Stupidest Angel, and A Dirty Job. But honestly, they're all exceptional except, of course, for Fluke.

The Great Night - Chris Adrian

I've never read Chris Adrian, but I was intrigued by the story line of this novel. Simply put, it's a retelling of a Midsummer Night's Dream in a modern scenario. I have no idea if it will be any good or fall completely flat, but I'm going to give it a try.

The Raising - Laura Kasischke

Again, I have no idea how this one is going to turn out. It's a mystery about the death of young, straight A college student named Nicole. Some aren't sure she's really dead. I'm most attracted to this novel due to the raving reviews of her prose and apparently masterful storytelling. I'll let you all know my verdict when I'm done.

And that about does it for now. I'll be adding more to this as time goes on, as this definitely won't last me all summer, but for the time being I feel it's a reasonably good list to start me off. If you read any of them, let me know what you think!

Monday, May 30, 2011


I'm sick of my day job. I think I desperately need a vacation, you know one, two, maybe three months. That ought to do it. But seriously, I'm really having trouble being anything other than miserable at work lately. And by lately, I mean since January. The trouble is, it's too regimented. They recently put in a new computer system and now we have to clock in and out for every shift. We're timed down to the minute. We even have to clock in and out for our lunch breaks.
It doesn't end there. The management team watches us all like a collective hawk. We're not allowed to talk to each other on the sales floor, just the customers. We aren't allowed to leave the sales floor without letting a manager know and even then, we don't dare stay away long.
We are constantly reminded of our sales target, prodded and nagged into remaining "customer focused". They never let us forget. And it drives me insane. Maybe, if we were paid decent wages I'd feel more responsible for our sales numbers. But we're not. We're paid garbage wages and our bonuses are terrible. We don't receive extra money at Christmas. We receive store money. Money that we can only spend in the store. What?!
To make matters worse, they're now going to be installing security cameras every where in the store. Somehow I don't think it's going to be used to catch shoplifters. I'm more than a little sure it's going to be used to monitor us instead. As if we weren't being watched enough.
Recently we received 'merit increases' and reviews. You know how much of a merit increase I received? 3%. Hmmm. Thanks? We aren't even consulted in our reviews. I'm used to the system in which you sit down with your manager, discuss your review and debate over your raise. You demand high and then barter down to something that's reasonable for both of you. Not here. A review is left on the staff room table for you, letting you know what they think of you and your performance. There's no discussion, you don't get to weigh in on how much you think you deserve.
It's a weird system. Maybe these little irritations wouldn't stand out so much if I hadn't been there for so long. But I'm closing in on two years and I'm beginning to realize I need to get out, or work there a lot less. Because it's all getting to be too much. I make no money, I'm supervised like a two year old by a babysitter, and I'm still dealing with customers. It sucks. I think I need a job where I can work independently and for better money. I need to be unsupervised, but that's a tough one to find.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Terror in the Buzz

Today started off great, a perfectly normal and lovely morning. I got up early, showered and dressed, took my poor senior citizen car into the shop. I even walked home, stopping first to get a bagel and a lemonade (hadn't had breakfast yet) and had the forethought to stop along the way to pick up a sandwich for lunch since I'd be house-bound all day. After my care free walk through the glorious spring morning I was feeling efficient and hardworking so I put in a load of laundry, unloaded and loaded the dishwasher and finally nestled onto the couch with my laptop to get some work done.
And then I heard it. The buzzing. Very, very loud buzzing.
I stood up and looked around, terror filling my heart as adrenaline pumped through my veins. The buzzing was coming from inside the house. (You'd think a grown woman would have outgrown her terror of bees and wasps by now, but I haven't. When they show up I'm still very much a five year old girl, running, screaming and being reduced to tears). I pivoted slowly, attempting to locate the sound and find the intruder. He was trapped behind a picture I'd wedged into a window frame. Realizing I had precious little time before he figured out how to get out of there (basically, fly upwards), I grabbed my keys, phone and the dog and escaped my house. That's right. I ran away. Well, walked away, but it wasn't a proud moment. Not to mention it solved nothing. The bee would still be in my house, waiting for me (and my soul), when I returned.
I took the dog for a nice, long walk, attempting to formulate a plan (even going so far as to phone my sister and have her talk me down). When I finally returned, I hoped against hope it would be dead, but alas it was not. After ten minutes of circling around in my peaceful house, looking for it, I heard the buzzing again. He was still behind the picture.
I went outside, coming around so I could see the window from the outside and get a good look at what I was dealing with. The thing was gigantic. And furry. And gigantic. Shudders of disgust crept through me. He was still very much alive and I had no idea what to do. Until I saw the shovel.
What I liked about this particular shovel was its obscenely long handle. I could stand several feet away from the window and still use the shovel end to pry open the window. Fighting down waves of nauseous panic, I worked the shovel under the window and pushed up. Success! The bee flew out, I threw the shovel to the ground, the window slammed shut and I raced inside, slamming and locking the door behind me. (You know, just in case).
Who knew today I would prove myself a hero. I faced down the bee and survived.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One Small Step for Me...

Last week on Friday the 13th something amazing happened. I was published for the first time. It all started on April 28th, although now that I think about it it actually started a lot sooner than that. The real truth is, it started in April of last year, when I decided I wanted to seriously pursue becoming a writer. I'd dreamt about it since I was little but I never believed it was possible, and all the people I talked to confirmed it. But in April of last year something clicked. Instead of saying 'I can't' I started wondering 'why can't I?'
My first steps were shaky ones. I didn't know what to do or where to start. I didn't know what was expected of me, or what I even expected of myself. It was at that time that I experimented with trying to write my first book (which I finished but let's just say it was a trial run - not publish worthy but I proved to myself that I could finish something I started), as well as Suite101 and blogging. But nothing was really happening. It was in November (I think) that I got my idea for my second book. It started off innocently at first, as something that was just for fun that I could send in portions to my sister to amuse her. Then, with her encouragement I started to see the broader picture. This could really be something. It had potential. But I still suffered from a crippling sense of self doubt. I had no idea if I was any good at writing.
I'm not sure how I happened upon the information on the Writer in Residence, but somehow through my googling I found her. All I can say is, it was meant to be. I had my first appointment on December 1st, and I most recently had my last one on May 4th.
I was so freaked out at my first appointment, but it was amazing. It was exactly what I needed to light a fire under me. I think what made the biggest difference was how seriously she took me and my writing. She asked me the tough questions, why did I want to be a writer? What was I interested in writing? Not only that, she told me what I needed to hear. I was good. My idea was good. (Not that she didn't have plenty of constructive criticism - God knows I needed it!) and after that I was hooked. I worked feverishly on my manuscript, tried to meet with her once a month, took her classes on personal essay writing, editing and publishing. I learned the most important lesson any budding writer could learn - the art of editing.
I'd always thought that all great writers were great from the moment they'd clasped their pens, but it's not true. You have to be willing to write badly before you can write well. As Margaret Atwood once said, "If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word." And ain't that the truth.
It was because of the Writer in Residence that I started submitting personal essays to magazines, and it was because I was brave enough to send my writing into the void that I was brave enough to apply for a Food Writer position with VerbNews. And on the night of my highest honour yet as a writer, they gave me the job. It was on that night, that I was a featured writer in Writers in Progress. What's that? Well, every year at the end of their residency, the Writer in Residence in our program asks ten of the many, many people they work with (in my case over two hundred and fifty) to share a piece of their work at Writers in Progress. I was one of the lucky few granted that honour, and I couldn't have been prouder. My moment in the sun was made even more glorious by the news that I'd been chosen for the job as Food Writer (based solely on my writing sample) and I was over the moon.
And on Friday the 13th, of all the strange days for such an occurrence, my first article was published. It's nothing amazing, just a small four hundred word review of a restaurant, but it was a victory of epic proportions for me. I'm a published writer. I have my foot in the door, and I'm not pulling it out to save my life. Instead, I plan on having the rest of me walking through it, and I'll have the first draft of my new novel done by the end of the month to prove it. As the great author Alice Kuipers once said, "There's no point in spending your life in the pursuit of something that's easy." Amen, sister. Amen.