Sir Paul McCartney

I love music, especially songs I can sing very loudly to (in my car. by myself.) and I am good at recognizing songs I’ve heard before. I am very bad, however, at remembering song names and differently bad at knowing song lyrics. With names, I simply never really bother to learn them. With lyrics, I cherry pick a few easy-to-hear words and then fill in everything else with words that seem to make sensible-sounding sentences. Case in point: for most of my life I though the lyric was “knocking me out with those American eyes.” My husband would still be shaming me for this if there weren’t SO many other examples to choose from.

Armed with theses musical talents, I headed off to the Paul McCartney concert (a HUGE shout out to my friend Andi who came up with an extra ticket and offered it to me). Because there was only one ticket, I decided to take notes on his set list, which is something my husband would be inclined to find interesting. The result was a mash-up of limited song name & lyric skills, typos, and blatant ignorance. I present this list below exactly as recorded, and leave it to you to guess which effects were in play.

  1. Hard day’s night
  2. All my loving
  3. I think I’d let you go
  4. Who cares I do
  5. Go to get you into my life
  6. New one from carpool Karaoke I come on to you?
  7. Let me roller it?
  8. I’ve got a feeling … Oh yeah
  9. Someone’s knocking at the door
  10. My valentine?
  11. Wings
  12. Baby I’m amazed
  13. Falling (Simon and Garfunkel?)
  14. Quarrymen song – anything you want me to
  15. If there anything that you need …
  16. Everybody dance tonight
  17. Love me do
  18. Blackbird
  19. If you were here today
  20. ??? Lots of stars on video *
  21. Lady Madonna
  22. Eleanor Rigby
  23. Something new – I just wan to??
  24. Weird St pepper song
  25. Something in the way she moves ukelee
  26. Desmond
  27. If o ever get out of here
  28. Band on the run
  29. Back in the ussr
  30. Let it be
  31. Live and let die
  32. Hey Jude

Encore:

  1. It’s your birthday
  2. St pepper
  3. Hwlter skelter
  4. Carry back ways

In case you want to see the actual set list, you can find it here.

Ultimately, it was a really great show. It wasn’t pandering, avoiding the potential pitfall of being a greatest hits show, and really showcased songs from across his entire music career. There was some story-telling, a huge variety of instruments including the above-mentioned ukulele, and in one case, some pretty sweet pyrotechnics that made me thankful I’m not epileptic.

* Turns out this was Queenie Eye, and he may have been showing the actual video for the song. 

Posted in Music | 2 Comments

Brightness, Here and Now

A Brightness Long Ago, by Guy Gavriel Kay

I’m not going to try to write about Guy Gavriel Kay’s new book, because his writing is SO beautiful and it intimidates me to the point of incapacity to even think about this blog. Instead, I’m going to write about reading his books, a failed experiment, and one special Tweet by Miranda1452 (who is me). Not necessarily in that order.

First, the experiment. Typically, when I read GGK, I am so absorbed and entranced by his books that I binge-read until I’m done. This time, however, I decided to go with a savouring approach and limit myself to one chapter per day. Here’s why. Once, at a GGK book reading, Guy asked my friend if he liked the book and my friend replied that he read it in about 4 hours straight because he couldn’t put it down, and the look of dismay on Guy’s face was so astonishing! I figured, here’s a man who took years of his life to create this beautiful, poetic work of are, and we turn around and consume it in a few hours. So my decision was an attempt to extend, and more fully appreciate, his writing. The unexpected side effect, however, was that I didn’t get drawn into his story like I usually do, because I so frequently took myself out of it. And I have to say, not only did I miss the feeling of being immersed, I felt like I was less able to fully appreciated his work.

Which brings me to the Special Tweet. I always struggle to describe the feeling of losing myself in a GGK story, so imagine my surprise when he, himself, describes it perfectly in Brightness:

We want to sink into the tale, leave our own lives behind, find lives to encounter, even to enter for a time. We can resist being reminded of the artificer, the craft. We want to be immersed, lost, not remember what it is we are doing, having done to us, as we turn pages, look at a painting, hear a song, watch a dance.

Still, that is what is being done to us. It is.

Even so … we do turn the page, and can be lost again. And in that deep engagement we may find ourselves, or be changed, because the stories we are told become so much of what we are, how we understand our own days.

This is what I tweeted about. And … Guy Gavriel Kay liked it! And me – did I uphold a sense of dignity and self-respect, or did I fan-girl all over that shit? Oh, I think you can guess the answer to that …

The Tweet

The Like

Lastly, on reading GGK books. Many of his books take place in the same fantasy universe, and in case you have always been wondering about the relative timelines and relationships between his books to date, I give you the following.

Fionavar & Ysabel

The Fionavar Tapestry takes place in our world, in “present day” Toronto as well as in the fantasy realm of Fionavar (time unknown). Ysabel takes place in our world maybe 20-30 years later with some fun references to Fionavar.

Arbonne & Tigana

These could both potentially be shoe-horned into the same universe as the Sarantine world books, but in fact I think they are intended to be independent, both from the other books and from each other. However, regardless of that intent, they appear to mirror events from ~1200 AD  (Medieval Spain) and ~1500 AD (Renaissance Italy) respectively.

Under Heaven & River of Stars

These books take place about 300 years apart in the sequence published, in a world that resembles the ancient Chinese dynasties of Tang and Song.

The remaining books are all of the Sarantium world (for lack of a better reference, as the actual world in which they take place is unnamed). For these, I have drawn up a nerdy little timeline presented below. I’ve included Under Heaven and River of Stars for good measure, since it’s possible they occur within the same world:

And with that, I settle in for the very long wait until the next GGK book is released. I. Can’t. Wait.

Rating: Buy it and add it to your GGK collection, which you should already own.

Posted in Books, Fantasy | 3 Comments

Haters GOTta Hate

Instead of a book review, I thought I’d write a post about what’s been stealing my time the past 6 weeks. Whether you watch the  show or not, you’ve probably figured out by now that Game of Thrones ended its series run last Sunday and  fans were STRONGLY divided between 1’s and 10’s (I’m a 10).  What fans agreed on, however, was their belief that the show failed to answer a zillion open questions. A “zillion” is some number between 7 and 50. Just to put the matter to rest (in my head), I offer this answer guide to the burning (ha!) questions left behind by GOT.

In the usual manner of these sorts of things, what follows are

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Why is there still a Night’s Watch?

There is no Night’s Watch. Did you see any Night Watchmen? No, you did not. This was just a cover story to satisfy the Unsullied in order to keep Jon from being executed. He was “exiled” to the wall where he reunited with his Wildling friends (and Ghost!) and  went north to live happily ever after. What more could you want for him, really?? Be warned, however, my prediction is that he will probably die in the books because this story line doesn’t service anyone but the fans. Also, after murdering their precious psycho-queen, the Unsullied would most likely have killed him immediately.

Who was the person with green eyes, predicted by Melisendres, to be killed by Arya?

Settle down, Cersei-hopefuls, this is easy – it was Littlefinger. He is described in the books as having “laughing gray-green eyes like a cat”. Brown eyes – Walder Frey. Green  eyes – Littlefinger. Blue eyes- Night King. In  that order.

Why didn’t Drogon burn Jon after he stabbed his mom to death?

People! Jon is a TARGARYEN. He CAN’T BE KILLED BY FIRE! Remember Daenerys? Remember the Night King? (the Night King is a Targaryen, and you won’t convince me otherwise). So it was either burn  Jon and have him walked naked out of the flames (my personal vote) or just take out the throne and set up the whole endgame.

Why did Drogon melt the Iron Throne?

Look, even in the books we don’t get chapters from the Dragons’ perspectives, so we can never know this. Unless Bran warged into Drogon to burned the throne and pave the way to his ascendancy to King of the 6 Kingdo … wait a second …

Why did Jon tell everyone that he killed Dany?

Let’s not forget, Jon has been honest and ethical to be huge fault. He triggered Cersei’s betrayal by refusing to pretend he wouldn’t side with anyone until after the zombie war and admitted he had already bent the knee to Daenerys, he told Dany the truth about his parentage (a huge mistake), and then he told his family about his parentage. It goes on and on. This is why Tyrion never told him the Night’s Watch exile was just a scam to get the Unsullied to let him go. He’d have been all “hey, Grey worm, they’re pulling your leg, I’m actually running off to live with the Wildlings”. 

Who was the Prince Who Was Promised?

It was probably Jon. This post explains it way better than  I ever could.

Was Daenerys pregnant?

No, no, no, she is barren. Have you even been  watching the same show? Plus, they were already at their maximum of pregnant women they could kill off.

What was the point of the white horse?

Actually, I’m on board with this one. What WAS the point of that?

There are many other questions out there, but most of them are either too obvious (you just need to be paying attention) or they are terribly obscure factoids pulled from the depths of the books, and answers will only be forthcoming in future books.

I was not unhappy with the finale. I’m interested in how GRRM ends things in the books, since at least one of the people at the end of the show is already dead in the books (although possibly returned to life, hard to say for sure).

Posted in Fantasy | 1 Comment

Leave Me (the hell alone!)

Leave Me, by Gayle Forman

I am wayyyyy behind in blogs. This is due to a busy time a work and to accidentally stumbling across the show Breaking Bad which I have spend a LOT of time binge-watching over the past few weeks. Happy to report that addiction is over (having finished the show) and I’ve delved back into my stack of unread books. And without further adieu…

I honestly thought I was going to hate this book. Some random First-World-Problems white woman has a heart attack, then during recovery finds she can’t cope with her unsupportive husband, high-maintenance twins, and absentee BFF, and decides to “disappear” by running away from home. Gack!

Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be a charming little story about our FWP woman finding her way back to health and self-love, while forging an eclectic group of new friends who accept her for who she is, despite her obvious guarded secrets. It’s a Goldilocks story, where everything done is just right. All the characters are developed just enough for you to quite like them, without going so far that they seem artificial. The adventures are just enough to be interesting and believable, and not so much as to be utterly ridiculous. Even her coping with leaving her young children results in just enough angst to be sympathetic without being nonsensical. It’s a perfect weekend read, and will probably take you just about that long to finish.

Fun side note – I wasn’t sure about the validity of the word “unsupportive” so I asked my husband by way of the following question: “Is unsupportive a word? As in I have an unsupportive husband?” He didn’t laugh nearly as much as I did, nor did he answer my question, so I googled it instead, and take a look at the number one auto-fill suggestion:

…Google knows…

Ah, life, you make me laugh.

Rating: borrow it, it’s a nice read.

Posted in Books, Fiction | 1 Comment

The Disappeared

The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin

I didn’t love the style of writing. I’m not saying it was bad, it just wasn’t for me. The author has the narrator quote people speaking and doesn’t use quotation marks, just commas (I said, isn’t it strange how people go to war and still play each other’s music? You said, My grandmother used to take me to a temple to pray for peace.) Sometimes there is no “I said” or “you said” indicator of who is speaking, or that anyone even is. I want to say that this made the story confusing and difficult to follow at times, but I feel like that makes me sound like a reading noob.

I didn’t love the protagonist/narrator. She falls head over heels in love with a boy, Serey, from Cambodia, and after he leaves Montreal for home to try and locate his family following the Cambodian civil war, she pines for him for ten years. Then, seeing someone who looks like Serey in a crowd-shot in Phnom Penh, she buys a one way ticket and sets of in search of him. She enlisted the help of Mao, a remorque driver, to driver her around every night until she finds him. And later, when she loses him again, she begs Mao to risk his own life to drive her to Ang Tasom to search again, with no regard for the fact that Mao has his own family to look after. Then she foolishly challenges the local police, causes two friends to risk everything to save her, and STILL continues to defy warnings and ultimately ends up jailed and starving. By now, I’ve spoiled most of the book, but I won’t ruin the ending other to say that this boy consumes her entire life. Maybe I’m just an emotionless zombie, but I don’t imagine that I would ever attach myself to someone so desperately (mayyyyybe my son, but certainly not some man). I found her incredibly frustrating and totally unsympathetic. Then again, maybe this is what the author intended.

The story itself takes place during the Cambodian War, and Pol Pot’s Year Zero “cleansing” of 2 million (or more) “undesirable” citizens – mostly educated city people. This is where the book really shines, apologetically wading through the horrors of those years. If reading isn’t your thing, for a fun date night, you can watch the 1984 movie The Killing Fields. Good times. There is nothing like graphic story of genocide to make you grateful to be Canadian.

Rating: Borrow it. This is a story worth reading.

 

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Is Essentialism Essential?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown

It’s official. I am hanging up my superhero cape.

The essentialism lightbulb is that successful people do fewer things better. I’m not talking about success in terms of wealth or fame, I’m talking about it in terms of whatever your goals are in life. The aha moment for me came when I realized that, at work, you can be the “superhero who says yes to everything and gets shit done” (me) or you can be the “inspiring leader who makes this happen” (not so much me) but I can’t think of anyone who I’ve seen be both. My revelation is that being a superhero is actually a CLM* not to mention that it robs other people of their own chance to do heroic things. With that in mind, I want to pick 3 or 4 things to do really well, and inspire other people to take on the rest. A lofty goal, and luckily Essentialism offers a few tips on how to make this happen.

First, I need to start being present in the moment and doing a better job of listening to the edges of conversations with my coworkers (and everyone else in my life, frankly). Being present means no longer pretending I can multi-task (I can’t). Listening better means paying attention to the things that aren’t being said as much as the things that are, asking more questions, and offering less advice. And mostly, not just biding my time until it’s my turn to talk. This is a skill I need to practice, so my first challenge/goal is to come up with a strategy for practicing. I may just set up random 30 min meetings or coffee dates with various coworkers just to ask them to tell me about their work. During this time, I can only ask questions or make noncommittal listening comments such as “mm hmm” or “tell me more about that” or “I think what I hear you say is …”

Here are several additional tips and tools that lurk within the pages of essentialism. All of these are applicable to me.

  1. Slow down and stop trying to do it all.
  2. Take a look at what assignments can I eliminate at work.
  3. I should book 25% of my time to just focused on key projects. This is two hours per day. Make it happen!
  4. Listen better and stop fixing things.
  5. Get more sleep. You’re not a loser if you go to bed at 10.
  6. There is no try. Do, or do not.
  7. We overvalue things if we already own them. Try asking “how much would I pay to own this if it wasn’t already mine”?
  8. Always increase your estimates of time/effort by 50%. The coffee shop is not just 10 mins away!
  9. The things I enjoy in my spare time are writing, reading, puzzles, movies.

Don’t misunderstand, this book isn’t perfect. The book club discussion raised a few interesting points about it’s weaknesses. As with most self-help books, the author is writing from a place of privilege – not everyone has the luxury of being able to say no to things, particularly if they work in a low-end job and have a family to support. McKeown also loves to pull examples out of the air and attribute the positives to behaviours consistent with his approach, in the flagrant display of confirmation bias common to many self-help book authors. (“Look! Steve Jobs was incredibly successful and he lived his life like a true essentialist! Ergo, essentialism works!”) The key, as always, is to take what resonates with you and simply discard the rest. Perfect essentialism.

Rating: It’s probably worth owning a copy, if you are okay with writing in the margins.

*Career Limiting Move
Posted in Books, Nonfiction | 1 Comment

A Briefer History of Time

A Briefer History of Time, Stephen Hawking

This book starts, as all good physics books do, on a train. Many of the fundamental aspects of Einstein’s Theory of Relatively can be illustrated by imaging you are standing on a platform watching a train move past you, while a second person on the train bounces a ping pong ball up and down. Aspects of relativity can reveal themselves if you simply imagine your platform is moving and it is actually the train that is standing “still”. Things get even more interesting if you swap the ping pong ball for a photon that is moving back and forth between an upper and lower mirror at the speed of light, and imagine how this photon looks to both the person on the train, and to yourself on the platform.

I have just a couple of criticisms. One is that in trying to make this more accessible, Hawking has actually left behind some significant leaps of logic that in some cases may actually make things more confusing. The secondcriticism is that the illustrations, while quite lovely, are not very illuminating, which is unfortunate because simplified illustrations could actually have helped fill the holes left by the scaled-down text.

In truth, I preferred the original A Brief History of Time, which I eagerly read when it took the popular-science world by storm in 1988.  If I were to fill in some blanks on a past that I only dimly remember, I would attribute that original book to my current nerd-status love of quantum physics. I read it more than once, and every time I had to work extra-hard to make it through the light-cone part. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about.

A Briefer History of Time leaves out the light cone difficulties, but unfortunately it also leaves out many of the (more difficult) bits that helped fuel my current physics interests. It makes me sad to think that some brewing science-interested kid may miss out on a passion because this version has dialled it down. But then, to be fair, maybe it’s increased accessibility will inspire others? (And it’s just got to be said … I hope nobody comes out with A Briefest History of Time.)

Rating: Buy it. For your science shelf. You do have one, don’t you?

P.S. I wrote this about Stephen Hawking when he died, and for me, it warrants repeating:

Cheers to you, Stephen Hawking. Thank you for your book, A Brief History of Time, which launched me down the path to full-on quantum physics geek-dom, and for your continued contributions to the accessibility of physics to the rest of us regular folks. Please say hi to Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman.

Posted in Books, Nonfiction | 2 Comments

in a dark, dark wood

in a dark, dark wood, by Ruth Ware

It’s past time to call this a genre – psychological thrillers with unimaginative titles involving potentially crazy women. I’m going with psycho girl thrillers.

In a dark, dark wood is classic psycho girl thriller, and it’s actually a pretty good one. My first favourite thing is that it resists the temptation to name the key suspect in the title. Other more formulaic versions were more succumbing: The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, The Good Girl.  (Good Girl Gone Bad looks like it fits the pattern, but don’t be fooled.)

The girls (and one boy) in this variant head off to the middle of nowhere (technically in the middle of the titular dark, dark wood) for a “hen” party.  There’s some pretty extreme crazy but it hangs together surprisingly well, and I came away satisfied enough to order her next book “The Girl in Cabin 10”. It follows the more traditional naming convention so my expectations are correspondingly lowered, but I’m hopeful it will make for a good holiday read.

If you prefer the psycho girl thriller movie version, I strongly recommend “A Simple Favour“. This is a really nicely done PGT movie with wonderful acting and some actual surprises along the way.

Rating: Borrow it. Or, pick up a copy and lend it around to your friends.

 

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That’s a Wrap, 2018

Well 2018 is finally over. Not soon enough, frankly. I didn’t feel great about my reading this year. I let work steal much of my personal time and let a couple of binge-able TV series take the rest.

I did manage to read 28 books, which is certainly better than I thought. There were definitely some reading struggles this year – supporting friends through tragedy, separating from book club, tackling a very difficult and high-profile project at work – which has highlighted a need to make a more conscientious effort to read (AND to write about it).

Nevertheless, 2018 wasn’t a complete reading wasteland, and so here are a few highlights.

The good:

Favourite book of the year: Middlemarch. I’m actually embarrassed it took me this long to read it.

Best nerd book: The Elegant Universe. A bit brain-melting,  however. You’ve been warned.

Best Bio: What Happened? This is also the question I ask myself when I realize I’ve read enough biographies in 2018 to warrant a best-of award.

The bad:

Stupidest book: Fire and Fury.

Most bitter book: Life Sentence.

Least relevant book written by someone who’s written tons of books and as a result thinks they’re more relevant than they really are: David and Goliath.

And for those of you who are interested, here’s the complete list:

  1. Conversations with Friends (blog post pending)
  2. Nine Perfect Strangers – skip
  3. Savage Love – buy
  4. Moon Over Soho – borrow
  5. Weapons of Math Destruction – borrow
  6. Canada 150 Women – buy
  7. Midnight Riot – borrow
  8. Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11 – buy
  9. The Pope of Physics – buy
  10. The Coaching Habit – borrow
  11. The Devil in the White City – borrow
  12. Where’d you go, Bernadette? – borrow
  13. Religion for Atheists – buy
  14. Life Sentence – skip
  15. I Feel Bad About My Neck – borrow
  16. Good to a Fault – buy
  17. The Princess Diarist – buy
  18. Arrows of the Queen – borrow
  19. My Life as a White Trash Zombie – borrow
  20. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House – skip
  21. Annihilation – borrow
  22. Homo Deus – skip
  23. Middlemarch – buy
  24. What Happened? – buy
  25. David and Goliath – skip
  26. The Culture Map – buy
  27. The Curve of Time – borrow
  28. The Elegant Universe – buy
Posted in Books | 2 Comments

Nine (im)Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty

Warning … LOTS and LOTS of MAJOR SPOILERS within!

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Pop quiz: what two things do all of these words have in common? Funny. Intelligent. Exquisite. Powerful. Brilliant. Superb. 

Answer: 1) they all appear on the back cover as reviews for the book and 2) they are the opposite of what the book is. I think this must be one of those situations where these are excerpts of reviews where they are actually prefaced by words like “not” or “look elsewhere if you want a book that is”. Stephen King is even quoted as saying “funny and scary”. STEPHEN KING! Maybe the context of his review was “it’s scary how not funny this book is”.

There were so many things wrong with this book that it’s hard to know what bit was the worst.

Was it when the director of the health spa secretly micro-dosed everyone’s smoothies with LSD so that they could all experience spiritual awakening, and all nine of the guests just became righteously indignant but didn’t think they should immediately run away and perhaps alert the authorities? Or when she then locked them unknowingly in a windowless, unlit studio without any food for three days (same reason)?

Maybe it was the constant repetition from the female characters about how they wanted to lose weight, or else how they couldn’t understand why “women always want to lose weight” even when they are a normal weight? Either way, there was an awful lot of repetitive crap about “women” and “weight loss” from an author who seemed to be suggesting women shouldn’t be talking about this as much as they are. I dare you to read this book and not come away thinking you need to go on a diet.

Speaking of superficial female body-image issues, a strong contender for worst part of the book is the transformation of the spa director from frumpy, middle-aged, smoking-addicted heart attack victim into tall, svelte, muscular, super-hottie who glides around the resort wearing billowy white outfits. Gack!

And no list of badness would be complete without the scene where the immensely overweight former football player saves the day by jumping off the backs of two other resort attendees and leaping 12 feet into the air in order to (successfully) recover a package from the rafters that might contain a key to the locked door.

[correction here – I seem to have mis-remembered. It seems the hefty football player actually fell short of his leap, spraining his shoulder in the process, and a different character knocked the package free with a water bottle toss. This would be slightly more believable if the football player didn’t go on a short time later to do a bunch of push-ups with his bad shoulder]

However, the clear winner for me was the family of three – father, mother and their daughter – who were spending the week at the resort as a means of coping with the third anniversary of the death of their son. This hit a little too close to home to read about in a bad novel that used the tragedy as a plot device. It made me sad, and offered little hope or enlightenment in return (heads up for my neighbourhood friends – maybe steer clear of this one.)

It makes me wonder if Liane Moriarty peaked at Big Little Lies? Not sure I’m going to read anymore of her books to find out.

Rating: Skip it. Go have a piece of chocolate and feel good about yourself instead.

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