Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: When You Are Engulfed in Flames- David Sedaris

Rating: 2 stars
Why I got it: It was in the bargian book section of Chapters and I had heard a lot of good things about Sedaris. I also really liked the cover.

I don't read short stories. I'm much more inclined to pick up a sprawling epic than a book of short stories yet for some reason I have bought several over the years, one of them being When You Are Engulfed in Flames. The book jacket called these stories essays- but essays are something I know well, they start with an introduction which contains a thesis and then continues to argue whatever point the thesis makes. These were not essays as I know them and the genre of personal essay confuses me. This is basically a collection of exaggerated recollections from what seems like a rather mundane life. There were moments I thought things could get interesting when he mentioned the drugs and alcohol but apparently they were covered in a different book and those vices have been given up. He also should have a wealth of cultural exchanges and comments because of the different countries he's lived in but apart from a comment on Japanese toilets and language lessons, you could barely tell that he had ever left his bedroom. Perhaps once again these are told in other books but I have no interest in hunting down the possibly interesting sections in a man's life. Even the parts that were interesting I often couldn't help but feel that there was so much more potential for humour or that I personally had a more extreme or engaging story about the same topic. Other reviewers have remarked that Sedaris makes the mundane funny and interesting but not for me. There was a handful of weak chuckles throughout the book but I didn't find anything hilarious. The book somewhat reminded me of a blog, which would be fine if that's what is was and I had come across it online and not paid $10 for it. Overall, I was unimpressed with the book and doubt I'll buy anything else from Sedaris.
Quotes: "I have often heard of cigarettes compared to friends. They can't loan you money, but they are, in a sense, there for you, these mute little comfort merchants always ready to lift your spirits. It's how I now feel about macadamia nuts, and these strange little crackers I've been buying lately. I can't make out the list of ingredients, but they taste vaguely of penis."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger--

If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early--

If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless--

If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won't understand what Bastian did next."
- Michael Ende - The Neverending Story

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Working in Retail= A parade of idiots

Because I figured no one would hire a new person for only two months (and I dislike the idea of lying to a company) I returned to my old job in a retail store May-July in order to save some money for Norway. I've worked in retail at various stores for approximately seven years, have experienced ridiculous levels of stupidity, and I have a lot of customer pet peeves. Newest stupid= a woman who thought her bottle of water was expired.... yeah expired water.

Some of my (many) pet peeves:
- Don't ever assume that what you want is obvious. Don't respond to "do you want that in a bag", with " well yeah, of course", as if I'm supposed to know that you want a bag. Do you know why I ask? because the majority of people say NO. I have even been told off for giving someone a bag they didn't ask for, so I ask, it's easier that way and is it really that hard of a question to answer?
- Use your fucking eyes. Your body evolved so that you would be capable of observing the world around you. Read signs and look around yourself. Be aware. DON'T walk in the store and immediately demand to know where something is. Then when I tell you where it is, go look and find it yourself, don't come back two seconds later and say it's not there and then have me lead you directly back where I sent you to pick it off the shelf and hand it to you. I seriously don't know how people can consider themselves adults when they need to be taken by the hand and lead through everything.
- If I call someone to help you, don't come back less than a minute later saying that person hasn't shown up yet and to call them again. Do you think you're the only person in the store? You think you're superior to the other idiots demanding help? Well sorry bud but you're not and he's helping someone else first. Be patient and you will be helped in turn. Also if you leave the area that you need help in to come bitch at me that means that the employee who may have shown up to help you can't find you and will go back to what they're doing or be co-opted by another customer.
- Another thing to read is the debit machine console. Does it say insert card? No? then don't put it in. Then when an error message pops up because you put your card in too soon, you should read it and follow the instructions of removing card and pressing enter instead of freaking out after the first two words that say Card Rejected and looking at me like a lost retarded puppy. Then don't stand there looking at me when you're supposed to put in your pin.
-TAKE YOUR FUCKING CARD. The number of people that walk away with their card in the machine is astounding. I'm sick of having to check the machine after every customer and running out of the store after people all the time. but if I don't there's a risk of getting written up. Yes. I could be punished because people are too stupid to remember the card that gives them access to all their money.
- Jokes- don't tell them. I guarantee I have heard all the cashier related jokes and they weren't funny the first time I heard them and they still weren't the thousandth time.
*hands me a $50 or $100 bill* "Just printed them today! haha".
Something doesn't have a price tag? "It must be free! AhawAhaw" No. Fuck off.
- Don't get offended if I don't remember you. I see hundreds of people a day; you are not special. Unless you're hot or astoundingly ugly or idiotic or I specifically make an effort to look at you then I won't remember you.
- Parents- keep your kid(s) quiet.
- The store gives out reward money. You don't get a lot and the amount has lowered since the last time I worked at the red triangle. But still, free money- don't complain that you get it- it's free and there's a big donation box if you consider it an inconvenience. Don't complain that you don't get more of it- it's free.
-Don't tell me to smile. Help idiots all day and then feel like smiling. Usually I do smile and say hello but when I have a crappy day I'm not going to beam at you. You don't know what's happening in my life so don't insist I look happy just to make you feel better.
...there's a lot more.
retail sucks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book review: Beyond Belfast: a 560-Mile Walk Across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet

Rating 2/5

Why I read it: I'm Irish, I have some family in Northern Ireland, and I was interested in Ferguson's depiction of the religious strife there.

What I thought: I think I remember enjoying the beginning. I started it ages ago but then lent it to a friend who was going to be travelling 'round Ireland and thought he could use it as a guide for some places. Looking around my room a couple days ago my eyes fell on it and I decided to finish it. Some parts were very entertaining and interesting but many parts dragged heavily. While I understand that his following of the Ulster Way was a template of the book I think in many places it subtracted from my enjoyment of the text because he wasn't enjoying his travels and there's only so many complaints about rain and boggy ground you can read before you want to yell at the author "It's Ireland, what do you fucking expect?" I think people should travel for the joy of travelling and he even admitted that he didn't feel a terrible sense of accomplishment when he finished his trek. I can't remember what they are now but there were a couple historical mishaps that rubbed me the wrong way, probably something to do with Vikings that I didn't like.

"I liked the idea of Guinness more than Guinness itself. There were times I felt that way about Ireland as a whole."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Rating: 5/5
Why I read it: Went on clearance for $5 at my work and I had heard good reviews so I bought it and for some reason I chose it off of the overflowing bookshelf to bring with me for the conference trip.
From the back: By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife;s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

My opinion: My favourite book I have read this year. I really thought this book was beautiful, a difficult task considering the harsh subject matter of the Holocaust. The relationship between Liesel and her foster-father is truly touching and I love the basement scenes with her and Max. The story shows that there were families and children that did not get caught up with the propaganda and the hatred spread by the Nazi party campaign and those that knew what was happening to the Jews was wrong, but it also displays their complete helplessness to actually do anything to help. As Liesel learns how to read she learns the power of words and their part in Hitler's rise. The two big highlights of the story for me were the homemade books from Max. They touched my heart and almost brought tears to my eyes. The remnants of Mein Kampf that occasionally shone through the pages were a constant reminder that this hateful ideology cannot ever completely be covered but it does not have to eliminate all hope. The self depiction by Max of himself as a bird as opposed to human reminded me of Maus and Spielgelman's depiction of the Jews as mice. The physical differences between Jews and Germans are really a cultural creation proved by the fact that Max is able to travel with fake German papers for a time and that Liesel cannot see the difference between them because she is a child raised in a non-hateful family. But is a construct that has been so drilled into them that even Max sees himself as different- as undeserving of comfort and kindness. The little asides that pepper the book were a little jarring at first but then I got used to them and think it was an interesting writing style. The usage of Death as the narrator was brilliant, and it allowed a commentary on humanity from an involved outsider perspective. Basically I thought this was a brilliant book at will not disappoint, however, it is not a happy book despite how much hope is within the pages. Just read it saumensch.

  • "and for comfort, to shut out the din of the basement, Liesel opened one of her books and began to read."
  • "The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you"

  • "Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands."

  • "She said it out loud, the words distributed into a room that was full of cold air and books. Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every-colored books. It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen. 
       With wonder, she smiled.        That such a room existed!"
  • "In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer - proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water."

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I’m currently in Fredericton, New Brunswick for the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2011. It’s the biggest interdisciplinary arts conference in Canada. I was here with both the Association for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies in Canada and the Canadian Society of Medievalists. I gave a paper for the former and didn’t end up attending any panels for the latter despite knowing three of the professors giving papers. I didn’t know anyone at the Scandinavian Studies group and I admit being super nervous about presenting my paper. I’ve done paper presentations twice at Laurier but those were only small little conferences in front of faculty and students that are my friends. This, while not being much bigger attendance wise, was a substantially bigger deal for me. I talked to a couple people beforehand and they were very supportive and assured me I’d do a fine job and that they were interested in hearing my paper. They were very excited to have a student in attendance while I was worried I would be a bit of an outcast because I had only just completed my undergrad. Pretty much all my worries were for naught. I stumbled over my words in group of sentences that included the words history, historical, historically, and historiography but whatever. In general my paper went well but what I enjoyed most was the question period afterward. People were really interested in hearing about metal and they certainly didn’t brush it off as irrelevant. Questions were engaged and some really poignant questions arose about why such brutal metal arose in one of the most peaceful places on earth. (In a later panel I made a connection between the explosion of interest in Scandinavian crime fiction as a mainstream and acceptable alternative creation of a cultural milieu in which to examine the same tensions explored by some of the most radical black metal groups.) Numerous people afterward told me that I had opened their eyes in terms of the broadness and possibilities in metal and they had been sorry for looking down on metalheads before. Turisas gained numerous fans from my presentation and it was really funny to hear an older lady being so enthusiastic to go home and download To Holmgard and Beyond.
I also posted on Mathias Nygard's facebook wall about my paper and he's interested in reading it *squee!*
            We had a delicious meal at the Beaverbrook Gallery after admiring some great art including a couple of Salvadore Dali’s followed by engaging conversation at a pub.
            I now have Scandinavian contacts (friends?) throughout Canada and Scandinavia, much more confidence to pursue my unorthodox research topic, and a great feeling of validation so I would have to say that Congress2011 was a brilliant success. Hopefully I’ll be able to return for Congress next year that’s taking place at Laurier/UW.
Forgot to say that my paper was titled: "Breathing History, Veiled in Mystery": Turisas' The Varangian Way and Saga Tradition.

The one negative of this week is that our car suffered some sort of damage and my parents had to drop a significant amount of money on an old car that should be replaced in order to safely get home and we may have to pay for another night’s stay before it’s fixed. I also haven’t really seen any of Fredericton other than the University, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, and a pub.

Edit (September 15th): Essay can now be found at