Monday, September 19, 2005


Greta Garbo was 100 years old yesterday. Happy belated birthday, Greta. Let’s all celebrate by reading Rachel Gallagher’s The Girl Who Loved Garbo.

It was Rachel who recommended that I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I’m not sure yet whether to thank her for that. It’s not that I’m not enjoying the book—I am—but that it's LONG (642 pages), and it takes concentration on the reader’s part to keep the various voices straight. Or is it only this reader? It was a good recommendation because the book is about vampires or, rather, a long, long search for vampires, one of my favorite topics, and because Kostova has chosen to use multiple narrators, a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, and to have each of them speak in first person. Since I’ve been struggling to write my second novel with two narrators speaking in first person, seeing how Kostova does it with a larger cast and a more complicated plot, as well as many different combinations of time periods and places, makes my task seem much simpler than it did. Kostova would laugh at how elementary a task I’ve set myself. HA!

I am awash in books, have books cascading off every horizontal surface in my apartment, all books in the queue waiting to be read. I just finished reading Anne Fleming’s Anomaly, so I can move that one to a shelf. Having missed Anne’s launch party at Crush on Granville Street, I’ll have to wait to tell her how much I enjoyed her book. I’m reading Kostova’s The Historian now, as I said. Then there’s Lydia Kwa’s new novel (her second novel) The Walking Boy, the story that, according to Lydia, came to her in a dream. Lydia had a good turnout at her launch party last Wednesday at Fireside Books in Vancouver. Lydia’s reading during the party put The Walking Boy next in line, right after page 642 of The Historian. If you’re in the Vancouver area: Lydia Kwa has another reading coming up, this one on Friday, 23 September, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Sun Yat Sen Gardens.

I have to get reading because next month’s Vancouver International Writers Festival will bring another influx of books into my living space. Tickets went on sale to the public today. Margaret Atwood is giving the Bill Duthie Memorial Lecture on 13 October at the Chan Center at UBC. Margaret Atwood! Alice Munro is wrapping up the festival at The Grand Finale, on 23 October. Alice Munro! In between are readings and panels and discussions involving an international group of writers including Shani Mootoo, Lydia Kwa, Anne Fleming, Ivan E. Coyote, Emily Pohl-Weary, Sheri-D Wilson, Simon Winchester, William Gibson, Spider Robinson, Jane Urquhart… well, you get the idea. For details, see

And what am I supposed to be doing? Instead of reading? WRITING MY SECOND NOVEL.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Two weeks later...

Not all the people who suffered and died during and after Hurricane Katrina were poor and black. But the images on my television screen for the last two weeks suggest that, in New Orleans especially, the poor, the black, the very young, the very old, the sick and disabled--the VULNERABLE--have born the brunt of the disaster.

During the relief efforts--and the recriminations that are accompanying the relief efforts--let's not forget that the people affected by Hurricane Katrina are persons, individuals, each with his or her own life experiences, dreams, fears, and needs, not mere representatives of a race or class. (Anyone who has ever visited New Orleans will tell you IT is a city of individuals--some will say of "characters"--and proud of it.) Let's not think that for several hundred thousand individuals there's a "one-size-fits-all" solution.

As I listen to press releases and press conferences, I'm struck by the inability of officials to listen to the people most affected by the storm. One story told by a woman with no house, no possessions but the clothes on her back, who had stood in line in heat and humidity for hours to use a phone to register for help from FEMA, ends with the FEMA employee on the other end of the line asking for her FAX number or email address so paperwork can be sent to her.

I’m struck also by the lack of common sense behind large-scale relief efforts. People in a Houston shelter housing thousands of evacuees, people with no financial resources, are told that the Red Cross—and sometime later (always later) FEMA—is handing out debit cards worth $2000. People, including children and the old, who have already suffered horrid conditions prior to their evacuation from New Orleans, form long lines outside in the hot Texas sun. They are joined by folks from other shelters and by folks who have already moved out of the shelters to private accommodations, because there is a lack of information, and they are unsure they will receive the cards if they don’t get into THIS line, into this line NOW. Chaos apparently ensues, enough chaos that the distribution is shut down for the day and police reportedly “lock down” the Astrodome. My goodness, who could have predicted that something like that would happen? Could I? Could you? Yes, I think we could. But the people in charge of the relief efforts could not. Common sense, a lack thereof. Organization, a lack thereof.

Bless the people “on the ground,” the ones directly helping INDIVIDUALS, person-to-person. Listening to them. Giving them what they need, not what the giver WANTS to give. This is the last thing I’ll say on this subject. I’m not there. They are.