Locke me up, baby

 I was going to keep going with the poetry, but I have a cold, and my head is too sore for that much thinking. So what should you read when you’re sick, you’re getting bloody tired of grad school and the horrid city you’re in, and you’re now woefully single without even a Book Cat to cuddle up with while waiting for Spartacus: Vengeance to start and soothe your aching heart?

Volume 1 of the Locke and Key series

Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key series of comics/graphic novels (And don’t even start with me about the terminology. They’re released as single issues and then collected into volumes. So argue amongst yourselves.) I am admittedly rather late to the Locke & Key party; volume 4 is already out, and apparently, a TV series pilot has been made and inexplicably rejected (for shame, network executives!). Still, better late than never. Into the breach!

First, a brief synopsis: Tyler, Kinsey and Bode Locke are reeling from the violent murder of their father when their mother decides to seek a fresh start in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. Keyhouse, the sprawling, labyrinthine Victorian house where the siblings’ father grew up, is not a regular house, though, and Bode soon discovers that its doors can take you to the most unexpected places. But the past is about to catch up with the Locke family, and they’ll soon discover that their father’s murderer isn’t the only monster to fear.

Damn! What is not to like about these books? Nothing, that’s what. Broad appeal, people. They hit all the markers. Complex, realistic, intriguing, identifiable characters. No one is a ‘type.’ A plot that is endlessly engrossing and mercilessly suspenseful – I lost so much sleep while devouring these books. And then, when I did sleep, I dreamed about them. Seriously.

Hill’s storytelling skills are masterful. He draws you in and keeps you on your toes, and if you let your guard down for a second, he gives you a light, chastising jab to the jaw. Yeah, don’t start thinking you know what’s going to happen. Cuz you don’t. The blend of fantasy and horror feels fresh and quite unlike anything I’ve read in a long while, and the key motif is so appealingly vintage. (I have always been obsessed with keys – who hasn’t? –  and even found a shop online where you can buy beautiful replica keys from the comics!) Also, bonus smart aleck points: oooh, doors, oooh, liminality!

Of course, none of this would be quite as awesome without Rodriguez’s stunning artwork. Jaw-dropping. Gorgeous. Cool beans. I want to pry open his head (or unlock… ha! spoiler!) and get lost in the forest of his imagination. When I have bazillions of dollars I am going to hire him to design my mansion… an exact replica of Keyhouse!

Be warned: this book is not for kiddies. (Suck it, kiddies.) There’s some salty language (yay!), and super-scary images (duh, and also yay). Great Odin’s ravens, I love these books. Beware, though. You will get nothing done until you finish the first volume; nice people will try to talk to you, and you will glare at them with your Medusa stoneface until they scurry away, afraid for their safety. And then you’ll walk a thousand leagues (more or less) to your local comic book store to get the next volume, braving the harsh Canadian winter and weathering the dumbfounded stares of the exclusively male customers and staff, clutching the precious books to your chest like they’re a certain piece of trouble-making jewelry, only relaxing your death-grip when you’ve returned to your frigid and disturbingly monastic studio apartment.

Yeah. They’re good.

Rating: Five out of five freaky magical keys!!!

Happy Birthday Django!

Django Reinhardt

One hundred and two years ago today, the inventor of ‘Gypsy Jazz’ was born – it’s Django Reinhardt’s birthday. So today, let’s celebrate, and remember what we can learn from the all too brief life of this musical genius. Savour every little perfect moment and squeeze all the juicy goodness out of life. Never let anything get in the way of your dreams. Ignore the haters and the nay-sayers and break all the rules to make something new and beautiful and wholly your own.

(There are few things more wonderful than listening to some Django while rain taps at the window.)

If you want to learn more about Django’s incredible life, I strongly recommend  Michael Dregni’s Gypsy Jazz: In Search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing, as well as Dregni’s earlier, harder-to-find biography, Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend. Both books are excellent studies of the life, art, and legacy of the one of the great Roma musicians.

Put down the poem and nobody gets hurt

Many years ago, over one particularly painful ‘family’ dinner, I challenged my idiot brother to a competition. To say I’m competitive would be like saying the Hulk has some anger issues. Plus, I had been watching a lot of Kenny vs. Spenny, which, when combined with my inherent thirst for supremity and the tension of a family meal, resulted in the perfect storm. Luckily, Idiot-Bra shared my unquenchable hunger for bragging rights, and is also also an idiot, so he willingly accepted the terms of my diabolical challenge, despite it being obviously and gloriously beyond his abilities. 

The challenge: memorize Poe’s The Raven in its entirety. The winner’s reward would be winning (duh), with the bonus pleasure of seeing the loser march up and down our street wearing a sandwich board emblazoned with whatever humiliating phrase the winner chose.

My sandwich board Humiliation will be meaner.

You’re probably wondering what humiliating phrase I chose after a smug and victorious recitiation of Poe’s eighteen-stanza masterpiece of trochaic octameter (thank you, Wikipedia). Alas, said recitation has never happened – yet. The challenge is still open, since no deadline was set, and six years on, with eleven stanzas under my belt and only seven more to go, I am gleefully contemplating the long-awaited reward to my sporradic bouts of maniacal memorization.

What does this have to do with anything? This is the first of several posts about what I’ve been reading while playing hermit in Helheim. And first up is POETRY! Apparently, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (wha???), but then, a lot of people are crazy. Me? Also crazy, but damn, I do love me some poetry.

The first is Penguin’s Poems by Heart, selected by Laura Barber

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of trite little poetry anthologies in convenient pocket-size format, but I am a Penguin UK whore. (I will literally buy anything they publish. Anything.). And then I do have a bit of a thing for committing large and ultimately useless chunks of poetry to memory, even without the promise of sibling humiliation as a reward, so this seemed like a wise purchase. This collection promises to include poetry I will want to “remember and love for ever”…we’ll see about that.

Well, it was quite good, actually. This lovely little miniature book has everything you’d expect, all the good classics to impress your friends, smarm your way through dinner parties, and put hostile high school teachers in their place. Shakespeare, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Dickinson, Blake, Kipling… the list goes on, all the usual names that appear in these kinds of anthologies, but instead of being annoyed at finding so many of the familiar and the expected, I found it handy to have them all in one place, like a primer for the aspriring intelligentsia. Also, these poems aren’t just famous, they’re brilliant. (I think sometimes people how amazing the classics are when everyone’s off looking for the next wanky new poet to free verse his/her way onto the literary scene.)

Happily, there were a few surprises. I was pleased to find a few of Lewis Carroll’s verses, as well as pieces by Ted Hughes, William Carlos Williams, and D. H. Lawrence. The poem that I was most surprised to see included was Siegfried Sassoon’s “Everyone Sang” – that’s not a poem I immediately associate with memorization (which is ostensibly the purpose of this anthology), but when I turned the page and found it there I was as delighted as old Lady Grantham seeing a perfect floral display. The last poem in the book, just waiting to be rediscovered – I can’t think of a better poem to end such a wonderful and handy collection than Sassoon’s beautiful and mysterious expression of joyous hope, startlingly contrasted with those foreboding final lines. If you haven’t read it in a while, I recommend seeking it out. Or you could buy this book, natch!

So that’s the good dealt with. The bad? Entirely English poetry, not even a translation of anything by non-English poets. Not surprising, but it seems a bit narrow-minded, doesn’t it? Still, this is really just meant to be either an intro to the classics or a handy-dandy reference to the ‘best’ poems (which of the two it is depends on your amount of previous exposure to English poetry, I suppose). All in all, no more and no less than it promises to be.

Plus, cute cover – I love the illustrations!

Rating: (I’m not judging the poems themselves, cuz whoa, would that be arrogant – who am I to judge the canon of the Western world, right? – so this is just regarding Barber’s selection) Hmmm…I’m going to be generous and give this anthology 4 out of 5 brooding Romantic poets.

He can probably recite lots of poems. Meee-ow.

(Yeah, you’re welcome for that one.)

How do you say Happy New Year in Elvish?

‘Sup, blogosphere. Been a while. Guess I can’t put off starting the new year any longer. Since we’re nine days in. Still, I couldn’t just rip the 2011 Mad Men calendar off my wall until Ukrainian Christmas, with all of its belated and desultory holiday gluttony, had finally trudged past, could I? (I’m telling you, one person should not be able to devour as many pickled beets and mushroom-stuffed pyrogys in a single sitting as I did. It was truly disturbing. And impressive.)

So I took a bit of a break from the interwebs over the Chrimbo hols. Got all ‘disconnected’ so I could ‘re-connect’ with people…yeah, right!

Yeah, right. And I'm the Elf Queen of Mirkwood.

What a holiday. Helheim wasn’t as hellish as usual, with step-Satan away on a visit to his homeland, the fiery, demon-populated pits of the Judeo-Christian concept of a punishing afterlife. Little half-brother, Idiot-Bra, is now a helpless, bed-ridden cripple due to a few months of hauling the slaughtered carcasses of innocent cows (what a puss. Shoulda chosen tofu, muthf-kka). Idiot-Bra only emerged from his cave of gleeful, Skyrim-filled convalescence to sate his unquenchable appetite for grilled cheese and chocolate milk. It was truly a Festivus miracle. (That he stayed away, not that he came down, I mean.)

So for most of the holidays, it was just me, Marmee, and Book Cat. A fortnight of secular Christmas revelry:  traditional Christmas smashing of bitter-memory-laden Christmas miniature houses (with festive Christmas hammer), a cruelty-free Chrimbo feast (for the animals, at least, ha ha), watching A Christmas Story for the billionth time and still laughing like a loon, a couple of pagan bonfires, and a Yule goat quest. Then there was the rest of it: all of the revenge missions, kickin it in the T-dot (shut up, that’s what I call it), knitting hubris, knee-crushing running, feline sartorial madness, endless TV and movie marathons (this shall forever be remembered as the Degrassi High Christmas), seeing a version of The Nutcracker that somehow misplaced its effin trepak (um, what the eff, National Ballet of Canada?), absolutely no writing at all (despite dragging every single one of my research books home in a weirdly literal example of “the road to hell” thing), and the only thing really relevant to this blog, so much reading my eyes turned into this:

The eyes of Robyn, reading

It was awesome. It was brilliant. It was the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER! (And I didn’t even mention New Year’s… holla NYC!)

So I’ll post what I read over the hols tomorrow. Which brings me to the purpose of this post, which, as usual, I have taken a zillion years to get to. The class for which this blog was created is, sadly, over (tear!). However, I find that this blog has become a part of me, as the great Garth Algar foretold it would. And while I may have cast off the sullied tatters of the old year in which it was spawned and shuffled into this pristine, shiny, and brand spankin new year with an eye to forget most of icky and accursed 2011, I will not abandon this blog. No, my friends, I fully intend to continue on with this blogging mission…quest….thing. So I’ll carry on, with only a few slight alterations. I’ll be blogging about books and book-related stuff, and reviewing and musing on what I’ve read, am reading, and plan to read – same old, except the books won’t be exclusively YA, as they were when this was a school-related blog, and there will be significantly less self-censorship. Which means more nerdiness, more weirdness, and more Book Cat. And more of whatever the hell I want. Boo-yah! 

You can’t see me, but I am totally doing my much-practised evil genius grin and accompanying evil genius laugh. If only Book Cat were here so I could do the evil genius stroking equally evil feline side-kick in lap thing. Sigh.

There. Business taken care of.

And now, in summation, here is a list of Things I Learned Over the Chrimbo Hols:

  • It’s really bad luck to wind up with Old Scratch for a step-father, but it’s slightly better luck when he cloven-hoofs it back to the netherworld.
  • Grete Samsa probably had a kick-ass Christmas while Gregor was upstairs whinging and freaking out.
  • You can never make too many “Christmas is coming” jokes while re-watching the entire first season of Game of Thrones.
  • Some people just don’t understand the need to spend hours building a bonfire on the smelly shores of Lake Ontario and then take less than a minute to jump over this bonfire. Once. Why do I even have to explain this?
  • Chocolate hedgehogs taste better than real hedgehogs (hedgehogs agree).
  • Not even the shards of a hundred thousand miniature Christmas village houses will satisfy your thirst for grandparenticide.
  • Christmas revenge is the sweetest revenge of all.
  • Toronto kicks fake London’s ass, but crumbles beneath the mightiness of true London.
  • Undoing days worth of knitting will reveal terrible, wonderful, frightening depths of profanity you never imagined you possessed.
  • A cat will only put up with so many photoshoots when he’s forced to dress up like a reindeer.
  • “Everybody wants something they’ll never give up!”
  • There is absolutely nothing in heaven or earth better than watching all three Lord of the Rings movies, back to back, in the most epic movie marathon of all, to ring in the new year. And then starting to re-read the books. For the eighteenth time.
  • The National Ballet of Canada will take a lot of your hard-won (read: scammed from Beelzebub) money and then stamp on  your beloved Christmas traditions and spit on your desire for authentic and established ballet choreography. Not that I’m mad or anything.
  • It is easier to play Vikings while wearing your hipster-y faux-fur vest and waving your umbrella sword than it is to write about Vikings.  
  • Reading is more fun when you don’t have to do it for library school.

Well, that’s all for today, folks.

P.S.

I did take down my Mad Men calendar. And you know what? All I could think was, KINSEY!!!

Paul Kinsey, where are you? Come back, I miss you! I would totally go for Ukrainian food with you, and then we could listen to jazz, smoke some Mary Jane and quote Eliot at each other!

It’s just not the same without you, Mr. Kinsey.