I'll See Your Meme, and Raise You One

Warren Kinsella poked me with the meme stick. So I have to “share six non-important things/habits/quirks about (my)self.” Well, here goes:

1) I have some superstitions, like getting out of bed on the right foot, and not signing my name in red ink. I know these superstitions are what they are, but they’re pretty harmless, and I frankly keep them because they add quirkiness to my character.

2) I’ve been as far west as the South Dakota/Wyoming border, but I’ve never visited the provinces west of Ontario (I hope to change that someday).

3) When I visit rivers or rocky shores, I like to build little dams with the rocks, block the water and change its course, however slightly. This is probably part of my urban planner personality, but also the fact that, during summer camp, a group of us had pretty good success building a rocky dam partway across the Humber River.

4) Quite possibly the only law I’ve ever broken is trespassing. On a visit to the Royal York Hotel for a conference, my father let me off to explore and possibly take a few pictures of trains. This was before the Skydome was built on the Railway Lands, but after the mass of tracks in the area had been largely abandoned. There was an open gate off York Street, and I entered, exploring the derelict lands around the John Street Roundhouse. I finally parked myself on the south side of the tracks that run around the south of Union Station (which is today accessed by Platform 13 and used by Milton GO Train passengers) and snapped a number of shots on my Poloroid Disc Camera. Nobody came to stop me, even though I was spotted by several train crews. Clearly, I was not a threat to myself or others, and they let me be. When the time came for me to head back and meet up with my father, I crossed the tracks (looking both ways) and entered Union Station from the platform side, and went from there to the Royal York Hotel.

This was probably illegal, and it’s hard to imagine such a thing being tolerated in this day and age. But it was a memorable afternoon. And quite pleasant.

5) Sometimes I like to break the rules when there is no possibility of serious consequences.

6) What?

And now for six people to tag with this meme: Dave at Blogography, Allyn Gibson, Chet Scoville, Stageleft or Balbulican, Raphael and Sinister Greg


But I thought I would reciprocate with a meme of my own. As this is officially Freedom to Read Week, I thought I’d resurrect one of the most successful Internet memes out there, asking people to think about the books they owned. This meme swept through the Canadian political blogosphere back in 2005, and even got then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson involved.

Freedom to Read Week reminds Canadians not to forget the value of intellectual freedom, and encourages them to read good books that challenge one’s point of view.

So, without further ado, let’s celebrate books:

1) How Many Books Do You Own? (And Where Do You Store Them All)

I literally have too many to count. I have five full bookshelves of poetry and fiction in my living room, three full bookshelves of various reference books in the dining room (including a shelf full of photo history books about various transit systems), a small bookcase containing the 1971 Encyclopedia Brittanica, and three small bookcases containing Dr. Seuss and other picture books for Vivian and soon-to-be Nora. We also have a few boxes of books (mostly old textbooks) in the basement that we really should get rid of. I think we passed a thousand books a couple of years ago.

But I should note that my parents have enough books (fiction and reference) to comfortably stock a library designed to serve a community of 5,000 people. And as my father worked for the public libraries division of the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Communications, he’d know.

2) What Was the Last Book You Bought?

Thud!, by Terry Pratchett, a handsome hardcover that was a bargain at $6.95. I’ll be reading that to Erin after we finish A Darkling Plain by Phillip Reeve. Erin also brought three books, part of a series that included a remaindered hardback of its own, but I’ll let her mention them in the comments.

3) What is the Last Book You Read?

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I reviewed the book here, taking a risk by going on about how good the book was even though I was only halfway through. The book did not disappoint. It tells the tale of the revival of English magic during the Napoleonic era and it is written in the style of books from the period. It is a daunting tome — almost a thousand pages long — but if you invest your time in it, it will pay dividends like you won’t believe. It was the best book I read in 2007, and it’s likely to be the best book I read in 2008.

4) Name Five Books that Mean a Lot to You

Not too much has changed from my list here. I would still say that Patricia Wrightson’s An Older Kind of Magic was the most important book ever to be read to me. Something about that woman’s combination of Australian aboriginal folklore with modern Australian society resonated with me, made me a lover of fantasy, and set me on course to become a writer. I was fascinated not only by the tale, but by the image of a caretaker’s family living on the roof of a government office building, and the kids playing in the deserted offices at night. When I read the book to Erin a few years ago, she said “she writes like you.” The reverse is probably more true.

I also owe a lot to Madeleine L’Engle, in particular her classic fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time. Her tale of the monstrous IT in Camazotz stayed with me for years after my mother read the story to me in my youth, and greatly influenced the creation of The Unwritten Girl, although a lot of that came later. The Unwritten Books series started when I became frustrated a few years ago that Madeleine had skipped over (what I thought was) a critical element in the developing relationship of Meg Murry and Calvin O’Keefe. I mean, jumping from 16-and-falling-in-love in Wind at the Door to 24-married-and-expecting-first-child in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, I ask you! Well, if you want something done, it’s best to do it yourself.

I’d also add C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, which is extra fun read alongside Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials sequence (reviewed here). Yes, I do think it’s important to read both series to your kids as they grow up, as it asks the questions they should be asking about God and religion. I do think that C.S. Lewis’ books come off better — at the very least, his story doesn’t get eaten by his agenda the way Phillip Pullman’s agenda eats The Amber Spyglass, but both works taken together amount to a powerful and fascinating debate that makes us richer for having heard it.

And now this might seem a little lame, but I’d like to add This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, by Gordon Korman. This was a book that a lot of people knew about back when we were going through grades four through six in the Ontario education system? Why? Because Mr. Korman was an Ontario writer. And also, he’d written this novel when he was in grade seven. His early books were quite young in their style, but it was clear that the man had talent.

The teachers of the day gave us a rush of Korman novels. I suspect they did this to show us what was possible if we tried, but really what happened is that, I think, a lot of kids became insanely jealous of Gordon Korman. I know I did. Mr. Korman is now in his thirties and lives in New York. You can find his latest works in the kids sections of many bookstores, and he knows the audience he’s writing for. I congratulate him for his success, but I hope he understands, when I finally meet him, that I have to confess that I used to hate him.

Now, to shake up the list a bit, I’m going to add All’s Quiet on the Western Front, which I read during high school. It might be a bit of a cliche to add this to my book list, but it is an important and powerful book. It is one of the very few books that actually made me cry. So let’s leave it at that.

5) Now Pick Five Individuals to Share their Lists

Okay: Warren Kinsella, you are tagged. As are you Jordon Cooper. I tag Calgary Grit and Stephen Taylor. Finally, I tag the folks over at Canadian Cynic. Enjoy!

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