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What I’m reading

By October 20, 2018 Books

Freedom is never free. Anyone who has struggled to be free knows how much it costs.

Deborah Levy is in my head. Playwright, novelist, poet: Levy has worked in many genres and has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. I have just read the first two of what she calls her living memoir. She isn’t the first writer to do this nor will she be the last. Still, there is something in the reckoning of the age; in the gathering of her life as she dismantles and builds again; yes, something has caught me in the here and now.

Because of this:

Perhaps when Orwell described sheer egoism as a necessary quality for a writer, he was not thinking about the sheer egoism of a female writer. Even the most arrogant female writer has to work overtime to build an ego that is robust enough to get her through January, never mind all the way to December.

and this:

When we kissed, I knew we were both in the middle of some sort of catastrophe and I didn’t know if something was starting or if it was stopping.

and this:

We were on the run from the lies concealed in the language of politics, from myths about our character and our purpose in life. We were on the run from our own desires too probably, whatever they were. It was to best to laugh it off.  The way we laugh. At our own desires. The way we mock ourselves. Before anyone else can. The way we are wired to kill. Ourselves. 

Levy was born in South Africa in 1959 and moved to Britain in 1986 with her family. Her parents divorced eight years later.; all detailed in these memoirs with stunning clarity.

As my tears dripped on to Sister Joan’s holy veil, I thought about how she had shaved off her hair, which she called her weeds of ignorance. She had told me to say my thoughts out loud but I had tried writing them down instead. Sometimes I showed her what I had written and she always made time to read everything. She said I should have told her I could read and write. Why hadn’t I told her? I said I didn’t know, and she said I shouldn’t be scared of something ‘transcendental’ like reading and writing. She was on to something because there was a part of me that was scared of the power of writing. Transcendental meant ‘beyond’, and if could write beyond, whatever that meant, I could escape to somewhere better than where I was now.

Autumn is time for juicy dense work so perhaps these slim volumes will disappear in my head among the other hot titles on my reading shelf. These are not the stuff of burrowing by the fire to travel as the flames flicker. They are lightening rods, as the best kind of writing is, both personal and political. These are the books you lend out to all your friends as it’s all of our stories, in part, in full, in tone and nuance, in fury, and wonder too, in the culture we inhabit.

Chaos is what we most fear but I have come to believe it might be what we most want.

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Poetry Alert

By June 10, 2018 Books, Headlines

Missed the Griffin this year but wowed nevertheless when I heard this year’s winner.

Congratulations to Billy-Ray Belcourt who wins $65,000 for his first ever poetry collection This Wound is a World. 

Belcourt hails from northern Alberta and is the first First Nations scholar to be selected as a recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship.

 

 

 

I don’t hear everything but I too fall in love with the trees.

 

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A nation of readers

By March 20, 2018 Books, Headlines

Next week across Canadian airwaves comes a reality show featuring contestants getting up in each other faces about…books. These are my peeps. Are they yours too?

Read More

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Best of 2017

By December 31, 2017 Books, Film, Headlines, Life, Performance

I’m staying in tonight. Spending the last day of the year with my main squeeze, my only squeeze, who has mopped the floor three times this holiday season and knows how to make a bed better than any hotel maid. He has many tricks but these are two you appreciate after a long marriage. That he makes me laugh daily is why this party girl is content with our plans to cook up Nigella’s champagne risotto and tick off happy moments in our cosy abode. I promised him chocolate mocha creme brûlée. I too have other tricks but that’s one of them.

Last day of a very rich year. Rich in lessons. Rich in moments. Rich in howling at the moon or the tv screen.  A year I almost threw my phone in the toilet for surely nothing good was worth reading on it, or in my still-delivered-daily newspapers.

On the first day of this year, I made a toast with my family present, a toast to buoyancy in heavy times. I’m thrilled to say I think we made it. The world is not broken. Aim for the light.

Here is my Best of 2017: or what I can remember after the holiday coma.

Favourite moments on the page:

  • In a year rocked by revelations of terrible deeds, one author’s words screamed at me from the page. Of course it was Alice Munro (Lives of Girls and Women). “There is no protection, unless it is in the knowing.”

  • from Felicity by poet Mary Oliver, this line from her poem Moments: “There is nothing more pathetic than caution, when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”

  • from The Girls by Emma Cline: “That was our mistake, I think. One of many mistakes. To believe that boys were acting with a logic that we could someday understand. To believe that their actions had any meaning beyond thoughtless impulse. We were like conspiracy theorists, seeing portent and intention in every detail, wishing desperately that we mattered enough to be the object of planning and speculation. But they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward; they weren’t hiding anything.”

  • from Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: “She doesn’t picture them as Arabic—she has been wondering, of course. But they do not sound like that kind of terrorist. They sound like young, obnoxious white men—aren’t they always young white men?—and she is not sure whether this makes them more or less dangerous than fanatics on a jihad.”

  •  Canadian poet/novelist Steven Price wrote the kind of big fat novel you want to hide out by the fire with and speak to no one but the characters on the page.  I loved it, and read it in the moody month of March and I wish to return to exactly that sensation every time I read. By Gaslight was my favourite read of 2017.

Favourite moments on the stage:

  • Come from Away was the first show I saw early January 2017. What a start to my year of theatrical highs, thanks to an early birthday present from my sister. My 2017 personal theme of buoyancy was shared by those actors on that stage delivering the most heartfelt piece of Canadian theatre I have seen in years. Come from Away later opened on Broadway and scored seven Tony nominations, and won for best direction of a musical.

  • The Shaw Festival’s Michael Therriault as Bill Snibson in a note perfect production of Me and My Girl

  • The brilliant new musical Life After featuring a sensitive and intelligent performance by lead actor Ellen Denny who brought me to tears. “If you grow, then you know it was worth a little bruising. And it’s alright, as long as your height gains in inches what you’re losing.” I’ll be watching everything playwright Britta Johnson does now.

  • Kristen Thomson made me howl in The Crow’s Theatre production of  A Wedding Party 

  • In the lobby of the small but mighty Coal Mine theatre, following a fantastic production of Superior Donuts, I was introduced to Sarah Polley (there, along with many other actors, to wish the cast well following the show).  Polley has zero airs. That she penned a brilliant piece in the New York Times later this year made me even prouder of this true Canadian gem.

  • The entire cast of Soulpepper/Bad Hats Theatre coproduction of Peter Pan lifted me high into the rafters of imagination. I felt blessed to have seen it, alongside my nine-year old nephew who told me after the play he wished he could learn swordplay to take on Captain Hook. I’m with you, Henry.

  • the kids of the youth programme at Wavestage theatre who truly nailed my favourite Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, in particular the mature performance of young Lucas Guesebroek as Marley

  • Is it cheating to say I loved a performance on ice? A stage of sorts, no? My six-year old niece Charlotte sparkled and held her own in a year end skating show that also featured dazzling performances by Canadian Olympians. Made me itch to get my old skates out. See you on the ice this Saturday. 

Favourites on screen: A near impossible task for this film nerd as you regular readers will know by now. Best place to start is my Scrumptious Films list from TIFF 2017 for my favourites, many now released in theatres.

In addition, these films all impressed and moved me in some way:

  • Patti Cake$

  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

  • Dunkirk

  • Bladerunner 2049

  • The Big Sick

  • Step (documentary)

  • I, Daniel Blake

  • Girls Trip

  • Land of Mine

  • The Man who Invented Christmas

Favourite moments lived (in no particular order because memory doesn’t work like that!)

  • Moving was an unwelcome theme this year. Moving kids from residence to home and back to university and out of apartments and then to another country and my own belongings to pack up while my house was under repair from a flood and then unpack when it was done and through all of it, the kindness of family and friends who didn’t know they saved me from myself with their extra arms (my godson Ben who responded so swiftly when we asked for help moving heavy stuff that he surely deserves a medal, my sister Mary who arrived, flood-ready with rubber boots and towels in the middle of the night, my friends who offered houses and food and come sit in my garden).

  • My entire wedding party gathered at the start of the year here in our home to, among other things, recreate our wedding photo from 25 years ago. One of my bridesmaids brought a surprise. She unzipped her winter coat and there underneath was the dark red velvet dress made, along with all the others by my mom way back when women did these kinds of heroic domestic duties. We all shared laughing fits when she told me it didn’t zip up quite as readily in the back but she still wore it with panache.  Later that night, my other bridesmaids brought out letters I had written about this crazy man child I adored, way back when taking a pen to paper and gushing about love was still in fashion. Both my girls were there to listen to it all.  When I showed a movie I made about our wedding to my mom, who sometimes forgets, she said, “weren’t we lucky to have that talented man to make your sparkly dress?” I won the lottery that night. Yes indeed.

  • My eldest graduated from University of Toronto this year (Victoria College) and was able to celebrate this with her grandparents, who graduated themselves from this very institution six decades ago, and other cherished family members who attended the university. After a glorious day on the lovely campus, as we drove away, came this from our newly minted graduate: I learned a lot here. This was a good place for me. Later, my daughter told me her beloved Pappou, who hasn’t been well and was unable to attend her ceremony, gave a long diatribe about having no mother or sisters (he grew up an orphan, and was raised by his four older brothers) and then told her, our family needed more women. You were born and you are a smart woman, We need more like this.

  • I will be in a bad mood if you don’t come. Blessed are you if you get that kind of text from your sister.

  • Barenaked laps in a lake that time forgot in Algonquin late summer. I was there for a solo retreat courtesy of my brother John who joined me on the first night for a beer. Did he himself deliver that perfect sunset? Or the autumn Ontario heat wave that made warm water that felt like a hug? Who knew I needed it that badly that moment?

  • Dancing in the aisles to Earth,Wind& Fire with Peter and the girls. Best moment of the summer, second only to a spectacular weekend of wine, theatre, friends and gorgeous weather in Niagara over the Canada Day weekend.

  • Attending McGill Homecoming and I get to sit in a dazzling new Montreal resto (Jatoba) and hear my own McGill kid tell me, over the course of a fantastic meal, about the hardest paper she’s ever written, and did I say yet it is likely the best I’ve written too? 

  • A three-way tie between the absolute glee when we sat down together in my dining room for our annual Christmas book club table with all our wee trinkets for one another- you’d think we were opening diamonds; when my pal Jo went to dig her dish gloves out of her purse to do all the dishes and everyone pitched in to dry;  the recitation of A Night Before Christmas by another member Jill, complete with perfect eyebrow punctuation.

  • Sitting beside my folks at Christmas dinner. My dad clinks a spoon to his wine glass; we all stop talking. “Let’s remember this is a good country. And I’m lucky to have my wife.”

  • Picking up my kids in the airport following their six week Summer of 17 Sisters backpack trip. There is no better moment than seeing my kids in that airport. Not by a mile.

There are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micro-manage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out.

-Michael Thompson, Homesick and Happy

I wish all my readers a magical year ahead. What adventures will it hold? I know one thing. It will be more fun with you along. #WeRallinthistogether

Happy New Year.

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This is us: the sugar version

By December 5, 2017 Books, Film

One year ago I was at a bookstore signing copies of my brand new food memoir. It’s been a wild ride since; some of it away from my home office as well as my kitchen, thanks to a summer house flood that rendered the place wonky with exactly the wrong kind of mayhem.

Houses mend, as do spirits. Before too long, what pained becomes a mere blip in a year resounding with buoyancy.

December is now here and with it, a house full of red and readiness (almost) for family and friends coming home for the holidays. Oh how gorgeous that sounds: home for the holidays. Someone should write a song/book/film/play about it? Wait…what? You say it’s been done already? Well then, I’ll just focus on my own version: another shipment of my books has arrived, marked for new readers. Are you one of them? My store is here. It’s an easy process and you’ll have your books by Christmas* if you order by December 18th.  with love and sugar home for the holidays.

Here’s a little film I produced* to give you an idea what’s between the pages. You already know the film nerd. Now meet the home baker, owner of too many aprons and a kitchen never this clean.

 

*Baking cinematography by Gayle Ye. Editing by Sydney Cowper. Home movies by me. I’ve been making movies off and on for years since the days of sitting with brilliant editors at Global Television in my first (professional) iteration as a storyteller. My love for the medium began in a scholarly forum, but my homegrown offerings are anything but: my films are little peeps—making them hatch is my happy place, second only to spontaneous lick-the-spoon soirées with my favourite humans. Sorry Lucy, dogs can’t have chocolate.

For Canadian orders only. Outside of Canada, email me at annehome1@rogers.com for your copy. 

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Paying it forward

By November 24, 2017 Books, Life

 All you need is…donuts? A short message from Anne.

See here for information on how to order Landed

See here for donuts. 

 We’re all in it together, folks.

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GUEST BLOG: Landed

By October 30, 2017 Books, Guest Bloggers

Our guest blog today is courtesy of Janet Land, a Toronto actor and author of a fascinating new book sure to entice history buffs.

By Janet Land

My father, William “Bill” Land, served in WWII and kept a journal, which I fortuitously discovered some years ago. I wanted to share his unique experiences with a larger audience to contribute to WWII awareness. From the culturally diverse places Bill was stationed in, to the people he met, to his surprising observations along the way, I was compelled to document and share these findings as examples of humanity during a time of such global conflict.

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Long weekend reads

By May 19, 2017 Books, Performance

What happens when you grow up with the Bogeyman narrative playing out large in the culture around you?  Literary darling Emma Cline grew up in California where the Manson drama was the defining event in the zeitgeist of her parent’s adolescence. The story of the charismatic sociopath was too familiar to her as a novel protagonist so she decided to focus on the peripheral players in the story, and conjured up a character who might have been on the sidelines of a dangerous cult. This became the starting point for her critically acclaimed debut, The Girls, which kept me enthralled on my sickbed this week.   Read More

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Have you read a poem lately?

By April 28, 2017 Books, Performance, Urban gadfly

April is National Poetry Month.
We almost missed it, didn’t we? There are so many distractions in this fine city. Last night I was at Hot Docs 2017, with Last Men in Aleppo. There are two more screenings of this. Highly recommended. I cannot think of anything else this morning.

Thank goodness for Henry, a clever boy I love, who gave me one of my most favourite gifts ever last year: a collection of his own poetry.

Meet the under ten set’s new poet laureate.

Hooray for Henry, you’re our Friday inspiration.

For more on poetry…

from a year ago:

The profane and the sublime

While you wait, make eggs. Read poetry.

from two years ago:

Whale breath

from three years ago:

Unclogging the air

from four years ago:

Pack a rock

from five years ago:

We were all children once

Happy weekend.

PS. The Handmaid’s Tale begins this Sunday on Bravo!

 

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Best of 2016

By December 31, 2016 Art, Books, Film, Life, Performance

2016 was a year to say goodbye to my youngest off to university, and to my childhood home where my parents lived for almost six decades. A year of frights that came deep in the night, some that lingered longer than others: my mother and my oldest child suffered accidents, as did my father-in-law. Caring emergency workers and excellent medical supervision mean we have them all yet to cherish this holiday season.

We will toast them tonight, but first, a peek at some of my favourites of 2016:image-3 Read More

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