Book Review – Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

I had two reactions to Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster (Henry Holt, 2007).  The first – and perhaps thus the truest- came right when I finished reading it. Peter and I were on the ferry, on our way home. I closed the book and set it down on my lap. Peter looked up from his own book and asked,

“Finished reading your book?”

“Yes.”

“Was it good?”

I paused. “Yes. But the ending was unsatisfying.”

Travels in the Scriptorium is good. In the way that a house may be well-constructed, well designed, without any obvious flaw and yet you don’t want to live there.

I read Travels in the Scriptorium. I developed my own theories as to its mysteries. I finished reading. Some of the theories were correct. But I didn’t love the book. It felt like eating at an expensive restaurant with tiny portions. You might appreciate the flavour and the work that went into it but you still feel ripped off and want to stop at Wendy’s on your way home.

Do I have to enjoy every book I read? Of course not. I read many books as a student that I didn’t love. I’ve read books without loving them and still appreciated them and learned from them. (Great Expectations springs to mind as an example.)

Travels in the Scriptorium is a well-crafted novel. It tells, in astonishing and sometimes uncomfortable detail, the events in a single day of Mr. Blank, an elderly man who may or may not be a prisoner. Who may or may not be a patient in a hospital and suffering from Alzheimers disease. The fact that much of the book is devoted to detailing such events as Mr. Blank going to the bathroom or sitting in a chair, and yet I wanted to keep reading is a testament to Auster’s abilities as a writer.

The ending was not a twist or a sudden revelation but rather a slowly revealed conclusion. It did not come as a surprise; I’m not sure if it was supposed to. Neither did it satisfy me. We are told what the picture is but never given the pieces of the puzzle.

I don’t normally do this but when I got home I looked Travels in the Scriptorium up on-line to read some reviews and see how other readers had felt. And then came my second reaction.

It turns out that Travels in the Scriptorium is populated with characters from other novels by Auster. No doubt if you’ve read a book or two by Auster or, better yet, all of them, you would enjoy Travels in the Scriptorium greatly.

My reaction to this knowledge though was frustration. This is a book I could have enjoyed much more if I’d been equipped with the right information, if I’d known to read City of Glass or The Brooklyn Follies first. It felt like I had been excluded from a private club.

I have no problem with authors writing stories that include nods to their previous works. The problem here is that Travels in the Scriptorium is practically nothing but nods and winks. It doesn’t work on both levels and so excludes any reader unfamiliar with Auster’s previous work. If the book should be read following another, tell me, I’ll listen! Don’t make me sit through a lecture I don’t understand when a translator is available.

It’s not hard to see Auster’s skill in Travels in the Scriptorium but on no account did it fill me with desire to read more of his work. If you’ve read Auster before though, you might enjoy it.

Smuggler Cove Hike

Smuggler Cove is a short hike through a provincial park, about ten minutes away from us. Peter and I hiked through the park about two years ago and went back again on Saturday to enjoy a gorgeous day of sunshine.

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The path starts out rough but groomed with boardwalks taking you across the marshy sections.

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Why is the area so marshy? You can see trees, now dead, that grew before the water was there. There hasn’t been a flood recently…

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The culprit:

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We saw further evidence of beavers at work.

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We lingered outside their home but our industrious national animal was not spotted.

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After the marsh ends, the path became rockier as it took us closer to the ocean’s edge.

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The Arbutus trees lean toward the sea as they shed their skin.

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Spring is arriving in a thousand tiny ways.

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Signs of Spring

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And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the Heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the Heavens to give light upon the Earth.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:14-15

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What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,

or where the east wind is scattered upon the Earth?

Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt,

to bring rain on a land where no man is,

on the desert in which there is no man,

to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?

Job 38:24-27

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He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the Earth, the Lord is His name.

Amos 5:8

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The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the Earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Psalm 19:1-4

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Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you?

Matthew 6:28-30

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You are the Lord, you alone. You have made Heaven, the Heaven of Heavens, with all their host, the Earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and You preserve all of them; and the host of Heaven worships you.

Nehemiah 9:6

Snow and Sunshine – Spring Break 2013

When you think Spring Break, you generally think “beach”, right? Me too. However, that’s not what my spring break vacation looked like this year.

Pictured below: Spring Break 2013

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Peter and I snuck away for a few days in Whistler. You might know it as the ski resort town that hosted the 2010 Olympics.

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You may not know that it’s also one of the closest towns to where we live, by land. People often think of the Sunshine Coast as an island because you have to take a ferry from Vancouver to get here.

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See? Theoretically, you could walk from our house to Whistler. But there are mountains and wolves in the way. So we took the ferry and had a little road trip (see our road trip playlist at the end of this post), stopping for explorations along the way. The sun was bright as we pulled into Squamish and stopped for a picnic lunch, the Chief looming over us.

Overlooking the Squamish Valley.

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Neither of us had been to Whistler in a few years – well before it became an Olympic spot. It was interesting to see the changes the games had made to this little mountain village.

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We had great weather, even waking up to snow after our first night. This is the view from where we stayed.

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It was colder than the Sunshine Coast.

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We ate giant hot dogs, drank Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day and explored in the snow.

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This sign made us laugh. It looks like you might be decapitated.

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I stopped to pet a bear.

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It felt like something was behind me…

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Spring Break 2013 Playlist

(Yes, I did burn this on a CD. What can I say, our car is from 1995, we’re fortunate I didn’t have to make a mixed tape!)

1. Here We Go – Dispatch

2. The World (Is Going Up in Flames) – Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band

3. Mountain Sounds – Of Monsters & Men

4. Man on Fire – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

5. Welcome – Hey Rosetta!

6. Stubborn Love – The Lumineers

7. Ho Hey – The Lumineers

8. Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show

9. I Will Wait – Mumford & Sons

10. Little Talks – Of Monsters & Men

11. My Girl – Yukon Blonde

12. Home – Philip Philips

13. The General – Dispatch

14. Changes – The Stars

15. Heart of Gold – Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band

16. Home – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Fashion Blogger Fail

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I went shopping last weekend. It was the first time I’ve done a lot of shopping in a while and I wanted to share some of it with you.

So I took this picture:

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But man, that’s boring. That’s just some clothes on a bed. And that t-shirt is totally blending into my duvet cover. Let’s face it, the blogs I like that talk about clothes show people wearing clothes.

So I started taking pictures. Of myself. Wearing clothes. This is some kind of exercise in narcissism, right here. Let me share it with you.

(Full disclosure: I did not edit or crop these photos in anyway, though I was sorely tempted to.)

Here’s what I wore today.

It’s weird to take pictures of yourself in the mirror.

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Maybe I should sit down?

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No, that’s kind of awkward. And, yes, I do have a sink in my bedroom. No, I did not choose for it to be there.

Hmmm, but this shirt has a neat lace back and you can’t see it in this picture. I’ll take a picture of the back too.

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Oops, that’s mostly the bed. Let’s try again.

Let’s try a half dozen more times. Turns out it’s pretty difficult to take a photo of your own back.

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Huh, you can see clothes lying on my bed. But I’ve already made my bed to take these photos – good enough. Let’s move on.

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New neon top with a skirt I found at a thrift shop in the summer. I’m excited about this top because it’s such a fun, bright colour and button-up blouses don’t usually fit well on me.

That outfit was relatively painless. This is getting easier. My favourite find from the weekend:

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Oh, look, I’ve moved into my living room where you can see a) I haven’t done the dishes from breakfast yet and b) I have no idea what expression I should have on my face.

Let’s just take my face out of the equation for a minute.

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Geez, my knees look weird.

I bought this BCBG dress at The Bay for $35. Stoked. I love The Bay and there isn’t one on the coast. I also may or may not have a serious dress problem. I own more dresses than any other item of clothing.

I did not buy these boots over the weekend but I ordered them on-line a couple of weeks ago and they arrived in the mail on Thursday. I saw them in a store in Vancouver for double what I paid and that made me pretty happy! I’ve been looking for new boots for a while now and there’s a pair of Frye boots I love but I just cannot rationalize paying $400 for boots. These were a happy compromise. (They were significantly less than $400.)

Once I put my boots on, I wanted to try them on with other things.

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I’m kind of losing the thread of this post because I did not buy this dress last weekend. I bought it at a thrift store last month. (I added the belt. Also thrifted.) I’m pretty sure this dress was homemade, which is pretty cool. Did you notice that I let my hair down to make it look like I wasn’t trying on multiple outfits on the same day?

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There’s the bedroom sink again!

The pants are the ones from this post. The cardigan is new. It looks like an ordinary navy blue cardigan (it’s very soft) but it has a cool back. Let’s try taking a picture of my own back again!

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That’s the back of my head. Getting closer.

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Good enough.

Fashion blogging is hard, you guys! Especially because I know my husband would laugh at me if I asked him to take pictures of me while I tried on different outfits. Though I’m pretty sure he’ll laugh at me for these pictures too.

And if you’re wondering why I didn’t use the timer on my camera, I did. That’s how I ended up with this picture.

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That’s embarrassing. I look like I’m posing in a portrait studio. Also, probably should have put away my clothes drying on the rack first.

Those are my new yellow pants though. They’re super soft and comfy. They are actually cords, which I haven’t worn since grade 6 and I kind of missed. Fashion question: is it okay to wear yellow pants before Victoria Day? Is this a “Don’t wear white after Labour Day” type of thing? Is that even still a rule?

In conclusion…

1. I went shopping last weekend. It was fun.

2. I am not a fashion blogger.

3. Fashion bloggers must have understanding spouses/friends/neighbours/better understanding of cameras.

4. Fashion bloggers have tidier houses than me.

Eight Highlights of the Weekend

1. Pulled pork and beer Friday night.

2. This arrived in the mail. Total surprise from a friend. So awesome. In case any of you were wondering, yes, it’s always okay to send me beautiful signed copies of books. Especially books I love.IMG_0473

3. A trip to Vancouver (aka “The Big City”)

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This included such highlights as riding the seabus (pictured above), one of my favourite forms of public transit. It also meant that we went shopping at stores we don’t have here on the Coast. Like Winners and The Bay and buying spring clothes on sale. Peter and I don’t shop for clothes all that much but on a weekend like this we ended up with a few things each.

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4. Eating buko pie with my parents to celebrate my mom’s birthday. That’s a Filipino pie made from young coconuts and it’s delicious. I haven’t had it since I was in the Philippines in 2004.

5. A stay in a hotel. Which included chocolate and champagne.

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We received a voucher for this stay as a Christmas present and it was such a treat to get away and stay in a fancy hotel for absolutely no reason at all.

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6. Daylight Savings. I like Daylight Savings. What’s not to love? You either get an extra hour of sleep or an extra hour of sun. Those are both great. Losing that extra hour of sleep wasn’t so bad when we woke up here:

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7. Coming home to our beautiful spot of the world. And an impromptu beach fire and s’mores with our neighbours

8. Above all, I love spending time with this guy. We always have fun.

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International Women’s Day – A Book List

March 8th is International Women’s Day. I am very aware that I live in one of the best times and places to be a woman. No, it’s not perfect and there is much work left to be done, but I’m also very, very fortunate.

In honour of this day, I thought I would share with you the women who grace my bookshelves. I own a fair number of books but I only hold on to the ones I really love. The ones I want to go back and re-read over and over again. These are the female authors whose books I’ve kept. I left out non-fiction and children’s books and I’ve only listed one title from each woman (my personal favourite), though for  some of them I may own a few. And, since it is International Women’s Day, I’ve listed them below by country.

(And, since there have been a lot of herons in front of our place lately, here is a picture of them)

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Canada

Lorna Crozier – Everything Arrives at the Light

Esi Edugyan – Half Blood Blues

Carla Funk – The Sewing Room

Mavis Gallant – Selected Stories

Dorothy Livesay – The Self-Completing Tree

Anne Michaels – Fugitive Pieces

Alice Munro – Selected Stories

Deborah Willis – Vanishing

England

Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre (read my review here)

Romania

Herta Muller – The Appointment

United States of America

Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible

Lorrie Moore – Birds of America

Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar

Betty Smith – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (read my review here)

Those are the fine women in my home right now. Who’s in yours? Who should I invite into mine?

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Rejoice and Give Thanks

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First signs of spring outside of my front door. I can’t tell you how happy snowdrops make me every year.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This was a verse our pastor referenced in his sermon on Sunday. It wasn’t the main focus of the sermon but it leapt out to me.  This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Any time God’s Will (capital letters!) is stated so explicitly, it’s worth reading closely. Because there are many circumstances in my life where I might feel I’m not sure what God’s will is for me.

  • Rejoice
  • Pray
  • Give Thanks

Aren’t those lovely things? Those are the things I want to be full of today, and tomorrow, as the rain comes down and slowly ushers my world into spring.

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