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Stone Angel comes alive

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 by kate

It’s hard to imagine a woman in her 30s could know the mind of a 90-year-old woman, but Margaret Laurence writes so vividly in “The Stone Angel” that you can almost feel the weariness of time settle in your own bones.

Laurence was only 38 when she wrote about Hagar Shipley – an unlikable, stubborn woman who somehow wins you over as she struggles to accept her waning body and mind. Born to a successful merchant in a fictional prairie town of western Canada, Hagar floats between past and present, uncovering a woman whose pride prevented her from fully living or loving.

“Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear. I was alone, never anything else, and never free, for I carried my chains within me, and they spread out from me and shackled all I touched.”

Hagar’s mother dies during childbirth, her brother dies of pneumonia, she loses touch with her father when she marries a man he disapproves of, and eventually loses her son to the life she never wanted for him.
The simple prose pulls you through heartbreaking moments that aren’t overly sentimental, making them even more stirring.
“I straightened my spine, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life, to stand straight then. I wouldn’t cry in front of strangers, whatever it cost me. But when at last I was home …. I found my tears had been locked too long and wouldn’t come now at my bidding. The night my son died I was transformed to stone and never wept at all.”

Through the story of a stern woman Laurence also dusts off old age itself.

“My satin nightgown, rumpled and twisted, hampers and hobbles me. I seem to be rather shaky. The idiotic quivering of my flesh won’t stop. My separate muscles prance and jerk. …I shuffle slowly, thinking how peculiar it is to walk like this, not to be able to command my legs to pace and stride.”

If you never had to read this book for school, pick up a copy for one of those cold winter weekends coming up. And if you did read it in school, dust off that copy and read it again. You’ll enjoy it more now.

(For those of you who refuse to read anything that isn’t glossy, instructional or in email form, visit co-Captivator Justin Anderson’s blog for a review of the film version of this book.)

Previous Post: Confessions of an Eco-Sinner

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enlightening eco-lit

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 by kate

Don’t read Confessions of an Eco-Sinner if you love chocolate, ice cream or burgers. Fred Pearce will ruin your care-free consuming ways, but he may help control your waistlines and your waste.

Pearce spent a year tracking down the origins of his stuff, uncovering the hidden worlds that sustain us consumers. He goes to the source of his shirt's cotton, the coffee in his cupboard and the prawns in his curry in an effort to “find out whether I should be ashamed of my purchases and their impact on the planet, or whether I should be proud to have contributed to some local economy or given a leg up to some hard-pressed community.”

Confessions is as much a history lesson as an eco-lesson, but that’s not to say it isn’t as gripping as a Stephen King classic – if anything it’s a little bit scarier because it’s real. Yes, it feels like a text book complete with an index, and yes, some parts are a bit too detailed for my liking, but once you skim to sections that interest you, Pearce provides a plethora of fascinating facts.

On his journey, he discovers African farmers have to pollinate their vanilla by hand, since bees don’t populate the area. He links eating ice cream to accelerating rain-forest destruction, and explains why the banana – a sterile, seedless “mutant” as he calls it – could be on the verge of extinction.

It takes 40 gallons of water to grow enough wheat to produce a slice of toast, but it takes nearly 3,000 gallons to make a hamburger. So you can only imagine how much water it takes to make a Big Mac and fries.

But Pearce isn’t an environmental Eeyore. The last couple of chapters are full of eco-optimism for the future. Pearce talks about the importance of cities turning green, and cites cities that have already taken steps toward cleaner quarters.

“At the new $40 million home of Melbourne’s city council in Australia, hanging gardens and water fountains cool the air, wind turbines and solar cells generate most of the electricity, and rooftop rainwater collectors supply most of its water.”

“In San Diego garbage trucks run on methane extracted from the landfills they deliver to. … In Germany, they are greening the roofs of their high-rises to grow good, encourage birdlife, collect rainfall, and cool the street below.”

Developing worlds are also working hard to keep up. The city of Curitiba in Brazil has created bus-only roads, and recruited poor people to recycle garbage in exchange for food and bus passes.

He sends an encouraging message that change is possible and doesn't have to come with massive sacrifice – just a different way of thinking. “For the past century planners have designed cities as if resources like land, fuel, water, and concrete were unlimited, and as if waste was something to be dumped as cheaply and as distantly as possible. Cities need a new metabolism, conserving their resources, cutting our carbon-based energy sources, and mining their trash.”

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fey fodder and walken report

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 by kate

I have to start off my celebrity section with news about my famous twin.

30 Rocks’ Tina Fey – recently lauded for her eerily-accurate Sarah Palin impression – has signed a book deal with Little, Brown & Co., according to the N.Y. Observer. The book will reportedly consist of humorous essays in the style of Nora Ephron and will be edited by executive editor Reagan Arthur.

The deal also involves a donation to the Books for Kids foundation to help sponsor the construction of six school libraries in New York, according to an Observer source. The exact price-tag is unknown, but Fey earlier last week had received a $6 M offer to write a book, according to reports.

In other big book news from USA Today, a new book, arriving in stores next week, takes on the “duke of spook” in Christopher Walken A to Z: The Man, The Movies, The Legend, by Robert Schnakenberg.
Fans get a closer look at this two-time Oscar nominee who once was a lion tamer, had a cooking show on TV and used to worship the moon.

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