Sunday, December 28, 2008

Not so wild about Harry

My (brief) review of Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon by Melissa Anelli in the Toronto Star.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Steel yourselves for the holidays

A poorly shot, badly lit, and all-too-brief clip of the best little steel band I am personally acquainted with:

Happy holidays, all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The one that didn't get away

MEXICO CITY - A U.S. anti-kidnapping expert was abducted by gunmen in northern Mexico last week, a sign of just how bold this nation's kidnapping gangs have become.

U.S. security consultant Felix Batista was in Saltillo in Coahuila state to offer advice on how to confront abductions for ransom when he himself was seized, local authorities said.
In other cheap irony news, a fitness instructor got fat, a cop got arrested, and a motivational speaker just couldn't get out of bed in the morning.

(This is all assuming that Batista will soon be released unharmed. If anything happens to him, then I am a heartless asshole.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

One drink, just one more, and then another

When I was a kid, this was called "tuning up":

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

In Britain it's called "pre-loading," in the United States it's "pre-gaming," and here, with typical Canadian candour, it's "pre-drinking."


"It's certainly something that we see," said Superintendent Hugh Ferguson of 52 Division, who oversees Toronto's nightclub district.

"A lot of the kids are having several drinks before they come down, and they they're going to the clubs and they're one drink away from being at the limit."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Palin's Delight

Camille Paglia, knee-jerk contrarian, comes to the defense of Sarah Palin's syntax – surely a joke reaching "... not!" levels of obsolescence – against, um, Dick Cavett, whom I guess had some pithy things to say about the former VP candidate. Paglia thinks all this amusement with Palin's speech patterns is not just snobbery, it's downright unhip, baby:
In sonorous real life, Cavett's slow, measured, self-interrupting and clause-ridden syntax is 50 years out of date. Guess what: There has been a revolution in English – registered in the 1950s in the street slang, colloquial locutions and assertive rhythms of both Beat poetry and rock 'n' roll and now spread far and wide on the Web in the standard jazziness of blogspeak. Does Cavett really mean to offer himself as a linguistic gatekeeper for political achievers in this country?
Which suggests that, had the McCain/Palin ticket won, a reformed Sugarhill Gang would have been a sure bet for the inaugural:
I said a hip hop the hippie to the hippie
the hip hip hop, a you dont stop
the rock it to the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie
to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat
skiddlee beebop a we rock a scoobie doo
and guess what America we love you
cause ya rock and ya roll with so much soul
you could rock till you're a hundred and one years old
And yes – that's Camille Paglia defending Sarah Palin against Dick Cavett. Which is either the premise for the worst-ever Reality TV show or just a predictably strained riff by right-wing convert (and former "comedian") Dennis Miller.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The illest in Illinois

Illinois Governor Rod "Bleezy" Blagojevic, spittin' some hard rhymes for y'all:
I've got this thing and it's fucking golden,
And, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for fuckin' nothing.
I'm not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it.
For real.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

All the real men are cowards and/or Globe columnists

Christie Blatchford says, apropos of our currently prorogued parliament:
I have always thought that consensus-building in all its gentle, inclusive forms was vastly overrated.

I know it is the modern Canadian way, and that I am out of step with many in our delicate nation, but I can't help it: While I admire a graceful victor, the guy I love is the winner who knows he's won, and is ready to grab the spoils that are rightfully his. That doesn't seem churlish to me, but rather the point of competition, and of winning. No one expects the Stanley Cup champions to invite into the dressing room the losing squad, or, say, to drag the Toronto Maple Leafs off the golf courses of the planet and let them share in the champagne.

Boo yeah! Fuck 'em! LO-SERS! LO-SERS!

Except for the inconvenient fact that politics, though often treated and viewed as a sport, is not actually a sport – as you'd think a columnist at Canada's biggest daily would understand. Plus, asking the GG to prorogue parliament to avoid a certain non-confidence vote is not quite as balls-out butch as she seems to think. The proper hockey equivalent would be for one team to ask the ref to call the game just as the opposing team is about to score in overtime.

If she thinks this way about weedy little Harper, imagine what she thinks of a real grab-the-spoils dude like Mugabe or Putin. Mmm mm, tyranny is so delish!

Monday, December 08, 2008


On the Maisonneuve web site, Joel Hynes offers up a tender, subtle, delicate critique of/tribute to his native province. Here's a taste:
Fuck the pine marten. Fuck the Newfoundland wolf. Fuck the great auk. Fuck the cod stocks. Fuck the moratorium. Fuck the Grand Banks. Fuck Hibernia. Fuck the highest gas prices in the cunt-ry. Fuck the Lower Churchill. Fuck the Upper Churchill. Fuck Quebec. Fuck Come be Chance. Fuck rubber boots and chocolate bars. Fuck Codco. Fuck Uncle Val. Fuck Snook. Fuck the Grand Band. Fuck Sonny’s Dream. Fuck Ron Hynes and fuck his thousand songs. Fuck the Bard of Prescott Street. Fuck Prescott Street. Fuck Duckworth and fuck Gower. Fuck Hatching Matching. Fuck Dooley Gardens. Fuck Gullage’s. Fuck Gulliver’s. Fuck Jiffy. Fuck Pigeon Inlet. Fuck Uncle Mose. Fuck Skipper and Company. Fuck Lloyd and Brice. Fuck Coronation Street. Fuck The Bingo Robbers. Fuck The Rowdy Man. Fuck John and fuck the Missus. Fuck Annie Proulx. Fuck the Cape. Fuck Ned Andrews and fuck the Vincents. Fuck The Boys of St. Vincent’s. Fuck The Singer’s Broken Throat. Fuck The Housewife. Fuck Mount Cashel. Fuck the Catholic Church. Fuck that Nazi rat-faced Pope. Fuck this paper justice bullshit; lets have a good old fashioned public castration with a blunt fuckin pencil. Fuck The Breadmaker. Fuck your Rain, Drizzle, and Fog. Fuck Keith and fuck Natasha. Fuck Halifax. Fuck 22 Minutes. Fuck Marg Delahunty. Fuck the Fureys. Fuck Rabbittown. Fuck pilot season. Fuck Mercer. Fuck the Nickel. Fuck the Women’s Film Festival. Fuck Rare Birds. Fuck The Nine Planets. Fuck Ed Riche. Fuck Winterset. Fuck the so-called Breakwater Boys. Fuck Woody Point...
Etc, etc.

But then he kind of blows it by explaining it all in a Postscript. It's a little like explaining a joke. Actually, it's exactly like explaining a joke. He does say this about his fellow Newfoundlanders, though: "I also think that what cripples the vast majority of our culture and society here is the fact that we don't quite know what to be angry about. We never know where to throw the punch. And we get tired very easily. We get run down and throw in the towel without really exploring the limits of our own capabilities."

The difference between Nfld and the rest of the country is only that we here don't even know we were supposed to get angry and throw a punch. Why, the very idea!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Winter hatin' on me cause I'm colder than ya'll"

Baby, it's cold outside.

[cue "Torontonians are wimps" response here.]

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Art vs opinion

What Roy said:
The thoughts and instincts of great artists are distilled in their works. If these works are more universal and accessible than their makers' ideas, it's because making art is like solving an equation: speaking very generally, you start with a problem, and have to make the thing "come out" so that it explains itself after you've walked away from it. That burns away a lot of dross – usually the stuff that you can better explain by merely talking.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The lesson of the day: too much red meat can kill

It is one of the first duties of all Canadian citizens to get all excited whenever anyone outside of our borders notices us, even for something unflattering, so I would be remiss if I did not note that many of the big American political blogs are picking up on the story of our federal political upheavals. And now The New York Times has it.

This past election was little better than low comedy, the kind of straight-to-video sequel whose only selling point is the continuing presence of one minor character from the original. (On that note, I once read that Eugene Levy had it in his contract to appear in American Pie sequels only if they never graced an actual movie screen – which, if true, is just sad.)

I have no illusions about the viability of a coalition formed between the grasping, direction-less Liberals (who no longer understand what it means to be on the opposition bench) and an NDP that swings back and forth between positioning itself as the Liberals' natural replacement (and thus ready for the levers of power) and a kind of federal equivalent of a consumer advocate. (When they tried to make a big issue out of ATM fees a while back, I knew they were not exactly on the verge of having anyone take them seriously.)


This whole thing has been a lot of fun to watch - especially the sight of the Tories arrogantly and blindly shoving their fat petards into the hoist. I've always given them credit for being savvy, but this move was just amateur. I mean, they'd won. Their opponents were vanquished. They simply didn't need to throw their base – the vast swath of unreflective AM talk-radio listeners – any more red meat. Had they gone full-bore for deficit-spending and industry bailouts, the usual tax-is-theft right wing think tanks would have howled and sent out snarky open letters to all the papers, but surely Harper can afford to piss those people off – where else are they going to go?

Harper is an expert in bluff-calling, but even he had to know that the opposition wasn't about to let him choke them off completely. They'll sit on their hands when the issue is war or human rights or poverty or whathaveyou, but threaten their funding, and oh boy...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Me and Malcolm Gladwell

For those of you into that sort of thing, the new issue of Fashion magazine contains a short interview I did with zeitgeist trawler and afro enthusiast Malcolm Gladwell on his new book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

If you do come across it, please note how cleverly I was able to write the piece without ever letting slip what I actually thought of the book.*

That’s called “paying the rent.”

* let's just say it took me a few days to get the smell of snake oil out of my clothes...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Where I sat

My (old) desk space gets profiled on, well, Desk Space.

NB: the links throughout the piece are like little Easter eggs...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Major General

I'm pretty sure I've already used this site to proselytize on behalf of Buster Keaton in general, and The General in, uh, particular. But who cares. It's a movie that is nothing but pleasure for me, and one that rewards multiple viewings. As Gary Giddens notes in this essay on the new re-issue of the movie on DVD, it's far less broad than the rest of Keaton's oeuvre, the humour deeper.

If I had the time or the patience, I would write a long essay about the movie, and about Keaton, and about the many hours I've spent watching his stuff without even cracking a smile – too busy simply marveling at the ingenuity of even the most minor gag. As some who knew me back when I was in the deepest throes of Keaton-worship (bolstered by Chaplin-mania, which is headier but less lasting), I used to go on at length about the need for the revival of the silent comedy.

And then Mr. Bean hit and I figured it was taken care of.

(Also, I started having kids, and many minor and pointless obsessions had to be put on the backburner – at least until they were old enough to share them with me...)

But in the meantime, here's Giddens on The General:
Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when television was awash in classic movies (Million-Dollar Movie, Shock Theater, The Late Show, and Silents Please were among the first schools in cinema—just ask Scorsese, Spielberg, or Coppola), are aghast to find that our children are often reluctant to watch black-and-white films, let alone silent ones. Especially those deemed to be among the greatest ever made. The imprimatur of the experts turns pleasure into obligation, and suddenly the notion of sitting through a comedy that had for decades convulsed audiences takes on all the promise of reading The Merry Wives of Windsor—the most annoying and witless of Shakespeare's plays, yet once upon a time thought to be a riot.

Still, for anyone who has never seen a silent picture or, worse, seen only speeded-up pie-throwing excerpts, Kino International has an offer you can't refuse: a spotless new transfer of Buster Keaton's 1926 epic, The General. Kino initially released a DVD of The General in 1999, which looks like every other version I've seen in theaters or at home—the focus is soft, and the tinted film stock is faded, scratched, and jumpy. The new edition, part of a two-disc set (most of the extras concern the historical basis for the story), is pristine, sharply focused, stable, and gorgeous.

Gorgeous is important, because The General is a peephole into history and by any definition an uncannily beautiful film. Indeed, for a first-time viewer, I would emphasize the beauty over the comedy. Many people are disappointed when they first see The General because they have heard that it is one of the funniest movies ever made. It isn't. Keaton made many films that are tours de force of hilarity, including Sherlock Jr., The Navigator, and Seven Chances (all available from Kino). The General is something else, a historical parody set during the Civil War.

The comedy is rich but deliberate and insinuating. It aims not to split your sides but rather to elicit and sustain—for 78 minutes—a smile and sense of wonder, interrupted by several perfectly timed guffaws.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who can bear Mark Steyn?

What with all the "look at me: I'm a novelist!" and "golly, my humble little book got a review somewhere!" and "schweet: I get to read my book aloud in the vicinity of authors people have actually heard of!" around here, there has been a serious neglect of unserious commentary on idiots like Mark Steyn.


I still have none, but only because the good people at Sadly, No! have once again eviscerated the man much more thoroughly and funnier than I could have. (Take a deep breath before clicking that link: it is NSFW, or rather, NMFSFW.)

I'll only add that this is just the latest in a long line of Steyn spewings that display a particular obsession, one I have noted before.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The In Crowd's in my Outbox

I wasn’t aware of this before, but as an official participant in the International Festival of Authors, I am entitled to a list of all the e-mail addresses of all the other participants.

Whether this is for the purpose of continuing an angry backstage argument about Henry James, to make a shamefaced apology for a late-night tryst (and/or to arrange another one), to send a long, jokey, self-deprecating message about how “a blurb from you would be great, and of course I would reciprocate the minute my book’s a bestseller, LOL,” or to secure admittance to the Order of Freemasons, I have no idea.

But my list arrived in the mail the other day. I’m in.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mood ring band, vol. 1

Roy Orbison, Chet Baker, Robert Johnson, Marianne Faithfull's recording of The Seven Deadly Sins, "Something's On Your Mind" by Karen Dalton, Connexions by Alex Lukashevsky, "Hello Walls" by Faron Young, and, finally, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm younger and older than that now

Sign that I'm young: my neighbours were playing what I took to be that new Fleet Foxes record, but when they turned it up, it was revealed as Neil Young's Harvest Moon. Much prefer the Foxes.

Sign that I'm old: while talking to a high school senior writing class a few weeks ago, I tried to explain the necessity of editing by referring to the making of Star Wars. Only half the class had seen the movie.

Tolle tale

It's a sure sign that my blog well is temporarily dry when I am linking to something I assigned to myself. Nonetheless, go here to read my review of Oprah-approved nü-age guru Eckhart Tolle's first "book" for "kids."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Every silver lining...

I know we're supposed to be all "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" right now, but "Superstition" is a much better song, and while it may not be completely relevant this week, it soon will be again.

Here's Mr. Wonder just killing it on Sesame Street – watch the whole thing:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hope a dope

Obama's acceptance speech was so good, it got me drunk.

No idea whether the man will be able to live up to even a small fraction of the expectations that are now on him, but America is a country that lives on symbolism, and it has just been given a massive injection of positive symbolism for the first time in, like, forever.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Last Man on Earth

I've been curious about it for a while, but I finally got a chance to watch The Last Man on Earth, the 1964 film starring Vincent Price that was the first film adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, later remade as The Omega Man and, well, I Am Legend. (I think Ridley Scott tried to make a version with Arnold Schwarzenegger....)

Given the presence of Vincent Price, the year of the movie, and the fact that my wife bought it at a dollar store, I wasn't expecting a whole lot. It's isn't exactly cinematic gold, but I ended up being impressed. Being very much a neophyte in the land of horror movies (and zombie movies in particular – though the original Dawn of the Dead is one of my favourite films, period), I probably should have known how many narrative and visual motifs were taken from this one. I knew Romero was inspired by it to make Night of the Living Dead four years later, but the lifting goes a lot deeper. The opening shots, for example, are very close to the opening of 28 Days Later. Empty city, cars on the sidewalk, bodies everywhere, etc. The biggest lift is the overall tone, however. Unlike Omega Man, and like all the genuinely great zombie movies, this isn't man vs. ghouls, this is man vs. the patently obvious fact that he is fucked. There's not a single moment of levity in the movie. (Not intentional, anyway – like I said, it's not cinematic gold.)

Interestingly, Price doesn't camp it up at all here. Maybe one semi-demented laugh, but it's germane to the character and story. And there are at least two genuinely creepy moments.

It's also pretty unrelentingly brutal, sometimes even gratuitously so. It has no narrative rhythm, just lurching from awful thing to awful thing, and feels about twice as long as it is. But still, it's miles above Omega Man, and on some levels (none of them technical, obviously), just as good as I Am Legend. It's a clumsy movie, but it feels oddly more clear-eyed than the Will Smith one. A lot more cold-blooded – the ending is irredeemably bleak, and has nothing to do with Bob Marley.

There you go. Happy halloween, all.

Trailer below:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

AWOT in Prairie Fire

The novel just got reviewed in Prairie Fire magazine:
Though his prose is uncluttered and straightforward, he breathes fresh narrative life into the most mundane details ... His dialogue, often spiced with sarcasm, is bang-on ... There are those readers who will balk at a book like this, saying, "I live domestic realism every day. Why would I want to read about it?" Which explains the popularity of fantasy. But, for those who don't flinch at honest portrayals of the way we live, this is as good as it gets.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I can read, I can talk - UPDATED

Just a reminder that I'll be bigshotting it at this year's International Festival of Authors.

Here's where to find me:

Oct. 24 8pm (Brigantine Room) - Reading (w/ Rohinton Mistry, Richard Russo, and Owen Sheers)

Nov. 1 noon (Brigantine Room) - Round Table (w/ Amanda Boyden, Bill Gaston, Paul Quarrington, and Nathaniel Rich)

ADDED: As part of their IFOA forecast, EYE Weekly gives me the nod as the "Best New Local Reader" (and sticks my big, bald head at the top of the article).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blast from the present

Here's something: a homemade video by an old friend of mine, J. Ball, aka Hopeful Monster. Along with the ultra-lo-budget shots of lava lamps, space cartoons, and J himself songing along with his own sing, there is footage from one of only two-ever shows by the Fat Horses, a country-gospel band that J. put together nearly ten years ago. At around the 2:20 mark, you can spot yours truly behind the drum set – with a full head of hair, no less. I didn't even know this footage existed.

One great thing about that footage is that you can see what the Gladstone Hotel ballroom in Toronto looked like before it got hipified.

Fun song, too.

(Oh, and for CanRock trivia buffs, many of the people on stage went on to play much bigger rooms than the Gladstone, in bands like Broken Social Scene, Deep Dark United, Old Soul, and the Lullabye Arkestra. The horn section you see is now Feist's horn section, I think).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Buzzcock block

I hate it when good bands do this. (The performing part, not the reissuing part, which can be great, if it isn't treated as a mere cash-grab.) Beyond the fact that you are supposed to be musicians, not self-revivalists, it just feeds into the Classic Album mentality that freezes art into place and panders to middle-aged boys with static tastes and cash to burn.

Subcontract it all to a cover band, if you just need the cash.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pleased to meet me [UPDATED]


"I’ve told them a hundred times: put 'Spinal Tap' first and 'Puppet Show' last."

[Spelling fixed. That's right: I misspelled "whoa." I really did.]

UPDATE: one of my older brothers has sent me the correct version of the sign...

That's more like it.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

From the archives

Here's something I found buried deep in my computer. I don't remember the context – I'm not even 100% sure I wrote it. I think I was trying to imitate some of the things Ken Sparling wrote for Gordon Lish's The Quarterly from way back. (Or maybe this is something by Sparling I wrote out, who knows?)

The only thing I can say is that I must have written it when my own first kid was about a year-and-a-half old, maybe two. That puts this at about eight years old. I can also say that I didn't follow my own advice.
"Good Advice"

Don’t write about kids. Don’t do it. Don’t write about parents, either. Don’t write about people wanting kids. Don’t write about people having kids and not wanting them. Don’t write about people getting kids. Don’t write about people losing kids. Don’t write about kids losing their parents. Don’t write about kids. Don’t write about groups of kids. Don’t write about kid-groups. Don’t write about families. Don’t write about parents doing stupid things. Don’t write about the stupid things done by people who never became parents. Don’t write about grown up kids. Don’t be stupid.

Don’t write about other people’s kids. Don’t, do not, write about your kid. Don’t write about how much you adore him. Don’t write about the stupid, cruel things you think and do despite your adoring him. Don’t dedicate the book to him. Don’t think that makes it any better. Don’t think you can get away with any of this.
I think it at least proves that I've always been a bit of a prick, only now I have a blog to demonstrate this publicly.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fire's burning, fire's burning...

And so, with depressing predictability, some nutjobs, egged on by a few radical/cynical clerics, have firebombed the home office of the U.K. publisher who plans to put out The Jewel of Medina. This is the novel that was dropped by its U.S. publisher for fear that some nutjobs might do something crazy – like firebomb their offices.

Just as depressing is the thought that, yet again, a book that is, in all likelihood, a middlebrow snorer, has become a symbol of free expression.

To be glibly philosophical about it, it's some small consolation to know there are people out there who think books are still important enough and dangerous enough to be worth throwing Molotov cocktails at.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


This coming Sunday, I'll be doing a thing at the Toronto edition of Word On The Street in Queen's Park. Not entirely sure what I'll be doing yet – some combination of reading and genial blah blah blah, I'm guessing. I'll try to keep it lively, whatever it is.

What I do know – and what I'm more excited about, frankly – is that Alex Lukashevsky will be reforming The Weeklongs (one time only!) to perform the odd little piece of music he composed specifically for the launch of my novel, lo those many months ago. He has also arranged a version of one of his own songs to perform.

This is all happening at 4:30 on the EYE Weekly stage at the east side of the park. Come one, come all. There'll be books for sale, as well as (I think) copies of Alex's most recent CD.

Speaking of Alex, Owen Pallet (a.k.a. Final Fantasy, a.k.a. the guy who done did the strings for Arcade Fire, etc.) just released an EP of six of Alex's songs, all performed by a full-on orchestra. The results are a little surreal, though I haven't yet heard the whole thing. I think it's great for Alex, and I hope it leads more people to his stuff, but I worry that the orchestral versions remove some of the tight corners and pointy elbows that are integral to the songs. Alex's music can be a hard sell because it revels in its musicness to an occasionally uncomfortable degree. Even having listened to his stuff for years (including a brief period finding myself musically way over my head playing drums in his band, Deep Dark United), there's still a few a few floors on his particular tower of song that I tend to bypass. But that's the point: it doesn't all have to taste like chicken. Alex doesn't present fully formed musical vignettes (however great that can be when done right) or multiple variations on a single theme (ditto), but rather turns the whole process – songwriting, performance, recording – into a kind of continuous workshop, with all the attendant hazards. (I am furiously resisting words like "journey" and "search" and "exploration" due to the anal-clenching that occurs just typing them, but there it is.) Too much Cassavetes can leave you yearning for something a little more composed, idiomatic, and singular in intent, but there has to be room for the kinds of raw power and engagement that only occurs when you take off the leash, or the apron strings, or whatever metaphor of restraint you prefer. And some of Alex's shows – solo and otherwise – are among the most wig-flipping musical performances I've ever seen.

Which is all to say that you should come out Sunday afternoon. There'll be balloons for the kids.

ADDED: Alex and I both pick a favourite in this week's EYE Weekly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A modest proposal

From Think Progress:
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that state Rep. John LaBruzzo (R) said yesterday that “he is studying a plan to pay poor women $1,000 to have their Fallopian tubes tied.” LaBruzzo worries that people receiving food and housing assistance “are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated residents.”
I actually love it when this kind of thing is said publicly. It's like when they dredge a river: you get to see the noxious shit that is usually covered over.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Three reviewers in search of a point

1. Geoff Pevere reviewing David Bergen's The Retreat in The Toronto Star:

No, fictional people absolutely must possess at least a spark of hope and possibility, even if it's ultimately extinguished. Novelists must provide characters with this trait not out of any sense of contrived or sentimental optimism, but out of respect for drama.

To live with any chance of sparking interest from others, even in a fictional sense, folks must believe they've got a chance to make their own future.
No, they just have to be interesting to read about, period. Who – aside from maybe Oprah – gives two shits whether a character is full of hope? I don't remember reading The Metamorphosis and thinking, "well, as long as Gregor believes he can make it as a bug..."

2. J.C. Sutcliffe on Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce in The Globe and Mail:
Through Black Spruce feels rushed, more sketchy and less careful, sentence by sentence, than Three Day Road. Although it is not the best novel that Boyden could have produced, its shortcomings are forgivable. Both novels demonstrate that there is much more to modern Anishnabe life than the clichés of alcoholism and the unsporting use of technology to make the most of traditional hunting rights. Even if the people who most need to hear this message are too busy riding their own ATVs to their high-tech deer hides to actually read Boyden's books, their children will no doubt come across them at school as this author becomes part of the canon.
To recap: the book's not all that well written, but that's okay, because, unlike this review, it doesn't propagate certain cultural clichés. And therefore kids should have to read it.

3. My personal favourite – Rob Salem on Ghost Town in the Star:
Téa Leoni's misguided widow is something else entirely, in her case unintentionally unlikeable – the victim of poor writing and a needlessly needy, poorly conceived and inconsistent character.

It is only Leoni's irresistable charm that makes the girl even remotely sympathetic – just as, conversely, her mere proximity as Adam Sandler's neurotic wife made Spanglish somehow bearable.

I swear, she just gets better and more interesting and more luminously beautiful with the passing years.

You are moved to ask the same question you ask in real life – what on earth was her husband (David Duchovny, he of the sex-addiction rehab) thinking?

Never mind that, what on earth was Rob Salem thinking? Uh, never mind – I think we can guess.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Unconvertible assets

From Anthony Powell's The Valley of the Bones, here's the narrator Jenkins on literature's limited reach:
I was impressed to the ten thousandth time by the fact that literature illuminates life only for those to whom books are a necessity. Books are unconvertible assets, to be passed on only to those who possess them already.
This is the kind of thing that can sound like smug elitism, sombre resignation, or merely a sober view of the facts, depending on your mood.

It's actually all three.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Harry Squatter

Handmade sign being held by a young panhandler near the (former?) CityTV building:

"Voldemort turned me into a hobo. Need money for wizarding school."

Street kids say the darndest things.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Election fever

I saw Jack Layton’s bus on my way to work today…

Thus endeth my likely engagement with this beyond-depressing election until the day I dutifully drag my ass to some local gym to once again mark my ballot for whatever no-profile no-hoper the NDP has decided to drop into my riding this time.

Let cynicism and apathy reign!

(Actually, the local candidate is not quite so no-profile this time. Still...)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Literary tourism, AWOT-style

This is odd and unexpected, but very flattering: someone actually sought out the exact intersection on the cover of my book and sent me the photographic evidence.

The intersection is in Dorchester Sackville, New Brunswick. (And, as some of you may know, has a "Stop/Arrêt" sign that had to be unilingualized for the cover.)

(And there never was a pink house there. Magic!)

Here's the photo (click to enlarge):

(Many, many thanks to Yvonne D. for this.)

(Town corrected - thanks, Macx)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

You can take my domestic cultural industry from my cold, dead hands!!

I am both pleased and puzzled that it is cuts to arts and cultural funding, of all things, that finally seems to be riling people against the cynical consortium of dim-bulb yokels and privilege-fattened weasels that is the Harper government.

Pleased because, putting aside my deep loathing for the amateur pose-striking, laughably corrupt cliquishness, promotion of friendly no-talents, and desperate clinging to trivial privilege that constitutes our "culture," I happen to think that the arts are genuinely important – no, make that Important – and that funding their creation is a perfectly good and virtuous use of public dollars. Whatever quibbles I have about the way those dollars are spent are beside the point. Governments spend enormous amounts of money on a dizzying variety of crap. It is perfectly legitimate to demand they spend some money on things that are potentially not crap, like the arts. (Oh, and a stable cultural industry is a crucial element in a mature civilization, etc., etc....)

Puzzled because this government has done things much more heinous than this, with only minor grumbling as a result.

You never know what will send people to the barricades. (And yes, I realize that much of that barricades-manning is likely being done by those same clingers, but Premier Danny Williams, in promising to make up for lost cultural dollars in his province, must believe this one has traction even outside the Writers Union of Canada.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Noir News

This is my second post in a row making fun of the CityNews site, but look at this, from a story about a man shot down on his front lawn:

It's difficult to ascertain exactly why so many residents on Bon Echo Ct., in the Markham and McLevin area ignored the sound of gunshots in the early morning hours of Tuesday. Many likely didn't want to get involved, while others simply mistook the sound for fireworks, or some other equally innocuous neighbourhood ruckus.

But as the sun rose and the blindfold of night was lifted, their collective folly was revealed.

I think whoever wrote this imagined it being read aloud by Sam Elliot.

I also like this line, which just seems too good to be true:

"The body has been removed, on its way to the morgue," noted a grim Det. Sgt. Chris Buck.

Later, Det. Sgt. Buck – who was one day from retirement, and, furthermore, too old for this shit – sat alone in his basement trophy room, drinking straight bourbon and contemplating the black mystery that is the human soul as hard rain assaulted the windows and his family dreamed innocent dreams in their beds above him.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Knowing when to stop

"China's Olympics Conclude With Closing Ceremony" says the headline on the CityNews site.

Closing ceremonies usually do signal the conclusion of something, yes. It would have been rude, even by Beijing standards, to have shut the thing down in the middle of an event.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bikin', drivin', messin' around

What I did on my summer vacation:
  • lost my wedding ring after flipping a paddle boat (it can be done, apparently).
  • read Jane Mayer's horrifying (because true) The Dark Side. (Inappropriately glib capsule review: "It's like Hostel meets Noam Chomsky!")
  • bought groceries and gas in towns where every second business was named Karla's Krafts 'n' Things or suchlike.
  • ate a whole lot of crap.
  • watched a whole lot of sunsets.
For your amusement, here are twin articles from The Globe and Mail – an open letter from a cyclist to a driver, and one from a driver to a cyclist. The gag is... I wrote them both myself. (Get it?... Hey?... Hello?)

NB: both the online and print versions of the article(s) are accompanied by photos of me looking completely relaxed and natural on a bike and behind the wheel.

(ADDED: I took the photo above – while driving, no less – somewhere between Bancroft and Barry's Bay.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Talking with Mr Pyper

If any of you are looking for something to do next Tuesday night:

This Is Not A Reading Series presents Andrew Pyper in conversation With Nathan Whitlock

Is death an appropriate punishment for the crime of stealing another writer's story and calling it your own? To celebrate the launch of his highly anticipated literary mystery, The Killing Circle, Andrew Pyper will discuss such perennial conundrums for Canada's literati with fellow novelist and Quill & Quire review editor Nathan Whitlock. — A This Is Not A Reading Series event presented by Pages Books & Magazines, Random House Canada and EYE WEEKLY.

Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, 1214 Queen St W, Toronto
Tues Aug 19; 8:30pm (doors 8pm) free

THE KILLING CIRCLE reaffirms Andrew Pyper's reputation as a novelist whose work is as psychologically complex as it is compulsively readable. After his wife's death and a demotion from star journalist to reality TV critic, Patrick Rush joins a writers group in Toronto. His goal is to write the novel that he has long believed lived within him. Unfortunately, it turns out that Patrick has no story to tell. The only person in the group with any literary promise is a woman named Angela, whose unsettling readings allude to a murky childhood tragedy and Sandman, "a terrible man who does terrible things". Could "Sandman" be anything more than a figment of a troubled imagination? Patrick begins to suspect that a string of unsolved murders may be connected. And then the circle's members start to go missing, one by one. Still haunted by loss–and by a crime only those in the circle could know of–Patrick finds himself in a fictional world made horrifically real. The Killing Circle explores the side effects of an increasingly fame-mad culture, where even the staid realm of Canadian letters can fall prey to ravenous ambition and competition.

ANDREW PYPER is the author of three bestselling novels, Lost Girls (a New York Times Notable Book), The Trade Mission, and The Wildfire Season, as well as Kiss Me, a collection of short stories. Lost Girls and The Killing Circle are currently in development for feature films. Andrew Pyper lives in Toronto.

NATHAN WHITLOCK is the author of the acclaimed debut novel, A Week of This. He is the review editor of Quill & Quire magazine. His writing and reviews have appeared in The Toronto Star, Saturday Night, The Globe & Mail, Maisonneuve, Toro, Geist, and elsewhere. Whitlock lives in Toronto with his wife and two children.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Searching high and low

O where be the "definitive" 9/11 novel?

What is the "definitive" WWII novel? What's the "definitive" novel of the Holocaust? What's the "definitive" [insert large cultural and/or political event/era] novel?

The whole idea of "definitive" novels is stupid and anti-literary. The reason most of the 9/11 novels have thusfar been underwhelming is precisely because their authors are caught up in this game, too. Too often they read like knowing prequels, winking at the reader with casually dropped details designed to provide a frisson of foreboding.

I picked up Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children this summer – at random, knowing nothing about it – and enjoyed reading it in a kind of low-yield, grasp-well-within-reach kind of way... right up until the moment when I realized that 9/11 would be its narrative money shot. "Oh, those self-absorbed upper middle-class New York intellectuals and their self-absorbed, upper middle-class intellectual ways... will they pursue them forever, or will some CATACLYSMIC EVENT bring the triviality of their lives into sharp focus and inject into their existences a needed sense of gravitas and mortality? Why look: it's a beautiful morning in September 2001!"

Revenge of the Sith felt less nakedly manipulative...

Who's the cat that won't cop out?

"Theme from Shaft" wasn't the first Hayes tune I ever heard – it was the monster, much-sampled version of "Walk on By," on a record I borrowed from the library when I was about 15 or 16.

It's still one bad mother-*, all 10+ minutes of the thing:

* Shut your mouth!, etc.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Louv 'em alone

Anyone who has had to spend an extended time in a car with me - i.e., my family - knows that my love for the brothers Louvin goes deep and wide and far and high and well beyond the call of duty.

Covers of their stuff are not exactly rare – though I do think Emmylou Harris has a lock on the practice, with or without Gram Parsons on the other mic.

But two hipster goofballs* doing a whole album of Louvinalia?

Ew, I say. Ew.

* Putting aside for the moment the fact that, in his own charming way, Gram Parsons was something of a hipster goofball, too.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

If you go into the woods today you're in for a big surprise...

Last week I went camping at a site located on CFB Petawawa. You may ask yourself, "Why would anyone want to camp on a military base?"

Well, because you come across things like this while walking the beach:

Monday, August 04, 2008

Banal conquers all

August over at has posted a long and very complimentary review/essay about my novel that morphs into a defense of the boring old realistic novel, a category that includes my own boring novel.

In other boring news, I am in the middle of writing reviews of Haruki Murakami's wee little memoir about running and James Wood's How Fiction Works, and just recently wrote a review of Rawi Hage's Cockroach that should appear near the end of the month. I'm also writing a thing about city biking for the Globe and Mail and a short piece about a graphic novel for the next issue of Driven magazine, which has just been taken over by fellow dad-bander Gary B.

A busy little bee, me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Couple more

Recoil magazine (Grand Rapids, Michigan):
In A Week of This, Whitlock has done an outstanding job illustrating contemporary life in its nude figure.
Owen Sound Sun Times
I love novels that are both sarcastic and darkly comic like Nathan Whitlock’s A Week of This [...] Danielle Steel it isn’t. Instead what you get is a book that is sweet with humour and sad with the everyday living of life. Intelligently written, it captures the readers’ attention from the first page not letting them go until this train wreck of a novel comes to its unsentimental end.

(Uh, "nude figure"? "Train wreck"?)

By the way, I will be reading this coming Monday night as part of the "Strong Words" series at the Gladstone Art Bar in Toronto.

The end is nigh

From Waiting for the End by Leslie A. Fiedler (1964):
Perhaps narrative will not continue much longer to be entrusted to print and bound between hard covers. But this does not especially dismay me, since I have no special affection for the novel as such: this fat, solid commodity invented by the bourgeoisie for the ends of commerce and culture-climbing. There is always the screen, if the page proves no longer viable: the neighbourhood movie, the drive-in, or the parlour television set. And I presume that if cinema eventually becomes a lost art, too, there will always be some of us scratching pictographs on the walls of caves, or telling each other stories over bonfies made of the last historical romance hailed as the novel of the year in the last book review section of the last New York Times.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Uptight (Paglia's not alright)

Your mom's iPod + an undergraduate course on postmodernism = Camille Paglia's music playlist for the NY Times.

Some lowlights:
2) Ballad of a Thin Man, Bob Dylan (1965). Sinister atmospherics of the garish sexual underground in the repressive pre-Stonewall world. A naive voyeur reporter steps through the looking-glass and may or may not escape.

3) Season of the Witch,
Donovan (1966). Nature and society in turmoil, as identity dissolves in the psychedelic ’60s. The witch marks the return of the occult, a pagan subversion of organized religion.

8) Bitch,
The Rolling Stones (1971). Powerful, jagged, stabbing chords that seize the mind. Is the Stones’ bitch goddess a capricious woman or enslaving heroin?
I don't know!

She also calls Heart's "Straight On for You" "a throbbing, sonorous tour of erotic neurology" and claims that Pink Floyd's post-relevance single "On the Turning Away" is not by-the-numbers classic rock stadium-lighter-whoring schmaltz after all, but rather "Celtic mysticism rising to a grand, Wagnerian finale." Who knew? Does that mean that it's worth buying the new Eagles album, after all?

Best is when she wonders whether James Brown's "Lickin' Stick" refers to "an antebellum whip or melting phallic candy."

It's a cock, Camille, a cock.

Here are some of Paglia's picks that didn't make the cut:
Dancing in the Street, Jagger/Bowie duet (1985). Two Dionysian demi-gods (one in animal print - very telling!) call out the blue-balled Gordon Gecko wannabe's of the mid-eighties, only one year after Orwell's prophecy was revealed to be both true and false, truth having become as slippery a commodity as the old Glimmer Twin and the Thin Caucasian Duke themselves.

Happy Birthday
, (1913). Proof, if proof were needed, of our clinging paganism in its chanted celebration of one solar year. An aggressive, almost sexual offering of joy, with implicit demand that "you" accept it willingly. The thrusting repetition puts the emphasis on the day – but who are "you?" Are you a cypher, a song-and-dance convention, or a very personal pronoun?

Axel F
, Crazy Frog (2005). The ultimate rockstar - mentally unstable, non-existent, amphibious. Perfect for our unhinged, virtual, rising-oceans times. Fully digital and downloadable, the next stage of evolution, perhaps, for us just-add-protein-and-water beings. A star from the world of cellphones, a triumph of communication as entertainment, and a final death knell for the pedophilic priests of classicism. This medium is a message, and the message is "we are insane."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The summer's been shit so far – either raining or way too hot – and next week doesn't look much better (Sunday, in particular, looks like a scorcher):

(They'll probably fix it by the time you check.)

Monday, July 14, 2008


A Week of This got reviewed in–

(Yeah look – I know you're sick of me linking to these things, but as long as they keep popping up, I'm going to keep passing them on, if only to keep this ego balloon afloat for just a little longer....)

As I was saying, A Week of This got reviewed on
Weirdly enjoyable ... Whitlock has such a fine knack for observational details that one can’t help but become engrossed. A Week of This is filled with engaging prose about the mundane.

Friday, July 11, 2008

AWOT in Ottawa Xpress

Ottawa Xpress:
Whitlock takes four simple lives and puts a brilliant, page turning twist on each of them ... The novel ends on Wednesday just as it had begun and it continues in the reader's mind forever. A Week Of This is the life of each of us.

(Review/interview hybrids are awkward beasts, aren't they?)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fanboy Chabon

I'm juggling a few things at once at the moment – and not in a cool Rahsaan Roland Kirk way, either – so go here to read Jimmy G's assessment of the new Chabon book of essays. (Mr G turns 105 today, by the way. Hurry up and die you fossilized old gatekeeper!)

The review's great, but I have one point of contention:
...Chabon's argument goes off the rails when he equates the value of strictly genre fiction (and other pop art forms) with such literary classics as Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby – seminal works that have undoubtedly "entertained" generations of readers but have endured and inspired precisely because they provide something far richer than amusement, and do so primarily through harnessing the unique powers of the written word. Moby Dick may indeed have a similar plot and larger-than-life characters as many genre novels, but its prose contains a few things those novels lack – raw genius, richness of character and a seemingly exhaustless depth of expression and allusion.
I don't disagree with this, but I would say the real problem with Chabon's argument is that, except for the last 50 or so pages, Moby Dick isn't even very exciting. Melville was a popular novelist in his day, but Dick was seen as a giant, flabby, boring flop, too full of theology and cetology to work as an adventure story. The bare story makes for a great comic book, but it could have been told in about 75 pages. Melville took around 800. It's a brilliant book, but it's a work of endurance. You have to sweat your way through it, and the rewards, though enormous, are rarely immediate.

But like I said. I'm kind of busy.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Doing right by Joshua Key

An American war deserter could have a valid claim for refugee status in Canada, the Federal Court ruled on Friday.

In a decision that may have an impact on dozens of refugee claimants in Canada, Federal Court Justice Robert Barnes said Canada's refugee board erred by rejecting the asylum bid of Joshua Key. He ordered that a new panel reconsider the application.

Key was sent to Iraq in 2003 as a combat engineer for eight months where he said he was responsible for nighttime raids on private Iraqi homes, which included searching for weapons.

He alleged that during his time in Iraq he witnessed several cases of abuse, humiliation, and looting by the U.S. army.

If you've read Key's memoir of his time in Iraq, The Deserter's Tale, you'll know there's no way he should be sent back.

FYI: my review of Key's book here.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Exactly [UPDATED]

Dennis Perrin:
If Hitchens is truly serious about experiencing life on the business end of empire, we should arrange to break into his home in the middle of the night, force his family on the floor at gunpoint, yell at him in a language he does not speak, kick him a few times in the balls, hood him, and drag him off to a black site where the waterboarding isn't choreographed ahead of time (and no safety words -- he can save that for his dominatrix), with plenty of beatings, sleep deprivation, and sensory derangement mixed in (a long Waco-style audio tape would be a nice touch, complete with the screams of slaughtered rabbits). I'd say a good two to three weeks of this should suffice, and who knows, Hitchens might enjoy it. The DVD special edition box set of his ordeal (yours free with a year's subscription to Vanity Fair) would give his career added freakshow boost. And really, isn't that what it's all about?
(Context here, in case you missed it.)

Just a tad ironic, isn't it, that the self-proclaimed keeper of Orwell's intellectual/ethical flame has to go through his own Room 101 experience to admit that – just maybe – the powers that be are not being entirely honest, and in fact may be employing euphemisms ("extreme interrogation") to conceal sordid realities ("torture")?

[Responding to Zach in the comments]:

And if the issue were rape, not torture? Would I still owe Hitch credit for denying reality until the prevailing political winds compelled him to cede that, yes, maybe it's a nasty thing, after all? Do you really have to be raped (under highly controlled and artificial circumstances) to admit that it's rape? Part of being an intelligent person is being able to understand certain truths without being (literally, in this case) beaten over the head with them.

There was never any ambiguity on torture. It's not a partisan issue and never was. The only people who asserted there were some grey areas were either naive, stupid, or corrupt. Which was Hitch?

And if you read Hitchens article, his "concession" is so filled out with pokes at straw-men lefties and assertions that both his torturers (and the people who support them) are noble, serious gents as to undermine the whole exercise. Really, what is the point of saying his interrogators are part of a "highly honourable group" and are "heroes"? Hitchens is at least smart enough to know that, where such crimes are concerned, the honour of the men perpetuating them is irrelevant.

So it's a stunt, and nothing more.

And if someone is wrong nine times in a row, he doesn't get double credit for being sort-of right the tenth time. In an ideal world, that person would lose all credibility, and would have to cede his place to someone who'd been right all along. (Doesn't work out that way, I know.)

Having said all this, I sincerely hope this is the start of a trend, and that more of Hitchens' empire-cheering gasbag friends sign up for Brubaker-esque stints in Gitmo, Saudi prisons, and CIA interrogation rooms at undisclosed locations around the world.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Teach them well

This afternoon, I was a guest speaker at a Jr. Authors camp run by the Harbourfront Centre and held at Fort York.

It was a messy business, with keeners and eye-rollers/yawners alike among the two dozen or so kids I talked to. At one extreme was the kid who said she'd just finished To Kill a Mockingbird and wanted to be a journalist covering international affairs, at the other was the kid who couldn't think of a single book he'd been able to finish.

I think it went okay in the end. If I didn't exactly have them standing on their chairs and singing the praises of the Chekhovian approach to storytelling – the question "what genre do you write in?" sparked an awkward attempt on my part to define literary fiction, that imaginative realm where, in kids' minds at least, there's nothin' doin' – I at least had them engaged more often than I had originally feared walking in there. As if to prove my meanie reviewer opinion that people should hate books as hard as they love them, the most vocal and passionate exchanges occurred when I asked what books they found totally boring.

(They were too young yet to shout out, "Yours!")

The highlight of the visit, for some of the kids, was my admission that I couldn't read much from A Week of This due to all the swears, and the impromptu search through my copy of the book by some of the boys for the forbidden words.

It was like a very modest and slightly surreal tribute to the late George Carlin.

(Thanks to Jen T. and Hbfront for the invite.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Parking and flying

I'm a little phuct for time at the moment, so here's some elsewhere things.

My Toronto Star review of Jonathan Miles's Dear American Airlines.

A short first-person piece in the Globe & Mail about parking in Toronto. (Spoiler: I find it difficult.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Happy go lucky

Mike Leigh has a new one, and it looks like it's as close to an opposite of Vera Drake as you could get – thank god*:

(Note the name of the unborn baby late in the trailer – I'm taking that as a good omen.)

* VD being the one Leigh film I'm not all that crazy about, mostly because it was too earnest and stiff-backed, a strange thing for a director responsible for some of the most painfully funny (and funnily painful) moments ever put on film.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pricks and profanity

Glenn Beck's boy book problem and some thoughts on cussing over here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

AWOT in the Toronto Star and the Edmonton Journal

Two new reviews of the book over the weekend.

In the Toronto Star, Beverley Stone wrote:
Nathan Whitlock's snapshot of semi-suburban/rural Canada is not your parents' classic Canadian novel [...] It's not Whitlock's storytelling that makes me queasy, or the fact that he has a new take on what it means to be a small-town Canadian, but the feeling that maybe he's got it right. A Week of This might be the truth.
Mathew Halliday, in the Edmonton Journal, wrote that:
The novel is full of intimately suggestive details [...] A nod as well has to be given to the dialogue, especially the inventive and rhythmic way the characters swear. Some of the exchanges are laugh-out-loud funny.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pyper envy

Some thoughts on literary envy from Andrew Pyper over here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Down to the dirt nap

The good news is: the podcast of the episode of CBC Radio's Talking Books I was on is now available for download. (The one called "Down to the Dirt.")

The bad news is: I appear to have killed the show.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

IFOA, Okay

Just heard that I've been invited to the International Festival of Authors, aka the "CanLit Kahuna," aka the "Big Readsy," aka "IMFOA!"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Over there

I did mention I was over here these days, didn't I?

Okay, good.

Monday, June 09, 2008

AWOT in the Montreal Mirror and The Globe and Mail

A Week of This got a mention in the Montreal Mirror's "Hot Summer Guide," alongside new books by David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Pasha Malla, and the like.

(The article also mentioned Toby Barlow's "werewolves in LA" novel Sharp Teeth, which I reviewed for the Toronto Star, and which I happily recommend. It's a fun read.)

was also reviewed in The Globe and Mail this weekend, and while the review was mixed (can't win 'em all), it did call the central character of Manda "an impressive and unsparingly true-to-life creation."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Number two with a bullet

Look, I know it doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things, and I know it's just one store, and I know it probably won't last much longer than it takes to read this post, but all the same, I'm taking some pleasure in the current (as of date above) bestseller list over at Collected Works in Ottawa.

Look see:

So, if you live in the Ottawa area, and you haven't yet picked up a copy of the book, and you wish to ensure my continued dominance over the powerful Cheapeats monopoly, you know what to do and where to go to do it.

The waiting is the hardest part

Some thoughts on the unnecessarily masochistic – even for writing – process of getting a story published in a lit magazine over here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Open for business

If you are looking for me, I'm over here.

Monday, June 02, 2008


... is no mo.

"Quit mumblin', and talk out loud" is still the best advice, and the toughest to heed.

(But then, there are just as many great songs that counsel "silence, exile, and cunning." What's a boy to do?)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Open Book

Just started my Writer in Residence tenure at Open Book: Toronto, where I'll appear all through June.

My first post here.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

AWOT in the The Vancouver Sun

AWOT reviewed by MAC Farrant:
It's as if he's transplanted a group of rough-edged, foul-mouthed "folk" from reality TV to the printed page and completely blown off the shallowness and the stereotypes attached to them. His characters are individuals with beating hearts and wounded histories and sentimental hopes for the future. Before long, we sink unresistingly into their stories.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Who stole the soul?

Here's something you don't see every day: a soul record getting criticized, not for any musical lack, but for a spiritual one. And on Pitchfork, no less...

From the review (of the new Al Green):

The hole in the middle of the album is, in fact, Jesus-shaped. Green's Christianity was always an enormous presence in his music, even before he gave up secular singing for a while; his constant awareness of mortality and divinity is what raised the stakes on his love songs. His best album, Call Me, followed "You Ought to Be With Me" with "Jesus Is Waiting", and the ever-present tension between the sacred and the secular on his records came to a head on 1977's "Belle": "It's you that I want, but it's Him that I need".

There's none of that here-- the closest Green comes is singing about "a love divine" on "Too Much", and he doesn't really mean "divine." Instead, we get flabby romantic couplets ("You're the best thing I ever had/ Losing you, that would make me feel so bad"; "Your love is more than true, oh baby/ It's just, it's just for me and you"). There's no desire here for a person (or a God) that Green wants to bring closer to himself, just an appreciation of someone he's already got. Yes, it's a pleasure to hear Green articulate romantic satisfaction, and good for him if he's satisfied. But the grain and pull of his voice is all about longing for both flesh and spirit, and it doesn't quite fit here. Green's classic records were never just baby-making music, and without a context greater than a shared bedroom, this precise reconstruction of their sound is a ritual that's lost a lot of its meaning.

The Devil may have the best music, but the stuff God cranks out is a close second. (And either are preferable to whatever the hell someone like Richard Dawkins puts on his iPod....)

Speaking of Al Green, you do know the best-ever Green ripoff/tribute was by Keith Richards, don't you? (See it here.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gone into Exile

My story "Mr Harman's Wedding" – which, up until recently, was downloadable from my other site – will be published in the spring 2008 issue of Exile quarterly.

To launch the issue, I'll be reading with Zoe Whittall and others at the Dora Keogh Irish Pub on the Danforth on June 3. Details here.

In AWOT news, Alex Good posted a slightly extended version of his review on GoodReports, and the novel got mentioned in the "Book Hound" column of the Comox Valley Echo.

To get away from books for second, I have to note that this is great stuff. Fela is a near-constant in my musical diet, but all the driving I've been doing over the past month or so has got me back onto side-length grooves that stretch and stretch without snapping.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollock

Sydney Pollock dies at 73.

This is another blow for those of you still waiting for the sequel to Eyes Wide Shut:

Eye Wider Shut – "This time it's impersonal..."

(Why make a lame joke when a man has died? Because laughter starts the healing. And because I thought of it.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

AWOT in Edmonton's Vue Weekly

"From the mundane, Whitlock has pulled something refreshing and beautiful."

Full review here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Talking Down to the Dirt

On Monday, I taped an episode of CBC Radio's Talking Books with Ian Brown. I was part of panel discussing Joel Hynes’s first book, Down to the Dirt, which, if you haven’t read, I recommend you go do so.

Now. (I can wait.)

The discussion (which should air either this Saturday or the next – I’ll let y’all know when I know) was breezy and entertaining, etc., but I never got around to making the point I wanted to about Hynes’ book, which is that it is about authenticity, and the fervent search therefor, or rather the desperate attempt to maintain a personal, sexual, cultural, and political sense of authenticity when all the world’s forces seem deadset on destroying all such notions.

That’s what gives the book so much of its life, but it’s also the achilles heel. Books with a laser-focus on preserving authenticity tend to burn themselves out before they’re done, and DTTD is no exception. They also tend to reserve the fight for one character, often the authorial stand-in, which means everyone else in the book is forced to play straight men or blocking characters, which reduces complexity and eventually makes the whole thing start to feel inauthentic. It’s not long before you start to wonder why only it’s only this one privileged person who ever figures out the lie that is modern life, society, etc. It starts to feel like a set-up. It often feels as though the book has to work twice as hard to maintain this "one vs. the world" stance. “Never let them see you sweat” is good advice for fiction, too, and there are moments near the end of DTTD where the book’s armpits start to darken from all the effort made to keep the main character fighting the good fight.

And it has to be said: books about one character’s desperate search for authenticity tend to appeal most to a particular kind of male reader/writer; one who, for better and worse, can’t quite let go of that part of their personality that was forged in adolescence. I’m not condemning it, and it’s not like I’m personally any different. On a personal level, it’s very important to keep in close contact with this part of your personality, the one that refuses all compromise, detests hypocrisy, and cannot understand why reality fall so short of ideals. But it can often have a limiting effect on art, precisely because it is such a self-centred perspective.

Women, for various cultural and biological reasons, tend to discover woefully early on that the ideal of “do whatever you want whenever you want” is either impossible, or sustainable only at the risk of enormous unhappiness, even destruction. “But that’s the point!” is the obvious objection. Live hard, die young, etc. It’s not really the ideal itself I’m arguing against here, it’s the reaction that comes when you finally realize it’s pretty much impossible. And even then, only how that reaction manifests itself in fiction.

As I said, women tend to learn this lesson early on, which is why it’s usually male characters who spend so much time throwing petulant fits at the discovery that their world has limits, that society has expectations, and that other people have needs. I often find myself, when reading these kinds of books, trying to look over the shoulder of such main characters to where someone else is standing, some overburdened, thoroughly comprised, even weak-willed character who may be less fun at parties, but is much richer fictional material, precisely because he or she is so burdened. As Mordecai Richler said (though didn’t always follow), novelists should be the “loser’s advocate.” It’s not about picking the most boring person in the room, but it shouldn’t be about simply picking the most exciting, either.

That all sounds harsh, and I don’t want to suggest at all that DTTD is a failure – even if it were, it’d be a hell of a noble one. In fact, one thing I especially liked about the book is that it provides a more dialectical view of its raging main character than is the usual case. In fact, it's made pretty clear that the main character, Keith Kavanagh, is as much simply vain and emotionally childish as he is heroic. (Mike Leigh did a similar trick with Naked.)

Down to the Dirt spills over with verbal energy – it’s great to see a Canadian work of fiction that gets ridden hard and put away wet. So everything I write above should not be taken as being prescriptive – i.e., the book would have been better if only Hynes had made everyone in it a little more boring/sensible. It wouldn’t have. This is just me playing critic/spoiler.

More Hynes matter here and here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Foto fun

Some photos from last week's event at Supermarket in Kensington Market, courtesy of Open Book Toronto and Lisa Myers.

Note my skateboarding sweatshirt, which I only wear to make my son jealous.

(By the way, I'll be Open Book's Writer in Residence for the month of June, which means there'll be some cross-posting going on. Oh, and a party.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Meet the CFACers

Trying to work out the logic in this letter to the editor in the Toronto Star:
Your statement, "Right wingers like Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College and the Canada Family Action Coalition, are all for C-10 because it's a way of keeping sex and violence off the screen," is either wilfully ignorant or wilfully false.

Had you even attempted to be fair and accurate you would know that CFAC has not called for banning, censorship or any curtailment of making any films. We have supported Bill C-10 on the sole basis that taxpayers should not be required to pay the salaries of wannabe film producers, etc., for films that are likely losers at the box office.

Brian Rushfeldt, Canada Family Action Coalition, Calgary

That would be this Canada Family Action Coalition, whose site poses such chin-scratchers as "Childcare - nationalized or socialism?" and "Will England develop 'camps' for 'homophobes'?"

(Magic 8 Ball says: "I don't know karate, but I know ke-razee.")

But no, they are not about censoring dirty movies – what a suggestion! – all they want is for our precious key grip and best boy dollars be taken away from immoral unprofitable films and put toward potential blockbusters like: Without the Family, There Is No Freedom, or Sex Crazed Government Adults, or Another Case of Intolerant Homosexuals (and its sequel, It is A Queer Thing!), or The Enemy is Not Done With Canada, or my personal favourite, Virgin is Not a Dirty Word. (All titles from the CFAC site - go look.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

This in THIS

One more quick one: AWOT reviewed in THIS magazine.

"Whitlock has an excellent grasp of metaphor and simile, and A Week of This is a highly polished novel."

And a quick reminder: I'm a guest eulogist at the launch for Bigfoot: I Not Dead tomorrow night at the Gladstone. It's free, so come one, come all.

Monday, May 12, 2008

More of this

I'm back from reading and talking here and there, and am a little tired of self-promotion at the moment...

...but all the same, one must soldier on, so here's some places where AWOT has popped up over the past couple of days:

Review in The Ottawa Citizen.

Review in the Guelph Mercury.*

Review in The Danforth Review.

(Thanks to everyone who came out to the various events over the past week or so.)

ADDED: AWOT was also reviewed in the May 8 issue of Scene magazine (London, ON), which said the book is "filled with vibrant, gritty imagery and wondrously colourful turns of phrase" and "an ideal springtime read."

* this one also ran in The Waterloo Region Record.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Some Montreal numbers

Six hours of driving, three minutes reading, one mid-reading Bob Newhart reference, a dozen or so drinks, a couple of old friends, two separate conversations about No Country for Old Men (the movie), one lost room reservation, one basement bed in a student hostel, three hours sleep, one big hangover, a $40 parking ticket, two cans of Red Bull and a stale croissant, six more hours of driving, listening to Hank Williams, Richard Pryor, Lindsey Buckingham, Bill Hicks, Nigeria Special, and a lecture on Kierkegaard, of all cheerful things – I feel like I need the mental equivalent of a tub of Rolaids, along with the actual kind.

Thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks to the LPG for hosting/organizing.

One day back and then it's on to the Ottawa Valley. Onward and northward.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Montreal reading

A reminder: I'm reading in Montreal tomorrow night (Monday, May 5) at the Casa del Popolo as part of the LPG's "Fiery First Fiction" campaign.

Come have your brain melted by the scorching words of some incendiary–

Never mind – just come out if you're in the 514.

Furthermore: May 8 - Pembroke Library, ON; May 10 - Bean House Cafe, Deep River, ON; May 11 - Collected Works, Ottawa, ON; May 12 - Supermarket, Toronto (another "FFF" event).

It's the "AWOT Across Montreal and Parts of Eastern Ontario" tour.