Once upon a time, I decided that while I never really seem to “get” the books that are praised by critics (e.g., Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom; anything by Margaret Atwood) I should not give up on the effort. The universe apparently agreed with me because one day while picking up the mail, I found a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, laying there for the taking. So I did.
Considering this entire book is basically the story of a man and a boy walking along a road and starving to death, then finding food, then running out of food, then fending off zombie-like human-eating people, then getting lost, then almost starving again…well, considering all of that, I was mighty impressed. I know for sure that I could not make a story like this interesting to even my mother, and she is genetically contracted to like everything that I write. So kudos to Cormac. Furthermore, the writing was beautiful, and at times I felt like I was surrounded by the dark right alongside the man and his son and the offerings on the page mimicked the light that the man and his son tried to find to keep their spirits alive, along with their bodies. Seriously, it was that powerful. The story is punctuated by very brief bits of dialogue, often starting with questions of uncertainty coming from the boy, who is almost–but not really–comforted by his father’s words, whereupon the boy ends the conversation with “Okay” which is disconcerting, because you know the reason is that he doesn’t have anything else he can say. And then they go on, because they have no other option. They need to reach the end of the road.
It is my belief that Cormac McCarthy’s bleak, terrifying and despairing tale about the journey of a man and his son along a neverending road in post-apocalyptic Earth is really a tale about the trials and tribulations one goes through while trying to plan a wedding. Ok, no, not really…maybe? All I know is that while I’ve been reading this book that scared me so much that I could only read it during the day (the scary part being the ever-present possibility of the main character and his son being attacked by cannibals and roasted on a spit) I started to draw comparisons between the unknown road they were travelling on in order to reach the place they thought would offer salvation, and the journey I had just embarked upon to get to the place that would offer an end to planning things like flower arrangements and DJ’s. You can see the similiarities.
The book offers a real glimpse into what it means when people say “literary genius” that also happens to be a great read and leaves you satisfied but not in an obvious, expected way. As for me and my road, well let’s just say that it’s time for me and my guy to pitch a tent for the night and look at the map again. Maybe taking the back trail up the mountain is more my speed.
Once upon a time, many many years ago, my granny discovered a book called Outlander, by a then unknown author named Diana Gabaldon. It likely appealed to her because it was set in the Scottish Highlands, from whence she hailed, and was a story about love, time travel, and followed the adventures of a saucy English lady and a tall, red-headed Scot named Jamie Fraser. My granny passed on the love of these books to my mother and aunt and from there, my mother passed it on to me. The first time I tried to read the book I think I was too young (around 13) and didn’t have the patience or the foresight to see where it was going, or the ability to appreciate the fresh dialogue and realistic nature of the scenes the author was depicting.
A few years later I was in the airport, on my way to Paris for the first time on a highschool trip, and I was alone, my friends all having backed out last minute. I felt a little lonely and out of place with the rest of the group, to say the least. While perusing the shelves of the bookstore and novelty shop at the airport, I came upon Outlander and bought it, feeling comforted by its presence.
I have read that book at least 10 times since then. It was the first book I had ever read that made me laugh out loud and also cry out loud. I would credit this book with being the thing that inspired me to want to become a writer, and to become a writer who wrote stories that were good and fun and made you feel like you were watching a movie in your head while reading them. I had a great aversion for most of the literary selections I had been introduced to up until that point, and still do, and this book gave me the confidence to want to become a writer who didn’t give a fig about creating a literary style and who just wanted to write a good story that meant something to someone.
I passed the news of Outlander on to my dear friend Andrea, who lives in London, who then passed it on to her friend Jess. They are now both obsessed and, like me, have had more than one dream about being whisked away on a horse by a big, red-headed Scottish rogue to live a simple, 18th century existence. While in hospital recovering from surgery, Andrea was reading the latest in the series and had a ten-minute gush fest with her nurse about the books (and Jamie).
(Below is what I suspect is an obsessed fan’s attempt to render a composite of Jamie. Eeks.)
By word of mouth in ways just like this, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has caught on like wildfire and boasts a cult-like following. The most die-hard fans have very strong opinions about which actors should play Claire and Jamie if a movie is ever made (I vote for Eddie Redmayne as Jamie), and get quite testy when it takes Gabaldon more than a few years to pump out the next book in the series, which it often does.
For this reason, and I suspect also so that she has something to turn to when she’s stuck for plot thickeners, Gabaldon has created spin-offs of the Outlander series that feature Lord John Grey, the sympathetic, homosexual English lord who has a major thing for Jamie. But not until now has Jamie been so prominently featured in one of these off-shoots and I applaud her for giving us readers what we’re jonesing.
The Scottish Prisoner is everything readers love in Gabaldon–intrigue, mystery, action and adventure, with a good dose of Jamie with his Highland brogue and unshakeable honour thrown in every few pages for good measure. The book follows Jamie during the time while he is a prisoner after the battle of Culloden and the fall of the Scottish clans (and before he is reunited with Claire). It’s a really fun glimpse into the part of the story we never got to see because the Outlander series is told mostly from Claire’s perspective, so while we have an idea of what Jamie did for the 20 years he and Claire were separated, there were gaps. And this book helps to fill them in.
Ladies, I urge you and implore you that if you have not yet heard of this series, run out and buy yourself a copy of Outlander. Now. If you are already a fan of all things Jamie Fraser, then The Scottish Prisoner book will do exactly what I expect it is intended to: satiate your ravenous appetite for the next book in the Outlander series, the soon-to-be-published Written In My Own Heart’s Blood.
Once upon a time, otherwise known as 4 days ago, I went out for a Winterlicious dinner thinking the highlight of my night would be the slow-roasted pork shoulder surrounded by pearl barley and kale on the plate in front of me. Instead, it was the sight of Ace getting down on one knee with a smirk on his face and saying “Well Allison McDonald, will you marry me?”. It was a perfect day. I had finally managed to mostly get over the damn cold that was plaguing my life. I had a really good day of work and felt productive again. And it was snowing, in the best kind of way, with big, fat flakes and enough of it to empty the streets of traffic. Afterwards, we took Charlie for a walk in the park and then came home to watch Californication (see last week’s post on the awesomeness of this current season) and toast ourselves with The Macallan I had bought for our 3rd year anniversary.
And that was the last peaceful moment we’ve had all week. Between running around and sharing the good news, trying to answer the ubiquitous question of “when is the date”, and actually digesting the fact that this is really happening, we are tired. Simply put. I’ve realized that up until now I’ve never really thought about a wedding or an engagement or anything in serious detail. I thought/hoped one day it might happen, and then I kind of stopped there. But now that it is on the menu, I’m finding myself thinking back to my survival guide for being a female which, laugh if you want, I found in every single episode of Sex and the City‘s 6 seasons, all of which I own, and all of which I have watched at least a dozen times each.
I’m thinking about Carrie’s engagement to Aidan in Season 4–how she said yes, how she then freaked out, and how in the end they didn’t go through with it. Now more than ever, I totally get how she couldn’t not say yes, even if she wasn’t sure, because as she put it in the episode “Change of a Dress”, when the man you love gets down in the street and asks you to marry him, you say yes. That’s what you do! Luckily, I don’t have her quandary and saying yes was the easiest decision I’ve ever made. But I get how she was so full of the good stuff that the only thought in her mind was yes. And who could say no to John Corbett?
As for Charlotte, who I thought of before as a bit of an annoying priss, I now tooootally get! I have the image of her in my mind from the episode from Season 6 called “The Post-it Always Sticks Twice” where she walks through her closet, holding up her ring against her clothing, finding that it goes with everything she owns (except for the wedding dress from her first marriage). I am not ashamed to admit that more than once I’ve thought about whether the clothes I’m wearing go with my new piece of hardware and have been excited to discover that it goes with everything and even makes the crappy sweatpants and messy hair I’m sporting today look AWESOME.
And Miranda, who proposed to Steve over 3 dollar beers, wore a burgundy velvet wedding dress to her wedding in a community garden and refused to let her friends keep her out of the loop on her “special day” when they discovered Samantha had breast cancer. I think I get her more than anyone. I’ve discovered already that the most important thing to me throughout this whole process will be that the most important things–that my best friend and I have decided we want to legally commit to waking up and seeing each other’s crusty faces every morning for the rest of this lifetime, that we want our loved ones to share in the ceremony inducting us into this new life, and that we want our journey to be simple and easy–are the only things that matter. The more anyone tries to force me into fancy locales and pouffy dresses, the more I think I’ll be leaning towards getting married on a dock next to a canoe full of beer and a whack of hamburgers on the barbecue (hold the burgundy velvet dress).
And finally, Samantha, who has nothing to do with anything marriage-related other than her aversion to it. But the crux of her character, which is to remain true to yourself and fuck what everyone else thinks well…who can argue with that?
Point is, Sex and the City is really a gem of a show and despite the fact it ended years ago and the movies were really bad (well the first one was ok, the second one I could have done without), it is a smart, relevant and oftentimes deeply truthful show that I am constantly finding new ways to relate to. It also has lots of clever puns and really great clothes.
So if you are finding yourself less than enthused about current television offerings or are feeling a bit nostalgic for morning breakfast with the girls, I think this blah winter weather is the perfect time to dust off the old DVDs and revisit the fab four from NYC, no matter what life is bringing you these days.