Hidden Pleasures

Can you get a colour like that except from an old copy of a book that long ago lost its dust jacket?

The photo above and the one below were taken moments apart, one a little closer to the window.

It's one of the precious qualities of old books like this. They change with the seasons, or over the course of a day.

This is Du's favourite book. A hidden pleasure. A secret stashed away in his socks and underwear drawer. He doesn't really want anyone to know he reads poetry from 9th Century China. Not so much because he's ashamed of it as he just prefers the secret. He's had the book so long, it's like carrying around an old stuffed bear.


My friend Carl Wilson had his life turned upside down recently when actor James Franco was stopped on the red carpet at the academy awards and asked if he had any guilty pleasures.

The last thing the interviewer expected was that Franco would mention a book. The cues he offered were The Hills & American Idol (I know I know, that last link doesn't really go to American Idol, but how could I resist?)

And he prefaced the question by holding forth on the highbrow nature of the Oscars, begging for a little lowbrow with his highbrow.

(Saying the Oscars are highbrow — no matter how much they might want to be — is like saying that US political discourse covers the spectrum from left to right. They aren't. It doesn't.

(But that's a tangent.)

After struggling for a few seconds, and further encouraged by the questioner (who assured Franco that he would 'wait all night') the actor finally gave up searching for the sort of answer that was expected of him and mentioned a book. He mentioned Carl's book. Not so much because Carl's book was a hidden pleasure for Franco as the question itself brought to mind the themes of Carl's journey to the end of taste.

Epigraph for Sunflower Splendor.

I was going to embed the video here, but I feel that a youtube screenshot will clash with all the digital photos of an old book. So I'll let you go find it here. Or here, where you'll also find Carl's own impressions of the experience.

Franco's choice of a book instead of a TV addiction did not so much reveal a guilty pleasure as a hidden pleasure: a hidden love of learnin' was unexpectedly displayed on the red carpet for the Academy Awards, shocking the questioner and spurring perhaps the first book review that has ever happened there.

Beyond the red carpet though, I suspect Franco isn't the only person who would choose a book for his hidden pleasure.


The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal is partly a book about the love of books. A few of the characters have precious favourites that have been with them so long, they would never even think to share them with anyone, much the same way as you wouldn't share a favourite pair of shoes, say. They're secrets.

In one case, the secret is actually a blog, but in all the others, it's a book. Even the ten stone cuneiform tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh were once a secret — the longtime favourite of twins Runner and Ruby Coghill. But then Ruby died and so Runner revealed them to the book club, demanding that they read them for the next book, despite the small problem that none of the members knew how to read the ancient language.

But other characters have their secrets too.

Du's is a book called Sunflower Splendor - Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. His particular favourite section of this eight hundred page book is the small collection of poems by Yu Xuanji, translated by Jan Walls and Geoffrey R. Waters.

There's a reason for his obsession with this particular poet, but you'll have to read the book to find out what it is.

Here's her biography though, from the old book, written by one of the translators, Jan Walls, (who is himself briefly interviewed by Jennifer and Danielle in their writing of the Lacuna Cabal's last days):

Sidewalk Friendship Test

Looks like something Missy Bean might have dreamed up in soliciting membership to the Lacuna Cabal. Except funny might have been just as much trouble for her as too smart.

[Cough, cough...]


I have a Tweetdeck rigged to find references to Gilgamesh. Some of these are really sweet, like a recent tweet from Kaypee who first wrote, 'is Gilgamesh, mostly god but still human,' and later amended it to, 'is akin to Gilgamesh, mostly a goddess but still human.' Or, regarding the colour of his hair, sokaiokyoon wrote, 'this purp so epic I might have to call it the ... !'

Others complain about what dreck the story is, tweeting sentiments like, 'who even cares about Gilgamesh anyway?' Once, when I tried to engage with someone who hated the story, they ignored me, choosing instead to write, 'All because I mentioned Gilgamesh? Awkward.'

Then there's SuperSanko, who is adventuring on line under the name Gilgamesh the Great.

Gilgamesh Trailer - Celebrity bloopers here

But the vast majority of Gilgamesh references allude to a TV animé that takes place in the future, features a sky like a mirror and centres around a pair of twins making their way in a noirish world. I have no doubt Runner and Ruby would be delighted.

Postscript to musicians: don't forget to enter the contest.

Song Song Song


There's a song in The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal.

It's called We're In the Movies, and it's about the common experience of feeling like we're the stars of our own movies, ipod buds blasting the soundtrack while walking to the corner for a soda.

I have a version of the song here. My friend Michelle Girouard has another here. I'll be discussing in a later post what the connection is to the novel of The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal, including what possessed me to write a song for a novel in the first place.

But for now, the important thing to report is this: There's a contest for the song, being sponsored by the Other Press. Aspiring performers are being asked to record their own take on it, for a prize of 500 dollars and a copy of the book. I'm really looking forward to this, especially since I like the song but I'm not particularly fond of my own singing voice.

Enter by May 1, 2009, by joining the Lacuna Cabal group on YouTube and uploading your video. The top star-rated videos will be judged by a panel, apparently including me, to determine the semifinalists. Semifinalists will be announced on May 9, and the Grand Prize Winner will be announced the week of May 19. Official contest rules are here. There's an age restriction: 13 and above with parental consent. Otherwise 18 and above.

Sheet music here if you like, a bit anally rendered perhaps (by me) and with maybe a few errors. It will probably be easier to learn it by ear. And feel free to change the key.

Caveat: This song was never meant to be performed by me with a long-neck banjo and a stripy toque in a youtube video on the internet. Aside from it being mildly embarrassing, the point was for the singer to be young, not old.

But I'll get ot that in a later post. And anyway, it works either way. Still, I hope you can do better.

The video above was filmed and edited by my wife, filmmaker Katerina Cizek. James Thomson appears on bass.

Edible Books

Definitely a subject of interest to the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club.

To Those Who Would Follow the Leads Provided by Torture...

... which is a subject that is always relevant, but particularly these days to Canada's CSIS...
I would point to a quotation I heard recently in this documentary:

Why do you search so diligently for sorcerers?
Take the Jesuits - all the religious orders - and torture them. They will confess.
If some deny, repeat it a few times. They will confess.
Should a few still be obstinate exorcize them, shave them, only keep on torturing. They will give in.
Take the canons, the doctors, the bishops of the church.
They will all confess.

-Friedrich von Spee, Jesuit priest of the early 17th Century, with regards to the Inquisition.