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The Beautiful Side of Freezing Rain

Posted by hlinfield on December 22, 2013 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

When the world is encased in ice...

...and tree branches and power lines come crashing down, we are reminded that humanity is fine, technology is great, but nature, even without the violence of tornadoes and hurricanes, is truly powerful. In charge. Calmly. Serenely. Quietly. Beautifully. Always.

When the world is encased in ice...

...the spirits have wrapped the trees and bushes and blades of grass, the rocks on the cliffs and the stones on the beach, as though they are gifts for us to enjoy. The wrapping paper sparkles and drips like diamond pendants. A message from them to us. Don't forget how wonderful these gifts are, they say, because we are small and stupid and often forget. So the sprits wrap these gifts up in beauty, to remind us.

When the world is encased in ice...

...and we are inside, coated with what gives life to the earth, we can look out from within and feel someone or something there, watching out for us, protecting us, keeping us safe.

Just don't stand under the trees.

Another One of Those Damned Feminists...

Posted by hlinfield on October 2, 2013 at 3:00 PM Comments comments (2)

My nine-year-old son loves to draw pictures of soldiers. Currently he’s working on the Alien Defence Unit. This elite fighting force (which defends Earth from evil aliens) is comprised of six men and one woman. All seven of them have demonstrated themselves capable of being members of this elite squad. He designed their uniforms and showed me his illustrations. The men’s uniforms were blue. The one woman’s uniform was red.

“Why is her uniform a different colour?” I asked.

“Because she’s a girl.”

“So? She doesn’t really look like she’s part of the team,” I said.

“Well she is. She just has the girl’s uniform.”

I pondered this. “But why does she get a different colour?”

“It’s so if her team sees her from a distance, they’ll know who she is.”

“Well, what if they see one of the guys from a distance? How will they know who he is?”

This went on for some time, my son growing more and more frustrated with me because I couldn’t comprehend the importance of her having a different colour uniform.

“Why don’t you make the soldiers with dark skin wear a different colour than the soldiers with white skin?” I asked.

“Because that would be ridiculous!” he said.

“I agree,” I said, nodding. When I followed up by asking why it was ridiculous to divide them by race and not by sex, he couldn’t give me an answer.

So here I am, big bad feminist, debating with a nine-year-old boy about an issue that is so deeply ingrained in our society that only a tiny minority of people can even see to question it. Chances are most of the people reading this will not even understand why I feel the lone female Alien Defender should have the same colour uniform as her male counterparts.

And that’s one of the reasons why I support changing the lyrics of O Canada from “all thy sons command” to “all of us command.” It’s for the same reason that when I sing, Mary’s Boy Child Jesus Christ, one of my favourite Christmas carols, I sing, “And we shall live forever more,” instead of “And man shall live forever more.” It’s for the same reason that I cringe when I still hear ministers say, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” (And to all those who say no big deal, how would you feel if the couple were pronounced "woman and husband"?) It’s for the same reason that I suck in a breath whenever I hear a girl, say, “Oh, I’m such a girl,” as though being a girl is a negative thing.

I’m saddened by women who say they don’t even know what part of the lyrics to O Canada are at issue. This just shows how deeply ingrained and accepted inequality among the sexes really is, even today. I can remember being a little girl and getting this feeling, not really in words - more of a general sense - that I was not included in the term “mankind.” I don’t know why I felt this when others didn’t, but I do know that when I hear the word "sons" I do not feel that it applies to me, and I’d bet that a lot of people - men and women - feel the same way. They might not be able to articulate it, but it’s there, lying beneath the surface, informing the way we think.

When people say, “Oh it’s no big deal,” and “Why do they make such a fuss about such a little thing,” I would say that is pure ignorance talking. There are more male flight attendants now than there were in the past. Is it possible, perhaps, that the fact that flight attendants are no longer called "stewardesses" is one reason for this shift? Is it really just coincidence that our language has become more gender neutral at the same time as women’s rights have improved? The way we think influences our language, but the influence works in both directions. At a subconscious level, language shapes our thoughts.

I am a feminist.  I am not aggressive (though I have at times been called argumentative), and I believe that to exact certain changes in society aggression is sometimes necessary.

I support the rights of all people, men and women, to make their own choices without any other person butting in, within reason. (I’m not keen on anarchism.) I believe a woman should have control over her own body, her own mind, and her own resources. I also believe a man should have these controls. I believe a woman should be able to have a legal abortion if she chooses. (That doesn’t mean I think abortion is a good thing.) I believe a mother should be able to breast feed if she wants and not breast feed if she doesn’t want and that her boobs shouldn’t be anybody’s business but her own. I believe a mother should be able to stay at home with her children without feeling worthless and I believe a mother should be able to work full time without being attacked for having the audacity to want a career. I believe a woman who has spent her life as a stay-at-home mother and housewife should be legally and financially protected in the event of a divorce. If some of our laws go too far, it’s because the dangers of them not going far enough are unthinkable.

A feminist seeks to define woman not in relation to man, but as a human being, as an individual. What in the world could possibly be wrong with that?

And so it wounds me when I hear people use expressions like "damned feminists." I fully understand that there are some small, vocal branches of feminism that go too far, that feel so threatened by the male-dominated society in which they’ve lived that their ideals of feminism pass promoting the equality of women and turn to the attacking of men. I even had a friend at one time who considered all sex to be rape. (Strange that she had a boyfriend...) But I also understand the frustration that women can feel when they butt up against ingrained, archaic notions. Yes, some feminists go too far, (as many would say Malcolm X and the Black Panthers went too far during the Civil Rights’ Movement) but that doesn’t mean the issue isn’t there. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

If it hadn’t been for aggressive feminists, women would not be allowed to vote, study at universities, own property, get divorced when they wanted, demand legal punishment for an abusive husband, and work in sectors of the economy other than nursing and teaching.

But everyone knows this. Everyone must know this because it is 2013.

And yet, clearly a lot of people don’t appreciate the huge value to our modern society that those “damned feminists” gave us. Women today have the luxury of not having to be aggressive in demanding our rights because the women of the past did it for us. But we are fooling ourselves if we think the battle has been completely won. When people use words like, “I think it’s true that women have been treated unfairly by men in the past,” I want to shout out, “You think? Think? You don’t know this?” How can anyone not know this?

You only have to glance around the world to see that women are still struggling to be seen as humans first and women second, and it’s not just the developing world. Look at what happened to the women who fought to get Jane Austen’s face on the ten-pound note. They're still receiving rape and death threats.

The vitriolic response to the requested lyric change ought to be enough to jar us into the realization that the battle for true equality has not yet been won. Why the vitriol? What is it about changing a few measly words that most Canadians apparently don’t even know (in spite of having heard it every morning for their entire school lives) that excites so much anger among those who would curse the “damned feminists”? Is it just that the status quo hates change, that they hate being challenged? Or does this whole debate stir something up deep down inside people that they subconsciously feel but don’t want to admit?

‘In all thy sons command’ seems very harmless and in a world of child brides with their uteruses ripped to shreds, female genital mutilation, girls shot in the face for daring to attend school, and rape and death threats to influential women who dare to express their opinions, there are more pressing battles to be fought.  But that doesn’t mean gender-neutral language isn’t worth the fight.

The Two Breeds of Novel

Posted by hlinfield on September 19, 2013 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)

What qualities make a good novel?

Is it well-thought-out prose, perfectly placed words and pauses, ideally crafted sentences, a depth to the writing that can make the simplest turn of phrase seem profound?

Or is it a story line that grips the reader and pulls her in and keeps her there no matter how cliché and no matter how lazily thought out the words on the page?

Clearly we’d like both well-crafted writing and a gripping story, but that doesn’t always happen. Most people would have no problems giving the latest tome by Salman Rushdie a two-star rating if they weren’t captivated by the story, even if they acknowledged his masterful writing style, but how do you rate a book that draws you in, that you find yourself compelled to read in one sitting as the hours tick by and the calls of laundry and children go unheeded because you just can’t leave the story... yet the craft of writing, the placement of words, and even the editing leaves way too much to be desired?

A novel I read recently employed some of my biggest pet peeves:

1) An overabundance of green eyes, visible even in the dark, and even of a variety of shades - lime and jade no less! (As supernatural elements were afoot I’m inclined to forgive.)

2) The misuse of ‘then’ and ‘than.’ (Insert gasp of shock by all grammar snobs out there.)

3) An inability to grasp the simple difference between ‘me’ and ‘I.’ (Insert a head shake and sigh of defeat by every English teacher out there.)

And that doesn’t even touch on the other examples of poor editing: commas used incorrectly, misplaced modifiers, and just generally lazy writing.

BUT!! (And this is a big BUT!) In spite of these annoyances I consumed the book in one long sitting, annoyed when my kids came inside to ask for bandaids and drinks, annoyed at the phone for ringing, annoyed at having to make dinner, because I JUST WANTED TO KEEP READING!!!

What is the purpose of a novel?

Some novels teach us about life and love. They make comments and observations about important issues, and the ones that entertain us at the same time? Those are the novels our critics laud, as they should.

But some novels simply entertain us. They tell a story. That’s it.

I wish the rating system on Goodreads and Amazon were divided into these two categories: Novels that are Just Stories and Novels that are So Much More. In good conscience I cannot rate a book like Twilight (a gripping story with mediocre writing) higher than Wuthering Heights or the latest collection by Alice Munro. At the same time, I enjoyed reading Twilight more, and I say this not as a sixteen-year-old girl but as a mature lover of literary classics.

I tend to think of novels as being from two different worlds. Most independently published, fast-paced genre fiction lives in a world of pretty valleys. There’s lots to see and do and it’s a great place to visit. You get in easily and you leave just as quickly. You go there for fun, not really expecting your life to change much.

And then there’s the mountain range where the classics live. Sometimes it’s a hard trek to get to the top. Sometimes you don’t make it. You abandon the trip half way up, or even in the foothills. You might even make it all the way to the top and wonder why you’re up there and figure it would have been nicer to just stay down in the valley where it’s fun and you don’t have to try so hard. But most of the time if you do make it to the top, the view around you is amazing. You can see down into the valley and it looks so quaint, so insignificant from where you stand.

I still don’t know how a person is expected to compare a mountain book with a valley book. Maybe I should just take a page from the American Kennel Association and evaluate each breed on its own merits. I'm only sorry that Amazon and Goodreads don't recognize that the two worlds do, indeed, exist.

Reading Stephen King in a Castle

Posted by hlinfield on August 30, 2013 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (0)

I have always loved Literary Fiction. If it's been nominated for the Man-Booker or the Giller Prize, chances are I'll be interested in reading it. The authors I love the most, those I turn to again and again, are the Brontës, Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence, and George Eliot.

Then there are the must-reads: Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell, not to mention the great Canadian ladies: Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, and Alice Munro.

With all these on my reading plate I've never had much time for commercial authors like Stephen King. I'm even embarrassed to admit that I've looked upon his ilk with a small, very undeserved dose of snobbery.

While I was on a writer's workshop in Ireland however, I happened to walk into a little Dublin bookshop. I had just finished reading Mansfield Park (for the fourth time) and I wasn't particularly drawn to any of the indie-published works waiting for me on my kindle. When I saw a Stephen King book and a title I didn't recognize, I was intrigued. The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon looked more like a novella than a novel, and since it wasn't It or Misery or Carrie or The Stand or any other book that I'd already heard tons about, I picked it up and purchased it.

My B&B in Ireland happened to be an actual castle, with blackened stone walls and turrets. Portraits of past residents lined the hallways, darkened ominously with time and smoke from the fireplaces. Hallways zigzagged about the castle in a maze; nooks and crannies abounded. The heads of several deer and other hunted animals were mounted near the ceiling of the grand entranceway.

It wasn't exactly creepy, but it wasn't exactly the ideal setting for one's first experience with Stephen King either.

"What the heck am I doing?" I said to myself as I read in bed, growing more and more nervous for the young, lost protagonist as the thing in the woods grew closer and closer to her. I turned off the light and listened to the creaks and moans of the castle, a soft rain against my windowpane. Or was it rain? Were those creaks really just the ancient stone of the thick walls settling, or was it something else, something more sinister? Something more Stephen-King-like?

I turned on the light and the television. An Irish beauty pageant was on, one where young women of Irish descent from all over the world competed for the honour of being named the Rose of Tralee. Ten minutes of its silly insipidity was enough for me to shift my mind away from the thing lurking in the woods. I slept fairly well.

The next night I took out The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon once again, knowing full well it was a horrible book to read right before bed, but I began devouring it. As un-literary as his novels supposedly are, he evoked a feeling in me that no other author has ever done. True, the feeling was fear (and nervousness and anxiety and horror) but it was still powerful.

Later, as my eyes darted about in the dark searching for signs of a horrible monster with razor-like claws that might have been my own evil subconscious ready at every moment to leap out of my body and finish me off, I wondered why we, as a society, seem to give great story-tellers like Stephen King less credit than the 'literary' greats whose brilliant tomes most people can't get through the first five pages of.

I can't judge all of King's books (I've read just the one so far) but I presume that they don't really make any great statements about life and its significance, nor do they abound with symbolism and hidden meanings. But they ARE books that people want to read and now that I've read one, I can see why.

I'm looking forward to reading more Stephen King. (My book club is doing The Stand in a few months.) But when I do read his works I'll make sure that it's not too late at night, that I'm not alone, that it's not storming or raining, and that I'm not in a five hundred-year-old castle with creaky walls and stuffed deer heads in the foyer.

Writers Should Know Better - Grammar Mistakes Most People Make!

Posted by hlinfield on July 11, 2013 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (0)

I’m not a grammar snob. (Not really.)

I don’t go around town to all the different store signs with a sharpie, adding apostrophes where needed and removing the ones that aren’t.

I don’t rant on Facebook about ‘their’ and ‘there’ or ‘its’ and ‘it’s.’

I don’t care if you start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’ and I’m all for sentence fragments. I think they can evoke a lot of emotion if used well.

I think the use of commas is often subjective and I’m all for throwing the semi-colon to the curb.

I don’t much care about WHO versus WHOM.

I don’t always use correct grammar when I speak. I’ve said ‘the n’other one’ before and I smile when people I know say ‘supposebly’ or ‘brang.’ (Even Neil Diamond uses brang in his song, Play Me, if you can believe it.)

 (He brang us some really great music.)

There are four extremely common grammatical mistakes, however, that are enough to make me put down a book. (If the book is a real page-turner, I’ll forgive and let it slide, but I will remember that mistake when I write the review.)

In well-edited books, these mistakes should not exist, though one or two may slip by even the most thorough of editors, and that is because they are so rampant in the way we speak. It seems many people, no matter their employment or education level, are making these annoying mistakes. I seek to put an end to these mistakes right now by drawing your attention to them.


Stop with the LAY!!

Please LIE DOWN!

I fear the battle has been lost on this one.


You do not “LAY on the beach.” You LIE on the beach. The only times I’ll let this slide is: 1) You are a chicken. 2) You are using LAY as a synonym for FORNICATE. (Come on, wink wink, let’s go lay on the beach. No one will see us. You know you want to. Wink wink.)

I understand how confusing this is because the past tense of LIE is LAY. (In other words, today I lie on the beach but yesterday I lay on the beach and by the end of the summer hopefully I’ll have lain on the beach many times.)

Even more confusing is this: Yes, Bon Jovi wants to lay me down on a bed of roses, (of course he does…;) but he is using the transitive verb to lay, which can work if you tell your dog or child to “Lay yourself down” or “Lay your body down” but does not work without an OBJECT. (And it works better, i.e. not so old-fashioned sounding, with an object that is removed from yourself.)

To LAY is a much more active verb than to LIE, in my opinion. Lie down implies the final position (being in a lying position), while being LAID down implies the act of doing, of LYING, of the process, which is nice to contemplate with Jon Bon, as he lays me down slowly and tenderly on those roses. Note the object ME.

Note also that the past tense of LAY is LAID. Yesterday Bon Jovi LAID me down on a bed of roses. (Insert obvious joke using other meaning of ‘LAID.’;) And by the end of the summer he will have LAID me down on those roses many, many times.

The misuse of ‘lay’ is out of control in our society. I’ve heard people on the radio misuse ‘lay.’ I’ve heard some of the most well-educated people I know telling their dogs to ‘lay down.’

Yes, in the grand scheme of things the world probably has greater things to worry about, but I’m just putting it out there.


2. THEN vs. THAN

Seriously? There are people out there who don’t realize that these two words are nothing alike?

THEN: used to measure passage of time

THAN: used in comparisons

This is just laziness in the way people speak. Many people don’t seem to have a very strong short ‘a’ sound when they speak, which means saying, “He’s better looking THAN you,” sometimes comes out sounding like “He’s better looking then you,” which when written obviously makes no sense, unless it’s something like: He’s better looking (than you). Then you should slit your wrists because you surely feel badly about yourself.

And there are just too many things wrong with that.

3. NAUSEOUS!!!???

Ah, all this talk of people feeling NAUSEOUS makes me NAUSEATED.

I’ll admit there is a bit of grey area on this one and even the Oxford English dictionary has changed its definition of nauseous to fit the popular usage. But I ask you, where did NAUSEATED go??

The definition of NAUSEOUS according to my 1992 Webster’s dictionary (and my mother, the strict, retired English teacher) is “loathsome, disgusting, producing nausea.” That means that all these people around us who say they’re NAUSEOUS are actually saying that their physical beings are so disgusting that we shouldn’t get too close to them, lest we find ourselves feeling NAUSEATED (from the verb, NAUSEATE: to loathe, to fill with disgust, to affect with nausea.)

Here are some examples of the proper usage of NAUSEOUS:

My husband’s feet, when he wears sneakers with no socks, are nauseous.

The vomit my child hurled all over his bedroom floor is nauseous.

The dead muskrat my dog rolled in was nauseous and now she, too, is nauseous.

My husband’s stinky feet, my child’s vomit, and my disgusting dog all make me feel NAUSEATED.

As I said, I think the battle over NAUSEOUS has been lost (and I’m on the losing end), but I don’t have to like it.


“If my alarm would’ve gone off, I wouldn’t have been late.” (I’m assuming we all know it’s would HAVE and not would OF.) The issue here is the WOULD. One ‘would’ per sentence please.

In a conditional sentence, the WOULD does not belong to the IF clause, but to the other clause.

Some examples:

If I MET Bon Jovi, he WOULD lay me down in a bed of roses.

If I HAD some rose petals, I WOULD scatter them all over my bed.

If my alarm HAD gone off, I WOULDN’T have been late.

If I HAD won the lottery, I WOULD be rich.

If everybody USED proper grammar, grammar snobs like me WOULD have nothing to think about.

If I HAD a life, I WOULDN’T be worrying about conditionals.

I don’t know why these mistakes bother me the way they do. I don’t mind if people misuse the word ‘dilemma’ (which they do all the time). I don’t mind if people pepper their speeches with “and another thing too is” or “at the end of the day” or “it is what it is.” I’m not bothered when Joe Blow and ME go to the store instead of Joe Blow and I, and I’m not bothered when Joe Blow buys presents for Doofus and I instead of Doofus and ME.

But if I were able to have people LIE DOWN so I could explain to them why their bad grammar NAUSEATES me more THAN a dog rolling in dead skunk, THEN that WOULD be a good thing, in my opinion.

Writing Habits that Annoy!! (Advice from One Author to Another)

Posted by hlinfield on June 24, 2013 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (11)

Very few writing tricks, habits, techniques or clichés bother me as a reader. I don’t mind flashbacks or the overly liberal use of adverbs (she wrote purposefully), and it baffles me when readers declare their “hatred” for certain tenses or voices. (It would never occur to me to care whether you write in first person present or third person omniscient past or even switch around from one section to another. I’ve even read a book in the second person before and thought it was rather inventive.)

There is, however, one thing that writers do that will make me roll my eyes and want to stop reading. (Unlike some people, I am not inclined to hurl books across the room, especially if I’m reading on my kindle.) It isn't the overly liberal use of parentheses (and hopefully that doesn't bother you either.)  It isn’t too much tell and not enough show. It’s not even too much setting description. I can always skip over the dull bits. I mean really, did anyone read the whopping sections of Gone with the Wind that detailed all the goings-on of Sherman’s army? (Actually I don’t know what was in those boring sections because I skipped over them in search of Scarlett and Rhett.)

What annoys me to no end is how you introduce your characters. This is the one area where show is a must: Please don’t tell me what your character’s personality is. Don’t tell me she’s smart or stupid or bubbly or morose or warm or bitchy. Show me this so I can decide for myself.

The next issue I have is rampant among certain genres (think murder mystery pulp fiction) and certainly among independently published authors: Please don’t describe any physical features to me unless it matters.

Does anyone know what colour Jane Eyre’s hair is? No, because it doesn’t matter.

Please note the only exception to this rule is Scarlett O’Hara. For some reason it is important that we all know she has green eyes and black hair. I don’t know why this is important, but apparently it is. Maybe it’s important because it was important to Scarlett. Whatever the reason, Margaret Mitchell gets a pass on this one.

(Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn what colour your hair is.)

Which brings me to the thing that annoys me more than anything else, and I think we have Scarlett to blame for it: it is the absolute plethora of green eyes that abound in books. If people from another planet had to learn about humanity only from fiction novels, they would assume that most of us had sparkling green eyes. In my entire life I have met one person with emerald green eyes. They were quite remarkable but I think she might have had coloured contacts and wouldn’t admit to it. I think most people who claim to have green eyes really have something much closer to dull hazel.

Green or hazel?

I don’t think I’m terribly unaware of my surroundings but eye colour is simply something I do not notice, and I most certainly do not notice it from across a darkened barroom. In my opinion, it only makes sense for an author to describe eye colour if the characters are gazing at each other from less than a couple of feet away.

It’s very possible that some readers love detailed physical description. Personally, I hate being told to imagine someone’s physical attributes a certain way. I suppose that’s why movies based on beloved books often do poorly – they just can’t get the casting right.

How could they, when the characters' faces only exist in my head? 

A Mother's Morning Plea

Posted by hlinfield on April 22, 2013 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (2)

I wrote this a few years ago when the boys were smaller... Can anyone relate?

Please just stay quiet while I drink my morning coffee. I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed. In fact, I’m in quite a good mood. But right now, I want to drink my coffee in peace. No, I don’t want to get you some more juice, or more raisins. I don’t want to “fix” the T.V. – read, change the channel until we find Bob the Builder or some other “boy movie”, as you put it. I’m ignoring the calls of “Mommy!” I’m listening only to the rhythmical whirr of the dishwasher. I’m not even thinking that I should be getting dressed, or when is the last time either of you brushed your teeth, or how wet your diaper is, or if you need to use the potty, or the fact that you have spread soggy cheerios all over the floor and the dog is licking the milk off of them, crushing the little things into the hand-hooked rug my mother made, or that you have taken off all your clothes again and are bouncing over the couch, your skinny arms and legs flailing, or that every light in this place has been left on, likely by all the fairies we have living here who are afraid of the dark. I’m not even thinking about how messy this kitchen is, how last night I made a list of everything in my utility drawer and got a hand cramp, right between the “Cars” tattoos and the used toothbrushes. I’m not thinking about the pile of laundry that is slowly coming alive, gathering mildew, growing bigger and bigger, turning into Laundro-Man, at the top of the basement stairs. I’m not listening to the cries that occurred when you took the monster truck that your brother was playing with, and I’m ignoring the fact that you actually look kind of cute in just socks and no pants of any type. I’m not thinking about the stream of snot that is running out of your nose, nor am I wondering how much nutritional value is in snot as you lick it off your lips. I’m not thinking about the need to “get going.” It’s Sunday, and I don’t care if the two of you wear your pyjamas (or nothing) all day. The dog can wait for her walk. I just want to sit here, quietly, without interruption, and drink my coffee, while it’s hot.

The Book that Makes Kids Love to Argue!

Posted by hlinfield on March 5, 2013 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

The Book that Makes Kids Love to Argue!

(And I Mean That in a Good Way...)

I was in my twenties the first time someone accused me of being argumentative. It confused me, as I couldn’t see how if TWO people were arguing, that only one of those people could be considered argumentative. Didn’t it take two to argue?

But no, a third party apparently agreed that I was the one being argumentative.

We were arguing about something extremely important: whether or not Ilsa made the right decision at the end of Casablanca. Should she have stayed with Rick, who was passionate about her, or was she right to have left with her husband, who was more passionate about politics and the world than his beautiful wife?

Unlike many, I had the unromantic nerve to suggest that she made the right choice, and not only because Rick talked out of the side of his mouth and seemed like the type of man whose passion might induce him, one day, to strike her. Victor Laszlo was a great man and he and Ilsa clearly loved each other. Rick seemed like the type who would have made her deliriously happy for a couple of years, and then put her through hell.

Anyway, I refused to give on my position (and fifteen years later I still stand by it). And so I was dismissed as argumentative.

That wasn't the last time such an accusation was leveled at me, and over time I've learned to think of my argumentative nature as a positive trait.


Of course, being argumentative can backfire. In Grade Six, when our class was learning about Values, Influences, and Peers, we were asked to fill in a short survey. Question number one asked, “Is personal grooming important to you?”

“Personal grooming?” What the heck did that mean? We were in Grade Six. We didn’t know what “personal grooming” was? We asked around. The word came back up and down the aisles to, “Just put yes.”

Well, that wasn’t good enough for me. I wouldn’t put “yes” until I knew what it meant. I asked the police officer who was conducting the class. He sighed, looked uncomfortable for a moment, and then replied, “Just put yes.”

Well screw that, I thought! I’m putting “No!” So I did.

After we took up the answers, the question was finally explained, and I immediately regretted my “No.” I can remember the feeling of my burning cheeks as the other students, who all felt cleanliness was important, stared at me. (At least I wasn’t alone. The classroom dirty boy who always came to school with visible ear wax and smelling of pigs had written “No” as well.)

I don’t know if argumentativeness is a natural personality trait or if it’s learned. My hunch tells me it’s genetic, but even so, I blame (or credit) one particular book for, if not creating this aspect of my personality, at least augmenting it a bit.

The Monster at the End of this Book.

By Grover.

I’m serious.

It was one of my favourites as a small child. It was on our bedtime reading roster almost every night. Throughout the book Grover begs us and begs us not to turn the pages, and of course, we do. I can remember my excitement as my mother would read it to me. I would be just itching to defy Grover. With gleeful insistence, I would turn those pages and then laugh and laugh as his stacked up wall of bricks came tumbling down on top of him. Stupid old Grover!

I’ve read The Monster at the End of this Book to my own sons, and I’ve seen that gleeful defiance in their own faces. It’s the same look they give me when we play the “Don’t Eat That” game. “The asparagus on that plate? Don’t you dare eat that?” I say mock-angrily. Then I turn away to get something and when I turn back the asparagus is gone! They try to suppress their giggles but I can see the gloat in their eyes.

I’m always surprised when we have young guests for dinner who are unswayed by the “Don’t Eat That” game. I’ve read “The Monster at the End of This Book” to children who are inclined to follow Grover’s suggestion and not turn anymore pages! Maybe my kids are on the road to a life of being accused of ‘arguing for the sake of arguing,’ but I’d rather they be over-critical than under-critical.

Argumentative types get a lot of sighs and eye rolls. People shake their heads at us in frustration, but when it comes down to it, being argumentative is a good thing for the world. There are far too many people who will agree with anything you feed them, who’ll adopt whatever opinion is in vogue, never anaylzing it critically for themselves. They’re the types that regurgitate statistics with no thought to the methods involved in formulating them, the types that spread around banal Facebook memes because they can’t come up with their own original thoughts. They want whatever product is popular without even wondering if said product is actually worthwhile. (How else can we explain the tremendous success of Fifty Shades of Grey or the Slap Chop?)

Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but if you don’t agree? Well, argue with me.  It’ll make my day.

Stories I Have Loved: Beautiful Joe

Posted by hlinfield on February 5, 2013 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (1)

Stories I’ve Loved: Beautiful Joe

I love bedtime stories with my sons and am always on the look out for novels to read with them that will be able to keep their attention. We’ve done the abridged versions of Robinson Crusoe, The Three Musketeers, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Time Machine. All of these were successes.

Interestingly, I had never read any of these novels as children. I was experiencing them for the first time along with my sons. Lately I’ve started thinking that I’d like to introduce books to my sons that I loved when I was a child.

The first book I ever loved was The Secret Garden. I read it at least a hundred times as a child, ignoring my bookshelf filled with other great novels. I’d love to read it to my sons but I know they’re not ready for it yet. (I wrote about The Secret Garden on Rhoda Baxter’s ‘Inheritance Books’ website.)

Putting aside The Secret Garden leads me to the second book I ever loved: Beautiful Joe, by Marshall Saunders.

Like all great animal stories, (with the exception of James Herriot’s books) Beautiful Joe is told from the perspective of the animal, in this case a scarred, rough-looking farm mutt. According to the author’s note, it is based on a true story that took place in Meaford, Ontario.

Though I didn’t realize it as a child, Beautiful Joe is essentially a treatise on the prevention of cruelty to animals. It’s a simply-written plea to children to always treat animals with love and kindness.

Poor Joe is born in a barn on a filthy farm to a horrible master. As a puppy, Joe watches, terrified, as his mother runs around shrieking with sorrow while her master brutally murders all of Joe’s brothers and sisters. After the murderer leaves the barn, Joe’s mother creeps about collecting all her dead babies. She puts them back into their bed and licks them and licks them, trying in vain to make them come alive. When Joe’s mother dies a few months later, likely of a broken heart, Joe flies at this horrible master in a rage. As a punishment, the master mutilates Joe by cutting off his ears and tail. Joe shrieks in pain and his cries are heard by a young man passing by the farm. Joe is rescued and taken to live with the Morris family and the beloved Mistress Laura.

It is really at this point where the story starts. Joe’s new family is kind and there are many lovely children for him to play with. At one point Joe even catches a burglar, thereby proving his worth to humans skeptical of dogs. Throughout the novel, assumptions about animals – that they’re inherently stupid, or filthy, or aggressive – are addressed and dispensed with.

It’s a story about the importance of nurturing and about the importance of fighting against ignorance. It’s a simple story of right and wrong and it found a welcome place in my young mind.

It was published almost eighty years ago and the odd reference to ‘coloured’ folks would rightly make a modern reader cringe, (but might create a valuable teaching moment if you read it with your children) but the language is simple and the overarching theme is of kindness and love for all creatures.

If anyone is looking for a book with a positive message to read with his or her children, look no further. The last line of Beautiful Joe is this: “Boys and girls, be kind to dumb animals, not only because you will lose nothing by it, but because you ought to; for they were placed on the earth by the same Kind Hand that made all living creatures.”

As non-religious as I am, that simple plea brings a lump to my throat.

How Important is Print?

Posted by hlinfield on January 18, 2013 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

There is so much written about the publishing industry that I’m not sure any one opinion can be considered to be more prevalent than another: ‘Ebooks are destroying the traditional world of publishing,’ versus ‘Ebooks are transforming for the better the traditional world of publishing.’ ‘99 cent ebooks are the way to go’ versus ’99 cent ebooks are a definite no-no.’ ‘The world of print books is at an end,’ versus ‘Print books will never die.’

My first novel, The Truth about Dandelions, was published last year in electronic format, which I was very happy about. There were minimal upfront costs, no shipping fees or long waits for delivery, and no waste, that is, no books were printed and then left to sit languishing in an unopened box. More people than I had expected had e-readers. Everything was great.

But if it’s true that the world of print books is coming to a close, why do I feel more like a real author now that my novel is available in paper form? Is it just my age? I’m well into my 30s and didn’t even know what email was until I was in university. I did research papers using real books in a library. I even know what the Dewey Decimal System is.

Do twenty-somethings and teenagers like the feel of a real book in their hands as much as I do? Do they love to smell used books? Do they like how the different spines look on a bookshelf? If it exists in paper and ink in front of them (as opposed to however things exist online) doesn’t it seem to them more concrete, more substantial, more REAL?

I’ve wondered if my preference for print material lies in its longevity. Electronic books seem almost ethereal, as if they only just exist, that at any moment they could simply vanish into thin air. Science-y people (smarter than I) claim that nothing you put online ever really goes away, and so my thoughts must be wrong. Yet the electronic world changes so quickly. Will ebooks that exist now still exist in a hundred years? I suppose the good ones will be reformatted to fit the new technology, just as my copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles was printed, not in 1891, but in 2003.

Sometimes I think of that scene in The Time Machine where the traveler, in the future, finds all the old books. The innocent Eloi don’t even know what they are and when he picks one up it disintegrates in his hands. Obviously neither electronic nor print is permanent. Neither goes on forever, just like the universe apparently. (So those science-y people tell me.)  

So why then do I feel more excited about seeing my book in print than I did about seeing it on an e-reader?  Yes, I like to look at books on a bookshelf, but it would be dishonest to say I actually care about that.  Yes, I like the feel of a real book in my hand, but I’ll admit that lately I’ve been using my kindle more than print books. And yes, I like the smell of a used book, but I can’t say I’ve ever really noticed the smell of a newly printed book. Surely my preference for print books isn’t just because I’m an old fuddy-duddy. (See, I’m so old I use terms like ‘fuddy-duddy.’);)

No, I think there’s one more reason: history. The idea of holding your real book in your hands carries with it a thousand images of all the ‘greats’ holding their own books in their own hands. Not to compare myself to them, but when I hold my own book in my own hands, I will be able to imagine Charles Dickens or Charlotte Bronte or F. Scott Fitzgerald or even Danielle Steele holding their novels in their hands and breathing deep sighs of satisfaction. It’s a moment that simply cannot exist with an electronic book.

In concrete terms it may not be a lot, but I think in the minds of a lot of writers, it’s enormous. If, as many argue, the world of print books is dying, I think there will be a lot of authors, both struggling and established, who will be wearing black on the inside for a very, very long time.