Monday, November 16, 2015

Heliconian Lecture Series

Kaarina and I signed up for the Heliconian lectures again, enjoying the opportunity to hear authors talk about their work. The popular series has been described as a "cross between a traditional book club and university course without exams." The audience is mostly female, and mostly older. The writers speak for about an hour, often sharing a bit about their process, and then take questions for 15 minutes. So far, they've all been great talks and fabulous books.

Lyndon MacIntyre spoke about Punishment in September, and charmed the crowd. It was prior to the federal election, and he pointedly spoke about not speaking about politics and a certain incumbent.  He also talked about one of the threads in the book that hadn't resonated with me when I read it, which was the Iraq war and how international incidents were entwined at the local level. Many layers to the story. The idea came to him as he sat on his porch in Cape Breton, and I easily envisioned him writing in a breezy uncluttered room with a view of the ocean.

Julian Porter talked about 149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe (So You Can Ignore the Others). This was the first time a projector made its way into the proceedings, and it didn't go well. Unfortunately, the red hue was missing, and so many of the masterpieces looked alarmingly cool. To his credit, Julian kept his cool, but you could tell he was a bit frustrated when he couldn't share the depth of colour of some of his favourites.  Obviously passionate about many artworks, it was great to hear not only about the individual works, but his approach to enjoying them over the years: be discriminating and don't try to take in everything at a gallery, zero in on a few and linger.  Good advice. He's working on a similar book, about paintings to see in North America, and highly recommended Pittsburgh for the Carnegie Gallery. Since the Warhol Museum is also there, it could be a fun trip!

Catherine Gildiner retold anecdotes from her memoir, Coming Ashore. The third in a series, it focuses on her early twenties, a time without kids and mortgages and careers. It is hilarious with recounting anecdotes from her time at Oxford, such as scheming to help a friend loose her virginity to Jimi Hendrix and studying as a PHD student while living in the druggie haven Rochdale during it's heyday of the early 70s. When I was reading the book I wondered if it was literally true, or true in the sense of Isabelle Allende and others who say it is sometimes necessary to lie to tell the truth. Catherine's retelling that night sometimes strayed from the details in the book, and then she talked about her writing process aiming to connect with the unconscious, so I don't think all the details are necessarily factual. But does it matter? It is a great read and seems true in the telling.

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