Friday, 28 October 2011

New Literature Prize. . .

It's fairly crowded in the world of literary awards; I work in the industry and even I can't keep track of them all.  But according to this article in The Bookseller,  The Literature Prize - started in part as a response to the Man Booker Prize allegedly too concerned with the "readability" of its shortlist - seems set for the spring of 2012.  There are a few things about this award that look promising. The judges will be chosen from a group of 40 - 50 members of an academy of writers and critics who are "immersed full-time in the world of books", and founder Andrew Kidd promises that the award will, "unashamedly embrace the idea of the book as art . . . and that has to do with language, form, ideas, and storytelling, and the unity of all those things." There will also be no longlist, just a shortlist.

Bring it on.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A Whale of Inspiration. . .

I love it when different art forms get inspired by one another. For example.  First came a literary masterpiece, Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Which prompted artist Matt Kish to embark on an amazing project of illustrating every page of this massive novel. It's been published by Tin House in this beautiful collection:  Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing For Every Page.  You can quickly see some of Kish's work on his blog here and follow the whole project here.

This then inspired designer Ann Weaver to create some knitting designs based on Kish's illustrations, which are now available in her book White Whale Volume 1.  You can take a peek at the designs here.  I really like the cover sweater, aptly named "The Whiteness".

Someone's probably already done this, but if I had the time (and more importantly the talent), I could get endlessly inspired to conjure up knitting patterns inspired from Virginia Woolf's work, especially To The Lighthouse.   From the brown stocking Mrs. Ramsey is actually knitting, to seascapes and lighthouses, boeuf en daubes and Lily's final painting, the possibilities would be endless.  And what fun you could have with Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, Between the Acts or The Waves!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

My New Motto. . .

Isn't this adorable?  It came with a whole bunch of other labels as a bonus with the October issue of Knitting Magazine.  Even though the import prices are hefty, I do love British magazines, not least because they often include goodies like this.  Since knitting has been a major anti-stress reliever for me recently, this is a motto I can wholeheartedly embrace.  And the issue is pretty good too, with some lovely sweater patterns. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Big Book Is Here. . .

Today sees the release of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 which I've been excited about for months now.  I'm about 200 pages in and so far it's riveting.  I have to warn you - the book is heavy!  But despite that, you just wouldn't want to read this on an e-reader because it's really beautifully designed. When you remove the translucent jacket you get this:

And the pages inside are just as beautiful and slightly mysterious.  You can see Chip Kidd talking about his design for the book here.

And do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of Leoš Janáček's Sinfonietta as it plays a recurring role in the novel.  I will be happily absorbed in this for some time. . .

Adding to the Stash (The Other One). . .

A funny thing happened on the way to last weekend's Creative Sewing and Needlework Festival.  I was making a checklist of different yarns I needed for various upcoming projects and was prepared to stick firmly to that list.  But instead, to my great surprise, my inner quilter came out, seduced by the numerous great fabrics and finished quilts on display in every row. End result - no yarn bought, but  I definitely succumbed to far too many fat quarters on sale.  

I wasn't completely abandoning sheep though. Look at this great fabric that I found (and no, I have no idea what I'll do with the metre that I bought, but I just couldn't resist!)

I was also really pleased to see Kallisti Quilts there. They are an online only company that specializes in really gorgeous Japanese and African fabrics, both traditional and contemporary.  

I also picked up some really cool handcrafted wooded buttons from The Woodlot.  And some lovely handle hardware from Quilt a Bag.   But no wool.  I think I might have been turned off by a rather unhappy looking alpaca that was shut up in a tiny pen on the show floor. Now if I can only find a project that combines the two crafts.  I think I might be quilting a bag to hold my knitting projects in the near future. . . 

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Cozy, Fun Knit. . .

Brrrr - it's getting cold out.  Finished this fun shawl/scarf this week and really enjoyed knitting the addictive pattern by Toronto designer Laura Chau which you can find here.  The bright colours remind me of French macarons. Tomorrow I'm heading to the Creative Sewing and Needlework Festival where I'm fairly sure I'll succumb to far too many wool temptations.  Still, I'm really looking forward to getting lots of inspiration. Winter's just around the corner after all!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


I'm so pleased that Julian Barnes has taken the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of An Ending - this has been one of my favourite reads all year and well deserves the honour.  I think his writing has gotten better and better with each recent book.  I loved Flaubert's Parrot, but the novels in between were hit and miss for me.  I started reading him seriously again with his non-fiction mediation on death - Nothing to Be Frightened Of - and I loved his last collection of short stories, Pulse.

Two Great Musical Collaborations. . .

I spent most of the weekend knitting, alternating between two projects that I was pretty excited about.  And then on Sunday night, unhappy with the look of , and frustrated with the number of mistakes I'd made with the other, I "frogged" them both.  When I first heard this term, I thought it was the knitting community being polite instead of using another "f" expletive, as in "I really F*&;%#*ed this up!" but no, it refers to tearing apart your work, i.e. "rip it, rip it".  Sigh.   If nothing else, knitting is teaching me lots of patience.

The other thing it allows me to do is take the time to really listen closely to CDs. While I  love my iPod, I have rarely bought music from iTunes, always preferring to browse among the ever-shrinking aisles of actual CDs and loading them on afterwards. I like to look at the album artwork, stumble unexpectedly over something that looks interesting, and when I do buy a CD, I like reading the physical booklet with the lyrics and liner notes. I rarely know what I'll end up taking home and that's half the fun.  And that's how I recently acquired these two really enjoyable collaborations.

I have a previous Stacey Kent CD titled Raconte-Moi which I discovered in a listening booth in a classical music shop in Oakville,  and I really liked how clear she sang in French. So I already was a fan of her voice and light jazz style. Breakfast on the Morning Tram quite frankly enticed me with the song titles; it seemed to be a romantic album all about travelling.  So imagine my immense delight on opening the accompanying booklet to discover that the lyricist on four of the songs is none other than Kazuo Ishiguro!  Now I shouldn't be too surprised that he has a musical yen - his last collection of short stories, Nocturnes, were all centered around a musical theme.  And in his lyrics, he continues to tell stories. "The Ice Hotel" is about a couple who reject the tropics for their holiday in favour of an ice hotel because they really need to talk about their relationship.  "I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again" is about a woman yearning for the joys of travel but knowing that if she does, it will only lead to painful memories.  "Breakfast on the Morning Tram" is an almost surreal song about a city tram that serves a full buffet breakfast and cures a broken heart as well.  And  in "So Romantic", a woman regretfully remembers how she and her previous lover would disagree on what was really romantic. The music, by Jim Tomlinson, is reminiscent of those great songs from the 1920s or 30s. Ironically, he did not write the lyrics to the song "Never Let Me Go", which I like to think has been included because Stacey Kent has a wicked sense of humour.   It's a really lovely album - wistful, playful, joyful - and I hope Ishiguro continues with this second career.

And then there is Hush, a terrific pairing of Bobby McFerrin with Yo-Yo Ma as the two cover a lot of different musical styles from classical to lullaby to even a hoedown.  Their rendition of "Ave Maria" is incredible - hearing McFerrin's soaring voice is really akin to listening to something very special and almost sacred.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Icelandic Mysteries. . .

I started Arnaldur Indridason's latest, Outrage, translated by Anna Yates, on the train home from Ottawa. He's one of my favourite Scandinavian crime writers and I like his tightly plotted police proceedures.  I thought this would be another Inspector Erlendur mystery, but it follows on from the last book,  Hypothermia; at the end of that case, Erlendur took some time off and went away to the Eastern fjords, where his younger brother went missing in a snowstorm decades ago. This event has always haunted him, especially as the body was never found.

So the latest murder case in Reykjavik falls to his colleague Elinborg to solve. A man has been found with his throat slit and the date-rape drug Rohypnol in his pockets.  A subsequent autopsy reveals that the murdered man's body was also full of the drug.  Elinborg has to use old fashioned detective work to discover potential witnesses and to track down possible victims of the man, all the while trying to balance her duties as wife (and main family cook) and mother of three. Which makes a refreshing change from the usual moody, male detective who rarely has mundane parental chores to occupy his mind.  Elinborg worries about everything from her son's obsession with his blog, to guilt over not being at home to help her daughter's knitting assignment (and isn't it great that Icelandic kids have to knit as part of their schooling?).  And she hates having to answer her work cell phone when she's at home.  But she's tough and diligent at her job, and not above firmly reprimanding a colleague when he screws up. The case veers into many lines of investigation including the unsolved murder of a young girl several years ago. Elinborg's patience, cleverness and expertise with Indian spices - she's also a published cookbook author - solve most of the mysteries.

But we're left hanging as to the whereabouts of Erlendur.  Elinborg gets a call informing her that his car has been abandoned and there's been no sight of him. Will we find out what happened in the next book, or will he become a missing persons case himself (obsessed as he is by this type of mystery)?  Indridason may be turning his focus to Elinborg which would be just fine by me as I really liked her as a character.  I do worry about Erlendur though and hope he's safe.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A Lovely Visit to Ottawa or Things You Can't Get in Toronto. . .

Took the train up to Ottawa at the end of last week for a brief work jaunt.  It's a city that grows on me each time I visit.  I love all the bike trails (and they now have a barricaded bike lane on Laurier - similar to some of the lanes they've installed in Montreal), and it's such a pretty city to walk around, particularly in the fall and especially with the gorgeous weather we've been having recently.

As with any travel destination, I'm always drawn to shops and restaurants that aren't available in my home city. On this trip, I booked a later train home to give me some extra free time, and I'm afraid I over-indulged in some retail therapy. Here are just a few haunts I like in the nation's capital city.

Places to Eat:
Best place to go for breakfast:  The Scone Witch  (love their lemon poppyseed and their herb & onion scones - I always get extra for the train ride home.)

Favourite place to pick up a latte: Ottawa's local chain Bridgehead  (they also have a awesome lemon scone - can you sense a theme here?)

Favourite Thai Restaurant:  Khao Thai.  They have a really yummy appetizer platter of satay chicken, spring rolls and minced pork served on orange slices.  I also like their peanut sauce and their pad thai which is not bright orange.

New Favourite Restaurant:  Zen Kitchen.  This was my first ever all-vegan meal and it was delicious. So many interesting flavour combinations.

Unique stores to check out:
Cool clothing: Roadtrip   Always something original and fun to see.
Housewares and gifts:  Zone  (they also have great costume jewelry and awesome bags - I've been looking for a new fall bag in an earthy tone and found this great two-in-one number. They can be used separately, or the smaller one attaches on the inside of the larger, allowing for important things to be enclosed with a zipper and other miscellany - knitting, a book - to be shoved down around it. It's the perfect size - I really love it!)

French books:  Librairie du Soleil.  Located in the Market, I always pop in for a browse. I like to see the different covers on the French editions of books I've read, and in my unending optimism that I'll make the time to improve my French, I usually end up buying something.  This trip, I found two beautifully packaged classics - the subject for another blog post once I get my camera sorted.

Yarn: Of course I have to check out local yarn stores and I really like Yarn Forward in the Glebe area.  I found some gorgeous chunky wool in a deep red colour and bought all four skeins that they had. Started my first sweater on the train ride home and have now run out with only 60% completed.  I'm hoping I can find more here in Toronto and the search will start in earnest next week.  I've modified a simple pattern and added some extra texture. It may all prove to be quite daft - I'll have to see how it looks when it's done. But it's been a lot of fun to knit.

Picked up some magazines, CDs and a summery shirt on sale as well - I was really quite bad. Ah well, it's all out of my system now. . .

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

France's Bad Boy Takes On The Art World

The Guardian an interesting review of Michel Houellebecq's new novel The Map and the Territory , translated by Gavin Bowd, which has just been published in the U.K.  (It'll be out in Canada in January).   The focus of the review is about the novel's satire of the contemporary art world, but what intrigues me the most is its mention of one of the themes being the cult of the French countryside being manipulated by Michelin.  The main character is an artist who uses Michelin road maps in his work. I've never read Houellebecq before, but this novel did win the Prix Goncourt last year, so this may be the book to start with.  Above is the North American cover, but I'm drawn more to the U.K. cover  - don't you just want to start popping that bubblewrap?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A Perfect Pairing. . .

Caught a wonderful production of Private Lives at the Royal Alexandra Theatre this week, directed by Richard Eyre.  This is one of my favourite plays and I've seen a couple of other Canadian productions, all good in their varying interpretations.  Brian Bedford played a very world-weary Elyot in 2001 at Stratford against a sophisticated Seana McKenna.  I adored a CanStage production a few years before that with Albert Schultz (very bemused) up against a deliciously sleek and snarling Brenda Robbins - I still remember her arm coming out of the pile of cushions at the start of the second act and the use of a fountain on the famous balcony scene was a splendid touch. 

I equally loved this pairing of Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall. Gross was a sexy, impatient and exasperated Elyot, almost Cary Grant-like, which was perfectly matched to Cattrall's Amanda, alternating cool blondness with raging physicality.  And let's face it - she looked amazing in those sleek gowns and even just wrapped in a towel.  The set was creative and original, especially in the second act, with its interesting use of circular and goldfish motifs and the actors really used the space well and to comic effect.  I think actors in a Coward play often rush through the text, but not these two who found interesting intonations in the words, thus allowing me to listen to very familiar lines as if they were completely fresh.  Great supporting work from Anna Madeley as Sybil (one of my pet peeves with this play is Sybil is often far too shrill - not in this production) and Simon Paisley Day as Victor (again, not played as a caricature, just an ordinary man completely unable to understand Amanda's vibrant personality). A few accent slips now and then, but a thoroughly enjoyable production.  It's on until the end of October and well worth the ticket price!