Monthly Archives: August 2008

What I Read This August

Mountain Solo by Jeanette Ingold
The Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky
Thin Air by Rachel Caine
A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
Charlie Bone and the Wilderness Wolf by Jenny Nimmo
The Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris
What Would Audrey Do? by Pamela Keogh
Rostropovich by Elizabeth Wilson
Just Play Naturally by Vivien Mackie and Joe Armstrong
The Mirador by Sarah Monette
Boccherini’s Body by Elisabeth Le Guin
Hell and Earth by Elizabeth Bear
The Girl of his Dreams by Donna Leon
Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

Not much to say this month, really. Sarah Monette’s series keeps getting better and better. Hell and Earth was an awesome conclusion to The Stratford Man duology. I couldn’t read very far into Boccherini’s Body, although I desperately wanted to. My full review of Ms. Hempel Chronicles is here. Plain Truth was my first Jodi Picoult novel, and I will read more.

That’s about it.

A Farewell

Well, this is it; the last day of a somewhat sane CBC Radio 2.

This past spring, CBC announced a major overhaul of Radio 2 in an effort to find more listeners. They’re broadening their musical scope to include, well, pretty much everything. Radio 2 was developed as a classical music station. Over the past few years they’ve slowly been whittling away at that, adding jazz, fusion shows, a little bit of this, a little bit of that… essentially music in which I have zero interest. Each time I’ve dropped another show I once enjoyed. Gone was Danielle Charbonneau’s lovely, relaxing program Music for Awhile between dinner and eight; gone were the live classical concert recordings of Symphony Hall at eight o’clock that I’d listen to at home before bed or on the way to orchestra. I turn the radio off at six now, because I find Tonic harsh and discordant and it drives me up the wall (although I like Katie Malloch, go figure). I find that I often flip the dial to the CJPX 99.5, the local French all-classical station, although I miss a host’s presence identifying the music and it doesn’t keep a reference list of what played when on its web site. (Although having just visited the site to start an Internet stream, I see that they now have a date/time search function. That’s good.)

I’m grieving for the loss of Tom Allen’s weekday morning show, Music & Company, in particular. Of all the daily hosts, I find he’s the most in tune with my sense of humour, my musical tastes, and my mood at the time. He’s going to be the new morning show host, although the content is going to be very different, and I’m trying to find solace in his continued presence. I’m going to give it the good old college try, but I suspect it’s not going to be what I need in the morning.

I’ve written of my displeasure to CBC and groused about it here and to people in person, but I’m feeling frustrated and useless at a move I sense will lose more listeners than gain new ones. It’s unfocused, a patchwork of scattered musical style, and although they claim they’re maintaining a commitment to classical music the only show with classical as its base is scheduled between 10 and 3, when many people are at work or school and can’t access a radio. I’ll be the first person to stand up and say that the definition of ‘culture’ is not limited to classical music, but in many places across Canada there isn’t an alternative to the classical content found on CBC R2 up till today. I’m not the only frustrated listener, either. Stand On Guard is a website devoted to proving to the CBC that there is a substantial percentage of listeners who do want classical music to remain as the focus of CBC R2. They’re also fighting to restore the CBC Radio Orchestra, the last surviving radio orchestra in North America, which was axed this past spring as well.

I’m listening to Tom Allen’s final minutes as host of Music & Company, and I feel as if saying goodbye to it is like a microcosm of my commitment to Radio 2. Goodbye Studio Sparks; goodbye Disc Drive. Thanks for being the soundtrack to my life for thirty years, Radio 2. I’ve discovered many new artists and composers through you. You’ve been with me through two university degrees, my marriage, my retail and freelance careers, the writing of five books for publication and countless not yet published novels and short stories, and motherhood. You inspired me as a musician. I’m going to miss you very, very much. I will be open-minded and give the new programming a try next week, but I sense I won’t be tuning for long; it’s just not the kind of music I want to be listening to. I’ve sent personal farewells to some of the hosts, and left notes on CBC blogs as well. These people deserve to know what they’ve added to my life.

Now I’m thoroughly depressed. This probably calls for some Invisible. ‘Holiday in Cambodia’, perhaps, or the PPK medley.

It Figures

Someone gets a really good picture of me at the last orchestra concert… and I’m not playing my cello.

Because if I’m not playing, I’m marking up my music in the desperate hope that a new fingering added half an hour before the concert begins will actually help. Sigh.

Review: Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Author: Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
Title: Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Publisher: Harcourt
Media type: Uncorrected proof
Release date: 8 September 2008
Reading period: 22 August 2008
ISBN-10: 0151014965
ISBN-13: 978-0151014965
Category: Adult contemporary literature

Upon finishing this book, I turned it over and reread the title. Ms. Hempel Chronicles can be construed in two different ways. On one hand we can take it as a noun: The chronicles of Ms. Hempel’s life. On the other we can interpret it as an action: Ms. Hempels chronicles her life, and what she sees and thinks about what goes on around her. While I began the book with the assumption of the first title, during my reading experience my understanding slowly shifted to the latter interpretation. Each thing Ms. Hempel observes – be it love, relationships between adults, the relationship between a teacher and a student, a pregnancy, affairs, a class exercise or module – initiates some sort of connection to her own past, her aspirations, her uncertainty about her identity. The narrative does not make the mistake of bogging down in self-analysis; instead, the connections that Ms. Hempel makes are what draw the story along.

Ms. Hempel Chronicles is about a young elementary/middle school teacher at the beginning of her career. Ms. Hempel takes in school life going on around her, the interaction of the staff, the complex and yet very simple lives of her students, in a poetic way. The narrative constructs the sense of a young woman posing questions to herself about the world through which she moves without ever being clumsy or obvious. She muses about ways through which she can challenge her students and the establishment, wonders about how to nurture tomorrow’s leaders, and makes friends with her students in a very natural way. Outside school, she considers her relationships with her fiancé, her family, and her colleagues. Despite its subject, at no point does the narrative sink into saccharine or syrupy sentimentalism.

The protagonist is referred to as Ms. Hempel throughout the majority of the novel, even when the narration follows her and her observations. Only in the flashback sequences, in which the narrative recounts stories about her as a girl, or in scenes with her family is she referred to as Beatrice. This technique sets the reader in a formal relationship with the protagonist, allowing the author to create a sense of privilege when the reader is allowed to share Ms. Hempel’s secret memories and yearnings. Identifying her mainly as Ms. Hempel also points to the importance and impact the character associates with her identity as a teacher and a public figure.

The final chapter of the book leaps over a decade into the future, making a sudden shift that is somewhat disconcerting. All the thematic elements are there, including the sense of connection to events experienced by Ms. Hempel in the previous chapters, but the displacement of time and characters seems to come without warning. This chance meeting with one of her past students, now a young woman, is the only time at which the protagonist shifts from being identified as Ms. Hempel to be identified as Beatrice (other than in flashback sequences to childhood memories or family scenes). The shift highlights one of Ms. Hempel’s commitments: to making a difference in their lives, partially through being their friend.

I enjoyed the book. It was a pleasure to read: it’s smoothly written, and the language flows comfortably. Ms. Hempel’s thoughts and wonderings are presented with poetic imagery and yet feel natural. At 208 pages it was a quick and easy read, but the story is tightly crafted and well polished. Any longer and the narrative would lose its unity, or feel less structured. Nothing extraneous occurs or is included.

Many thanks to Mini Book Expo and Dan Wagstaff at Raincoast books, through whom I acquired a review copy of this book.

Publisher web site:
Distributor web site:
Author web site: n/a

Inbox Amusement and Mailbox Joy

I am always amused when Amazon recommends one of my own books to me.

Today’s mailbox joy: My new glasses! Huzzah! Now I have to stop jumping when I pass a mirror. They’re very different from what I usually wear. Also handed to me by the postman were three secondhand books that I was beginning to suspect had gone astray.

Stupid Microsoft is making me download file conversion thingys so that I can actually open the Excel file that contains my assigned freelance work. Gnarr. I wonder what else it will make me do. (Ssh — there is a Macbook test in my future. Do you think Microsoft heard about it?)

And finally, I am cold. I’ve already put socks and slippers on, and I suspect I’m going to have to put a cardigan on over my long-sleeved t-shirt.

Day One: Conclusion

Lunch out with Ceri was fabulous. We haven’t seen one another since my birthday, and that was for all of ten minutes. We chatted about so many different things: some writing (she asked what Orchestrated was about and I’ve never had to sum it up for anyone before…. other than the three-paragraph synopsis, that is), games and gaming, houses, her experiences at voice recording sessions for the game she scripted, her experiences at Comic-Con demoing the game, and her recent trip to Germany for more of the same. (Travel stories are much more interesting than my staying-at-home stories.) Then we went and petted all the gorgeous quilts on display in the shop next door.

Once home, I sat down and wrote a book review for an uncorrected proof I’ve read as part of the Mini Book Expo project. I’ll proof it and polish it tomorrow if necessary, then post it. I’m all set for freelance work tomorrow, and I may divide the day into half for someone else, half for my own writing. (Which is theoretical payoff in the future, as opposed to immediate income. But I’ve been over this countless times to make it All Okay in my brain already.)

The boys should be home soon. I’ll be making my homemade tomato-onion sauce for pasta tonight, with tomatoes, onions, and basil from the garden. No, they’re actually pulling in now, so in a few moments I should hear how the boy’s first full day at preschool went. I imagine I’ll hear about it while he’s still in the driveway, actually.

(Ah yes: there he is, telling the neighbours, “Hi! I was at school! I had fun!” And he evidently napped a decent while too. Excellent.)