The semester came to an end this week, with only the final exam left before us, so my week's activities were largely taken up by a marathon of grading (and at least one sleepless night scaling Mt. Grademore) and then the long trip from my new home in Nova Scotia to my partner's home in Los Angeles. Yes, I believe we may be the only people in the world leading a dual existence in Southern California and Halifax, NS. As my partner said when I took this job, "The one down side is that it is as far away from LA as you can possibly get while remaining on the same continent." "Ah no!" I replied, "I'm sure there are some universities in Newfoundland...."
Newfoundland is one of the discoveries I have made about pronunciation since arriving in Canada (by listening to how others pronounce things, since Canadians have been far too polite to correct my errors). As it turns out, the common and tortured American pronunciation [NEW-fund-lend] is utterly untethered from the truth, which is rather more like [New-fund-LAND]. Similarly, for years I have been pronouncing the country's much-forgotten capital as [OTT-a-wa], when in fact it has a much subtler form that I still struggle to master: [OTT-a-WA]. Montreal, it turns out, is pronounced by Anglophone Canadians [MUN-tree-all]. And my favorite: the local town of Antigonish seems to be spoken as [ANN-a-go-NISH].
Don't even get me started on how fascinating and subtle the Canadian use of "eh?" is.
At any rate, et in Los Angeles ego.
Since books (both used and new) are terribly expensive in Canada, I have taken to ordering them online and having them delivered either to my partner's house or to my parents', according to a complex calculus that involves variables like "how silly, and thus not to be witnessed by my parents, are the books I have ordered," "how many books can accrete at my unbookish partner's house before he begins to scold me irately for buying more books than I could ever conceivably read," and "how many books can I physically cram into my suitcase on my next trip back from this location."
The result of this careful calculus of book ordering is that my arrival in LA was greeted by a wonderful stack of graphic novels, romances, and YA books. Faced with such an embarrassment of riches, I did what I always do: I started to read all the books at once. Greedy.
So right now I am midway through (and desperately enjoying) a number of books. Among them, these:
- Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, which dealt so brilliantly with the intersection between colonialism, young love, and the anxious performance of selfhood that is the hallmark of our age of reality television. The love triangle here is so skillfully balanced that I am actually dismayed by the idea of reading on and seeing it resolved. That is holding me back a bit in my enjoyment of the book, although I hasten to add that it is a testament to the deftness of Collins's characterization. There are a few stumbles in the prose, moments which seem too explicitly in their symbolism or wooden in their exposition, which I am dismayed to see since I am so enamored of the larger skill of this series. For instance, this one from page 23, when the sinister president of their oppressive colonial system says to our heroine: "Your stylist turned out to be prophetic in his wardrobe choice. Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, you have provided a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem." Too. Too. Much. Still, this is one of the most anticipated books of the winter for me, so I am putting a lot of pressure on it, and it hasn't disappointed.
- The latest volume in the Dungeon series, a brilliant and dazzlingly ambitious project conceived by French graphic novelists Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim. Dungeon is a loving parody of a swashbuckling genre of adventure and fantasy, and it is a vast world of wryly drawn characters, most of whom begin their lives as romantic, heroic idealists and end them somewhere on the spectrum of sinisterness between heartlessly cruel capitalists and soullessly villainous tyrants. We know how so many of the characters develop, even though the project is still in its relative infancy after a few dozen volumes, because the main series is being composed simultaneously in three sections: The Early Years (which deal with the capers of a lad who fancies himself a Robin Hood, and goes by the name "The Nightshirt"), Zenith (in which "The Nightshirt" has grown up to become the keeper of a highly popular Dungeon, to which heroes flock and pay to be killed by various monsters, and a young Duck named Herbert who works in the Dungeon acquires a Sword of Destiny that refuses to be used until he has proven himself worthy), and Twilight (in which Herbert displays a mature evil on the scale of Voldemort and Sauron, and Armageddon has come to the world). [It is a sign of the intricacy of this series that in the French volumes, the titles of all works in each section rhyme with all the other volumes in that section.] So Sfar, Trondheim, and their collaborators are composing a series based on an incredibly complex world of characters and places, and they are composing it from three different points in the world's chronology simultaneously. Every plot point they develop in one section has to take into account the implications for the plots that have already been written in both the past and future. It is delightfully smart, and awe-inspiringly vast as a project. This latest volume is the second in The Early Years, and is ominously titled Innocence Lost. D (whose potential irritation over the huge pile of books accumulating on his doorstep I appeased by tossing him this volume to read, as one feeds a guard-dog a steak before burgling his home) tells me it is largely about sexually transmitted diseases. How intriguing. But he also tells me it is his least favorite volume in the series so far. Oh dear. I will let you know when I have finished it.