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Review of Wild by Cheryl Strayed

It has taken me some time to return to Wild by Cheryl Strayed, the first book to be featured as part of Oprah's Book Club 2.0. I bought the e-book version because I wanted to try out the highlight feature, share the parts I liked on Twitter with my e-reader, and see what passages the talk show Queen and all the other readers enjoyed. I also wanted to know if any of these aspects added anything to the reading experience, and if it was any threat to the traditional in-person book club.

Wild is the true story of  Cheryl Strayed who at age 26 hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone. Yes, alone. She and her 50-lb monster backpack trek 1,000 miles up the Pacific Coast, as Strayed comes to terms with some major life issues.

The middle child of a single mother, Cheryl and her siblings are abandoned by their temperamental father. Although he leaves his young family in financial dire straits, the mother no longer has to bear the brunt of his anger. The single parent family moves around a lot, forever in a quest for cheaper rent, but the mother does her best to create a stable family environment. Mom eventually meets a nice man who is a suitable stand-in for a father, but the shortage of funds is a recurring issue. Strayed looks for stability early in life and marries at just 19. She then has the security to move on to college, but can't control her wandering eye. Then her mother is unexpectedly diagnosed with lung cancer, just as Strayed is in the final semester of her senior year. Doctors at the Mayo clinic give her a year to live, but her mother dies much sooner.

My tweet w/ link to Kindle promo page sent from my Kindle Touch.
It is the death of Cheryl's mother that undermines her already shaky existence. After her mother's demise, her stepfather quickly moves on to a new partner, while her siblings scatter. In addition to her grief and zero family support, her marriage falls apart, and she drops out of college. Her downward spiral leads her to a college-educated bad boy who introduces her to hard drugs, which ease her pain. But after a harrowing experience with a drug addict, she decides that this is not what she wants to become. Her challenging trek alone on the Pacific Crest Trail is her own attempt to come to terms with her past and turn her life around.

A passage I commented on in my tweet on the Kindle promo page.

My feelings towards Wild changed dramatically from the first to second read. After perusing all the rave reviews, I was expecting something more, a by-product of excessive hype. I found the tiny stylistic errors annoying, and I loathed the repeated reference to Snapple. I made a snippy reference to that effect in a Twitter update (which obviously never made it to the book's promotional page). I don't mind trade names of long-disappeared products that offer a cultural reference, but I loathe product placement. Other than these minor points, it was a good read, but one you definitely have to be in the mood for. Strayed can take you to some dark places and make you squirm. I found her description of the appeal of hard drugs particularly chilling.

I read Wild for the second time while I was on holiday in California. When I saw the mountains she had actually hiked, I had a better appreciation of the feat she had actually accomplished. I also felt the extreme vulnerability of this first-person narrative the second time through. Strayed brilliantly captures what it is like to grow up in a financially precarious home and offers some keen insight into dealing with loss. But more than anything, this narrative reflects the reality of hundreds of thousands of young women who are raised by struggling, well-intentioned single mothers. Readers, both male and female, will readily identify with Strayed, but some may find the rawness of Wild hard to stomach at times.

And according to what I saw posted on Twitter, most people found the book inspirational too. Did I find that their comments enhanced the reading of the book? Not really. Obviously, there isn't the same degree of connection as with members of an in-person book club. No real surprise there. Oprah's highlighted comments also meant much more in the second reading. I found them slightly distracting the first time through. But I do like the highlight feature and the tally of how many people actually liked a particular passage. The highlighter also serves as a great note-taking device for writing reviews, and I think that all bibliophiles enjoy sharing their favourite passages on Twitter. I know that I do.

Book Club 2.0: Can It Replace the In-Person Book Club?

Not for now, but I think that we can expect to see plenty of improvements and changes to the format, which is still in its infancy. One thing is for sure: the e-reader is one powerful promotional tool that has readers promoting and selling books for free. As I said in my previous post, the e-book/e-reader combo is a major boon for the publishing industry.

Other great books I've reviewed
The Goodtime Girl by Tess Fragoulis
One Good Hustle by Billie Livingston (Recently long-listed for the $50,000 Giller Prize)
Ru by Kim Thuy (Also recently long-listed for the $50,000 Giller Prize)
Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien
Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre
The Return by Dany Laferrière
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell 
The Girl Without Anyone by Kelli Deeth


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M60: Faux Pas

The Indoor Pool at Hearst Castle
Yes, there were many a faux pas this year on the world stage. But "faux pas" was also the theme of this year's M60, Montreal's 60-second film festival, now in its fifth year. The M60 kicked off this year's edition at the Casa del Popolo on July 19. Eighty-five filmmakers and their teams got in line to register. Participants could use either the French or English definition of faux pas when creating their films, which had to be submitted one month later on August 19. I was in the crowd that included both Oscar-winning filmmakers and complete newbies, and I left wondering if my filmmaking team (my family) hadn't bitten off more than it could chew. After all, we were going to California for three weeks and would be there when the film had to be submitted.

Nitt Witt Ridge, a California landmark
My husband and I thought that we would find the perfect story at the Hearst Castle. William Randolf Hearst certainly had his fair share of blunders, as did his girlfriend, actress Marion Davies. Maybe we could throw something in about Citizen Kane....No, that would be far too ambitious.

We arrived at Hearst Castle on August 12 and shot extensive film, but struggled to come up with a decent story, or, ah, even a semblance of one. Then we travelled down the road a few miles to Nitt Witt Ridge, a three-storey house made entirely from recycled items and pilfered materials from Hearst's many renovations. The "architect" was Art Harold Beal, the town garbage man, sometime construction worker and village oddball. But damn...we still couldn't see a story. At this point, five days before the deadline, I made an executive decision: we could not get stressed out about the 60-second film festival. We were after all on vacation. My husband agreed. We decided to drop the idea altogether.

Then miraculously an idea presented itself on August 18, as we were hiking between Muir Beach and Pirate's Cove on a steep Pacific Coast trail in Marin County. We found a bouquet of dried roses sitting on a handwritten note when we arrived at the top. It looked almost like flowers to commemorate someone who had fallen from the precipice.... Bingo! We had our very simple story and a beautiful setting with plenty of fog and a weathered guardrail on the verge of collapse. Misstep would be our title.

View from the Precipice
Our first shot is of the bouquet of flowers and the note with plenty of audible wind. Then we cut to a 10-year-old girl who asks her mother if she can move closer to the edge to get a better look. The mother is busy taking pictures and says, "Yes, but be careful." In the next shot, in what is presumably minutes later, the 5-year-old son asks his mother where his sister is.  As expected, the mother rushes over to the guardrail. Then in the last scene, the daughter reappears and asks her brother, "Where's Mom?" That was our stunning twist. The Mom had gone over the cliff.

The Making Of
We shot and edited the entire one minute of film on my husband's iPad and submitted it seconds before the deadline. Just a short note to anyone who wants to try this: we encountered a few problems with the iPad sound editing software. Be prepared....

At the M60 film festival screening we attended, the last scene of our film elicited a gasp from the couple sitting next to us and that was the best feedback we could have possibly asked for.

The M60 was hugely successful this year, selling out all three of its September screening dates, and there were some excellent films. If you are at all interested in making a film or just want to try your film editing software then this is a golden opportunity. And the best part is that the M60 is free for filmmakers.

Related posts:
LA's Million Dollar Theater
Disney Theatre W/ the Kids
Unexpected Beauty of Historic Los Angeles
Park X: the Punjab Palace Reopens
Circus: Sequence 8 at TOHU
Pots and Pans Protests of Bill 78
Felines: Friend or Foe?
Villeray's Subtle Rawesomeness



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Café Vito: Villeray's Espresso Drive Thru

Service window at Café Vito
I took advantage of the early sunny autumn day to go for a walk on Villeray. I stopped in for a latté at Café Vito, a fairly new edition to the Villeray landscape. As I walked through the door of this café, which also doubles as a laundromat, I was greeted by the familiar face of Vito Azzue. He served many a latté and espresso at Café Olimpico on St. Viateur in the Mile End. I spoke to him briefly about his new digs before taking my latté to a tiny table outside, just as two of Montreal's finest in their dress blues walked in and ordered.

In addition to the usual Italian coffee fare, Vito and his sons serve gelato and sandwiches at 151 Villeray, at the corner of Casgrain. The inside is quite small, but it appears that most patrons order from the side window. "I got the idea for a service window when I was in Italy a few years ago," said Vito. As I sipped my latté and enjoyed the sun, I saw a man pull up to the curb in a silver Mercedes, order his espresso from the sidewalk, pay as he stepped up to the counter, down his beverage on the spot, then wave to Vito, say "Well worth the stop," and then hop back into his car. Seconds later, the Mercedes was replaced by a white pick-up truck with another thirsty patron who was also in a hurry.

The wide sidewalks of Villeray make it an ideal place for outdoor cafés, but for the time being zoning is strictly residential, and the borough apparently has no plans to allow for such extensive commercial ventures. For now, Vito is only permitted to have a few tables pushed next to the building.

Café Vito is well worth your stop if you're looking for that perfect latté, but don't feel like going inside anywhere. You can also bring your dog, as the owner has set up two stainless steel water dishes for canine patrons. If you want to try some great gelato, Vito's lemon is divine.

Other posts about Villeray
Pots and Pans Protest of Bill 78
Felines: Friend or Foe?
Food: Villeray's Subtle Rawsomeness
Buying Local: Slak on Villeray

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LACMA: Moms Need Fun Too!

Yellow Plastic Spaghetti Art Installation at LACMA
As the mother of a 5- and 9-year-old, there comes a time on a vacation when you have to do something of interest to mum. Yes, a mother must choose something with at least one kid activity, but she needs some spiritually enlightening activity to sustain her through hours of watching the Gator Boys and Sponge Bob and of course, the pool, the pool, the pool. Even if it was in the coolest location. From the LA Westin Bonaventure glass elevator 18-floors up, the pool looked like it was located right at the intersection of South Figueroa and Fifth Streets.

LACMA Kids' Museum
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Getty museum were the two destinations I had in mind, but I chose the former because I already knew how to get there. As you can see, there was a yellow plastic spaghetti art installation that doubled as a playground for the kids, a big hit, and there was a kid's museum where young artists could paint and exhibit their work. From the children's museum, we started with Korean art next door. I told my children to select what they liked best and to show it to me. That worked well, and I was surprised when the Dude chose a hand-painted ceramic dish as his favourite piece, but that was the end of his interest in the museum. He'd already endured 45 minutes of museum stuff, which also included a brownie at the cafeteria.

I'd heard nothing of LACMA until I read Jane Fitch's White Oleander. In fact, the museum is where teenage Astrid has her LSD-induced epiphany about her narcissistic mother. I also  remembered reading that admission was free on the second Tuesday of the month. But when we signed our children up for memberships, we were magically given free admission anyway. Just as an aside, I was expecting Los Angeles to be just as expensive as New York and Paris for eating in restaurants and admission tickets, but this was not the case. With the exception of Universal Studios and Disneyland, I found prices in LA reasonable overall. In fact, there are quite a few free activities in LA.

In the end, I was able to spend 90 minutes at the museum. I walked around with my nine-year-old and tried to show her the fabulous Motherwells, Monets and of course, Picassos. But she just sighed and said, "Not another crooked face." This was right about when I heard a child (yes, mine) throw a temper tantrum in the next room, which abruptly ended as the elevator doors closed and my husband took him down to the entrance to wait for us. I enjoyed my whirlwind visit to the museum and foolishly entertained thoughts of visiting the Getty on our last day in LA. This would not transpire we discovered, as visiting LA involves a lot of driving, and you have to take advantage of every window of opportunity.

View of the Hollywood hills from the Griffith
Just as we were pulling out of the parking lot, our iPad GPS indicated that we were not far from the Griffith Observatory perched atop the hills. The art deco-inspired observatory was a big hit with my son because there were telescopes and plenty of planetary models with  buttons to push, and it was a beautiful drive to the top. We also had a great view of the Hollywood sign on a neighbouring hill, but most of all it felt great to get out of the city just for a few minutes and see it from afar.

The Griffith Observatory is a great family activity, and it's absolutely free.

Other posts about visiting California
LA's Million Dollar Theater
Disney Theatre W/ the Kids
Unexpected Beauty of Historic Los Angeles

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