Monthly Archives: October 2010

Due to unremitting popular demand, here is the pumpkin soup recipe that I made for the last Dinner and a Doc.  You need not worry too much about being precise with the measurements.  I am only estimating them after the fact anyway.

Cut two sweet pumpkins or squash in half and bake at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes or an hour, until the flesh is very soft.  You should have six or eight cups of pumpkin puree after you have let the pumpkins cool and removed the skins.

Melt four tablespoons or so of butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Saute a couple of chopped yellow onions and a whole bulb of minced garlic until soft.  Add two or three teaspoons of curry powder, a teaspoon each of ground coriander, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Add the pumpkin puree and about an equal amount of broth, either chicken or vegetable.  Blend the soup until it is smooth, bring it to a boil, and then let it simmer for fifteen minutes or so.

Reduce the heat to low.  Add half a cup of brown sugar and salt to taste.  Stir in two or three cups of heavy cream, until it reaches your desired consistency.  Eat it with a nice heavy bread spread thickly with butter.

As of last night, our house has now switched stoves from electric to gas.

This may not seem like an event of much significance to some of you, but a gas stove is one of the many odd and domestic things that I tend to romanticize.  It is not only that gas stoves are superior for cooking, which they are for many reasons, I assure you.  It is also that gas stoves are associated for me with some of the happiest times in my life.  The sounds of the starter clicking and of the soft pop as the flame catches and of the whisper of the burning element all return me to the cool of early summer mornings at the camp on Manitoulin Island, to dinners prepared in the first home that my wife and I ever owned together, to the kitchens at Camp Hermosa bustling around me as I drink my coffee in the corner. There is something more tactile about gas stoves, something more comforting, more reassuring, more homely, at least for me. Perhaps it is that a gas stove can still be seen and heard to be burning something, to be still related somehow, however distantly, to the fire of the hearth, to times and places, not so distant, even now, when cooking meant working around the family fire, the family hearth.

Of course, I could very well be making much more of this than I should, but I am very glad, even so, to be cooking with gas once more.

Gerry Gordon, my maternal Grandfather, died last Sunday, and I spent this past weekend on Manitoulin Island for the funeral.  It is never possible to sum up a human life in a few words, especially not when that life has been well lived, but I offer these few words even so.

Grandpa Gordon did not condescend to be merely great.  In a world that measures greatness in money and possessions and titles and accomplishments, in a world where most of us are counted failures by these standards, he chose a different standard, chose to pursue goodness rather than greatness.  I remember him as the one who cooked countless summer breakfasts for my brothers and I, almost always bacon and eggs prepared in so much grease that they would shock nutritionists into heart attacks of their own.  I remember him as the one who supplied us with endless packs of Viva Puffs, the one who made campfires in the evenings, the one who drove me to vote for the first time, the one who made grilled cheese sandwiches for us on the worksite almost every day of my summer working in Saskatoon.  I remember him as someone who was always willing to listen to us, even from the earliest age, as if we were worth listening to, as someone who never had something better to do than spend time with us.

In these and in so many other ways, he was always a good man rather than a merely great one.  He was one of the few men about whom it would be sufficient to say, “He loved God.  He loved his family.  He loved others as he loved himself.”  I only hope that something of this kind might someday be said of me.

I have just purged by library fairly heavily.  This is not at all a common occurrence for me.  In fact, I cannot recall ever having discarded so many books at once, perhaps not even if I was to total all of my previous purges together.  I removed from my catalogue something more than a hundred books all told.

The decision to make this purge came on me very suddenly as I was looking over my shelves the other day, an epiphany of sorts, on an admittedly minor scale.  I realized that my criteria for reading has changed so much over the decade since I completed by formal education that I no longer have any interest in the kinds of books that I once valued highly enough to collect.  However long a life I might live, I reflected, I would never read these anthologies of critical writing on Shakespearean tragedy or these collections of essays on the discontents of postmodernism, so I started to pull from the shelves all those books that no longer had a place in my reading practice, the books that are mere parasites on better books, the endless production of literary academia.

I no longer have time for these books in my reading practice, and I have long believed that a bookshelf should be an index to the one who has filled it.  So I purged, and I weeded, and  I pruned, and in the process I think perhaps I also pruned some dead branches from myself.

I have been rereading Robertson Davies’ Debtford Trilogy almost twenty years after I read it first, and it has proven to be a most singular experience.  Before I picked the trilogy up the second time, I could remember almost nothing about the books, just the barest outline of the plot and a nebulous sense of the narrator’s voice, so my rereading has been characterized by a strange sense of precognition after the fact.  I can rarely remember enough of the plot to predict what will happen next, but I always have a feeling of recognition as I am reading, as if I already knew what would happen, and there are occasions when I see what will come next with a startling clarity, an almost visionary experience.  It is reading as foretelling, as prophesy, and it is a most interesting literary sensation.

Shaun Tan’s Tales From Outer SuburbiaI wrote about Tan’s The Arrival almost two years ago now, and it remains very much a favourite of mine, so I was delighted to find another of his books: Tales from Outer Suburbia.  It is a collection of stories, illustrated in various styles and to various degrees, all loosely related to the idea of suburbia, and if I would not rate it quite as highly as The Arrival, it is still well worth reading.  Tan’s storytelling is as beautiful as his art, and he has a real gift for balancing simplicity with imagination, so his stories often feel like modern day fairytales, delightful and whimsical, disarmingly simple, yet touching also on something more profound.  I may just have to make a point of hunting up his other books also.

Saul Bellow’s Herzog – I disliked this book very much for the first hundred pages or so.  I could recognize in it a certain virtuosity, but I identified with the position of the protagonist so little that his problems, his petty money troubles, his failed romances, his mediocre academic career, all seemed like mere whining to me.  As the book progressed, however, particularly as the narrative began to incorporate the Ludeyville house as a kind of metaphor for the protagonist’s condition, I began to find some real pleasure in it.  I will never rank it very highly in my personal canon, but I can see how it might rank very highly for other people, and I would certainly not warn people away from it.

Italo Calvino’s The Road to San Giovanni – Calvino writes in the ways I want to read.  I can name more than a few authors who have written better novels but none who writes in such constantly beautiful, elegant, marvelous prose.  I can read him endlessly, whatever his subject.  I suspect that his grocery lists have more aesthetic value than anything I will ever write.

Colette’s The Pure and the Impure – This was my first exposure to the quasi-biographical and famously controversial writing of Colette.  The book was originally published in 1932, and it produced public outcry for its unambiguous and sympathetic portrayal of same -sex relationships and sexuality, particularly between women.  The appeal of the book, however, is not primarily in its more salacious elements.  Though Colette never shies from frank descriptions of sexuality, she never drifts into mere pornography either, and the strength of her writing comes from her ability to portray a depth of emotion and humanity and experience in her characters as they struggle to live their lives in a world that has little or no place for them.  The book is sometimes amusing, often poignant, always thoughtful, and it is characterized by a kind of gentleness and languor that make its reading a real pleasure.

Georges Perec’s A Void – Though I would not count A Void as a great novel in purely literary terms,  it is still nothing short of a technical masterpiece.  It is a full-length novel that is written entirely without the letter ‘e’, a punning, teasing, taunting novel that plays with ideas of absence and that amounts to a truly remarkable piece of writing.  Just as remarkable, perhaps even more so, is that the book has been translated into English, also without the latter ‘e’, by Gilbert Adair, which is a serious achievement in translation considering the rigid constraints  of the source text.  Whatever its literary shortcomings, therefore, and they are several, it is truly a wonder to read.

This Saturday, October 9th, we will be having Dinner and a Doc as normal, but with two important changes:

First, due to our numbers lately, we will be meeting from now on in the upstairs of First Baptist Church, Guelph, the space where we ended up meeting last month.  The church is located at 255 Woolwich Street.  People should feel free to park in the church parking lot and should enter through the side doors.  I will post signs to the room where we will be meeting.

Second, while everyone, especially the starving students, should still feel free just to drop by for the meal and the show, we have had many people offer to bring bread or drinks or desserts.  Rather than discourage this, as I have been doing until now in the interests of keeping things organized, I would now ask that people just let me know if they will be bringing something so that I can make sure all the necessities are covered.

So, with those two changes, this Saturday will be our second attempt to screen The Thin Blue Line by Errol Morris for Dinner and a Doc.  The film follows the story of Randall Dale Adams who was falsely convicted of killing a police officer. It is one of the first major documentaries to break with the direct cinema mode by using reenactments, and it raised so much publicity about Adams’ case that the conviction was eventually overturned. It is also quite simply an engrossing film.

Here are some links for those who would like some further information:

1) a clip about the film;
2) a very entertaining letter to Morris from the producer Harvey Weinstein; and
3) a review by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr at

The soup that night will probably be something pumkin-ish or squash-esque.

We will eat at about 5:30 and begin the film at about 6:00. As usual, I would appreciate an email or a comment to let me know that you will be coming and whether you will be bringing anything to contribute to the meal.

Lastly, here are some of the films we will be showing in upcoming months:

November 13th – Kordavision by Hector Cruz Sandoval
December 11th – Off for Christmas
January 8th – White Light / Black Rain by Steven Okazaki
February 12th – The Clinton Special by Michael Ondaatje

This sentence is from Georges Perec’s A Void, which is why it does not include the letter ‘e’ anywhere in its substantial length.  It is a reflection on the idea of ‘the blank’, so it is also a reflection on the whole project of the novel itself.  It is a little difficult to follow at times, because of how Perec likes to play with words and with the voice of his characters, but I think its profounder moments make it worth the effort it might require.

“A blanks thus unfolds motu proprio out of its own contradiction, a vacant signal of that which is not in fact vacant, a blank such as you might find in a book across which its author’s hand ink’s an inscription implicating its own abolition: O, vain papyrus drawn back, unavoidably back, into its own blank womb; a tract of a non-tract, a nihilistic tract localising that oblivion, huddling, crouching, within a word, gnawing away at its own root, a rotting pip, a scission, a distraction, an omission both boasting and disguising its invincibility, a canyon of non-Colorado, a doorway that nobody would cross, a corridor along which no foot would pad, a no-man’s land in which all oral communication would instantly find, brought to light, a gaping pit consuming any possibility of a praxis, a bright, blazing conflagration that would turn anybody approaching it into a human torch, a spring run dry, a blank word put out of bounds, a word now null and void, always just out of sight, always contriving to avoid scrutiny, a word no mispronunciation can satisfy, a castrating word, a flaccid word, a vacant word connoting an insultingly obvious signification, in which suspicion, privation and illusion all triumph, a lacunary furrow, a vacant canal, a Lacanian chasm, a cast-off vacuum thirstily sucking us into this thing unsaid, into this vain sting of a cry arousing us, this fold wrinkling, on its margin, a mystificatory logic that still confounds us, tricks us, inhibiting our instincts, our natural impulsions, our options, damning us to oblivion, to an illusory dawn, to rationality, to cold study, to distortion and untruth, but also a mad authority, a craving for a purity which would synchronously affirm passion, starvation, adoration, a subtraction of unfactitious wisdom, of not-so-vain rumours, a human articulation at its most psychically profound point, as of a particularly clairvoyant spiritualist, or a saint, or any man not as moribund as most of mankind.”