Monday, November 22, 2010

I ain't got time to read

Here is Sarah Palin on her current reading habits:
“There’s nothing different today than there was in the last 43 years of my life since I first started reading. I continue to read all that I can get my hands on — and reading biographies of, yes, Thatcher for instance, and of course Reagan and the John Adams letters, and I’m just thinking of a couple that are on my bedside, I go back to C.S. Lewis for inspiration, there’s such a variety, because books have always been important in my life.” She went on: “I’m reading [the conservative radio host] Mark Levin’s book; I’ll get ahold of Glenn Beck’s new book — and now because I’m opening up,” she finished warily, “I’m afraid I’m going to get reporters saying, Oh, she only reads books by Glenn Beck.”
First of all, this is all bullshit, but not just because everything that comes out of Palin's mouth is bullshit (though that is true), but because Palin is someone with a schedule crammed with daily interviews, fundraising, conference calls, strategy sessions, and meetings with image consultants and political managers. She must also put aside time to promote her new eight-part infomercial, as well as turn out to support her daughter on that dancing show. When all that is done, and there are no animals to shoot or fish to be snatched out of the water bare-handed – you know, like a grizzly would – then Palin must also squeeze in a minute or two to help raise her large family, which includes a toddler with special needs. Filipino nannies are not exactly thick on the ground up there in Alaska.

You can call her a cynical, thin-skinned, corrupt, hypocritical, and ideologically thuggish embarrassment spurred on by nothing more than greed, self-regard, and a vampire-like hunger for attention – but don't call her idle. She is busy, busy, busy, and as such, probably has precisely zero time to read anything longer than a tweet or a Facebook update.

As an author and an all-around books guy – with all the petty resentment, agoraphobia, and sense of entitlement that implies – I should now be expected to chuckle haughtily at Palin's claims of well-readedness. But here's the thing: I don't care if Palin doesn't happen to read any hefty tomes in the five or six minutes of free time she has leftover in a day. I have a part-time job, zero public stature, and only two (blessedly healthy) kids, and even I cross myself at the sight of a book that pushes the 400-page mark. (Thanks a lot, Mr Foran...) If someone with as busy a schedule as Palin's can't actually find the time or energy for the collected letters of her supposed political heroes, that's entirely understandable. I've been meaning to re-read Anna Karanina for a while now, but every time I pull it off the shelf, some part of my mind says fuck that shit and reaches for something slimmer.

Palin's a liar, sure, and a pretty bad one, but why does she feel she needs to lie in the first place? Well, because we demand that politicians display such cultural signifiers. Books = smart. Books = gravitas. Books = seriousness. Witness (and I swear I will try not to reference this here anymore) Yann Martel's ongoing unilateral book club, which might as well be re-titled Haught or Not? Just as we want our leaders to demonstrate some level of cultural hipness (What does Ms Palin think of Bieber's big win at the AMA's? What's on her iPod? Does she think Glee has fallen off this season?), we want the other side of the coin covered, too. We want fireplaces and wingback chairs and leather-bound volumes and Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

This speaks to an enormous amount of cultural anxiety, as well as at least a small serving of class-lensed elitism. The fact is, books also = a certain amount of spare time. I am certain that Palin has a team of researchers combing the letters of Reagan and Adams for possible quotes to be used in interviews and speeches, but cozying up with them herself at the end of a long, long, Alaskan day? Bullshit. My guess is that most high-profile politicians feel they are doing well if they can put aside the briefing notes long enough to read Get Shorty for the fifth time while on a red-eye to Los Angeles.

And so what? Obviously, I think anyone who is so politically influential should read widely and be familiar with modes of thinking that can only be achieved through long immersion in perfect-bound texts, and I like the idea of a politician who sees reading serious books as a necessary component of being in a position of power, but I don't actually expect them to be sitting up until 5 am with a flashlight under the bedsheets, tracing the fall of the Roman Empire or Leopold Bloom's progress across Dublin, even as half-a-dozen morning show hosts are warming the mikes for them.

That Palin would try to represent herself as a voracious reader is a laughable and not at all surprising. That we should care either way is just kind of dumb. There are, after all, many other reasons to despise her and everything she stands for than just her non-existent reading habits.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Feelin' Groovy

Here's some excerpts* from the self-help book I'm writing called Take It Slow: The Wisdom of Gaspereau Press, which I should have done by next year. Or the next. Or the one after that - don't rush me!
  • From the chapter on Raising Kids: "This is risotto, not mac & cheese! Tell them to sit outside and take in the wonder of the sky while they wait. And if you miss the birthday party, well, there's always one next year."
  • From the chapter on Finances: "Monthly rent payments are an abomination. They turn what should be a gift - a living space, a home - into a kind of regular shakedown. Landlords must learn patience. Instead of cheques, offer them roasted chestnuts, or fresh apples straight from the tree."
  • From the chapter on Friendship: "A true friend knows that, even if you have not called them or sent them an email in a long time, that you still speak them them every day in your heart. And they would know that expressions of condolence for a dead parent or partner are meaningless - death comes to us all in the end."
  • From the chapter on Sex: "One must never be trapped into an artificial quid pro quo framework when it comes to orgasms. The essential question is the quality of the orgasms, not their even distribution. Sexuality is not socialism."
  • From the chapter on Publishing: "A book is only ever perfect in the conception, in the idea. So if, say, you are unable to get finished books into the hands of readers, know that this will only preserve this perfection for them. The book will always be the book they want, and never the book they have. To have the anticipated object in their possession can only be a kind of disappointment. In this way, NOT publishing books is the best way to ensure their eternal perfection."

* I've already posted these on my Facebook page, but hey: why waste comedy gold on mere friends?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"I mean, when you've loved and lost the way Alice has, then you know what life's about"

You know what the title of my book should be? Yes I Can, If Alice Munro Says It's Okay.

I had to forcibly put yet another of her books aside the other night because every time I read or re-read one of her stories, and then try to do some of my own writing, a tiny, limo-driving Bruno Kirby pops up in my head saying, "I would never tell you this, but... this, this is a fad."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Big Fog

I took the kids out for a late-night walk last night specifically to see the fog, which was so thick at its peak, we could barely see the houses on the other side of the street.

Here are some photos people have posted to give you and idea of how truly cool it looked here. (Some of those shots are from my neighbourhood, or close enough.)

It all looked like something out of a horror movie - like, say, The Fog. Or even The Mist, for that matter.

Needless to say, I had a little hand clutching at mine for most of the way.

Don't bring dead canaries to a coal mine

A blog I often go to, one that deals mostly with US politics, recently touted a new book about how America is nickle-and-diming itself to death by refusing to pay the full costs of things like energy and infrastructure.

The blogger then noted enthusiastically that the book could be had for more than 40% off the cover price on Amazon.


Friday, November 12, 2010

It's oh so quiet

Around here, anyway. Life has been elsewhere.

Last night, out of curiosity, I mentally stacked up the books I've read (for reviews and other purposes) over the past two months or so, and the stack was rather sickeningly impressive, if I do say so myself. Eye-high to a mermaid's knees.

I'm also continuing to prod this bugger of a second novel toward its conclusion. Why is it that this "light" book has been so hard?

ADDED: well, at least my troll still loves me... (see comments)