Monday, July 31, 2006

A Weekend Miscellany

Having Dinner, Being Dinner. The weekend started early, Thursday evening, to be precise. I am not including it in the weekend because I took Friday off, but for the purposes of being at least mildly entertaining in this post. Ken and I went to dinner and after the kitchen obliterated my grilled salmon into a tiny, charcoaled mess, not only did I get another, perfectly prepared version, it was also free – I presume from the need to assuage the emotional damage and ensure positive PR. Which it certainly did. Go to The Keg on Lower Church Street. They make great food (99% of the time) and when they don’t, they fix it. Afterwards, we wandered through the sultry streets of Toronto and parked ourselves by a fountain for a chat. There, it later became obvious, I served as a buffet for a particularly finicky mosquito, which tasted a sip here and there (right knee, right index finger, right eyelid by the lashline – oh, so attractive – and right eyebrow), leaving just enough of that vile itch-and-bump creating substance to be noticeable, before finally finding a vein which produced a vintage to its liking:

That or I’m growing another head. Or maybe…. who remembers a movie called The Manitou? (pardon the fuzziness – it’s the best I could do by blindly pointing the lens at my forehead)

Not Worth Mentioning. We’ll skip right over Friday, which not only wasn’t very interesting, but, in addition, was actually very irritating.

Archaeological Dig. The lovely Michele visited again for the purposes of attacking the next step in the Mission Impossible: Cleaning Out Lene’s Landfil… erm, Apartment. On the agenda: the kitchen cupboard (please imagine ominous-sounding music and gathering storm clouds). Note that this wasn’t plural. It is The Cupboard. The one that contains canned goods, spices, various food-prep necessities, mugs, containers… you get the idea. It’s also the one that hasn’t been cleaned out in 5 years. We found enough cans of tuna to feed the entire building, 3 boxes of cornstarch (each succeeding box bought when I “didn’t have any” because the one before had disappeared into the black hole in The Cupboard). We also found the tiniest mystery guests – no idea what they were, but they were so small, they looked like a Times Roman ‘l’ at font size 8. This meant that in addition to throwing out items appearing to be older than dirt, anything that had been opened or looked like it had even thought about being opened also went straight into the trash. And then we (i.e., Michele) washed all mugs, containers, plates, bowls, etc., to ensure no bug cooties remained. If you are capable, please help me give her a standing ovation. And if you do so at work, please leave a comment to tell us how that went.

Patent Pending. The least I could do while Michele was slaving away, was to feed her. For that purposes, I introduced her to one of my SSB. An SSB is a term lifted from an episode in Sex and the City, wherein the women discuss having to give up Secret Single Behaviour when a boyfriend movies in – weird things you wouldn’t necessarily want other people to see. One of my favourites is this:

Potato chips (regular). Lays works well – they’re thin and similarly shaped (why this is important will become clear momentarily).
Hummus. Whatever flavour works for you. I like the combination of regular chips and lemon-dill hummus (served directly from the fridge, naturally).

Dip one chip in hummus and smear on other chip. Place first chip on second chip, the hummus in between. Repeat if desired, creating as tall a multilayered chip sandwich as you want. Eat.

Only keeping in mind the effects of too much hummus makes me use moderation with this snack.

Sloth-like Behaviour. Of which there was much on Sunday. I did move somewhat faster than a sloth - not hard to do, as their ground speed is somewhere around .1-.2 mph, but in terms of doing nothing, I rivalled the best of them. Doing nothing with great abandon is just about my favourite way to end a weekend.

Do you have any SSBs?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Random July

A belated shout-out to Diane of the comments and her mother, who toured Canada this summer. We met at the Market, had lunch and gabbed. Turns out, all three of us talk a lot, so naturally, we hit it off famously. I wish they lived closer.

Why are there ads on the movies I rent or buy? One should think that part of the money you shell out for a DVD could go to eliminate ads. Drives me batty. Makes me feel ripped off.

Ontario has gotten itself a tartan! Not bad. Apparently, there’ll be an annual Tartan Day and although I’m not Scottish, I do like the burr of the accent – and am nuts about the place itself – so I might go get something suitable to celebrate the day (when I find out when that is - I have a vague impression of sometime in April, but could be wrong).

I’ve been looking for an alternative to my soap and because of the accursed asthma, it needed to be unscented. Which turns out to not be as easy to come by as you might think. I bought Dove unscented soap – should solve the problem, right? Nope! It has a fragrance so intense, it almost knocked me off my feet. Apparently, if you define ‘unscented’ as ‘containing no scent’, you should get Dove for sensitive skin - no fragrance added! Erm…? I thought that meant it was ‘unscented? I don’t quite understand. Instead, I found this, which is awesome! Truly unscented, except for the brief – and quite pleasant, really – hint of eau de barnyard (not a problem to e.g., knitters), which dissipates within a minute. My skin immediately became incredibly soft and as a bonus, since I started using it a month ago, I haven’t needed deodorant. I keep expecting that side effect to abate, but it hasn’t so far. Crazy, that.

And while we’re on the topic of personal hygiene… I never liked the new trend of men waxing their chests. I’m old enough to like a bit o’ hair in that area. I understand it’s all about showing off your muscles, but really? Don’t like it, don’t think it’s sexy, cannot wait for it to be over. However, it has recently come to my attention that the waxed chest was just the beginning. Now it’s legs (I thought only competitive cyclists did that), arms and – get this - armpits. I won’t get into details about the pros (which pros?) and cons, merely summing up my reaction as: ew! Someone please make it stop. (no offense to anyone whose crank this turns, all a personal preference, objects in mirror are closer than they appear, etc., etc.)

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Books That Changed Who I Am

In September of 1973, I was 11 years old and admitted to the only rehab hospital in Denmark that handled kids with arthritis (and kids and adults with any other rehabilitation needs). To say that it was an awful place is an understatement, but there weren't any other options. I cried for weeks, wandering the halls dressed in the hospital-issued clothing – the ugliest workout gear seen on this earth. Then I learned that crying doesn’t change anything. I’d wear my anorak, too – it was armour from home, from normal, blocking the nightmare. Another part of the protective gear was a book by Nicholas Kalashnikof, called Prince: The Story of a Siberian Stallion (loosely translated from the Danish title). It was the story of the life of a Siberian stallion, lost from his owners, who experiences terrible things, then is found and comes home again. The first time I was in that hospital, I stayed for three months. My memories tell me that the book was always with me, either in my hands or in the pocket of my anorak, ready to take me away to Russia when I needed to escape. I no longer know if this is true.

The first book I read in English was Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors. It’s the story of the Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes – only a few survived (full story here). I’d borrowed it from a homecare worker, a student working part-time, who told me it was an incredible book. I was 16 or 17 and read it with a dictionary. It took me two weeks. I remember the details of how they survived only vaguely, except for the part about eating the dead to avoid starving. It seemed very practical to me. And after reading a book in another language, I knew I’d never run out of reading material.

I started university right after highschool. In Denmark, it is tradition to take a year (or more) off before going on. My friends were backpacking through Europe, sleeping on beaches in the Greek Islands, working on a kibbutz or going to Paris to be an au pair. I studied English. I’d wanted to study comparative religion, but the University of Copenhagen is very old – it was established in 1479 - and that department was on the oldest part of the old campus and not accessible, so I had to find something at the new campus, which was. It had a bookstore on the ground floor and I bought my first English-language paperback there. It was Clan of the Cave Bear and I was mesmerized. It pushed the boundaries of everything I’d ever thought was possible to imagine and opened up a new world. It’s still somewhere on my shelves.

The first book I bought based on a review was The Vampire Lestat. We had moved to Canada by then and I was in my second year of studying psychology at the University of Toronto (with a few courses in comparative religion). I read the review in a student newspaper and bought the book the next day. It blew my mind. Lestat lived life (unlife?) fearlessly, committed to only one thing: to get the most out of it. It made me want to be Lestat. Or at least to live life like that (perhaps not including the drinking blood bit, although living forever seemed a nice payoff). For a long time, I read it once a year, to remind myself of the kind of person I wanted to become.

Years later, when I was working for a municipal government, I used to read on the WheelTrans bus on my way to work. Although I read many books on the bus in the 5 years I worked there, I only remember one vividly. Or rather, one line/thought from one book. I still remember where I was the moment I read it: on the Neilson Road off-ramp from the 401 highway. Two short sentences struck me with such force that I stopped breathing, stopped reading, looked up, yet saw nothing, while it reverberated within me. It is still, all these years later, seared into my brain like an internal tattoo. The book was Damage. The sentences: “damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive”. Those nine words taught me more about what bad things can do to people than years of studying had.

Which book(s) changed you?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Chasing the Sunset

p.s. No, this hasn't turned into a photoblog - I had a busy weekend. Words will return on Wednesday.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Mojo In Macro

The fuzzy feet are for Barbara or rather, for her Thomas, who also is somewhat hirsute around the paws...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Nasty Boys

This past week, I accidentally had myself a small film festival, the theme of which can best described as ‘Nasty Boys’. Something that delicious naturally deserves a review.

The Matador. This is Pierce Brosnan’s Anti-Bond, the exact opposite of suave, elegant, principled Good Guy. Brosnan plays a hitman, quickly on his way to a bad case of burnout, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a businessman, played by Greg Kinnear. Visually, the movie is beautiful, the script is pretty good and it is clear that the two leads are having a blast (no review is complete without mentioning Brosnan's image-shattering strut through a hotel lobby, stomach hanging out, clad only in black Speedos and boots). And I did, too - have a blast, I mean. It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the movie.

The reason my praise is somewhat qualified has a lot to do with Brosnan and who he is. He is Pierce Brosnan and there is no getting away from that - it is hard to disassociate from the fact that you are watching Pierce Brosnan mess around with his image. He has played 'hero' - often rakish, at times somewhat lawless (The Thomas Crown Affair being the quintessential example), but always, always irresistible and has become somewhat typecast. Additionally, he has an inherent elegance and although he throws himself into the role of quite a nasty person, it's hard to make that final leap. Whether that is the fault of his image or my inability to let him out of his little box, I don't know. However, rent it. You'll have a good time.

The Libertine. Johnny Depp plays the second Earl of Rochester, a brilliant poet and playwright during the reign of King Charles II. The movie takes place during the last years of Rochester's life, during a time where he completed his life's work, which appeared to be a determined effort to live to the max. Utterly debauched and an unabashed reprobate, Rochester was the poster boy for sin, indiscriminately having sex with anybody who wished (and apparently, a whole lot of people wished), biting the hand that fed him by mercilessly lampooning the King and in general being a shit. He eventually died young, but not leaving a very good-looking corpse, likely due to an advanced case of syphilis and other 'issues'.

I loved this movie. I watched it over two days, having gotten distracted after the first 20 minutes. I mentioned to someone how I couldn't understand why Rochester was so irresistible, as based on what I had seen, he wasn't a very nice man. Now, I understand the attraction to bad boys as much as the next person, but this guy is just... mean. However, I changed my mind by the time the movie finished. Once again, Depp makes himself disappear and is completely compelling to watch as he fearlessly dives into the muck of the character, somehow managing to make you understand not only the attraction, but also the person. And then he makes you like him. It was astonishing - I couldn't stop talking about the movie after it finished, even though my audience hadn't seen the film (and in the process I think, perhaps boring said person just a smidge). The rest of the movie is also a very good, showing what I suspect is a fairly accurate picture of the general lack of cleanliness of the time - you can almost smell and taste the filth. It's a challenging movie, demanding your attention, involvement and thought and is well worth it. Not only do I want to own this movie, it also made me want to learn more about Rochester and his work. Go rent it. Watch it. As soon as possible. And when you do, be sure to watch the 'making of' special feature, which is the most charming, whimsical and well done 'making of' I have ever seen.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I'll Try To Keep It To A Minimum

In case you've missed it (I think I've only mentioned it once, maybe twice), Big Brother All-Stars has begun. This means that I have entered into my annual summer obsession with watching complete strangers, about whom I have strong opinions, locked in a hamster cage. A cage that this year looks like a 70s decorating nightmare. How obsessed am I? Glad you asked. Every year, after living and breathing the show for about 1½ months, I have a Big Brother dream. This year, I dreamt about them the night after the first episode. And no, I don’t care how pathetic that makes me sound.

As I tend to talk (a lot) about my obsessions, it is quite likely that there might be the teensiest bit of spillover onto the blog. Much as I'm tempted to add a weekly BBAS post, discussing – in detail, naturally - everything happening in the Big Brother house, I really will try to keep it down to a dull roar. However! As this is the day after the first eviction, settle in for some reality show babbling, which today will consist of a run-through of the selected All-Stars and my opinion of them. Sounds fascinating, don't it?

First, the viewer picks:
Janelle. Well, duh. Breakout star of BB6, she's got heart, looks, competitiveness, a strategic mind and is the author of the immortal "bye-bye, bitches!".
I love her.
. A bit of a surprise, but all right. I liked her (although I liked Jack even more), not much of the strategist, but perhaps she's more like eye candy. And speaking of, what did she do to her face?
. I love underdogs and outsiders, so even if she didn't look a little like my oldest friend in the world (except for the hair, piercings and tattoos), I would've chosen her, too. Her 'six-finger plan' was a masterpiece. Her outsider status might hurt her or, in a house that's already building alliances of strong players, she might be able to evade being targeted, until the alpha players are done eliminating each other.
. Really? Well, she's funny in the diaryroom, but... Diane? Really?
Hurricane Howie
. Certainly amusing to watch, I can't quite figure out whether or not he really is as thick as a plank or if he's just acting, but I gotta admit, Howie tends to make my toes curl in vicarious embarrassment.
. Be still, my beating heart! I hope he doesn't get kicked out too soon, as I would like to spend quite a lot of time drooling over his deliciousness. So far, he hasn't got much screen time, but from what we've seen of him, they've decided to showcase his sillier side, instead of Mr. Intense Strategist – nice to see him as a whole person.
I like James. He's kind of weird and his intensity isn't balanced by too much of a sense of humour, but he's good at competition and playing factions against each other, so he should add some life to the house.
Jase. I loathed Jase the first time around, but he seems to have mellowed a bit. And smartened up substantially. He might be interesting to watch.

CBS didn't tell us how the rest of the housemates were selected, but I suspect the criteria was 'impact' and 'obnoxiousness' (yes, Alison, I'm looking at you).

Dr. Will. I forgot how much fun he is to watch. Verging on sociopathy, very full of himself, very aware of his image and very good at maintaining it. And very, very good at stirring the pot. I hope he sticks around for long time. (By the way, what did he do to his face and did he dip himself in flour?)
Mike Boogie. Huh? Well, I guess the evil Dr. Will has to have a minion and since Boogie’s nose and chin appear to have grown even closer since we last saw him, and he seems to not be able to think for himself, he’s a shoe-in for the “henchman of evil mastermind” role.
Marcellas. I love Marcellas (a.k.a. America’s Black, Gay Sweetheart), but wonder if he’s as much fun without Amy?

And this week’s nominees/evictee:
Danielle. I know some people really dislike her, but she was always a favourite of mine. Strategic (best player that never won) and very funny. Glad she’s sticking around.
. I can’t stand her. Not “love to hate her”, just simple loathing. She’s everything I disagree with – lies as easily as she breathes, uses her body to manipulate men (and they fall for it, which constantly surprises me) and her alleged adulthood is no barrier to interacting like a teenager (“I hate you!” being her favourite weapon).
Bye-bye, bitch!

Having desperately waited for the Chenbot’s catchphrase until last night (how withholding you are, Julie...), I literally whooped when she said 'but first!'. Oh, and I hear from various forums (don’t look at me like that – at least I’ve not subscribed to the live feeds. Yet.) that the SeaSicks (season 6’ers) have a secret 5th ally. I wonder who that is? While I’m at it, fantastic recaps here. Go, Kaysar!!

Who’s your favourite?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I Can See Clearly Now

I've been thinking about writing a post for a while. It was going to go something like this:

I feel like I’m two people. One of me is working very hard to become positive, remain open to possibility and look at what I have instead of what I don't have - after all, the only way to change is by practicing, right? – but having a hard time because it’s constantly fighting the pull of the other part of me. The other me is lost in loss.

My motto last year, after I started taking Enbrel, was 'it took a long time to get this fucked up, so it's going to take a long time to heal'. I was going to be patient, take it one step at a time, be all about the baby steps. And it was going pretty well, especially since initially, every day gave me a new thing that I could do again. Then it slowed down to a couple of times a week, then on a regular basis and then sometime last fall, after the whiplash thing happened, I stopped improving and started regressing. Initially, I reminded myself to keep the faith, keep believing in my new healing powers - after all, up until then I had spent almost a year injuring myself (due to increased activity), yet healing much faster than previously, so if I just 'kept buying the ticket', then it would go away soon, right?

Except it didn't. Then winter came, it got cold, my muscles spent months permanently seized up and my energy drained. The longer the pain stayed, the harder it became to be positive. In the end, I did what I always do when the pain becomes too much: I hid. I hid away in my apartment, in TV, in books. I stopped being open, I stopped being a whole person - soul, mind and body as one - and I hid in my head. Pulled up the drawbridge, closed off the connection to the rest of me.

Outwardly, I kept trying. I knew that the way out of the darkness was to consciously choose the light, to focus on the positive, so that's what I tried to do. But no matter what I did, I couldn't connect to the optimism that came so easily last year. About once every 4-6 weeks, I'd realize I was stuck, have a baby epiphany - which would usually mean writing a post about 'the other part of me', about losing hope, about finding glimmers of hope - and then, within days, be pulled back into the place, the person I no longer want to be. The problem was this: I was losing the abilities I had regained.

I remembered from last year that my mood affects my pain levels: that the more unhappy and stressed I am, the more pain I'm in. So I tried to get happy. I went back to see my shrink, I increased the dose of Enbrel, I saw my naturopath, I meditated, I sought out positive, funny movies and TV shows and still, I couldn't connect to the joy. About a month ago, I realized that I was grieving. Grieving yet another loss, another disappointment. Beating myself up for hoping one more time, for again believing the other shoe wouldn’t drop. A full year and half after my first dose of Enbrel, I was thinking that it might be healthier for me to accept that this was as good as it got, that an absence of life-destroying pain was ‘good enough’. That, as long as the pain and the low energy kept within a certain limit, I should be grateful. And that thought tipped the balance and I felt lost.

And then, three weeks ago, Michele helped me clean out my storage room. It took 2½ hours and afterwards, I had to force myself to stop, because I wanted to keep going (but uncharacteristically decided to be smart and save energy for the next day). Later that evening, I remembered that last summer, when we had attempted the storage room intervention, I only had enough energy for one hour. That's when I realized that this stage in the long process of getting well is so subtle I can't see it on a daily basis, that it is now about healing from the inside, building energy and stamina. The realization brought with it such euphoria that I spent the next three days getting a lot done – I mean, a lot - and, naturally, stopped being smart, didn’t listen to my body’s request for mercy and not surprisingly, it then made me stop. But the last three weeks of hurting like a sonofabitch haven't fazed me. I know now that what I have is far more than what I don't have.

More than helping me clean, my friend gave me back my sight. Thank you, Michele.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Reason #547 I Love Living Downtown

On Friday , I was sitting at my desk in front of the open window, enjoying the sounds of early evening - birds, laughing kids, the icecream truck - when I heard the sound of muffled drums. This is not a normal occurrence around here, so I looked out the window. Couldn't see anything, other than a girl running down the street, past my building. So I decided to go check out what surprise life had in store life, half thinking it might be a World Cup related activity, despite my neighbourhood not being overwhelmingly dominated by people from one of the remaining teams.

I get down on the street and see a bunch of people down the road a bit. Naturally, I follow. It's a large crowd of young people - at least 50, likely more - many dressed in costumes, many with homemade wings on their back, beating drums, dancing, carrying a big banner (I never caught up enough to see what it said). Other neighbours streamed down the street to join the parade and one had asked what it was about. Random Fun was the answer.

Random Fun. How wonderful.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Say What?

The first time I tried a voice-activated program to write (dictating instead of typing) was years ago, when Ken - who consistently manages to solve my technological problems before I quite know I have them - gave me a program called VoiceXpress. Learning to use it was a bit of an uphill battle. At the end of one particularly intense training session, I went into my e-mail program to send Ken a message about my progress (naturally by dictating it). As I was a tad frustrated, when it came to the subject line I dictated 'damn'. The first indication that the training session had been less than successful was when the word 'Beirut' appeared in the subject line…

Whether the program itself wasn't very good - this was in the early days of voice activated doodads - or my computer wasn’t good enough or whether the issue was that, as far as I could figure out, the training required typing when correcting, which seems to indicate that it was geared towards people without disabilities (and killed my shoulders)... Long story short, VoiceXpress and I never quite gelled.

Some years later, when my shoulders told me that I really ought to find a Plan B when it came to writing, I looked up Dragon NaturallySpeaking. After trying a friend's copy, I bought my own (version 7). Although better than VoiceXpress, I never quite found a way of using it reliably, I think partly because of the program itself (which had, as far as I remember, an accuracy rate of 75-80%) and partly because my computer just wasn't as fast as was ideal. I eventually got a new, faster computer and earlier this year, I upgraded to Dragon 8. And let me tell you… It zooms. They claim an accuracy rate of almost 100% and the combination of that and a computer with enough RAM and speed to support it? Wheeee! I was dictating fairly accurately within the five minutes of set up. Brilliant!

I'm having some trouble letting go of typing, though. When I first got a computer, way back in 1989, I couldn't compose on it. The first time I attempted to write an essay on it, I ended up having to write it longhand, using the computer as a glorified typewriter. I quickly learned to think while typing, though - so much so that now I can't let go. There is a zone I get into - I place my hands on the keyboard and somehow a connection is established between my hands and the writing centre of my brain that requires very little of conscious participation on my end and what comes up on the page has a rhythm and truth that often surprises me. It is almost like automatic writing. I haven't yet figured out how to do that while talking, although I am starting to get a sense of a way that might work. I just need use the program every day, every time I write, which I’m not very good at - I love the physical aspect of writing, it makes the process a whole-body experience. I miss my ability to type and my ability to type for hours - I used to write a 10-15 page essay in one full, orgy-like, overnight (naturally the night before it was due) session. Now, I have to plan and ration. There is something about sitting still in front of my computer while dictating that hurts after 30 minutes or so. But it's more than I used to be able to do, so maybe it's just about practice. One must adapt, right?

One funny thing about using Dragon is that when I use it consistently, it creeps into regular conversation. For instance, if someone asks me to repeat something, I often find myself dictating, rather than repeating. As is, 'can you pass the salt comma please questionmark'. It makes for interesting looks…

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I’ve just finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (also available in paperback). I read the reviews quite a while ago and was looking forward to reading it, although a bit hesitant as it is almost 800 pages (which translates to over 36 hours in audio format) - that's a big investment of time.

The book is about the renaissance of magic in England in the early 19th century, starting during the Napoleonic wars. Magic has left Britain long ago, leaving only the theoretical magicians who are unable to actually perform magic. However, a Mr. Norrell is enticed out of seclusion, demonstrates his ability to do quite spectacular magic, making statues talk and raising a woman from the dead. He subsequently hoards the magic, buying up all books about magic in England and blackmailing theoretical magicians into giving it up, leaving him the only magician in England. Some years later, he takes on a pupil - Jonathan Strange - with whom he later has a falling out, as they have quite different approaches to the application of magic: Mr. Norrell believes in exerting a very British control over magic, attempting to eradicate the influence of old, fairy magic in favour of very practical, rather bureaucratic spells, whereas Jonathan Strange is more reckless and wishes to reconnect to the old magic.

The reviews initially added to my hesitation in starting this book. The ones I read, although generally positive, tended to have issues: the book was thought too detailed, too wordy. It had apparently been touted as “Harry Potter for adults”, but reviewers were missing the awe-inspiring, whizbang, jaw-dropping wonder of spells, feeling that the amount of detail offered prevented the reader from oohing and aahing over the spectacular feats of magic. They felt that the characters were kept at arm's length from the readers.

I couldn't disagree more. The book is very British, very stiff upper lip British. It is a history (complete with a wonderful footnotes) of the renaissance of English magic, Clarke writing as if it were authored sometime in the latter part of the 19th-century. Yes it is fussy, yes it is at times pedantic, but in the best possible way. It is the world much like our own - Wellington still fights Napoleon, King George is still mad - except for the magic. I loved the detail - all the words paint a picture, cast a spell, enabling you to disappear into an alternate universe. As a writer, Clarke is a master painter, dazzling you with descriptions like “[t]here was an elderly bunch of celery that had lived too long - and too promiscuously - in close companionship with the charcoal for its own good” and “[a] small box, the colour of heartache”. Now, that’s awe-inspiring – I frequently had to stop reading for a while to absorb the beauty of her language. But, as with all things British, you have to pay close attention to the nuance, subtlety and whimsy, you have to be prepared to see the emotions behind the exquisite control of English gentlemen (and ladies) of that age.

A review of this book is not complete without rhapsodizing about the reader, Simon Prebble. He doesn't merely read this book, he makes it come alive, perfectly capturing Mr. Norrell's fussiness, Lord Wellington's brisk command, the peevish sociopathy of a certain ‘gentleman with the thistledown hair’ (the fact that this character is never called anything else is part of the book's brilliance). It is the perfect marriage of book and narrator.

The funny thing is, when I first started reading audiobooks, I never expected to get so much more out of the format. Just as when I read The Historian, after finishing Jonathan Strange, I realized that had I read this as a 'normal' book, I would likely have read too quickly. I would have skimmed over much of the beautiful language, perhaps even been frustrated at the detail in the fussiness - or maybe not. I love books like this. Having it read to me by a master narrator, where I heard every single word enhanced the experience immeasurably. I didn't want to do anything but read, spending days being annoyed that I had to do other things. I cannot recommend this book enough and I cannot recommend the audio version enough. Yes, it's a large investment of time (and given the length, reading it in book form could substitute for weightlifting), but if you love historical novels and if you love perfectly created worlds, you will never want to leave the universe of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.