a restrospect of my writing career.

I have documented my life in journals for as long as I can remember. Whenever I come across one of these gems from years ago I end up sitting and reading it through, cover to cover, having an extremely good laugh. I’ll never forget finding my kindergarten journal which contained such interesting tidbits as, “Today I used a magnet” and “Once I had a horse”. I never had a horse but I’m sure I had used a magnet by that point in my life.

Today while organizing the bookshelf I found a journal I was keeping from what looks like grade two until grade five. I did not religiously write in this, since there are maybe forty entries for three years of my life but the contents of these entries are brilliant. Ten year old me had no idea what she was creating but if I could go back I would tell her that while she thinks she is writing very serious, heartfelt entries she is actually constructing comedic gold.

Here I will share with you some of my favourites (complete with any spelling and grammar mistakes) and will attempt to give back-story when possible. I hope you see the wonder in these that I do.

March 30, 1997

“I like Easter. Easter came early this year usally it comes in April but this year it came at the end of March. We always get to go on an Easter egg hunt in our house and we always have tons of chocolate left over. I guess that’s all I have to say about Easter.”

If you were ever wondering about the history, importance, and wonderful family time that is Easter.

April 24, 1997

“After the grade three testing and Mrs. Pahwa told us we would be starting insects again the girls moaned. I felt like saying “Hey girls! Insects aren’t gross, boring or anything like that. You have to sort of get into the subject before you can say like they’re boring or somthing!”

If only I had looked back through my notebooks when deciding what to do with my life, clearly I was meant to be an entymologist.

April 27, 1997

“On Friday we got the tape Bacstreet boys. Heres a part of It: You’re the one for me you’re by extisy.”

This was extremely important to document, so important that I couldn’t even take the time to look up the spelling of ecstasy.

October 20, 1997

“I wrote a note to Holly asking if she had a Boyfriend. She wrote me back saying she didn’t. We were where Holly wrote her notes and Danielle read the note and started to laugh and said that’s practilly what she wrote. They wouldn’t let me read what she wrote, so when I was packing up Holly’s letter, I was looking for the letter Danielle wrote, then I found it. It said: Dear Holly, Are you going to tell Jeff you like him? Write back! From Danielle

Holly lied to me!”

This shows a few very important things:
1. I have always been a snoop and think everything is my business. This is shameful but also highly convenient.
2. I have no idea what I’m talking about here. Where were we writing these letters? Why did we have particular places where we wrote them? Who is Jeff?
3. I had no clue what it meant to have a boyfriend.

January 27, 1998

“Even is such a whiner! I can’t believe I even liked him! Once he started crying because he got beaten by a grade three in times tables around the world. Isn’t that pathetic! … But now a girl in my class named Stacee-Ann likes Evan. I know this because Stacee told Jessica, who told Evan, who told Scott, who told me and Neel. Boys can be really dum sometimes!”

Young Caitlin had no time for whiny bitches, okay? Also she really paid attention to the gossip mill. I totally am a Nosy Nancy. Also, young Caitlin: learn to spell “dumb” before you call people “dumb”… Glass houses and all.

February 12, 1998

“I like doing art. So far, my favourite type of art is Post impressonism and pop art. I think Pop art is the best though.”

Some things never change.

“I dream I’m part of my favourite band HANSON. Other times, I dream I volunteer at an Animal Rescue Station, and have LOTS of pets. It is fun to dream to me, for others, it’s wimpy.”

What?

September 27, 1998

This one you just have to see to understand:

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May 28, 1999

Graeme, a boy in my class likes me soooooo much! It is a bit flattering for someone to hug you everyday and tell you you’re beautiful. The thing is, I like him back. I know that that is not a bad thing, but, the bad thing is, he knows! Actually, everybody knows. They are always asking stupid questions like “has Graeme ‘screwed’ you yet? I hate that!”

Exemplifying my lack of desire for others to know my true feelings and also that at some point that year I learned how to put quotation marks within a quotation.

June 3, 1999

“Graeme proposed to me today. It was actually pretty sweet. He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said … YES!! I can’t believe I actually said yes!”

As Billy Joel once said, “Everyone said they were crazy, Brenda you know that you’re much too lazy and Eddy can never afford to live that kind of life.’

June 9, 1999

“I’m going to tell the people I know that have internet to go on it. Then we can talk over the internet instead. Maybe I’ll tell Graeme to go on it. Then I don’t have to spend an hour holding the phone to my ear.”

This is regarding a Hanson chatroom my friend showed me. If only I knew then how the internet can destroy perfectly good relationships.

December 12, 2000

“As you can tell from the last couple of pages*, I now hate Oddy. He asks me too many personal things and it gets really annoying sometimes. He doesn’t understand.

But after someone new now! His name is Nathaniel Underhill, and he is SO hot! He’s a bit taller than me, has blonde hair and either blue or brown eyes**. He is really funny and nice, too. He sat beside me in typing and stood beside me in the class photo. Oh how hot he is!”

*The last couple of pages had “I hate Oddy scrawled across them in maniacal writing

**True love means not even noticing eye colour, you see.

To finish this post off, I will leave you with some beautiful drawings also contained in the journal. They are symbols of my clearly budding “Pop art” career.

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Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell

Title: Books v. Cigarettes
Author: George Orwell
Originally published: 1946
This is a top shelf book.

4064936I find George Orwell’s works fantastic for a variety of reasons from his simple yet intelligent prose to his dominating yet calming voice. What I usually find most fascinating about him, however, is how much his pieces still resonate today. I’m not only talking about 1984 (although that clearly relates to the world we live in today) but his other stories and essays, as well. Books v. Cigarettes is a collection of six essays ranging in topics from his early schooling days to censorship to the book reviewer to a comparison of how much more expensive reading is than other hobbies.

In a world where the bookstore is becoming out of date and people seem unwilling to spend the money on literature anymore, or even read at all, the title essay is something that particularly resonated with me. It is likely that his findings that most people spend much less on books than they do on other items such as cigarettes or alcohol would still be true today yet, just as it were seventy years ago, people still balk at the cost of a book. Anyone who has an interest in reading and the book industry would find this piece of great interest as well.

Beyond his ability to seemingly see into the future, it is worth reading this volume for his masterful writing. He writes so succinctly and beautifully, never misusing a word or creating a clumsy sentence. It feels so perfectly revised and fluid, with each piece possessing its own personality and emotion without being out of place alongside the others. He is intelligent and well-researched, unafraid to show it, but does so without being condescending towards the reader. While Orwell assumes you will know what he is talking about he also provides enough background knowledge that you can understand his point without having to take up your own research project if you don’t wish to.

Simply as an example of perfected writing style, this collection of essays is worth picking up. If you ever need to see how a great author crafts a sentence, then a paragraph, then brings it all together into one coherent piece, pick up anything by Orwell. I highly recommend these works, though, for their thought-provoking subject matter, humour, insight, emotion, and honesty.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Title: Ethan Frome
Author: Edith Wharton
Originally published: 1911
This is a top shelf book.

ethan_fromeI love a good unhappy ending. It takes guts for someone to write a story that builds you up with all the hope in the world over one hundred pages then tear it away from you in only a few. An author who is conscious of the fact that she is going to make you believe in love, in destiny, in the power of attraction over reality and then slap you in the face with it anyways is impressive in her resolve. Edith Wharton did for me in Ethan Frome what she could not do in The House of Mirth which was make me feel deeply and somehow feel content with the horrible unhappiness of everything I just bore witness to.

A story of a fictional New England town called Starkfield where title character Ethan Frome calls home with his sickly wife, Zeena, it captures the struggle of small town life with little money to spare quite beautifully. She writes her characters so beautifully that you are aware of how old the Fromes appear due to the harshness of their cold life together, both due to the winters and a lack of love, despite the fact that they are actually quite young. When Zeena’s cousin Mattie Silver comes to live at the home as a hired girl and changes Ethan completely when she is around, you feel as if you are reading about an entirely different man during those exchanges. It is this change Mattie creates in Ethan that is the catalyst for all subsequent events.

We have all read and seen the story of the ill-fated lovers. We have been depressed by them and haunted by them. There is something about two people in love who never quite get to be that can be aching. But what is special about Ethan Frome is that there is never a line crossed. All encounters and desire is transmitted through a slight blush, a batted eyelash, or a one-second-too-long touch. The beauty of this story lies in the fact that almost never are you led to actually believe anything good will come of it but somehow you think it anyway.

Wharton weaves a tale of suspicion, jealousy, lies, and betrayal that is not melodramatic or sickeningly sweet. It is surprising and heartbreaking, but simply so. The characters are true to themselves and each other, never faltering in their resolve and always understanding what must happen despite any desires they might have. There is something refreshing in reading a story that had the opportunity to spin out of control but the author chose not to. Instead, she decided to let the reader imagine what could have happened instead.

Do not delve into this one looking for happiness or excitement. Do not go looking for a love story or a sweet tale of people who wanted each other but were simply not destined to be. It is not happy and it does not leave you feeling uplifted but it is brilliant, well-written, and creative in the way the characters’ lives play out. The only criticism I have is the unnecessary device used by Wharton of the visitor to Starkfield being the narrator of the story of Ethan based on accounts he was given by other neighbours. The only reason this was needed was to give us an idea of what Ethan looks like now, years later than the rest of the novel, but still feels slightly contrived. The rest of the book, however, is so fantastic it is an easy thing to look over.

The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre

Title: The Age of Reason
Author: Jean-Paul Sartre
Originally Published: 1945
This is a top shelf book.

book cover - The age of reason, by Jean-Paul SartrePerhaps if I decided to become a philosopher I would be an existentialist. Many of the philosophical texts I read and have interest in are existential in nature, delving deeply into issues of freedom, self, and how one fits into the world. I’m not sure what that says about me but I do know that The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre did not disappoint my needs.

In this novel, the first in the trilogy The Roads to Freedom, Sartre focuses on freedom – what is is, how to find it, how to keep it, and if it makes one happy. The main character Mathieu is a professor of philosophy who is obsessed with maintaining his freedom despite a pregnant mistress of seven years and the approach of World War II. He spends most of the text on the hunt for money needed for an abortion but takes a break to flirt, fall in love, stab himself in the hand, steal from a woman presumed dead but isn’t quite, and generally question everything going on around him.

Mathieu is not highly likeable, to say the least, but the other characters are not either. A friend of Mathieu’s who is suicidal, a student of Mathieu’s who is terrified of growing older, the student’s sister who Mathieu is taken by but is also taking her medical entrance exams which she is doomed to fail, and an older entertainer who is in love with the student.

It is difficult to write a novel that is enjoyable to read when none of the characters are people you would like to know. Sartre not only succeeds in making you want to learn more about these people, he draws you into their world despite yourself and forces you to think about what they are looking for. Each of them are realizing that life is a limitation, the barriers it puts in front of us such as work, school, and life take away any chance for freedom. You wiggle through their storylines, wondering what will become of such a sad group of people seemingly going nowhere, until near to the very end when they all have a choice to make.

It is a brilliant piece of existential literature, showing how freedom and the right to do as you wish are more difficult than it initially seems. A perfect example of what must be sacrificed to truly be who you want to be, where you want to be, and to have no obligation to answer to anyone, The Age of Reason will make you think, will ask questions of you, and will create more confusion than it will clear up. But it does it in a way that doesn’t annoy you – it simply leaves you feeling as if you may not be as free as you initially thought.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Title: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Originally published: 1945

This is a top shelf book.

Animal-Farm-Cover-by-TheFool432-16cerxbA parable, a fable, an allegory – whatever you want to call it, Animal Farm has a strong message. I believe that most schools force students to read this one too early, failing to give them the basis of knowledge to grasp what is truly being said and understanding the real-life players in communism the animals are mirroring, and if you once hated it I suggest coming back to it. It is worth looking at with fresh eyes.

George Orwell excels at showing his reader what is wrong with the world they are living in with simple, strong language. He is not verbose or condescending, he does not go on at length when the point can be given quickly, and this makes for a simple read through otherwise complicated territory. Many authors would fail at creating a short fictional account of communism, from its optimistic creation to its terrible reality, but Orwell does it masterfully, spinning a tale that is so entertaining and well-written you hardly realize you’re reading about history.

Orwell weaves small moments of foreshadowing into the larger message of a paragraph, sometimes a simple five words that you would miss the ominous nature of if you were simply skimming through. These tiny snapshots of the future are enough to get your guard up from the first three pages and it stays up as he carries you through the rest of the tale. You are taken on a ride that is maddening – especially when reading it almost seventy years after being written and understanding how strongly he was warning society while simply saying, “This is how it is” – but it is wonderfully written and does not leave you feeling abandoned with your emotions.

An interest in history and politics would cause the reading of Animal Farm to be more pleasurable than it would be otherwise. This being one of the reasons I believe this book should wait until later on in school years than it currently does (at least in Ontario school systems), I do suggest, as I said earlier, to read it again if you read it once and hated it. Perhaps you will feel that Orwell is simplifying the growth of communism and the harm it created, but that is not so: he has taken the notable moments in its history and created a powerful fable around them. There was no need to complicate it, it was right in front of our faces.

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton.

Title: Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty
Author: Diane Keaton
Originally Published: 2014
This is a top shelf book.

{23aff00d-59b6-4134-abee-9c439881628d}Img400Diane Keaton is intriguing to me. Seeming to fly under the radar but still have everyone know who she is, she is quirky and funny and honest about how she views herself. You have to respect someone who, after years of being crucified in the “Worst Dressed” lists, still dresses exactly as she desires. I respect that, at least, just as I respect any woman who decides to just do her own damn thing. And that’s exactly what this book is about: beauty, perception of beauty, Diane Keaton’s own insecurities (that, yes, manifest themselves in how she dresses here and there), and her own favourite people who did their own damn thing.

Keaton is just as quirky on paper as you would expect her to be. She is self-deprecating and brazenly honest about how she feels about herself. It is refreshing to read pages of laugh-out-loud-funny diatribe about her deep insecurity about her hair, especially when we are constantly bombarded with photos of women with perfect hair. She leaves no aspect of herself untouched, including her tendency to buy and sell houses at a rapid pace, and delves into them as if she were speaking to a friend. She assumes you already know her and mentions her friends by their first names, like Woody, because she assumes you already know who they are, too. But she does it without an air of “celebrity” around it and that is a very lovely thing.

I want to be Keaton’s friend. I want her to rehash all of these stories that she put into print for us in person, just to hear her say it. I want to tell her how wonderful it was to find out that not everything in celebrity land is perfect, not everyone is as confident as they seem, and that even the most well-known celebrities have icons (style, attitude, what have you) that they look up to but feel they will never reach the level of.

Keaton has offered us a book that is being sold as accumulated wisdom as a mother, daughter, and actress but it is so much more than that. It is a book about a woman who decided to be who she was, even when people questioned her on it. It is a book about a woman who had complicated relationships with her parents, though not necessarily loveless ones. It is a book about a woman who recognizes her faults and has found an outlet that let’s her use them to her advantage rather than bring her down. It is not just wisdom – it is a compilation of realness that we really, really need.

I want to give this to every woman in my life but I can’t afford to buy that many copies. So instead I will recommend it to everyone. And I am recommending it to you.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Originally published: 2014
This is a top shelf book.

9781616203214_custom-1248f47d7cb47c8f90ffeacbcdc3bf065de3f59b-s6-c30A.J. Fikry has become a sort of hero for me in the two weeks since I finished The Storied Life. I picked the book up as something to pass the time but not as something meant to make me think – more a nice story to carry me through until I found something a little more substantial. I certainly wish I had prepared myself better for meeting Mr. Fikry and all of those involved in his tale. I would have been much more welcoming and much less blindsided by the beauty within those pages.

Fikry’s life has fallen to pieces: a failing bookstore, a dead (pregnant) wife, his rarest and most expensive copy of Poe work, Tamerlane, stolen from his own kitchen, and a nasty attitude to top it all off. He is loveable in the way eighty year old grumpy men are loveable, not in the way middle-aged men should be. Ah, but the delivery of a new book seller from a publishing house and another special package in his bookstore change everything one day.

Yes, it sounds contrived. If you had given me the synopsis of this story before I had read it I likely would have ignored it completely. I am not inclined to read stories that involve high amounts of personal drama, especially that which seems overblown and unnecessary, and I certainly don’t like any plotline that involves too much stuff. Somehow Zevin pulls it off, though, tastefully and artfully, as if she was writing with a wry smile, knowing you would be doubting her the entire time.

I finished this book in hours. I could not put it down. I did not want to be interrupted and I did not want to veer from its pages. There are very few novels I have read more than once and this one sits permanently on my shelf, waiting to be read again. So much of this novel is done right that it is hard to even remotely do an unbiased review.

The love stories, the family stories, and the grief stories are told with elegance, Zevin using a light hand and a certain amount of brevity in her writing. She is emotional where needed and reserved elsewhere. She approaches themes of loss, love, companionship, parenthood, and coping with honesty and maturity. She makes you know these characters, she forces you to let them in to your home, and she makes it really difficult to say goodbye.

But what everyone really needs to know about this book, above all else, is that it really is a book about books. It is a book about how bookstores have changed, how reading has changed, how popular titles can be dismissed but can hold unexpected weight, how the internet has altered how we receive our reading material. It is laced with literary references and amazing snippets of conversations about the life of a book seller (“You do know I can get this way cheaper online, right?”). If you have ever worked in a bookstore or have spent more time in a bookstore than you could recall – read this book. You’ll understand it thoroughly. If you love books and stories and everything they can give to a person – read this book. You’ll love it more than you’ve ever expected.

There is nothing better than a book. There is nothing better than a book that connects with you somewhere deep down and stays with you long after it’s finished. And there is nothing better than a book that stands up for all other books and begs you to take them seriously.