Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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The Latest Technological Advance

One of the closing plenary speakers at the conference I was at showed this video. Hilarious!

It reminded me of this video, which anyone who has ever tried to help someone to use any computer software program will appreciate:


Thoughts On Fredericton

So I’m back now from my trip to F-ton. And I didn’t even blog the whole time I was there! I must have been having fun or something.

I was there for a teaching & learning conference at the University of New Brunswick, where I gave a presentation & a poster on my work from my former job. The original plan was to have Tod meet me in F-ton after my conference and take some vacation time to tour around the Maritimes, but between the time when my conference proposals were accepted and the time of the actual conference, I got my new job and had to be back in Vancouver for a conference here this upcoming week, so there was no Maritime vacation for me!  But I’ve at least knocked New Brunswick off my list of provinces to visit, and off my 101 things to do in 1001 days list!

Random things from my trip:

  • The taxi system in Fredericton is very different from Vancouver. They don’t have meters, but instead run on a grid system, so there’s a set price for a taxi ride from the airport to the university. Also, the taxi drivers drive Fords instead of Priuses and use CB radios instead of GPS.  Which means that one taxi driver will stop another one to ask how to get to a given location.
  • Shortly after arriving at the university, I ran into Jane, a girl I knew from the science outreach program I used to run at UBC. She now teaches at the med school. And who just happened to not only be at this conference, but had the residence room right next to mine!  We had an awesome time catching up!
  • UNB had these signs up *everywhere* (despite the fact that it was 28 degrees C!):

IMG_4975 by you.

  • Downtown Fredericton looks *exactly* like Oakville, Ontario. In fact, I’m not convinced that I was really in Fredericton at all – I think they just added a few hills to Oakville and sent me there.
  • When Jane and I went out to find some dinner on Friday night, we discovered that almost nothing was open.  Downtown. On a Friday night. At 9 p.m.  (If anyone from Fredericton is reading this, what do you guys do on a Friday night?).  We eventually found that Mexacali Rosa was opened until midnight, so we had dinner there. Unsurprisingly, there is a Mexicali Rosa in OAKVILLE, further supporting our theory outlined in the previous bullet point.
  • Frederticton also has a Snooty Fox, which has the exact same logo as the one in Hamilton, right across the road from McMaster. Hamilton, of course, is very close to OAKVILLE.
  • Someone at the conference, who was staying in the same residence as me, was from New Hampshire.  Apparently they named their state motto after a Bruce Willis movie:

livefreeordie by you.

Seriously, who wants the word “DIE” on their license plate?

  • The conference banquet1 featured lobster, roast beef, or a lovely lentils-in-pastry thing.  Here are Cynthia & Jane about to enjoy some lobster:

IMG_4976 by you.

Unfortunately, there was no lentil bib for the vegetarians!  We were also sitting with a girl from the Netherlands, who had never tried lobster before. I’ve never tried lobster, even before I became I vegetarian, so I asked her what she thought. Her reply: “It tastes like nothing.”

  • Oh yeah, so I did got to the conference for the actual conference. Here’s a picture of me and my beautiful poster2.

poster2 by you.

I also gave a concurrent session, which I now get to write up to publish in the journal issue that will be generated from the conference sessions! It likely won’t be as entertaining as Snow, Snow & Gillis, 2007, but it will be good.

  • The theme of the conference was “Dilemmas” and sessions focused on one of four different dilemmas facing higher education (e.g., disciplinary education vs. liberal education).  The opening plenary speaker talked about the difference between an easily resolvable issue (just make a decision already!), a “problem” (things that are solvable – just do the necessary work to figure it out) and a “dilemma” (not really solvable  – must find ways to “transcend” the issue/move from thinking of these things as either-or and instead thinking of ways to find the best balance.  He was really big on 2×2 matrices (he even wrote a book about them!) and I think my favourite one of the many he showed was this once, used to help you refocus on what’s really imporant:
    Low High
    Importance High Long-term
    Low Waste of
    Out of

    ‘cuz seriously, how much time do we waste doing things that are highly urgent, but not really important?

  • I also got a neat idea for a way to help students learn to read scientific journal articles from one of the sessions. And since it appears that I’ll be teaching a course at UBC again (didn’t think I would with the new 5 day-per-week job out in Surrey and all, but I convinced them to make it a night class), I may actually get to use it!
  • Also got some neat ideas for helping students critically read things that aren’t journal articles (as well as helping your write things that other people might read critically!) from another session that I went to.  The book “They Say, I Say” by Graff & B was recommended during this session, so I’ve just put a request in at yee old Vancovuer Public Library so I can check it out.
  • And finally, from the closing plenary, a quotation that I really liked: “Cover less and let your students discover more.”

1The banquet was referred to as a “Maritime Kitchen Party,” but it seemed like pretty much every banquet I’ve ever been to other than (a) they served lobster, (b) people were dressed causally instead of in formal wear and (c) they had a live Celtic band. (The band was really good, for the record). I guess it’s hard to replicate a true kitchen party with 475 people.
2Props to Tod for the design work on that poster!



Tomorrow, I shall add one more province to my list of provinces I’ve visited, bringing the total to 8 out of 10 (and 9 out of 13 provinces + territories).  For tonight, I leave for Fredericton, NB! Being that New Brunswick is on the other side of the country  and is 4 time zones ahead of Pacific Time *and* I have a two hour layover in Toronto, I’m leaving here at ~10 p.m. tonight and arriving in F-town at 10 a.m. tomorrow!

I’m heading there for a conference being held at the University of New Brunswick. I’m actually going there on my former employer’s dime, as I’d applied to give – and had accepted –  a presentation and a poster about the program I used to run long before my new job was even a glimmer in my eye.  I have a kick ass poster (thanks to Tod who took my vague ideas and made them look super awesome and professional-like) and the workings of a decent presentation (that’s what the plane ride is for, right? Polishing1 one’s presentation, yes?)

Anyhoo, I guess I should get back to my packing2. What does one wear to a “Maritime Kitchen Party” anyway?

1And I may be using the word “polishing” liberally here. I may actually mean “create from scratch.”
2And by “packing” I may mean “trying to decide which pairs of shoes I should bring with me.”


Driving Dr. Bethy

Dr. Beth in front of Dr. Car by Kalev.So, despite the fact that I’ve lived here for almost nine years, I know surprisingly little about the geography of the Lower Mainland.  This is in part due to my terrible sense of direction1 and in part due to the fact that I rarely left the City of Vancouver (save for occasional jaunts to North Van for hiking and skiing) until I got my new non-Vancouver job.  I could count the number of times that I’d been to Surrey on one hand before I started working there!  And now I’m not only working in Surrey, but my job involves driving to meetings all over the Lower Mainland!  Since I started work three weeks ago, I’ve been to meetings in Surrey, New Westminster, and Abbotsford (twice) and have been to three different hospitals (Surrey Memorial, Peace Arch & Royal Columbian) that I’d never been to before for workshops and such. A few of my coworkers have suggested I invest in a GPS, but I’ve decided that I’m holding out until my cell phone contract with Telus ends (next March) so that I can get an iPhone with its built-in GPS and compass.  Oh iPhone, how I long for you!  In the interim, I’m now BFF with printing directions from Google Maps.

My observations about driving thus far:

  • I never noticed how often they give traffic updates on the radio.  I’m an avid radio listener during the day, but I guess that when I was a bus girl, I just always blocked out the traffic updates.
  • And the traffic updates on the regular stations aren’t sufficient – number 1 on my AM dial is AM730 – All Traffic, All the Time!
  • People slow down when approaching bridges, even when there is no reason to do so.  I mean, sure if there’s a bunch of lanes all trying to squeeze onto a little bridge, you are going to need to slow down, but even when a two lane road goes over a two lane bridge with very little traffic volume, everyone seems to hit their brakes.
  • And speaking of bridges, there are a freaking lot of bridges in the Lower Mainland. I guess it’s the price you have to pay if you want to live near all this water!  Thus far in my work-related journeys I’ve crossed the Oak St. bridge and the Alex Fraser bridge (daily!), the Knight St. bridge, the Pattullo bridge, the Port Mann Bridge2 and the Massey tunnel.
  • Total strangers will stare at you when you drive a Smart Car. And they will ask you how much it cost, how much it costs to fill up the tank, and how well it handles.  All. The. Time.  Not that I mind – I’m totally a Smart Car evangelist!Total strangers will stare at you when you drive a Smart Car. And they will ask you how much it cost, how much it costs to fill up the tank, and how well it handles.  All. The. Time.  Not that I mind – I’m totally a Smart Car evangelist!
  • I’m totally getting a left arm tan, completely with killer watch tan lines3, from driving with my arm resting on my window as I drive.

1And by “terrible” I mean “complete lack of.” Kalev and Tod both tell me that most people can actually sense direction. Like, they can intuitively feel north-south-east-west. This concept is completely foreign to me. And, I’m willing to bet, to Dave, who shares my directional sensing deficiency and relies on his wife, the human GPS, to get where he needs to go.
2Shortly after I crossed the Port Mann, a semi jackknifed on it which tied up traffic for SIX HOURS!  Needelss to say, I took a different route home!
3For the record, that’s killer tan lines from my watch. Not tan lines from my killer watch.

Image credit: Copyright Kalev. All rights reserved. He granted me license to use it for anything I want, in perpetuity, in all forms, real and imagined, forever and ever amen.


Any one have any recommendations for a new digital camera? And then some other stuff.

I have somehow managed to smash the screen on my digital camera.  When I turn the camera on, it looks like this:

Photo_061409_002 by you.

Sorry for the blurriness of this. I took it with my cell phone camera. Because, really, how else are you going to take a picture of your camera?

I have *no idea* how I managed to smash the screen.  I’ve been carrying my camera around in my bag for *years* and it’s always been fine and then one day I take my camera out of my bag and it’s all smashed!  It’s really annoying because the camera works totally fine otherwise, but the point of having a digital camera is that you get to see the photo you just took right away and you can’t really do that with a smashy smashed screen.

So I’m looking for recommendations for a new digicam, since apparently it will cost more to fix the screen than it will to buy a new camera!  This one is a Canon PowerShot A540 and my two major complaints with it are that (a) it takes a long time to reset in between photos (I mean a looooong time) and (b) it sucked the life out of batteries – to the point that I would put in freshly recharged batteries (it takes two doube A batteries) and it would tell me it had “low batteries.”  And even if I bought the super-mega-specially-made-for-cameras-that-suck-the-life-out-of-batteries batteries, they wouldn’t last very long.  So, does anyone have any recommendations on what digital camera I should buy that won’t suck the life out of batteries and won’t take 27 hours between shots to reset?

In tangentially related news, while retrieving that photo of my camera, I discovered a few other photos that I’d taken on my cell, clearly with the intention to blog them, but then totally forgot. Until now.

First up is this photo of the first load of groceries I got in my Smart car:

Photo_051509_001 by you.

Notice my responsible use of reusable bags and my feeding of my diet Pepsi addiction.

Second are photos of a book that caught my eye one day in Chapters.  Apparently this is what is “new & hot” for 9-12 year olds:

Photo_050809_001 by you.

Let’s take a closer look at that:

Photo_050809_003 by you.

I’m sorry, what?  Am I the only one who is thinking of this when they see that title?  I think I just thew up a little.


BC Premier #13 – James Dunsmuir

Look at me – posting in my BC Premier series two weeks in a row! Go me!

This week’s installments gives us James Dunsmuir, the 13th person to be Premier of BC and (possibly) the guy that Dunsmuir Street is named after.

Name James Dunsmuir
Born: July 8, 1851 in Fort Vancouver
Died: June 6, 1920 in Cowichan Bay, BC
Party: none
Held Office: June 15, 1900 and Nov 21, 1902
  • he and his wife Laura Miller Surles had twelve frickin’ children1. Twelve!  The youngest was born when he was 53.  53!
  • born to Scottish immigrants, Dusmuir grew up in a life of steadily increasing wealth, with his dad going from a being a miner to a mine supervisor to a mine owner2
  • at 16 Dusmuir started an apprenticeship as a machinist, but after his daddy discovered all that coal, he went to “Dundas Wesleyan Boys’ Institute in Dundas, Ont., for some higher learning and polish [emphasis mine]”4 and then went to Virginia to study mining engineering
  • he managed his dad’s mine in Wellington from 1876 to 1881 and although the mine did exceptionally well under his leadership, he lived very much in the shadow of his father; he became more responsible for the company after he transferred to the corporate office when his dad became a politician
  • his father’s sudden death in 1889 lead to family turmoil – although the company was being run by James and his brother Alexander, the father left his shares & voting power to his wife (James’ mom) Elizabeth.  After much legal wrangling, James managed to gain control over the entire vast company
  • in the early 1890s, Dunsmuir moved to Victoria and built a residence with “every modern convenience,” such as electricity
  • his political life:
    • elected as an MLA in Comox in 1898
    • became premier in 1900 – but he was really just keeping the seat warm as BC was trying to get its act together to introduce a party system
    • became lieutenant governor in 1906
  • it seems he was a bit conflicted on the issue of Asian immigration – he suggested that the federal government should increase the head tax on Chinese immigrants and promised to get rid of his Chinese workers  from his operations in Nanaimo when he was running for office,  but he also fought against anti-Asian legislation – not because he cared about Asian people, but because he used Asians as cheap labour in his mines and didn’t want there to be laws to prevent that.  Further, he docked the pay of Chinese workers to pay for the law suits to fight against government restrictions on the hiring of Asian workers.
  • he, like his father and many mine owners of the time, was fiercely anti-union and would fire and blacklist union organizers and hire scab workers during strikes
  • he also supported some laws that didn’t benefit him directly (and that even went directly against his own financial interests), such as redistribution that gave more political power to the mainland over the island (and he lived on the island), including the elimination of his own seat; a number of taxes on mines, as well as income tax.  Apparently he had something to do with the Master and Servant Act, which isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds.
  • he became a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway in a deal where he sold off some of his company and later sold his mining empire to the Canadian Northern Railway
  • he retired to a life of lesiure – hunting, fishing, golf, hanging around his giant mansion in Esquimalt
  • his end was rather anticlimactic:
  • “With his eldest son devoting his life to globe-trotting in an alcoholic stupor, a second son a victim of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, and his daughters, who generally had married into British-based, upper class, military families, leading frivolous lives, there was to be no worthy third generation of Canadian Dunsmuirs. The lifestyle and Old World pretensions so carefully cultivated by the family disintegrated before his eyes. After his death at his fishing lodge in 1920, the children squandered the fortune in one generation.”4

  • interesting fact: along with two of his employees, he “created British Columbia’s first telephone from information supplied by the Scientific American;”4 he used it to connect the mine in Wellington with the corporate office in Departure Bay

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

19 girls, 3 boys
2after he discovered a bunch o’coal

3Wikipedia, the reference of that had very little to say about Premier Dunsmuir.
4Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
5Miss 604’s blog posting on the Dunsmuir family.



I seem to have received a heck of a lot of nice presents lately!

First up, this Calathea plant, given to me by the trainees on my last day at my old job. They said it was for my new office! So sweet!

Calathea plant  by you.

That same day my then-boss gave me these roses to thank me for all my work with the program:

Roses by you.

And then, to welcome me to my new job, my new boss gave me this plant for my office:

IMG_4914 by you.

I didn’t know what kind of a plant it was (and nor did my boss), but the interwebs came to the rescue when I posted the pic on Flickr and asked, “what the heck is this?” Turns out, it’s a Kalanchoe. Wish me luck keeping my plants alive, as I totally suck at plant keeping alivery.

And the final gift I’ve received lately, which I’ve also used in decorating of my new office is this:

IMG_4944 by you.

This is a thank you present from the class of grade 3 and 4 students that I spent six Friday mornings teaching science to.  I had soooo much fun teaching those guys – I told them that I would put this up in my office and every time I see it, I will think of them!


A few random things

  • Remember how my couch cloned a pen?  While my desk at work is now in on the act – where once there was a single blue highlighter, now there are TWO:

IMG_4945 by you.

Seriously, I have no memory of taking two blue highlighters from the supply closest. Yet there are two blue highlighers on my desk!

  • Although I suppose it’s possible that it wasn’t the desk, but rather the new computer who is doing the cloning.  The new computer who I’ve named Chloe after Chloe O’Brian on 24:

my new desk & computer by you.

  • Chloe has been giving me some trouble.  I got her just more than a week ago and for the first week and a day I had her, she wouldn’t load my roaming profile.  After countless phone calls to I.T. and a process that was complicated by the fact that the email name change1 I applied for came through in the middle of all this, the problem was finally fixed… and somehow my email can no longer receive emails from people outside the organization.  I think Chloe may be possessed.
  • I may have bought two pairs of shoes yesterday.  It may be a bad thing that I discovered a Payless Shoe Store right next door to my office building.

sandals by you.IMG_4961 by you.

  • There are about 50 billion little green flying bugs that appear to have taken up residence in the bushes next to the door to my apartment.  They attack me every time I enter or leave my place. They don’t bite – they just fly at me.  It’s very weird.
  • 9 times out of 10 when I intend to type “interested,” I type “interesting” instead.  “I am interesting in getting some information from you about your program” or “I am interesting in applying for the position of scientist/social engineer/model with your company.” I think, deep down, I just think I’m interesting.
  • As you may have noticed, Smart cars are very small.  Like, they pretty much don’t have any hood beyond the front windshield, and there’s no trunk beyond the back window. Yet when I’m trying to park the car, I always think I’m really, really close to the car in front or behind me (when I’m actually several feet away from it) because I’m used to regular cars where the hood does extend further out.  My friend Jen B. coined a term for this: phantom hood syndrome.
  • Only in Vancouver will you find something like this:

hippie chips by you.

1I was originally assigned an email address with my real first name, Mary, in it. But since I’ve never, ever, ever gone by Mary, no one would ever find me in the directory with that name and it would cause no end of problems, so I submitted an application to have my email account changed to say “Beth” instead.


My Car is CYBORG!

So Zaphod finally got her new rear window today.  When I brought her into the car hospital for a diagnosis last week, they confirmed that she did, indeed, need a new rear window.  At first they thought that they’d have to have one shipped in from the factory (which is in France), but they were able to find one that was out east and had that shipped here instead.  And so now that’s she’s had her original rear window replaced, she’s a part-car, part-machine cyborg.

I still love her though.

IMG_4871 by you.

Zapod before her surgery.

IMG_4871 by you.

Zaphod the post-surgery cyborg.


Guest Post-y Goodness

So remember a million billion years ago when I offered to interview people?  Kalev took me up on the offer, even though he doesn’t have a blog on which to post said interview. So I told him that not only would I be the interviewer, but I’d even post it here on my blog as a guest post.  ‘Cuz that’s just the type of swell gal I am.  Anyway, it may be months and months later, but here it is!

So months and months ago, I asked my friend Beth if I could participate in her interview meme as documented here:

On 2009/01/03 11:58 AM, Beth Snow wrote:

oh em gee, are you actually going to post this on your BLOG??

Beth is always teasing me that I don’t have a blog and I don’t blog–even though I was writing blog-type things on the Internet while she was still in grade school. 😛

1. So, you have an academic paper in press, which is totally insane for an undergrad. Tell us what the paper is about, without using the words “problematize,” “hegemony,” or “trajectory.”

Hey! Your hegemonic derailing of my jargonistic trajectory problematizes this whole interview thing! *LOL* What?! You say sociology is the most jargon-riddled social science (where social sciences are known for their jargon-filled goodness)? I don’t know what you’re talking about!

That’s extremely flattering of you to combine praising me with an opportunity for me to brag. It should be pointed out to anyone who might be reading that Beth is the person who set me on the crazy course that led to my being published. Or my “going to be” published, since apparently getting published is a process that takes MONTHS, years even. She sent me the call for submissions for the special multinational/cross-cultural issue of Sexuality Research and Social Policy: The Journal of the NSRC [National Sexuality Research Center], an online, peer-reviewed journal published by University of California Press where my “article” (it’s still funny for me to use “official” academic journal terminology like “article” give that this started out as a term paper for an undergraduate course and was then referred to as a “manuscript” during the submission and review phases) will appear. This started WAAAAAY back in August 2007. That’s right: nearly TWO YEARS ago. And the special issue (which is now going to be TWO special issues, quite possibly single-handedly because my article is so frickin’ long) will not be showing up until September of 2009, so that will basically mean it’ll have been OVER TWO YEARS from start to finish.

Wait, you still don’t know what my (paper) article is about? Well, it’s entitled “Saving the Children: (Queer) Youth Sexuality and the Age of Consent in Canada.” As jargon-free as possible, it’s a comparison of how the debates about age of sexual consent in both Canada and the UK proceeded in recent years based on how the concept of youth sexuality is framed. In the UK, the debate on lowering the age of consent for anal sex was framed as a matter of equality, whereas in Canada, the debate on raising the age of consent for all non-anal sexual activity was framed as a matter of protection. This led to decidedly different debates and different results with respect to how the age of consent was changed in the two nations.

Beyond that, I look at how considering sexuality as identity (the now-traditional way sexuality tends to be viewed in the public sphere) leads to a very different result than if sexuality is considered as performance (put overly simply, if sexuality is considered to be something that results from people stringing together a series of acts that collectively get recognised as a particular “sexuality”). The legal regulation of sexuality in Canada and the UK often has more to do with specific acts (anal sex, “public” sex) than with types of people (gays, lesbians, bisexuals) but to complicate things, “sexuality as performance” is not just as simple as “oh, he fucked some guy so that makes him gay.” And the laws that govern sexual activity in Canada are not really as much about prohibiting certain acts as they are about helping to define the boundaries of “normal” behaviour and people, and by doing so, that effectively helps create the sexual identities most contemporary people are aware of and recognise.

Beyond that, it’s effectively a treatise on how the Harper government sucks and youth get shafted (and not in the good way) by sexual regulation in Canada. *grin*

The final irony? UBC Library does not have a subscription to SRSP.

2. When you were little, what did you think you would be when you grew up?

You know, I can’t recall ever thinking “I want to be <blank>” or “I’m going to be a <blank> when I grow up” when I was little. I suppose initially I wanted to be a fantasy/scifi writer once I started reading that genre but that wasn’t until later in elementary (grade 5 or 6?). Maybe I thought I would be some kind of generic “scientist.”

In high school, I thought I would get two PhDs, one in chemistry and another in computer science. In retrospect, this was phenomenally ridiculous and over-ambitious. And even with that, I didn’t really give much thought to what having those credentials would lead me to “be.” Sure enough, after first year, I figured I’d just get the one PhD, in computer science (poor chemistry lost out because it wasn’t as financially lucrative a field and because UBC forces you to specialise). After 2nd year, I was content with the thought of a Master’s in computer science, and once I hit 3rd year, I just wanted to survive to get my damned baccalaureate!

I don’t when it happened but at some point I decided I wanted to “change the world.” Not that uncommon, but apparently I still feel the need, and I have no idea how to manage that.

3. What is the most illegal thing you have done?

Oh right… get me to incriminate myself in print!

So… I need to plead the 5th here.  I will say that both episodes that sprang to mind involved other guys. *evil grin*

4. What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I think more than anything, it’s watching stupid teen romance movies for the chance to drool over the invariably uber-hot cute guys.

5. What are five of your favourite books? Least favourites?

That’s TWO questions!  Actually, it might well be TEN questions.  To which I will, of course, give far more than 10 answers.

It’s also the kind of thing I could write another essay on, explaining all the personal meaning of the books. Let’s try for an abridged version:

Least Favourite (always save the best for last):

This is hard… I don’t read books that much anymore and I try to avoid reading books I dislike.

5. Any of the books I was forced to read during the summer while at St. George’s for the summer reading assignment we had to do once we returned in September, which includes several “classics.” Generally I hate “classics” because their being classics entails them being written before 1970 and the pacing of novels before the 1970s was GLACIAL. *shudder*

4. Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon, the 2nd Twilight book. It’s an excellent example of an unexpectedly popular relatively new author not having a strong/good editor who points out, “You know, maybe having the main, first-person character nearly suicidally depressed/catatonic for 3/4 of the book while the other main character is nowhere to be found is NOT a good idea.” I am certain that New Moon will be a stellar case of the film adaptation being FAAAAAR superior to the source novel, if only because no film audience will sit through 90 minutes of completely baseless teen girl angst, and so the “Bella is sad and blue” part of the novel will undoubtedly be cut to at most 20 minutes. Of course, now that I’ve said something less than complimentary about one of her novels, SM will have a nervous breakdown and vow never to write another word. See

3. Many (though not all) of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels. As if original overly-descriptive with nothing happening Tolkein wasn’t bad enough, Jordan’s WoT books, especially the early ones, are total Tolkien ripoffs.

2. The Great Gatsby–I had to read this in high school English and I remember despising it, although I couldn’t really tell you what it was about. I’m exceptionally good at blocking out things I hate.

1. I’m tempted to say “The Bible” because it forms the foundation of one of the most problematic aspects of our modern world. Or Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, which I simply could not get through when I had to get through it for an English class in university. But I’m going to go with Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by Paul Monette for reasons I’ll discuss below in my list of favourite books.

Favourite Books

Okay, there are going to be more than five of these–I tried but it’s simply too hard to reduce it to a mere five.

  • Stronghold by Melanie Rawn. Rawn is one of my favourite fantasy writers and in Stronghold, the first book of her 2nd trilogy set in the Dragon Prince world/series, she basically writes this apocalyptic unravelling of everything in the first trilogy. In particular, she kills one of the very most central characters from the first 3 books in this volume and I swear, all the characters are in mourning and I realised I was completely devastated and mourning too, and in total sympathy for this character’s spouse. Needless to say, I was totally blown away that someone could make me feel so deeply for an entirely fictional character.

    Rawn also holds the singular honour of being the only author whose long descriptive passages I can actually stomach.
  • Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey. There is probably no single book that is more important to me, really, because it was while reading this book that I realised I was gay. About 70 pages in, the main character figures out he’s gay and I’m like, “Oh that’s why I was identifying so strongly with him!”

    Sadly, being I was age 15, I went into massive denial for nearly 5 years after this, but it was this book that first made things clear for me.
  • Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay is the only author I’ve read who I’ve actually met/seen in person, namely because he’s Canadian and whenever he has a new novel, he comes to Vancouver and does signings at White Dwarf Books. Tigana is the first book he wrote after his intial, relatively standard fantasy trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry. All of Kay’s novels since take place in settings that are fantastical versions of actual historical periods, like an almost-Constantinople or an almost-Provence. Tigana is about an almost-Italy during medieval times. I remember thinking when I read it that it was the best single novel I had ever read and I’m not sure that’s changed. Basically it taught me the importance of names.
  • And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts. This is a dramatized non-fiction (aka creative non-fiction) account of the opening of the AIDS pandemic. Although Shilts’ “Patient Zero” theory which underpins the whole book has largely fallen out of favour as an explanation for how AIDS spread in North America, it is still a work of monumental importance, both social and journalistic. Specifically, it details exactly how evil the Reagan administration was in 1980s America. Not bigoted or neglectful but wilfully evil.

    I knew about this book for years before I got around to reading it. I owned a copy for ages before I could bring myself to open it. Basically, any account of HIV/AIDS makes me bawl my head off, so I knew reading this book, the seminal story of HIV/AIDS, was going to be murder. And it was: I basically cried through most of it. I’m sure the people who saw me reading it on the bus thought I was a nutjob.
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Technically this is a comic book but it is still, for me, the comic book to end all comic books. I still remember exactly where I was (at a local White Rock Greek restaurant with my parents) and what was going on (my parents were fighting, again) when I first read it. Crisis is the series that defined the modern comic book industry concept of “crossover event:” it involved practically every character–past, present, future–from DC’s fictional universe in a massive, epic story that forever changed the nature of how superheroes worked.

    Most importantly, and more personally, Crisis 7 is the issue where Supergirl dies cradled in Superman’s arms. I’m sure my parents thought I was some kind of lunatic, sitting at the table in restaurant, reading a comic book, and bawling my eyes out. But that was the first comic book (and remains one of the only ones) to make me cry. It was unspeakably well-done and horribly sad.
  • Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette. Monette’s Borrowed Time is mentioned above as my least favourite book and that’s because I sadly read Becoming before I read Borrowed. Borrowed is the story of having to watch his longtime partner, Roger Horwitz, die of AIDS and it’s full of (completely understandable) vitriol and bile which was disappointing after reading Becoming which was mostly a sweet retelling of his life as a teenager and young man in the closet prior to meeting Horwitz (ironically, the year I was born).

    What I remember most about the bad taste Borrowed left in my mouth is gaping at the fact Monette described having a temper tantrum one day because his super-expensive Mercedes or BMW, which acted up because it was a temperamental uber-expensive foreign car, was acting up–something to do with the clutch, I seem to recall. Now, having gone through the excruciating illness and death of my mother from cancer, I understand how sometimes you just lose it over the most inconsequential things when you are facing that kind of tragedy. But what struck me, even way back then before sociology grad school was even a glimmer in my eye, was how selfish and ridiculous it was for someone who was wealthy and advantaged enough to have that kind of car, and private medical insurance in the US which was covering the treatment for his dying loved one, to freak out about something that was so emblematic of his privilege.

    Of course now I understand a lot better and feel more sympathy for him, because of course it wasn’t about the car at all. And while I knew that then, I still had trouble dealing with an “oh woe is me” rant that centred around something which bespoke such wealth.Becoming a Man, though… Monette went to an elite boarding school, much like me, and was closeted there, also like me, and so even though he was about 30 years older than me, his coming out story just completely resonated with me. In fact, I would say if you read Becoming a Man and the next and final entry in this list, you would have most of the tools you needed to understand me. It’s an amazing story of an amazing life.
  • So the final entry is one of more recent books I’ve read that’s had an impact on me, which is The World of Normal Boys by K.M. Soehnlein. It also, like Becoming a Man, is a coming out narrative. It’s also set in the past, in the 1970s. Brett got me this book after reading it himself and said it was amazing. It was. There’s really no other way to describe it. It’s a completely literary novel that is somehow totally unpretentious and absorbing. Usually I hate “high” literature because so much of it seems to be about trying to impress you. The World of Normal Boys is undeniably what I’d term “literary” with respect to how it’s written but somehow it didn’t trigger any of my “oh this is bullshit literary self-masturbation” alerts.

    And it just… speaks to me. Like if I wrote a book about coming out, I’d have wanted to write this book. Except I’m certain I couldn’t have written a book this good.

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