The rise and fall of Barbie

Posted by Marlinee on Dec 31, 2017 in Middle Age

No female childhood in the 1960s was complete without a Barbie or three. In the beginning, there was only one version, with long dark hair in a permanent ponytail. Of course, the permanence of the pony tail was not initially evident. This feature was discovered when Carol, who lived next door, decided to style Barbie’s hair and cut off the band around the ponytail to reveal the fact that Barbie was completely bald when the Donald Trump-like swoop of hair was no longer secured at the back of her neck. Strike one for Barbie’s lack of congruence with real life.

Once liberated from her box, all bets were off for Barbie’s safety and security. Her arrival outfit included a dress, purse and pair of shoes (shaped to fit feet that were molded into perpetual high heel position). There was no Barbie on earth that had two shoes beyond the first twenty minutes of box freedom. This was a bit of a problem since she couldn’t stand up without shoes. And without matching shoes, there was no reason to safeguard the lifespan of the purse and at that point we lost all pretense of the concept of a fully accessorized Barbie ‘outfit’. I do not recall any such thing as Barbie underwear, so she was always commando underneath her ball gown. We did not think this was strange.

Playing with Barbies was either active or passive. The active play placed Barbie in many perilous situations, like being dangled from the clothes line and carried along from one end to the other to fly about the yard (travelling around the pulley end being a particularly dangerous endeavor), or having a mock funeral in the flower bed. If we got distracted while playing ‘dead Barbie’, the Barbie population dwindled temporarily until the flower bed was dug up in the fall. We also made her cigarettes from the sticks of used suckers. Wisely, she did not inhale.

The passive Barbie was mostly an idle prop that rested in our laps while wearing her best fancy shoeless outfit, as we sat in a circle in the backyard discussing topics of utmost importance to seven and eight-year-olds, like which Beatle we were going to marry. There was always a big argument over who got dibs on Paul and who was going to be stuck with Ringo (again). Ironically, Ringo has now morphed into the ‘good looking’ Beatle. Unfortunately, hindsight is always twenty-twenty. As a testament to the wholesome influence of Barbie, we never discussed which one of the Rolling Stones we were going to run away with.

Of course, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and many Barbie knock-offs emerged. I had one called Tressy, whose manufacturer clearly pounced on the Barbie hair flaw. Tressy had a full head of hair that ‘grew’ if you turned a plastic key in a keyhole in her back. You could also shorten her hair by turning the key the other way. Alas, Tressy’s key soon ended up in the same parallel universe as Barbie’s shoes and her hair got stuck sticking out horizontally just below her ears, kind of like Andy Warhol’s. Anyhow, we never confused Barbie or her clones with anything that was supposed to look like a real human. And we all thought Ken was a dork.

But recently there was bad news for Barbie and not just because of lame imitations. Apparently, retailers are still clearing out dusty Barbies from last year’s Christmas season, leading to a 21% drop in global sales this quarter, which is the fourth straight double-digit decline. And of course, as Barbie goes so do the fortunes of Mattel, which has had a corresponding 22% decline in profits and a stock price plunge of 38% so far this year.

Barbie has been under the cloud of controversy several times, but I am prepared to cut her some slack since at fifty-five it would be more alarming if she hadn’t ruffled some feathers in the course of her relentless quest for fame. As far as I know there is no definitive (or any) Barbie biography or autobiography out there. Perhaps since she appears poised on the edge of doll retirement it might be time to publish one. Here are some of the facts that are likely to be revealed in a Barbie tell-all.

Although she has been referred to by one name much longer than either Cher or Madonna, her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. She quite wisely quickly ditched the Millicent part (I’m not sure a Milly doll would have caught on quite so quickly).

Barbie’s people say she attended High School but the details are rather sketchy and contradictory. Was it Willows High in Willows, Wisconsin or Manhattan International High School in New York City? A deeper dive into some investigative reporting is clearly required here. Despite her dubious educational qualifications, Barbie has about 150 jobs on her resume, including registered nurse, rock star, aerobics instructor, and police officer. You can see how these jobs are all closely related. This works out to about four jobs per year if we assume she started working as a model at age seventeen, and means her resume has no hope of achieving the best practice of being contained on two pages. It also begs the question of who keeps hiring her knowing her tenure on the job will be three months on average.

Not to be daunted by pursuing any career that might appeal to her, Barbie has run (unsuccessfully) for President of the United States six times since 1992. Barbie also says she was an astronaut who walked on the moon four years before Neil Armstrong. Although she does hold a pilot’s license and spent some time (I would guess three months) as a flight attendant, this is clearly such a fabricated claim that I hope her resume gets revised before she runs again for the highest office in the land, because there are many indications that she may well win next time.

In her most recent grandstanding effort, Barbie said she was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue this year. In reality, her PR people struck some kind of deal to feature her on an ‘overwrap’ of the real cover, which presumably had women inside who were at least somewhat less plastic. Nice try Barbie.

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Write on

Posted by Marlinee on Dec 20, 2017 in Middle Age

I can never find a pen when I need one. And when I do locate the stash of pens in the back of the junk drawer none of them works (although technically they still all work as advertisements for the companies that paid for them). Back when pens were a business accessory, everyone had a fancy one that never needed to be abandoned due to lack of ink. I had a chic gold one engraved with my name, until I left it behind somewhere along with my notebook. Someone is probably still out there impersonating me. The joke is on them though, because I have the matching mechanical pencil.

Pens with a half-life longer than 15 minutes are on their way out because apparently handwriting is on its last legs (or more correctly, its last arms). Specifically, cursive writing is in the academic cross hairs as a subject that we no longer need to teach and block printing is probably not too far behind. Much like we no longer make kids learn long division or the dreaded times tables because their efficacy has been eclipsed by calculators and spreadsheets, electronic modern conveniences are also pushing pen-pushing into oblivion. Apparently, anyone under 25 can’t read cursive script let alone write it.

This is disconcerting to me for many reasons, not the least of which is a skill that took me many years to learn, and that most would say I have still not mastered, will shortly become obsolete. All of the blood, sweat and tears that caused the fountain pen ink to run on the paper were for naught unless someone can figure out how to give me about 6 years of my life back. And what will happen to all of those cardboard examples of the platonic form of cursive letter formation sitting above the blackboards, just in case you forgot which way the loop on the lowercase Q was supposed to face? If I was smart, I would corner the market on curly alphabet castoffs and wait for the mid-21st century version Antiques Roadshow to make my fortune.

I think this is also another nail in the literacy coffin. It’s bad enough that texting has hastened the demise of spelling and grammar. Now signing our names is going out the window. In fact, most of the time I only need to wave my plastic card in the vicinity of the payment processing device. No need to even enter a PIN number to complete my transaction, let alone sign anything. And even I am using e-transfers instead of paper cheques, a very reliable bellwether since my iPhone is currently a great-great grandfather.

I am a little concerned that the livelihood of graphologists is in grave danger because this may actually be life threatening. According to Dr. Oz, your handwriting can be a diagnostic tool for pregnancy, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and suicidal tendencies. If that’s the case, the money we are saving by cutting out penmanship classes had best be diverted to the healthcare system immediately. And 3M better examine its Postit Note business model post-haste. If no one is able to write (or perhaps more importantly read) a sticky note, I think the ramp to the road to obsolescence is just ahead.

But come to think of it, anyone who wants to set up an unhackable and encrypted method of communicating secrets in the near future will only need a pen and paper. My Kickstarter page is now accepting start-up funds via bitcoin. Free branded pen to the first 100 investors.



It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Posted by Marlinee on Nov 26, 2017 in Middle Age

Oh dear, it has started already. Not the snow, at least not in these parts. And the Christmas music started way back before there was frost on the pumpkins. What’s started now is the annual ‘best of the year’ lists and prizes. I guess there is no point whatsoever in doing anything list-worthy in December because you will have missed the boat. Better to wait until January, although you will probably also escape notice because by the time November rolls around no one will remember what happened before June. I guess this is due to winter-induced brain fog. But I digress.

I am pretty sure I am not going to be Time’s person of the year, but I can’t be certain until they announce it next week, unlike Donald Trump who is certain he won’t be because he has already turned it down (or something like that). I am also pretty sure I’m not going to win the 2017 Giller prize for fiction, partly because it was already awarded last week but mostly because I did not write a novel this year (or probably any year, for that matter).

Anyhow, if the rest of the world is going to cut the year off after eleven months then I guess I should follow suit to avoid getting scooped. Here are some things that I think are award worthy or at least note-worthy for this year.

I think the most difficult to predict ‘award’ this year is who will top the list of most egregious misogynistic or otherwise unacceptable power-mongering behaviour by (male) public figures. On the other hand, maybe the award most contested will be the best example of a ‘non-apology’ apology. Kevin Spacey, I’m looking at you.

In other news, a group of Spanish researchers have determined that coffee is a fountain of youth (or at least, a preventer of death, which is probably not the same thing). According to study results presented at the European Society of Cardiology, if you drink at least four cups of coffee a day you reduce your chances of dying from a heart attack or stroke by 64%. I guess I am out of luck there since I don’t drink coffee, but maybe I shouldn’t spend all my money just yet. If you look closer at this kind of statistic, you will learn that decreasing your lifetime chance of a heart attack from 2% to just under 1.5% does not justify spending $30 a week at Starbucks. Come to think of it, I didn’t look closely at who funded this ‘study’.

We have just passed Back Friday and are motoring on towards Cyber Monday. In case you missed the origin story, Black Friday (AKA the day after American Thanksgiving) is traditionally the day that retailers move into profitability, courtesy of our neighbours to the south who are casting about for things to do after turkey day. Those of us who ate our turkey weeks ago have now embraced this tradition whole heartedly, as our Canadian version of Black Friday deals (which, if you haven’t been paying attention actually started a week ago) have now surpassed Boxing Day in dollar volume of sales. If this continues, all that will be left to buy after Christmas will be sad looking plastic trees and dubious day-glow ornaments. I think this should get the award for worst U.S. influence. Oh wait, maybe there are more worthy contenders out there…



The secret life of yoga

Posted by Marlinee on Nov 14, 2017 in Middle Age

I first encountered yoga in the 1970s when a sun salutation was a mere shadow of its incarnation today (like for example, not involving anything other than bending from the waist and moving your arms). Fast forward a few decades and yoga is well entrenched as a ‘thing’. There are purveyors of yoga of every description on every corner and yoga pants (a genre of clothing that barely existed in the 20th century) are on every bum everywhere, whether or not the wearer has ever darkened the door of yoga class.

But just in case you are not a yoga regular, this is what goes on in the average yoga studio these days. First, everyone brings their phone. Never mind that the whole point is to be on an inward journey for an hour and half – their definition of being in touch with the universe means making sure they can deal with those important messages right up to the first ‘om’ and immediately after final relaxation.

Second, everyone has their preferred mat location. Or actually, there are a limited number of preferred mat locations, which boils down to by a wall so that nobody is behind you or only one person is beside you. This means it is necessary to rush to yoga class to get there at least 15 minutes early to snag a good spot. Or it used to be sufficient to arrive 15 minutes early. The mat turf battle has since escalated so that sauntering in a mere 20 minutes before class means you are relegated to the middle of the room. But at least that gives you more pre-class phone time.

Third, there is such a thing as competitive yoga. It is not enough to work within the confines of your own body, you need to strive for perfection of pose and to be better at downward dogging than your mat neighbour. Maybe it is just me, but competitive yoga seems like the penultimate oxymoron. And should you wish to participate in this anti-yoga yoga stuff you need to get yourself to an International Yoga Asana Competition. This is where you get to show off your yoga ‘prowess’ to the universe and the assembled masses that marvel at your flexibility, contortionism, and general athleticism.

If you want to compete in the IYAC, you have to perform six yoga poses within three minutes. I don’t know about you, but I go to yoga five days a week and could barely trot out six yoga poses without prompting. But also, these are not merely warrior posing, or dancer posing or even demonstrating a decent boat pose: these are what would be considered extreme yoga, like balancing on your head while crossing your legs in an impeccable Lotus pose, or doing a Crow while your cat is on your back (honestly, working on it). At least there is one thing I can be sure of. None of it matters in the least.



Playing in the big league

Posted by Marlinee on Oct 27, 2017 in Travels

Apparently, these days you can make serious money doing almost anything – especially things that have nothing to do with solving world hunger, avoiding global nuclear war, or talking some sense into the US of A. Case in point: I have just discovered the world of Major League Fishing. MLF (as those in the know like to call it) is a real thing. A thing that you can perhaps win millions of dollars doing if you are a man, a fisherman, a fisherman in the U.S., and in particular, a bass fisherman.

Much like the major league baseball championship is called the ‘World’ series (and by the way, the story that it’s because a newspaper called ‘The World’ sponsored the playoffs back in the day is not true), there is in fact a World Championship for bass fishing, held of course in the centre of the world and universe otherwise known as the U.S.

I would not know this if I hadn’t happened to be in Natchez, Mississippi a week ago. Leaving aside the long story for being in the lower Mississippi river valley in October, I was staying in one of the fine accommodation options in Natchez, the Magnolia Bluffs Hotel and Casino. Luckily, the casino was not actually in the hotel but down by the river. But that is yet another story. Unluckily, this was the official hotel of the MLF elimination round competition for the prestigious 2018 Lucas Oil Challenge Cup (I swear I am not making this up!).

When you are a MLF guy, you have serious gear. It appears you haul your (immaculate and heavily logo encrusted) boat around from place to place via your (equally immaculate and also heavily logo encrusted) Ford F750 truck. Or probably, you have peeps that drive the boat to the next competition location and you show up at your leisure. While the ‘anglers’ (which is apparently what you call fancy fishermen) are catching their private planes to obscure places in Mississippi, their crew sets up a massive tailgate (or tailboat?) party in the back lot of the local hotel. I am pretty sure that in between Busch beers (official beer sponsor) they talked about the ones that got away. And probably about whose gear is bigger and better. The saving grace is that the bread winners had to be up by the crack of dawn to get to the start of the derby so the rowdiness was kept to a minimum.

One advantage I can see of MLF versus other ‘MLs’ (like for instance hockey, basketball or baseball) is that your ‘uniform’ pretty much consists of a baseball cap, jeans and a t-shirt (all appropriately MLF branded). No need for bespoke suits for travel days or major bling or (I imagine) trophy wives, but maybe their definition of trophy wife might be a little different. Like for example, that she can gut a fish with her eyes closed and is always happy when you bring home a new trophy (along with your mega dollars) from the MLF competition.

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Supper’s ready

Posted by Marlinee on Oct 6, 2017 in Middle Age

It all started with dropping the lid of the slow cooker on my foot. No wait a minute, it actually all started with the idea of baked beans. Seeing as how I would have my hands full getting Thanksgiving dinner under control, I decided it would be a good plan to get Friday dinner off the to-do list by delegating it to the slow cooker. I gave the beans a good soak overnight, then packed them away to bring to the cottage on Thursday. So far so good. When I arrived, I loaded them into the cooking device with the appropriate fixings and congratulated myself on a job well done: Friday dinner would be done, dusted and in the fridge before bedtime.

Except for some reason the slow cooker went berserk and started belching smoke just before the beans were done. At which point I snatched the lid off, which promptly slid off the counter and intercepted my ankle. Once the air stopped turning blue, I salvaged the beans, which didn’t look too worse for wear. I then used up all the ice cubes I had been hoarding for T-day cocktails to try to mitigate the elephantine proportions of my ankle.

On Friday morning I checked out the state of the beans: hard as rock, but if I do say so myself, in a rather tasty sauce. So much for an easy Friday dinner. But that was not my key concern at the moment. My key concern was to get the day’s pre-work done so that Saturday would not be an ultra-marathon of cooking. First up: pumpkin pie and apple pie. Being the super organized person that I am, I had roasted the pumpkin the week before and the processed innards were already waiting in the freezer. Come to think of it, I could have saved myself some ice cubes by just using the frozen pumpkin ziplock for first aid, but I digress.

Since both pies need prebaked crusts, in the interest of time I decided to do both at the same time. When the penny started to bid a fond farewell, I started keeping them to build up a pie weight collection. You will see where I am going with this in a moment. Anyhow, I prepped the pie shells with parchment paper and penny pie weights and popped them in the oven. Now normally, I put pie shells on a cookie sheet so they are easier to get in and (more importantly) out of the oven in one piece. In my own defense, my cookie sheets were otherwise occupied with my stuffing bread at that moment. Eleven minutes later my oven told me to take the naked pies out of the oven, at which point one of them collapsed and broke, spewing pennies all over the oven. Nothing more could take place from a pie perspective until the oven cooled enough to take all the racks out to retrieve the pennies…

Luckily, I had another pie shell and as it happens, my recipe for pumpkin pie advises that for optimal results it is best to put hot filling into a hot (prebaked) crust – a step I was planning on skipping in the interest of time. So in goes the third pie shell, now on a baking sheet (fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, double shame on me) while I tended to the filling. Since the clock was ticking louder and faster, I decided that it seemed silly to heat the cream and pumpkin before adding the eggs. Why not whisk the eggs into the cream and save a step? Why not indeed? Well, because It turns out that even over low heat, eggs cannot resist becoming scrambled. But I had no more pumpkin. So I strained out the lumps as best as I could and carried on. And made another dessert just in case.

Now it’s just a small matter of getting the turkey cooked without incident, but given my track record so far this weekend, I’m thinking the odds aren’t the greatest. At least I think I can manage to make more ice cubes without incident. Stay tuned.

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The story of civilization

Posted by Marlinee on Sep 17, 2017 in Middle Age

While browsing random content on the internet the other day (as one does) I happened across ‘The 7 Things You Should Never Buy at Costco’. This is a great example of prime clickbait headlining: you must use an odd number (but not too high an odd number or it will seem like too many things to bother with) and the topic must be something to do with something cautionary or something that most people have a morbid fascination with. Anyone who has been to Costco will know it fits the bill on both counts.

Anyhow, this ‘article’ (and I use the term very loosely) focused on the bulk items that do not save money in the long run because they will spoil before you get to the bottom of the ‘club sized’ vat. Most of them were pretty much what you would expect: large packages of delicate produce, industrial cans of ketchup (it comes in cans??), etc. So that’s not what struck me about this particular collection of interweb ‘information’. In order to bolster the gravitas of the edict not to buy olive oil at Costco, the article offered the factoid that the average American household goes through 1.5 bottles of olive oil per year. I am guessing this equates to about 1.1 litres, assuming a 750 ml bottle (but who knows how they package these things in the U.S.)

Many people would read this and then move right on to ‘11 Ways to Take Better Selfies’ without further ado. I am not one of those people. This random piece of data stopped me in my web surfing tracks. That’s because I go through at least a litre of olive oil per month and I don’t think that’s because I’m several standard deviations up from average. Based on the shelf space allocated to olive oil at the average grocery store (or even below average grocery store for that matter), I’m guessing most of us could get through a gargantuan can (or maybe it’s sold in six packs of bottles or some other conspicuous consumption variation) of Costco EVO without batting an eye.

You would also think that, given the proliferation of cooking shows and even entire cooking channels, olive oil would have earned a bit more stature in the average American kitchen. In which case you would be wrong. People who watch cooking shows don’t actually cook – they just like the idea of cooking and aspire to the notion of cooking if only it didn’t require buying and processing raw ingredients rather than buying something already prepared that kind of looks like you might have cooked it yourself.

In the most recent ranking of the best (and worst) countries in the world (from a living in perspective), Canada ranked number two behind Switzerland, the same position we occupied in 2016. The U.S. has fallen from number four to number seven. We all know what happened in the interim, but I think that’s just part of the problem: no country with such a paltry consumption of olive oil could possibly be considered completely civilized.



September, we’ll remember

Posted by Marlinee on Sep 10, 2017 in Houses

We are barely into the double digits of September, but already Fall is encroaching on the final weeks of summer. I had to pick my meager crop of green tomatoes (that is, the crop was meager not the green tomatoes – in fact, precious few of my tomatoes made it to red in their natural habitat) to dodge the frost warning. The jury is still out on whether they will ripen prior to rotting.

Then there are the birds. A huge flock of black birds has been relaxing in the trees for the past few days, swooping randomly around the island making a sound like a helicopter taking off. I first thought they were solid black but they also have a band of bluish purple around their necks. Purple martins maybe but maybe too big. Anyhow, there were dozens of them but now they have moved on in a southerly direction. Another thing that’s moved south is the water temperature (on the thermometer, that is). Last week the lake was still on the good side of bearable and then bam: see you next Spring.

The cats are in full chow down for winter mode. I could feed them every five minutes and they would still be yelling for more. The cure for this is to feed them every five minutes.

However, the hijacking of September does not mean it is time to throw in the cottage towel just yet. That would just be rewarding the weather for its behaviour. But it is perhaps time to concede defeat to the things that could have, might have, possibly have gotten done this summer but never will.

For example, I did not sew my needlepoint into cushions. In my own defense, the needlepoint part has been completed for some time now, it was just waiting for a sewing machine to show up. The sewing machine did indeed show up in May. It is a marvel to behold: it does stitches I never knew existed, it threads the needle itself (if I could only figure out how), and it has a built-in button hole feature. It also has a manual as thick as a brick. But maybe I’ll rally forth and knuckle down in October. It could happen.

There is a set of Siamese twin Muskoka chairs (the kind joined in the middle by a shared table) languishing in a state of partial assembly. I was very gung ho at the beginning of this project (which, to be honest, began about six years ago). I painted each piece before starting to put them together, I got the chair parts almost finished before I realized I messed up and ended up with places screws needed to go but no predrilled holes. So this year I was going to drag them out of the overgrowth that has sprung up around them, power wash them, repaint them, drill holes where holes are required, and be done with it. Maybe there is still time before the snow flies…

Yet again, I did not make a quinoa salad and I even have quinoa in the cupboard (anyone know how many years you can keep quinoa?). I think I will draw a firm line in the sand on this one: quinoa you are dead to me. And September, you are on notice. Unless you pull your socks up you are dead to me too.

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My friend Walter

Posted by Marlinee on Sep 3, 2017 in Middle Age

Okay, maybe Walter Becker wasn’t really my friend but I’m guessing you didn’t spend a week with him. Okay, maybe I didn’t really spend a week with him per se, but I did spend a week at the same place he was at, had dinner with him several times and hiked the same morning hike every day. He happened to be at my favourite Mexican spa along with his personal physician. He was just a regular guy. I’m guessing maybe the attraction of said spa was the focus on activity, mindfulness and organic vegetarian cuisine. And definitely no beach bar with Margaritas.

I have to admit I wasn’t really a fan of Steely Dan when they arrived on the scene in the early 1970s. I did not mind Can’t Buy a Thrill but not much of Becker/Fagan was in my regular rotation. Anyhow, to honour Walter’s untimely death today, I thought I would do a bit of research and provide you with some Steely Dan facts you may or may not know.

1. Prior to forming Steely Dan, Becker and Fagan were part of a cover band called the Leather Canary, which also included Chevy Chase. Needless to say, fame and fortune did not ensue at that point.

2. Barbra Streisand covered a Becker/Fagan original called “I Mean to Shine” on her 1971 Album Barbra Jean Streisand. Fame and fortune still did not ensue.

3. Although a key part of the song writing duo, Becker did not actually play on a Steely Dan album until Pretzel Logic. Also, although Fagan is lead vocal on many recorded tracks, he refused to sing live. Kind of like if Paul never played on a Beatles track and if John never sang in a concert. Although come to think of it, who would have known since no one could actually hear them over the screaming anyhow. I also learned that Fagan said in defense of the session musician modus operandi that the Beatles regularly used pitch hitters in their recordings (Billy Preston on the keyboard comes to mind, but also Eric Clapton standing in for George on many occasions). But I digress.

4. Michael McDonald and Jeff Baxter were both part of the Steely Dan crew until they left to form a little known band called the Doobie Brothers. Fame and fortune did ensue.

5. Anyhow, eventually Steely Dan caught on, selling 40 million albums worldwide and gaining a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

6. I guess it’s the jazzy nature of Steely Dan that was at odds with my musical taste at the time. But I have found Becker and Fagan to be kind of like olives: an acquired taste best left to grownups, or at least best left to those old enough to drink martinis. And that is exactly what I shall do at cocktail time tonight, while contemplating the wisdom of Bodhisavatta.

7. I still don’t know why Rikki shouldn’t lose that number and silly me, I never thought to ask Walter.




Posted by Marlinee on Aug 31, 2017 in Middle Age

When Pamela Paul was 14, she started keeping a journal of every book she read. While this is certainly what one would expect of someone who would later become the current editor of the New York Times Book Review, I couldn’t help but have a huge twinge of envy accompanied with stern admonishment to my teenage self for not having done the same because my book based on my journal would be on the bestseller list instead of hers (and likely be in the New York Times Book Review). At least I’m pretty sure that would have happened.

But maybe it’s not too late. I have had lots of time to read this summer. My ereader says I have finished 41 books since May and if you add the analog versions I have ploughed through it adds up to close to 50 so far. Now I know it’s a little late in the game to be recommending a summer reading list, but just to show Pamela I have potential, here is a baker’s dozen of books I have digested (some with gritted teeth, some with interest, some with abandon).

1. Toni Tennille (fittingly by Toni Tennille) Now I don’t usually read the celebrity biographies (auto or otherwise) but I did like Keith Richards’ book (while remaining rather dubious that he actually wrote it himself). I don’t know why I decided to read up on Toni, however it wasn’t half bad. I learned several new things about the Captain (I did not know he played keyboard with the Beach Boys) and Tennille (she wrote the hit songs, and was also a backup singer for Elton John, Pink Floyd – on the Wall, no less, and Art Garfunkel, and in her spare time took over from Julie Andrews in the travelling edition of Victor Victoria). Anyhow, light and lively reading with a good bit of dirt on how weird Daryl Dragon is.

2. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. This is of course about the genesis of the North American women’s movement in the early 1970s but also about the civil rights movement before that. Generally there was too much discussion about American politics for my liking, but I did learn that Gloria’s father was a travelling salesman. She is also 83. Yikes! But juicy details were otherwise AWOL.

3. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout is also the author of Olive Kitterage, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize and which you must read if you haven’t already. You should also read Lucy Barton. I think one of the things I liked most about it was that Lucy is a writer and writing teacher. One of her own writing teachers tells her “You will have only one story. You will write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You will have only one”. And this I believe to be true.

4. On Writing by Stephen King. I don’t remember whether I read this before or after Lucy Barton (sorry, Pamela) but this is a wonderful summation of the craft of writing (fiction or not) and offers very common sense advice. For example, King says “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write”. Two major takeaways for me were that I’m not wasting my time reading, I’m really building a better foundation for digging into writing (and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and that I already know the things you need to know to be able to write so no excuse not to just get on with it.

5. Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. This is pretty much what you would expect: a history of the show and analysis of its impact on the pop culture of the day. You know, two standup comics have a conversation in a Korean deli and turn it into a pitch for a show, and yada, yada, yada, the rest is history. I liked it.

6. Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. If you follow food blogs, you will know Molly Wizenbert from Orangette. This book is a memoir about opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle with her husband, while knowing not much about pizza or running a restaurant. Synopsis: husband drops out of PhD program in astrophysics (or some other likely to be lucrative career – I forget which one – sorry Pamela) and decides to learn how to make pizza. For most of us this would end up in a few pizza meals for friends. But Molly and Brandon go big or go home, so a restaurant in some derelict part of Seattle seemed like a good idea. Mayhem ensues.

7. February by Lisa Moore. Now we are back in a literary groove. I did not read this when it won Canada Reads and did not know it was on the Booker Prize shortlist, my bad. It is set in the aftermath of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger but it isn’t really just about that. Suffice to say I need to read more Lisa Moore.

8. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I had never heard of Neil Gaiman before, although he is a very prolific and well-awarded author of both children’s and adult books of many different genres, including comics. I stumbled across American Gods in a bookstore display as a tie-in to a TV series on Starz. It is not even a new book – published in 2001. Anyhow, it is a little difficult to describe because it features mythical gods clashing with 20th century gods (e.g. technology), but I really liked it. Be warned though, it weighs in at about 500 pages so might suck up your entire vacation.

9. The Girl Before by JP Delaney. This is one of those books you see advertised on the subway. At least that’s where I saw it. I guess it was a good ad because I immediately put a hold on it at the library. Synopsis: creepy landlord, creepy electronic house, villain you think is the villain doesn’t turn out to be the villain, you figure out what’s happening before the big reveal. JP Delaney is a pseudonym. Beach bag potential, but pack another book just in case.

10. Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. I picked this one up mostly to get some dirt on Salmon Rushdie (in case you missed the connection, Padma was his fourth wife) and Padma does deliver on that score. Apparently, Salmon is a grumpy narcissist. There – I have saved you some reading time.

11. Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong. Back to light and lively territory. Weird, secret community somewhere in the north. Weird people, who all have a secret past. I liked it and have since devoured the sequel. Hope the series gets much longer.

12. The Saucier’s Apprentice by Bob Spitz. Bob’s claim to fame is writing biographies of the Beatles and Bob Dylan (two different books, mind you). This one is about his midlife crisis spent trying to learn to cook via a variety of dubious cooking schools in Europe. What I learned is that perhaps there are only dubious cooking schools in Europe and also that Bob is a bit of a know-it-all. Took me a while to get the joke re the title. It does have a few recipes in it though.

13. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I gave this one a miss for a long time. Apparently, Joan Didion once said that to be a writer is to always be ratting someone out. There is some of that in this book but I agree with the reviewers that there isn’t enough. There also isn’t enough about books. But I did read it to the end.


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