Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey

Well, it looks like déjà vu all over again.
There’s much tongue flapping over the book trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey. Some libraries refuse to carry it because they see it as pornography. The books are about a dominant-submissive affair between a manipulative rich guy and a naive younger woman.
The trilogy began as a fan-fiction based on the Twilight vampire series. It was published as Master of the Universe on websites, and went through a couple of transformations before being published as Fifty Shades of Grey by Vintage Books, a part of Random House.

It is no literary gem but its popularity is phenomenal. Some libraries are reporting hold lists of more than 1,000 names. The trilogy has been tagged as “mommy porn” because of its popularity among married women over thirty.
There was a similar phenomenon in the early 1960s when D. H. Lawrence’s 1928 Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published openly. Back then women carried the book deep inside their purses, snatching glances through the pages when no one was looking. In coffee shops there were whispered but excited conversations about the sex scenes and forbidden words in the book.
Today, electronic tablet readers keep to yourself whatever you are reading. The conversations no longer are whispered, and of course what was once shocking now is simply titillating.
The criticisms of the trilogy’s sexually explicit scenes, and the decisions of some libraries not to carry the books, are bizarre. Bookshelves in stores and libraries carry plenty of erotic material. Why shouldn’t the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy be allowed to sit on those shelves just like Lady Chatterley or Tropic of Cancer?
Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James is no D. H. Lawrence, and her work certainly is not literature. The writing has been called clunky and amateurish, but the stories are wildly popular.
Ms. James has people reading, and that’s good news.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Menacing Reminder About Nature

The menace to manicured lawns is back. Huge patches of them everywhere; carpets of yellow now turning fluffy white so they can broadcast their seed to reproduce millions more of their own.

Nature as it wants to be
The dandelion is a barbarian weed intent on savaging the coiffed look of our suburbias. They take over our carefully clipped grassy areas, setting down deep roots that support broad leaves to deprive grass and flowers of space and nutrients. Government bans of certain chemicals have taken away our best weapons for killing them.

Dandelions are more than a menace, however. They are reminder that we humans still have much difficulty accepting nature as it is. We persist in trying to control it, and in reshaping it to our liking. We cut trees and bulldoze wide open spaces to separate  and keep us safe from the perceived dangers of the dark woods. Then we plant little ornamental trees and bushes more to our liking.

Nature tries to resist our changes, but in the short term we are too powerful. We should not forget, however, that over the long run nature always wins. Nature is patient and resilient and will be healing its wounds and reshaping itself long after we have gone.

The dandelion is a reminder that we need to condition ourselves to accept nature as it is.  

(Note: Stories of weird things in the dark woods can be found in Lights in Dark Forests, an e-book available in various electronic formats at Amazon or

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fade to Black

Of all the criticisms of the CBC during its continuing deep dive into mediocrity, none is more damning than a recent line from writer Peter C. Newman.

Newman, author 25 books and Canadian icon, in reviewing The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC, wrote that when he came here as a refugee from Hungary, the CBC on radio taught him about Canada. Then, he adds:

While my love of country abides, the national broadcaster is no longer part of that equation.”

What a devastating indictment of the CBC from one of Canada’s cultural elite. CBC, which considers itself at the centre of cultural elite, no longer is a part of most Canadians’ lives.

The Tower of Babble, published last month, was written by Richard Stursberg who was hired in 2004 to resuscitate the English services of the Mother Corp., and was dismissed six years later after losing head butting wars with the CBC president and its board of directors.

It is an interesting book for anyone who wants to know why dwindling numbers of Canadians pay any attention to the taxpayer supported radio and television network. It tells how labour problems have poisoned the workplace, and how refusal to change its CBC-knows-best culture has kept away audiences.

CBC once was a respected powerhouse of news and information. Today it tells us little that we don’t already know. It has lost its ability to tell Canadians in all parts of the country about trends in how we are living our lives. It has reduced itself to telling us what we already have heard is happening in Toronto and downtown Ottawa.

It is a sad story, but as they say nowadays, ‘Hey, things happen.’ There is little point moaning about the CBC, or trying to revive it. The CBC is in palliative care. It’s best now to let it go peacefully.

One of these days Peter Mansbridge will be standing at his teleprompter when the screen begins to fade. In the background, Ottawa reporter Terry Milewski will be trying desperately to get in the last words in his latest rant against the Harper government. Then the screen will go black.