Friday, January 21, 2005

Random language question of the day:

Does anyone else find it odd that I "take" tea, "have" hot chocolate, and don't "do" coffee, especially considering that "I don't drink" applies to none of the above?
Sometime around last November, my mother (small-town librarian, Mennonite background) asked me if I had any suggestions for her library's next book order. Miriam Toews' book, "A Complicated Kindness," was making waves (short listed for the 2004 Giller Prize, later won the 2004 Governor General's Award) and was written by an author with a Mennonite background, so I suggested it as a book she might be interested in.

She called me after reading it (before it hit the shelves and the already extensive waiting list... perk of librarian-hood) and asked me this: "Why do books about being Mennonite always focus on the bad things?"

Assuming I agree they do... well, I don't know. Because calling a book "open and honest" sometimes just means it asks depressing questions? Because fundamentalism isn't popular? Because joy is a simple emotion, and grief is complex?

Maybe the intent of some of them, like "Peace Shall Destroy Many," is to portray a sort of morose happiness, a happiness that is "complicated."

I think your point about audience is a good one, Will. But I found myself thinking about it from the author's point of view. Maybe it's not as easy as just choosing to write to those who will "appreciate" it.

I went to a Mennonite literature conference in Indiana a year or two ago, and few of the authors in attendance mentioned anything supportive about their childhood Mennonite communities. Most authors write because they grow up reading; what these authors read opposed their communal beliefs. Really, they accepted and pursued an outside influence that (perhaps more so in Rudy Wiebe's day) was supposed to be mistrusted. The authors I talked to all seemed aware of the implications this had for their status as "representative of Mennonites"; indeed, much of the talk surrounded how good it was to be around "similar" Mennonites (presumably, Mennonites with literary influences). I'm sure not everyone there would accept the label of "liberal heathen," but it seemed most would qualify any attempt to label them "Mennonite." I guess all I'm saying is, the problem isn't just one of self-critique, it's also about belonging and who speaks for whom. Yes, a few authors were ex-communicated by their church, but it's also true that some ex-communicated themselves, leaving on their own accord.

In the end, that was basically my answer. It's a partial answer at best, but it seems to me that it would be hard to write a book that is both profound and celebratory, especially when your audience is a stranger critical of your subject, and that subject is one to which, in many ways, you yourself are estranged.

Friday, January 14, 2005

hmmm... no, nothing interesting yet. But I will be reading Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time tomorrow. It's one of those books I've heard so much about that my stubborn reaction was to not read it, even though I'm pretty sure I'll like it. I guess taking a course on Orwell kind of forces the issue. Is it silly to take a grad-level course as an excuse to read a book you might not even like?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

ha ha. yes. Well, the first day back from vacation is always a doozy, and this term is proving no exception. The fact is, I bought $400 worth of textbooks yesterday, and the result is one seriously intimidating stack. My three courses this term include George Orwell, Samuel Johnson, and a theory class. But, first order of business is to get my sleeping schedule back on track, finally get a parking pass for this big mess that is Kingston parking, and finally buy myself a decent desk chair care of my loving parents.

Details, details. Next order of business is to start putting something interesting in here again.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

What a luxurious holiday. From my last deadline on December 15th to my first class on January 12th, I've been, how shall I put it, "living the high life."

Week One:
Hanging with - Family
Eating - the finest Mennonite home-cooking
Sleeping - approx. 14 hours per night (my old bed)
Wearing - freshly mother-done laundry

Week Two:
Hanging with - Manitoban Friends
Eating - chips, McDonald's, pizza, and chips
Sleeping - approx. 3 hours per night (random couches)
Wearing - same four-day-old clothes

Week Three:
Hanging with - Waterlooian Friends
Eating - Red River, Oatmeal, and Westburg de jour
Sleeping - approx. 7 hours per night (under the pinball machine)
Wearing - backpack repeats

Week Four:
Hanging with - Books, Movies, and Half-life 2
Eating - Mr. Noodles and hastily-made sandwiches
Sleeping - 14 hours per night (queen-size luxury)
Wearing - given-up-on-life pants

I guess I gotsta start getting productive again tomorrow (first-week beauracracy), but hey, bring on the school. I hope I caught up with most of you; thanks for the chats, smiles, and general craziness. Aw shucks, here I go again... but seriously, you're good people.
She knows now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien's theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can't move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.
(from William Gibson's Pattern Recognition)