Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dutch = Butch

Given that Mark Steyn has called Canadian men a bunch of health-cared, gun-controlled pansies ("Whatever its other defects, Canadian manhood does not suffer from an excess of testosterone") because nobody shouted "Bring it on!" and wrestled that violently unhinged Muslim Marc Lépine to the ground, you might wonder what he thought about the fact that the passenger who subdued the violently unhinged Muslim Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was Dutch.

Wonder no more:
The last time a Dutch filmmaker encountered a jihadist face to face he said "Can't we talk?" and was rewarded with eight bullets, near decapitation, and a crowing note from his murderer skewered by knife through his chest. By contrast, Mijnheer Schuringa jumped on the guy, got him in a choke hold, and dragged him away.
Something tells me Mark has been privately recreating this scene in his basement, with him as Schuringa and an upstanding local lad who is working his way through college (and who greeted Mark at a nearby park with the offer of some company) playing Abdulmutallab.

In my mind, both of them are in Speedos. ("Let's see who's the first to detonate their concealed incendiary device...")


Monday, December 28, 2009

Welcome to our world

Try and guess what country Jeffrey Simpson is writing about in his Globe column:
Bubbling beneath the surface, therefore, are significant elements of [...] society fed up with their government, embarrassed by its foreign policy, and angry at its authoritarian ways. The dissident citizens are mostly young, urban and educated; the regime's supporters are mostly old, rural, poor and badly educated. Exceptions, of course, would include the business people who get rich on government contracts, and those employed in the various security services and the pro-government press or ministries.
(See here if you were right.)

We have the makings of a Christmas soccer truce here.

"Your country's political culture is ruled by authoritarian assholes supported by ignorant rednecks and greedy oligarchs? So's mine! Shirts versus skins!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov

My review of the Nabokov's unfinished novel in the Toronto Star.

A taste:

If there is one word, one theme, that runs through all of Vladimir Nabokov's work, it isn't "beauty" or "sublimity" or "bliss" or any of the other possible candidates that might be offered up by his most ardent admirers (and almost all of his admirers are ardent).

Rather, the one word is "control." His fiction was supremely, proudly inorganic, every inch of it hostile to the idea of the happy accident or the free-willed character.

"Even the dream I describe to my wife across the breakfast table is only a first draft," he wrote in the foreword to Strong Opinions, a 1973 collection of his letters, occasional prose and interviews.

With an artist who is so defined by his own sense of control, there is a strong postmodern urge to get a look behind it, to catch the master in his underwear and find the vulnerable, beating heart beneath the aesthetic arrogance. The Original of Laura seems the perfect opportunity to sample that most improbable item: raw Nabokov. The novel – more a series of scenes, sketches and notes toward a possible novel or novella – was a work in progress at the time of the author's death in 1977.

Read the whole thing here, if'n you like.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Contrarian-sounding (but sincere) thoughts about films that have been out for a while: war movie edition

Inglourious Basterds is a an unhinged and unholy mess, but an astonishingly entertaining and gripping unholy mess. It just about makes up for Kill Bill.

The Hurt Locker, meanwhile, has its moments, but is ultimately brought down by a terrible pacing, a go-nowhere and implausible story, and deeply clichéd dialogue and themes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"The Not-Quite Novel"

I have an opinion piece about the attempts to create literary-commercial hybrids in this country in the new issue of Maisonneuve.

A taste:

Here's what a literary hullabaloo looks like these days: In its July/August issue, Quill & Quire magazine (full disclosure: I work there) ran a feature review of Lori Lansen’s The Wife’s Tale by author and Q&Q contributing editor James Grainger (full disclosure: he’s a friend). The review was mostly positive, praising Lansen’s “knack for satisfactorily ending one scene while creating anticipation for the next” as well as the novel’s “irresistible narrative thrust and character arc.” Grainger did find fault with the characterization, but concluded that, given the kind of book it is—i.e., mainstream and commercial—and given the intended audience, it wasn’t a big deal, and maybe beside the point.

In short, it was a review most authors would kill for.

However, Grainger made two errors. The first was getting some incidental facts wrong about the film rights to Lansen’s previous novel, a mistake duly noted and corrected when the review went online. The other blunder was a little trickier: by grouping the novel with the “big-hearted and story-driven” tales that tend to be favourites of book clubs, Grainger committed the Sin of Distinction, one that cannot be washed away by subsequent praise.

Read the whole thing.

In the print issue, the piece is accompanied by a caricature of me that looks like a 14-yr-old Caillou. Such are the wages of critical sin.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Let them eat false equivalencies

Marcus Gee, on the Toronto doctor who has allegedly been helping welfare recipients top up their meager cheques by approving their dietary allowance forms:
It's a modern version of sticking it to “the man.” Your employer isn't paying you enough so you raid the supplies cabinet or take a sick day when you are perfectly well. The store is charging too much for jeans so you slip a pair in your backpack without paying. The store is rich, after all, and you are poor. You are entitled.
Quite right, Gee. Poor people using a loophole to get almost enough money to survive is exactly like someone shoplifting jeans.

Here's Gee doing a little concern-trolling:
In other words, the ends justify the means. If people are suffering and claiming a diabetic condition can get them more welfare money, why not help them claim it? The trouble is that dodges like that undermine the whole welfare system, reinforcing a public suspicion that people on welfare are out to fleece the system.
Oh no - people in this province might start thinking badly of welfare recipients! In other words, it's all about not incurring the wrath of the fat assholes who think all poor people are lazy schemers. Not to be too class war-ish about it, but why is it that corporate execs never worry about all this "public suspicion" when it comes time to offer themselves bonuses or write off every expensive little perk at the taxpayer's expense?

Keep in mind, too, that Gee, in his past few Globe columns, has defended the sneaky and possibly illegal billing practices of the owners of the 407 and railed against the proposed new billboard tax (billboard putter-uppers being some of the more flagrant and visible bylaw-breakers in our fair city). He has also, as far as I know, had nothing to say about the notion of Toronto police hiring themselves out as human traffic cones.

Gee's Law: It's only cheating when it's done by someone less powerful than you.

(Oh, and you forgot to capitalize "the Man", daddy-o.)

Raw Powell

It's not online, but my interview with Julie Powell (Julie & Julia) is in the current issue of Fashion. (In the "Culture" section, where else?)

Most of the interview concerns her new memoir, Cleaving, which recounts the huge pit her life fell into a couple of years after her year of cooking according to Julia Child. There's infidelity, sex with strangers, unhealthy obsession, and a whole lot of butchery. It's a long way from the tone of the first book and, especially, the movie, which I had to actually pay to see after arriving at the press screening five minutes late. About 20 minutes in, I decided they ought to be paying me to sit there. (Though Streep is fun to watch, etc etc.) She's mostly careful about it, but from her comments to me (many of which are in the article), I get the feeling Powell's not a huge fan of the movie, either.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bibiane, you can drive my car

From a profile of Chantal Kreviazuk in the TO Star:

The performer, who showcases her fifth album at Massey Hall on Tuesday, gets professional satisfaction writing hits for other performers, having her songs placed in movies and television, touring Canada every few years and lending her stature to humanitarian efforts.

As advocates of War Child Canada, which assists children affected by war, she and Maida walked the talk with the hiring of their nanny of six years, Bibiane Mpoyo of Burundi.

Charity begins at home, they say. What better way to demonstrate your firm commitment to an issue than to hire someone affected by it to do menial labour? I have friends who need some landscaping done - anyone know any Somali refugees?

I like this, too:

"Living with a war refugee is really intense, it's a risk every day," said Kreviazuk. "And there are days where something inappropriate happens. It's not age appropriate, or I know that she can't leave what's happening back home at the end of the canyon on her way into our house. There's a lot of understanding and patience that has to happen, but what she brings into our lives couldn't be without her experiences and we're gaining something far more valuable than what is being risked."
Yeah, Bibiane can be a bit of a pain now and then, what with the sensitivity to loud noise and the "boo hoo, my whole family was butchered before my eyes!", but hey, who doesn't get a little emotional at the end of an 18-hour day?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Expensive shit

Honestly didn't know this was coming:

Don't know what's stranger: that it exists at all, or that Jay-Z and Will Smith (as well as Jada Pinkett Smith) are putting up the money. It was usually the Mos Def and Common end of hip hop that jacked Fela's (afro)beats.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Week of This in Canadian Notes and Queries

AWOT gets a hella good review in the new issue of CNQ:
It’s nearly impossible to explain how technically accomplished, nuanced, fully-felt, and flat-out-fine a book A Week of This is without having praise sound laborious and monotonous. Whitlock’s prose is unassuming but never boring, stripped of any flourishes that would alienate his characters from the voice describing them.
(I don't know about never boring, but hey - different strokes)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Werner in the middle

I caught the last half of the Herzog interview on CBC's Q the other day, and quite liked his reply to Ghomeshi's suggestion that he was an outsider. He very politely (but very firmly) disagreed, saying he is "in the centre," and that the culture around him was what was "bizarre." He made clear he wasn't being puckish, but was sincere ("I don't zink ziss, I know ziss."), and noted that whereas Kaiser Wilhelm supposedly defined his own era, it was the completely unknown and marginal Franz Kafka who truly did so. (Though he quickly followed that up by saying he was not comparing himself to Kafka. Or Wilhelm, for that matter.) He also noted that Aguirre, the Wrath of God, was once voted the "Worst Film of the Decade" in Germany. (He makes some of the same comments here.)

It made me think of something someone wrote about The Filth and the Fury (which is a surprisingly sad film), something to the effect of the young Sex Pistols looking utterly normal and sincere next to all the unctuous TV chat hosts and moral majority figures who spent so much time baiting them.

This can be a temptingly self-serving view for any artist - and anyone - to get ahold of (yeah man, I'm the normal one - they're all insane), but you find optimism where you can.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Yes! Yes, I CAN dig it!!!!

You know, Christmas is coming....

ADDED: "Across 110th Street" is one song that neither working for years in restaurants with hipster bartenders nor Quentin Tarantino himself was able to kill the joy of for me. (It helps that it appeared in what I still believe is Tarantino's best movie.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Undergraduate Bobsick Blues

The concert sounds good, but I really wish people wouldn't write about Dylan this way:
It isn’t that Dylan has magical powers or that he is laying hands on paralyzed people and enabling them to walk again. It is that perhaps more than any other living performer, there are such mythic investments placed within Dylan, and amazingly he manages to live up to them. His stage is a rare setting where myth and reality seem to meet. They dance together to the tune of rusty blues guitar. The razorblade-throated singer tightens their entanglement by documenting outlaw population groups who are submerged from the greater polity, and respond with a spirituality that is stoked in the fires of hell and ready to burn the unrighteous.
That last sentence makes no literal sense. (And don't say, "Neither does Dylan, man...")

Speaking of Dylan, here is the latest in the grand tradition of "Songs that sort of rip off 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'":

I like the song a lot – it's kind of what I wish all those nü-ska bands from the 90's had been more about instead of jackboot-rhythmed, frat-friendly raids on old Madness and Specials albums. I'm still listening to VW's first, despite my initial suspicion that I'd get sick of it PDQ. And the kids still ask for it in the car. (As they do the new Dylan Xmas album, oddly enough.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

May all your Christmases be white, says Mark Steyn

It just wouldn't be Christmas without the man with the beard. And by that, of course, we mean... Mark Steyn. For the past couple of holiday seasons, Steyn has taken a break from making giggly and not-at-all-revealing gay jokes and warning us of the impending Muslim baby-tsunami that will wipe out all that is good in this white, Euro-derived world (things like show tunes and the National Review) to squeeze out a yule log in the form of a CD of holiday songs, co-sung by the man himself.

No, I'm not joking:

(And no, that's not Photoshop.)

He doesn't completely leave commentary behind, though. I mean, just look at how that swarthy, non-Xtian gingerbread man is leering at that innocent white women. He wants to make her one his virgins! Steyn may be off to the side, cramped up from all the 'nog, but you can tell by the steely look in his eye that as soon as he gets this last steamy cup in him, it's gonna be on.

And note that his previous collection of reindeer droppings was entitled A Marshmallow World. What colour, pray tell, is a marshmallow? There's nothing wrong with dreaming of a globe that is pale all over; after all, you just know those bearded fanatics – you know, the ones that hate Western-style civil rights and freedoms and seek to replace our systems of government with brutal, lawless, authoritarian theocracies... no no no, the other bearded fanatics – you just know those guys are hunkered down in mosques in Iran and Brooklyn, dreaming of a Hot Chocolate World. (Hot as in explosions! Praise Allah and pass the turkey!)

So we need someone like Steyn, sitting on guard next to the chimney. Cuz who knows might come down it?

(Those tights and boots, though – they seem a little, mm, flamboyant, don't you think, Mark?)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Giller's Man

Being in something like the second trimester as far as this new novel goes, and having to keep all the other balls in the air and dishes spinning, I've been even more out of the loop, Giller-wise, than usual this year. It's not an unpleasant feeling, by any stretch, especially since the toe-dipping I did do with some of the shortlisted books often left me shuddering and/or despondent. (Even more so than when I read my own book-in-progress – and that's saying something.)

However, I did get to hear Linden MacIntyre read from this year's winner a couple of weeks ago, and had to admit it sounded solid and readable. (Usually when I'm at readings I just let my mind unhook and float around the ceiling for a quarter of an hour until the author says "thank you" and walks off.) Plus I chatted with him later on at a party, mostly about the despair our respective mothers have expressed over all the swearing in our respective books.

So I don't feel any particular angst over his win, and even sense a most unusual feeling creeping over me: pleasant surprise.

(And if that wasn't the most miserly congratulatory note you've ever read, I'll eat my hat...)

The Best Canadian Essays 2009

I'm in this thing ("best" being a relative term), and will be reading aloud at the Toronto launch, so won't you come and listen?

There'll be booze, laughs, and trenchant insights for all.

Monday, November 02, 2009

One Hoarse Open Sleigh: Bob Dylan’s Christmas Tinselectomy

[Cross-posted at Drivenmag.com]

“All I can do is be me, whoever that is.” – Bob Dylan

It’s very, very late in the day to make a fuss about Bob Dylan’s voice, though whole flocks of second-rate comedians and online jokesters are still making damp hay about it. At this point, nearly a half-century into the man’s singing career, pointing at that Dylan’s pipes lack the range of Judy Garland and the sweetness of The Beach Boys is not exactly going to set the collective jaws a’dropping. Notions of “authenticity” in pop music are often only reductive, snobbish constructs, but there is a kind of music lover who, in part thanks to the work of Mr Dylan, both as a singer and as a lifelong proponent of oldey timey music, prefers a throat full of frog than a velvet fog.

But still: even full acceptance of Dylan’s characteristic croak and whine can be strained. Personally, I could never take the sneezy nasality of “Lay Lady Lay.” I’d rather he shouted the thing in my ear in a fake German accent than whistle it, as he did, through one nostril. Thankfully, he rarely went there again.

Lately, he has been settling into a kind of growl/grumble that suits perfectly the jumped-up country blues he’s been sitting on for the past few records. The early reediness had given way to something closer to Joe Cocker or Tom Waits. If you occasionally feel like sucking on a Lozenge a few tunes in, that’s a small price to pay.

And then along comes Christmas in the Heart, Dylan’s new, 100% un-ironic collection of yuletide tunes, and all of a sudden, the man’s voice has become a question again....

Read the rest....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Living, Loving, Party Going

Just checking in – life is elsewhere right now.

I have three or four book reviews to write before the end of the month, plus I'm interviewing a Famous American Author! on Friday (whose new novel I need to get read at some point before then), I'm doing a few things at the IFOA next week, I'm helping close a cottage at some point, there's a children's Halloween party to wade delicately through this weekend, I'm still dumping content into the Driven web site pretty much every day, plus day job, plus the usual school lunches and drop-offs/pick-ups/playdates.

And always always always waiting to get kicked around and stuffed with fluff on a near-daily basis is The Novel, which gets longer and more diffuse every time I look at it. (It's much more idiot than savant right now, but further drafts will help correct that, I hope.)

Speaking of the Internet (were we?), here's Henry Green, back in 1958:
People strike sparks off each other; that is what I try to note down. But mark well, they only do this when they are talking together. After all, we don’t write letters now, we telephone. And one of these days we are going to have TV sets which lonely people can talk to and get answers back. Then no one will read anymore.

And, because I've been loving the song:

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

My review of the new Nick Hornby in the Toronto Star.

The last few words of the review got lopped off, by the way – it should read "a criticism he seems to anticipate, interestingly enough, with the novel’s too-cute 'life goes on' epilogue."

(I also originally wrote "assholes" instead of "jerks." What, you can't say "assholes" in a newspaper? What children read the book section?)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Get a room

An adult raccoon has spent the entire day on the roof of the building across from mine, snoozing and licking its crotch.

You notice such things when you spend most of your day in front of the computer, shovelling word-coal into a very slow-moving novel-in-progress.

One other thing I've been doing is putting together a grant application for the Canada Council. (Hey, it's free money.) Given the odds against my seeing dollar one from that institution, and the difficulty I've had in making said novel-in-progress sound like something that more than eight people will want to read, I may as well have spent my day snoozing and licking my own crotch, too.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Emission creep

My favourite class act just gets classier:

Hey, that looks easy – let me try:

"At least all Mama Cass choked on was a ham sandwich..."

Now here are the differences between Steyn's "jokes" and mine:

- I make no effort to tack on some kind of cultural-moral tut-tutting so as to partly disguise the fact that I am making sniggering comments about a situation that's pretty awful all around. (In other words, I just go ahead and eat my cake.)

- My joke actually has the structure of a joke, and is not merely the throwing out of semi-relevant song lyrics and TV show titles in the hopes of maybe landing on "trenchant."

- I have not advocated for an illegal and immoral war, manipulated statistics in order to foment racial paranoia, dismissed human rights abuses, acted as a lapdog to various authoritarian elites, etc, etc, so moral superiority is at least an option for me.

- My joke is kind of funny (or in the neighbourhood thereof).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hit and run

My parked car got side-swiped last night while I was at the announcement for the Amazon.ca First Novel award.

My own first novel wasn't even nominated for the award, so the dinging seems a little gratuitous. Some people really hate literature. If I find the guy who did it, I'm getting Yann Martel to start sending him used books – that'll show him not to piss off a writer.

I had to go to a Collision Reporting Centre out at Islington this morning. Here's a dramatic re-enactment of that visit:

No no no, they were very friendly and helpful. And the best part is that someone witnessed the side-swiping, got the offending license plate #, and left me a note, offering to appear as a witness. Even the cops said the note-leaver was a saint.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A charming little Crank

No, not me: the movie.

Before Crank 2 came out, I spent some time trying to defend my love of the first one to a friend of mine. I posited that it was somehow so nihilistic and cynical that it goes right out the other side and ends up oddly innocent.

This review of #2 makes the same point about the sequel (which, incredibly, I haven't yet seen):
And while it’s true that, if you isolate any single scene, the film is truly disgusting and reprehensible, taken in toto, there is a certain amount of … I don’t know if “innocence” is the right word, but close enough – innocence to it all. Or charm, maybe. The sum is less offensive than the parts. It’s just too damn stupid to be truly evil, too goofy and unhinged to truly offend.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I saw Ellen Page on College Street near Kensington Market the other day. She looked like a surly high school student – the kind that, immediately upon reaching the age of 14, goes all Holden Caulfield-at-H&M, chopping the hair, losing the makeup, and oiling up her eyeballs for a good four or five years' worth of contemptuous rolling.

But I guess that's her thing. No offence meant.

Speaking of troubled/troublesome teenagers, there's this, which makes me feel young again, in both good and bad ways:

Nice to see the early solo work of Peter Gabriel finally getting some indie respect...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Driven lets me drive

The good people at Driven magazine, for which I serve as fiction editor, have asked me to become the content-monkey for their web site. Starting today and continuing on until civilization collapses or they get tired of me, I'll be putting something up there every weekday. There'll be discussions of culture, politics, art and the rest of it, links to odd/interesting things around the weboverse and beyond, original short-short fiction (not by me), the occasional review of something, and probably a whole lot of the kind of hoarse chortling that is already the defining feature of this here blog.

Go take take a look.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

One damned thing after another

Anyone who has read the novel I keep hawking along the right side of this blog – or tried to; or considered it, then abandoned the idea after reading a description of the "plot" – would probably not be shocked to discover that I plan to rent and watch this foot-dragger of a movie:
At 201 minutes, it’s a tremendously challenging affront to convention: In a typical sequence, Jeanne discovers she only has one potato, she goes to the store to buy a bag of potatoes, and she peels the potatoes one by one. Yet the miracle of the film is that her daily tasks, which she executes with admirable fastidiousness, hint at deep psychological stress. It’s like watching her unravel in slow motion.
It might also be like watching paint dry, but we shall see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dancing days

Having cleared through a pile of freelance work, giving myself a few days' off before I have to tackle the next pile, I feel an awful lot like this:

Friday, August 21, 2009

I see a darkness

I lost power for about 12 hours, and had muddy water gushing in my door like my apartment was a trawler in the middle of the ocean during a squall, but I got off easy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel

Just over 24 hours after writing some nice things about my current bike in the post below, the stupid thing seizes up on me whilst on my way to take the kids to the pool.

(By which I mean actual kids and an actual pool, not that I was planning to take a dump.)

(Sorry. Honestly.)

So now I'm back in the drag-the-disabled-bike-t0-the-repair-shop-and-wait-forever game, one I've avoided for years mostly by only riding bikes so dilapidated and poorly put together that the first crisis was also the last – a mechanical problem that would have been a minor setback in a newer bike hit mine like a flu in a rest home, wiping the thing out.

Anyway, this is what I get for writing something nice on this blog... Lesson learned.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I've got a bike, you can ride it (on the sidewalk) if you like

I did a opinion/rant thing for The Globe and Mail's T.O. section this weekend, all about sidewalks and bikes, bikes and sidewalks.

Read it here.

The last time I wrote something about urban biking for the Globe, there was a mild shitstorm in the comments. This time, there's only a couple of comments – both think I'm full of shit, though for different reasons. Story of my life.

And in case you're wondering, I end up riding on the sidewalk a lot, but always, you know, nicely.

ADDED: I'm pretty happy with the bike I've got right now – a cheap, rusty Pee Wee Herman-type thing with no gears and a back-pedal brake that clanks and scrapes along like the Tin Man in a downpour; I call it "The Red Racket" – but when next I buy a new one, I plan to get a Beater.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bad times are here again

While re-working some parts of my new novel that were written a few years ago, I came across a reference to a golf course that had hit hard times during "the recession" – i.e. the previous one. Actually made me laugh a little (the laugh of the damned) to have to reword it to reflect contemporary shitty reality.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Knobjet trouvé

There is no possible way for this article to end well, given how it begins:
When writer Sheila Heti received a photo of a white porcelain shoe – adorned with painted roses and the words “Cape Cod” in gold script – she had no idea who had possessed the tacky tchotchke before it was relegated to a thrift-store shelf.

“Probably a fancy lady who had a fireplace and some lace?” she ventures with a giggle.

But just because the shoe had no official history didn't mean Heti couldn't make one up. Last week, she posted a story about its (purely fictional) significance along with the knick-knack on eBay – one of dozens of items being auctioned off as part of an art experiment dubbed Significant Objects.

I don't think those knick-knacks are the only things with purely fictional significance here...

ADDED: I could probably go on a rant about the teeth-grinding sense of cultural entitlement inherent in an "art experiment" that involves embroidering random objects with clever, vaguely patronizing narratives for the amusement of a small group of foppish lovelies, but then I'd have to remember that I write literary fiction and, well, glass houses and all...

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Survey says

Book-talk in a nutshell:

Positive cliché, negative cliché, or "pass".

To be fair, after those pensées on Summer reading the Globe ran a couple of weeks ago, which yielded more preciousness than a diamond mine, this at least has the advantage of brevity.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hello Dolly, pt II

Here's the interview, if you're curious. It's showbiz.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hello Dolly

The angel-voiced and extravagantly coiffed Dolly Parton – whom I interviewed last week for Maclean's magazine (not sure yet when it will be published) – seen here in a long-ago performance (with Porter Wagoner) of one of my current favourites:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grave, grave Anne Michaels

Anne Michaels has an essay in The Atlantic on... reading, or... culture, maybe... books?

Tense up your buttocks, Gentle Reader, we’re going in:
It is the most obvious of observations, that as humans we are entangled—by intimate experiences such as parenthood, death, love, and by commerce, culture, politics. And today we are entangled as never before—by the global consequences of our actions, small and large.
She’s right: that is the most obvious of observations. No worries, though, she can easily save this opening from banality with a novel metaphor.
A dolphin in captivity is taught tricks to please a human audience and then, once released, teaches these skills to wild dolphins an ocean away.
Amazingly, this has been documented. (Though, if you think about it, humans have been doing this for a while. We’re Number One! We’re Number One! Suck on that, dolphins!) Fucking with nature almost always has hidden repercussions, but in this case, the idea of trained dolphins teaching tricks to wild ones is fairly cool. Though it’ll be a real pisser when they realize that beach balls and “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins do not exist in nature.

Moving on….
And now, of course, another entanglement: in the local high street of the Western world, in the length of two blocks, about a minute’s walk from home, the shopkeepers come from everywhere—Italy, Estonia, Mexico, Thailand, Britain, India, Germany, China, France, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Spain, Poland, Jamaica, the Czech Republic, Japan, Greece.
That’s a minimum of 17 shopkeepers of different backgrounds in a single two-block stretch. Imagine what that “local high street” looks like during World Cup.
At the local milk-mart, the man behind the counter reads Goethe’s Faust in Korean.
Yes, and the butcher reads Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy in Farsi, the cobbler reads Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in Swahili, and the haberdasher reads the complete works of Virginia Woolf in Cree….

Somehow, I think they’re all reading the Toronto Sun. Or The Da Vinci Code.
Though this kind of multiculturalism through labor migration or political exile has become commonplace, one question never loses its poignancy, no matter how often it is asked: Do we belong to the place where we are born, or to the place where we are buried?
Some would put that as “Do we belong to the place where we grew up, or to the place where we live now?”, but Anne is an award-winning novelist – it’s her job to soak this stuff in literary sauce.
When one is dispossessed of everything—home, country, landscape—what is left?
Language, memory, one’s own body.
Oh. Well, if ye ain’t got nothing, says Anne, ye can always have a talk, have a think, or have a wank.
Not too long ago—an instant ago, in terms of evolutionary history—we knew one thing with a fair amount of certainty: the place where we were born would likely be the place where we would die.
I’m not feeling so good, myself.
We are marinated in our childhoods, in the places of our earliest memories.
Even when a writer decides never to write overtly about his childhood—perhaps the food of that childhood is too hot and burns the tongue, or is too cold to be eaten with pleasure—nevertheless, for a writer, it is a metaphorical meal that must be eaten, even if only in private.
Thus are the meals of our childhood preserved in the Tupperware of memory, burped by emigration and displacement, left at the back of the fridge by time and loss, until served up, with most of the moldy parts cut out, by internationally celebrated literary novelists.
In Canada, we have been politically stable enough to be able to define a national literature by way of geographical region: Arctic, prairie, east and west coasts, the looming wilderness. In some sense, this definition has not changed. Two great themes weave through our literature—our relationship with the wilderness, and the immigrant experience. These themes were combined even in the beginnings of published writing in this country, and this continues.
Wilderness and the immigrant experience. Wilderness and the immigrant experience. Wilderness and the immigrant experience.

Who said Canadian literature was predictable?

I heard a comedian once say that all British humour can be reduced to “Toilet” and “Royalty.” Which sounds like an infinitely more interesting basis for a culture.

On the other hand, I plan to start a band called “Wilderness and the Immigrant Experience.” We’ll never play a single show – okay, maybe a Writers’ Union general meeting or two – but we’ll all buy ourselves houses with the proceeds from our many Canada Council grants.
The changes now, in global influence and global consequence, in a global witnessing, will of course change what there is to say, and how we say it.
We’ll have to say “global” a lot more, for one thing.
But will it change how we read? What will a national literature mean to a society that reads globally with ease, absorbing novels online and downloading instant translations of books?
Kids today, with their online absorptions and instant translations…
Despite the new ease with which we cross borders and enter the experiences of others, some truths will not change: love finds us wherever we are, a child is born in only one place, the ground where we bury our dead becomes sacred to us; these places do not belong to us, we belong to them.
And that which is thrust heavenward, must soonafter return to the rocky ground from whence it came. What goest around, does surely comest in that same direction, with time.
And where does a writer metaphorically wish to be laid to rest? In a book, in a reader.
Were these Frank McCourt’s last wishes? Because I’m not sure that’s even hygienic.
Not laid to rest in terms of immortality, but in terms of common experience; laid to rest in this common ground. A writer may be born in one place and write in another—but who claims him? The reader—who may live in a very different place and in a different time. In this sense alone, perhaps, globalization cannot be considered a new idea.
Actually, Anne, none of what you’ve written here can be considered a new idea. Except the for the dolphin bit – again, that’s pretty cool.
A national literature is made not only by writers, but by readers. Recently, a project was launched in Toronto to “bookmark” the country; passages of Canadian literature, set meaningfully in real locations, will be commemorated in those actual locations. We can cross an ordinary bridge or an intersection and read a passage describing a fictional event that takes place where we stand. Where we stand, there is a story. And perhaps that is the simplest, and most privileged, definition of what a national literature is.
You remember that one, don’t you? Methinks Anne is looking for some plaque action of her own.
When people are dispossessed, a national literature can reside in a single voice. What makes a home for words is a reader; and what makes a home for a reader is words.
And what makes a reader for words is a home; and what reads words for a home is a make; and home readers make what a is.
When the dead cannot be laid to rest in ground that remembers them, sometimes literature is the only grave we have. And that grave is one way a migrant claims a place in his adopted country—a place, ironically, for the living.
“Sometimes literature is the only grave we have” – and people say I hate books…

Monday, July 20, 2009

The one where I interview Chandler

The new issue of Fashion magazine has an interview I did with Chandler Burr, the New York Times' perfume critic and the author of a brand-spankin' new novel about Hollywood and book clubs and Jewishness and acceptance.

(It's not online, but you can see the table of contents here.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Bastille Day!

Hip hop hegemony

The Jay-Z/Game beef from a foreign policy perspective. Seriously.

It's a bit like reading an analysis of what a given pro wrestler "needs to do" to get back on top (when the answer is always "follow the script, tight pants"), but it's fascinating nonetheless and an efficient time-waster.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fuck book magazines, too

My deskmate Steven "Dubya" Beattie (who often plays the Felix Ungar to my Oscar Madison, or the Frank Burns to my "Hawkeye" Pierce, or the Chip to my Dale - anyway, he's clean and I'm messy, he's careful and I'm sloppy, he takes his job seriously and does it well while I spend most of my time thinking up dirty puns for headlines) has an essay in the new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries about the fiction of Anne Michaels Ondaatje that mines a bit of potty-mouthed anti-literariness from my novel for it's title, and quotes the source to boot.

Give it a read here.

(By the way: the Patrick in my book is not named after the Patrick in Ondaatje's. I didn't even notice that until the book (mine, that is) was already written.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Dinosaur Sr.

I'm amazed these guys are still at it – and in exactly the same way they were twenty years ago:

They've mostly dropped the Sonic Youthesque atonalities for guitars that roar clean a la Neil Young, but that's what getting older will do to you. (Even if it doesn't seem to be doing it to, well, Sonic Youth.)

This sound hasn't really been my thing for a while now (as far as "comebacks" go, I was more excited/intrigued by the new DOOM and the new Mos Def), but I've been listening to Farm a lot lately, almost without meaning to. There's not a single moment on the record that will come as a surprise, but for some reason, they pull it off. It's the post-rock equivalent of AC/DC, if the AC/DC were still able to do what they do with some dignity, which they mostly don't. (Except for live, or so I've been told.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fallen down

A hilarious, counter-intuitive take on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (which I will end up seeing, eventually, for free, if I can, because my son will insist, though even he admits that the first one was pretty awful):
Transformers: ROTF has mostly gotten pretty hideous reviews, but that's because people don't understand that this isn't a movie, in the conventional sense. It's an assault on the senses, a barrage of crazy imagery. Imagine that you went back in time to the late 1960s and found Terry Gilliam, fresh from doing his weird low-fi collage/animations for Monty Python. You proceeded to inject Gilliam with so many steroids his penis shrank to the size of a hair follicle, and you smushed a dozen tabs of LSD under his tongue. And then you gave him the GDP of a few sub-Saharan countries. Gilliam might have made a movie not unlike this one.

And the true genius of Transformers: ROTF is that Bay has put all of this excess of imagery and random ideas at the service of the most pandering movie genre there is: the summer movie. ROTF is like twenty summer movies, with unrelated storylines, smushed together into one crazy whole. You try in vain to understand how the pieces fit, you stare into the cracks between the narrative strands, until the cracks become chasms and the chasms become an abyss into which you stare until it looks deep into your own soul, and then you go insane. You. Do. Not. Leave. The Cabinet.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Suck macaque

This week in monkey sex, from Time magazine:
According to the paper, "Payment for Sex in a Macaque Mating Market," published in the December issue of Animal Behavior, males in a group of about 50 long-tailed macaques in Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia, traded grooming services for sex with females; researchers, who studied the monkeys for some 20 months, found that males offered their payment up-front, as a kind of pre-sex ritual. It worked. After the females were groomed by male partners, female sexual activity more than doubled, from an average of 1.5 times an hour to 3.5 times. The study also showed that the number of minutes that males spent grooming hinged on the number of females available at the time: The better a male's odds of getting lucky, the less nit-picking time the females received.
The article pushes the "monkey whore" angle, but this just sounds like a case of the nicer males getting laid more often. All the same, let's hope Hitchens doesn't see this one.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chatting with Rosalind Porter

Here's the interview I did for Open Book Toronto with Rosalind Porter, senior editor of Granta magazine.

Note how I edited out all my actual questions, most of which were pretty pedestrian. It was done out of necessity in this case, but in general, I hate reading interviews in which the interviewer can't seem to stay out of the way. Case in point: the Jhumpa Lahiri interview with Mavis Gallant in the very issue of Granta Porter talks about. More on that interview later...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dan the man

Here's a profile of beyond-notorious Toronto booker Dan Burke that ran in Sunday's Star. I encountered Burke a few times back in my band days, and especially during the period when I pretended to play trombone for The Deadly Snakes. (Photo at right.) I was always a little half-assed about playing music and rarely did any organizing and such, so I never had many direct dealings with the guy.

However: anecdote time – gather 'round kids! Years ago, a friend roped me into playing drums as part of a made-up opening act for André Williams at the El Mo. He and I and a guy named Chris Isom, who played amazing blues guitar and whose father, I think, was Larry King and David Letterman's heart surgeon – not sure how that's relevant, but there it is – worked out a set list in the cab on the way over. Burke was not impressed by the fact that we needed to borrow equipment (especially, um, drums), and went on and on about "fucking amateurs" and the like. For whatever reason, we were actually pretty good – sort of a knock-off Flat Duo Jets, or proto-White Stripes, if you will – and Dan loved us, going so far as to come and sit on the front of the stage to watch. He tried to book us in for more shows, but Isom was moving back to New York, and I thought we would never pull it off so well again, so why bother?

End of story. My life is a series of near-misses and shrugged-0ff chances. (Hence the kind of fiction I write.) Now scoot – grampa needs a nap.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shit sandwich

Not sure this guy would like the idea of his own tragic death being the occasion for a Spinal Tap reference:

But then, I don't really think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end, because what does the end feel like? It's like saying when you try to extrapolate the end of the universe: you say, if the universe is indeed infinite, then how – what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what's stopping it, and what's behind what's stopping it? So, what's the end, you know, is my question to you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ah Um, ahem

I have nothing to say, and no time to say it in, so let me just point out that this album is still in that small group of albums I would want with me on desert island equipped with a stereo system and a power source.

Writing about jazz is the worst kind of literary abuse (unless your name is Philip Larkin), so I won't try to lay out why the record is so great. Just know that it is, k?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I don't know about everybody, but I'm working for the weekend, at least

Welcome, welcome – have some whine:

In addition to my day job, which is unusually hectic right now, I have a review of the new Alain de Botton book due, I just finished a short books article for Fashion magazine yesterday, I am in the middle of editing a wrestling memoir (!), I am interviewing a lit-magazine editor this afternoon, and my lowly second novel picked this moment to demand daily, break-of-dawn labour (and I am abiding, mostly happily).

Plus: my son's baseball team seems to play every other night, and my daughter is continuing her descent into full-on hellion status.

This would all be just fine, were I not, at heart, a lazy goodfornothing who would rather lie around and re-read Kingsley Amis novels all day.

Was it not Huey Lewis (and his News) who once sang, "all I need is a couple days off"?

Wise words, Mr Lewis, wise words.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Toronto is a pot o' gold

Pretty stunning rainbow arcing over the city last night. From where I was seeing it – nine floors up, way out yonder in the Distillery District – it appeared to be touching down right next to a docked tanker ship:

The city itself looked fairly otherwordly after the storm, too:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kill us now, let Zordog sort us out...

When inquisitive aliens, visiting our scorched, lifeless planet many millions of years from now – after the total economic collapse, after the brutal automotive duels in the wastelands over gasoline, after the nuclear holocaust, after the rise of the flesh-eating zombies, after the ascendancy of intelligent (damn dirty) apes over humans, after the division of humankind into Morlocks and Eloi, after the ecological cataclysm that eliminates all life on Earth – this will be the kind of cultural artifact they will study to ascertain why we failed as a species (and why we deserved to):

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Show no mercy

B.R. Myers reviews Toni Morrison's A Mercy in The Atlantic:
Some people complain that 19th-century fiction takes too long to get going. But does it really? Once the hero’s pedigree is out of the way, the Victorian novel moves resolutely forward. The contemporary narrative, on the other hand, offers a quick thrill up front that readers must pay off, in a kind of installment plan, by enduring one flashback after another.


A short novel at only 167 pages (the title is apt), A Mercy might still have held the reader’s attention had it ignored the contemporary taboo against straightforward, sequential storytelling. But this is in effect a series of back­stories, some told in the narrator’s affected voice, some in the characters’ scatty idiom, but all moving at the same uninvolving expository trot.
It's a particularly skillful reviewer who can let you know exactly what you'd be in for were you unfortunate enough to encounter a given book.

Gimme the old guys with the cigars...

It's not as though it's a well thought out or deeply researched position – mostly it's a sweeping, cranky generalization of the sort I am prone to – but I've often thought that one problem with publishing is that the money-mindedness gets mixed up with the concern for art, muddying both and weakening both. Some people complain that publishing has become all about money – ahem – but really, it's the mixing of aesthetic concerns with economic ones that ruins it for everyone. It's one reason why contemporary Canadian fiction hews so closely to a middlebrow sensibility that is sellable while smelling just enough like literature to make everyone involved believe they are doing well by the art form. Rather than make clear distinctions between literary fiction and outright commercial fiction, we produce awkward hybrids that aren't literary enough to last, and aren't commercial enough to entertain. I believe that excellent literary/commercial hybrids can exist, and do, but they have to be considered happy accidents.

Thus, the problem isn't that publishers abandon notions of literary value in the pursuit of profit, it's that they cling to them. Art should never be asked to make a profit. If it does, great, but you can't put prior expectations on it, because that leads to a kind of funneling effect wherein the definition of art gets narrower and narrower. Companies need to pay their employees, so they should feel free to put out the slickest commercial crap they can, while leaving a little room for the arty stuff that makes them look good but rarely makes a dime.

There's more to this argument, but really, all I wanted to do was set up this short interview clip with Frank Zappa below, wherein he makes a similar argument. ("The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the art form than the old guys with cigars ever were.")

(I'm hoping it's intentional that later in the clip, when he talks about censorship, words such as "masturbation" and, um, "the white stuff" get bleeped.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Another Story, a second wind...

Shaun Smith spotted this on Roncesvalles last week and sent it my way:

Very odd, given that it's been over a year since that sad little book limped out into the world, but I'll take all the reminders that I was once a published author I can get...

(Another Story Bookshop deserves your patronage, by the way.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

There is always more rhetoric to say and do

Since I don't have one of them fancy blogs that scroll all the fresh comments on the left-hand side, you may not be aware that people occasionally leave pithy little rejoinders on old posts, especially when those posts involved Mark Steyn.

Here's one I got this morning on this post:
Oh, my, what a typical bunch of intellectually bankrupt lefty moral equivocalism. But nothing really new about that, right? Same old, same old. Orwell bemoaned it 70 years ago. When all the rhetoric is said and done, you lefties always love your fascists. Only makes sense, you both have a lot in common: the cleansing of the "corrupt" in a "regrettable" but necessary siege of terror. But you keep telling yourself you're the clever good guys, if that's what it takes to get yourself up in the morning.
Sadly, despite the show of intellectual bravery in the name of right thinking and Xtian hegemony, the commenter has chosen to remain anonymous. Oh well. Seen any good fascists lately?

A "sable sapphist?"

Writing is really hard work--mostly because thinking is really hard work. When you don't want to do that work, but you want the meager payment it offers, the fleeting fame it brings, than you resort to thinking on the cheap. You go for shock. And you do it that way because you have nothing to offer except your rep as contrarian, and a provocateur. You do it because you are lazy.

To call his statements racist, or homophobic, demeans racist and homophobes. Indeed Hitchens displays something more than that--weakness. Weakness is the root of these sorts of slurs--an unwillingness to do the hard work of taking your opponents at their merits. So you name call and strawman. You mock what you don't understand, what you fear.
I guess this sort of fits with Hitchens' contention that wimminfolk just ain't funny. But that idea always had a fatal flaw: the fact that Hitchens himself is pretty much humourless these days. Since about 9/11, he's only ever gotten the shits, not the giggles.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Talking to the hand

Over at the Pages site, I get interviewed by a penguin puppet. Oh lord, it's hard to stay humble...

Here's a taste:
W: Over the years, you have conducted interviews with writers of all stripes. Can you share your strangest exchange (no names)?

N: The strangest was probably conducting the entire interview on a stage-sized board game while my son rolled an oversized die. The most awkward was interviewing a minor celebrity who had written an entire memoir but hadn’t seemed to have given the events related therein much thought prior to my asking about them. She projected vulnerability, I think, while I tried not to project panic.

Is it much too much to ask, not to hide behind the mask?

Apparently not:

It's not exactly one in a million - more like one in 500,000. But it's still a pretty rare sight. A Toronto wildlife company responding to a request for help has found a rare white albino raccoon at a construction site at Yonge and Eglinton.

I'm not David Attenborough or anything, but I'm pretty sure the unusual colouring is an indication of pure evil. Or good. Whichever.

And yes: I am wildlife blogging.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The princess and the pirate

I can't remember if I've linked to this already, and I am too lazy to check right now, but either way, here's the article I wrote for Canadian Family about navigating kids' gender roles.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Quirk it

Quirkity quirk quirky quirk quirk quirkity Toronto Star quirky quirk quirky Leanne Shapton:
Leanne Shapton is strolling through Greenwich Village wearing Truman Capote's raincoat.
Quirkola Capote quirk?

An art/publishing phenomenon, she bought three of his coats for $120 at an auction that she viewed as a strange and sad narrative of his life, but that led her to think about fresh ways to tell a story.

Quirk! Quirkish quirk quirk quirk It-girl quirkity quirkola...

Shapton, who was raised in Mississauga and now lives in New York, believes objects can be haunted by their previous owners – and found one of the Capote coats unwearable.

"It had kind of a bad vibe," she says. She took it to Goodwill with a note on its provenance.

The coat she is wearing as she walks along Bleecker St. with Bunny, a compact wheaten terrier, is tan-coloured and shapeless; one button is sewn with mismatched red thread. Yet despite the shabby coat and messy tumble of black hair, she's stylish.

Quiiiiirrkk... quirk? Quirkimmy quirk adorably neurotic quirk quirko quirka quirké.

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry has been optioned by Plan B, Brad Pitt's production company. Pitt and Natalie Portman have expressed interest in playing the roles of Harold and Lenore.

Quirk quirk film deal quirk!

The illustrated novel has been praised by Dave Eggers, founder of the publishing house McSweeney's, and writer Amy Sedaris, who is quoted on the back cover saying that she's "jealous."

Quirkapalooza! Quirkumma quirk famous friends quirk, quirk-o-quirk – quirk.

It's an understandable emotion; Shapton is the girl who seems to have everything. "My friends and I were having brunch the other day, sitting under some Elvis posters," says Shapton collaborator and writer Sheila Heti, who "portrays" Lenore Doolan in the photographs in Important Artifacts. "We played a game: Who was the most charismatic person we knew? The verdict was: Leanne."

Quirkiddily quirk, quirk inevitable Sheila Heti reference quirkalicious quirkagoo.

Shapton's illustrations have been on the cover of Time, in The New Yorker and on book covers for leading publishing houses. Until last year, when she joined The Times, she had a page in Elle magazine called "Jet Setter" in which she used her own paintings and snapshots to document what she ate and where she shopped in places such as Ireland and Morocco – " ...had a perfect cashmere-tweed suit tailored by Michael Frazer..." (The gig was not a completely jealousy-inducing – Shapton had to pay her own travel expenses.)


[NB: full disclosure.]

Sunday, May 03, 2009

"I think I'll have the hand that feeds me, with a side order of OH SNAP!"

Alex Good, reviewing Emily Schultz's Heaven is Small in the Toronto Star:
With apologies to Wallace Stevens, romance is our supreme fiction – its formulaic fantasies accounting for roughly a third of all mass market paperback sales. In other words, Harlequin (whose profits presumably help keep the lights on at the Toronto Star) and its ilk do not service a cultural niche; they are the mainstream.
(Emphasis added.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Over before it began

Anyone notice a problem here?

"Omigod, they're all gone ... oh wait, nevermind – I see them."

Monday, April 27, 2009

I, me, mine

Having just plowed through a pile of surprisingly well-paying freelance work (and thus making room for the waiting pile to come), I decided to treat myself by wandering over to She Said Boom! on Roncesvalles to exchange cash for cultural product: Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy (my old copy of The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories is in worse shape than Ilyich himself), Buster Keaton's The General on DVD (replacing a beloved VHS copy lost ages ago), and, on a whim, and because it was cheap and looked great (and, as it turns out, sounds even better), Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal.

Who's a happy boy? Who's a happy boy?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ondaatje, abridged

Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion got the ribbon-cutting treatment last week, getting enshrined next to the Bloor Viaduct, the book's central symbol:
No Toronto author has done a better job of breathing life into our landmarks than Michael Ondaatje. His iconic 1987 novel, In the Skin of a Lion, tells of the lust and muscle that built Toronto in the 1920s and 1930s. An immigrant himself, Mr. Ondaatje worked up his own sweat weaving fiction and truth as he imagined the back story of such landmarks as the Bloor Street Viaduct and the R.C. Harris Water Filtration Plant.

Yesterday Mr. Ondaatje returned to the scene of his masterpiece, in a little parkette on the east end of the bridge, to unveil the first plaque by Project Bookmark Canada. The brainchild of Toronto-area writer Miranda Hill, this project aims to post pieces of prose next to geographic features all over Canada, thus inspiring us to read our stories about our landscape.
I'll just pass over "no Toronto author has done a better job of breathing life into our landmarks than Michael Ondaatje" for now, but the bit about being an immigrant writer "who worked up his own sweat weaving fiction and truth" is just plain offensive. Does Kuitenbrouwer think Ondaatje showed up with nothing but a dream, a pen, and a steamer trunk full of memories? I must have skipped the chapter in Running in the Family where Ondaatje describes the years he spent living with twelve other guys in a dirty squat near Queen and Lansdowne, eating nothing but hamburger buns and Cheese Whiz, showering at the Y, and working for a shady contractor.

Yes, he toiled in fiction's sweatshop, stitching together the prose-garments that would clothe this city in myth. He drove our storytelling taxicab, politely ignoring our drunkenness or horniness and chatting the passing streets into the stuff of legend before dropping us off curbside at the doors of literature. He washed our fictional dishes, scraping off the symbolically rich leftovers and rinsing each plate until it gleamed with new literary light.

I also have to take some exception to this:

Mr. Ondaatje, now 66, looked great in a suit jacket and red wool scarf. He posed as Mayor David Miller snapped the inevitable Twitter photograph and bantered easily with the hundreds of fans who flocked to hear him speak and thrust tattered copies of novels for him to autograph. And he embraced the project, noting that we too seldom blow our own horn.

“I remember being told when I began to write that it was commercial suicide to set a thriller in Toronto or any Canadian city, as opposed to New York or Miami or Kiev. Even Delhi, they said, was better than ­Toronto!”
"A thriller." Hmm....*

* those of you who have read my novel can probably suss out my own feelings about ITSOAL.

Mordecai Richler by M.G. Vassanji

My review of the M.G. Vassanji's pocket bio of Mordecai Richler in the Toronto Star.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Read 'em all, let time sort 'em out

Roy on forcing high school kids to read books they don't have a chance of understanding, much less enjoying:
If this sounds harsh -- if you think students should be inculcated with the joy of reading, rather than frog-marched through big books -- please take a moment to gather your memories of high school, and not just your own experience but also those of your classmates, as you perceived them. Then, consider: at which are schools better -- at instruction, or at enlightenment? If your mind was awakened in high school, congratulations, but chances are it would have awakened in any case, whether you had school or not. But you were less likely to have learned on your own polynomial equations, how to write a paper, historical analysis, or other such building blocks of intellectual life. I didn't want to learn these things, but I was taught them nonetheless, and I'm grateful for the experience.
As someone who barely made it through high school alive, having nearly been eaten from the inside-out by the seething hatred for the place that sat in me like a tape-worm and gnawed at me every single day I spent within its walls (forcing me, once drinking in the afternoon was a feasible alternative, to spend as little time there as possible), I have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of being forced to read anything. (A reaction, by the way, that has only been sharpened by many long nights yawning and grumbling through yet another book under review.)

However, Roy's point – that finding something teens want is a fool's errand, so you might as well give them something they need – is a good one. There are books that went right by me during those days that never quite left me. And happy accidents happen: some people who know me are rightly sick of me relating how, in Grade 9 English, I laughed at all the dirty jokes in Shakespeare, but there it is. I still read the stuff. (And still laugh.)

Part of the reason I forced my son to watch Kurosawa movies and Grand Illusion with me back when he was barely four years old: I hoped the experience would linger. (That and the fact that I'm a selfish bastard...)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jughead's eyes are closed, but mine are wiiiide open

Macleans has a piece on economic anxiety making it's way into otherwise ageless (and humourless) comic strips.

Hey man, I was on this one two years ago.

And I did it for free.

(Oh wait, that's not a point in my favour.)

Uh rilly güd po'm


Monday, April 20, 2009

I knew English cooking was terrible, but...

So, after a week of respectful (nay, stunned) silence in honour of a much-missed colleague and friend, I figured it was time to get back to the usual juvenile offerings. The kind of thing Derek, to his eternal credit, would never have let me post over at Quillblog.

Found this at Sadly, No!:
PLAYBOY: In Fight Club Durden pees into the soup he’s serving and farts on the food. Do you know people who have done that?

PALAHNIUK: I know people who worked at the big hotels in downtown Portland, and yeah, they would tell stories like that. There was a kid in England — and very handsome, well-presented kid — who told me, “I work in an upscale restaurant in London, and we do things to celebrities’ food all the time.” I said, “Tell me one person.” He said, “I can’t because there are only two of these restaurants, and it’d be too easy to find me.” I wasn’t going to sign his book until he told me one person. So he sheepishly goes, “Margaret Thatcher has eaten my sperm.” I started laughing. As soon as I did, he got bold. He said, “At least five times.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

Derek Weiler, 1968-2009

I only heard the news a few hours ago after having been away all weekend, so I am still processing this.

For now, please go to Quillblog for more about Derek.

Here's an interview with Derek from last year.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Deep Throat(ed)

Granted, this is minor political journalism silliness, but I had to laugh at this, from Saturday's Toronto Star story on Christine Elliot entering the race to become Ontario's Tory leader:
A successful lawyer and mother of 18-year-old triplet sons, Elliott has styled herself as a centrist in the campaign, in a move her strategists confide is their best path to victory. [emphasis added]
Oh jeez, I hope those strategists don't get into trouble for confiding that!

Later on, they "confided" that she was for lower taxes, better schools, faster cars, cuter children, cheaper coffee, and yummier cookies.

Monday, April 06, 2009

All hail

I was ready for rain.

I was ready for snow.

I was ready for wind.

What I was not ready for, was millions of jagged pebbles of ice being flung into my face the entire ride to work.

I mean, I am used to wincing the entire bike ride to work, but that's usually out of guilt and shame...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Shits 'n' Giggles Inc.

Oh yeah, uh... Something That Is Blatantly Untrue!

April Fo–

Shit, too late.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

So, why are we in Afghanistan again?

From The Independent:

Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, has signed a law which "legalises" rape, women's groups and the United Nations warn. Critics claim the president helped rush the bill through parliament in a bid to appease Islamic fundamentalists ahead of elections in August.

In a massive blow for women's rights, the new Shia Family Law negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage and restricts a woman's right to leave the home, according to UN papers seen by The Independent.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why didn't they use The Troggs?

The trailer for Where the Wild Things Are just got hoisted onto the hinternet:

Movies based on picture books are a dubious proposition, as plotting them out to a full hour and a half inevitably leaves lots of room for the insertion of lessons that weren't there, and that even contradict the spirit of the original. The big one for me will always be Shrek, which took a great little story about an unashamedly nasty and obnoxious troll who stays nasty right to the end, and added in a whole bit about friendship and loneliness and being misunderstood and blah blah blah. The movie wasn't a complete horrorshow, but it was a pretty distant cousin to the book.

Already from the trailer above, it looks like Max is set up as a Lonely, Imaginative Boy With Problems. Which is fine, I guess, and it's not like some fine filmic hay hasn't been made from that premise, but in the book he's something of a little shit. That's the point. He acts up, gets punished, finds a way to turn his punishment to his advantage, has his fun, then gets homesick and hungry. Here, he looks like he's just looking for a big, furry friend.

Other than that, though, it looks great – I'm a sucker for the Henson-style man-in-puppet-suit method – and if they have avoided using Robin Williams or Seth Rogen or someone to voice said big, furry friend, it may end up being a good one. Either way, I'll be seeing it with half-pints in tow.

(And the fact that Dave Eggers co-wrote the screenplay doesn't worry me at all – he's already a schmaltz-meister, so this is probably a better fit for him than fiction.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hither and yawn

Just an update on some places where I've been paid to string sentences together lately:
  • the new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries is their "future" issue. I contributed an essay on the "Future of Canadian Fiction." (Spoiler: it ain't pretty.)
  • the current issue of Canadian Family is their "gender" issue. I've got a thing in there called "The Princess and the Pirate," about having both a son and a daughter, and how the two of them simultaneously conform to and warp gender stereotypes.
  • the upcoming issue of Maisonneuve includes a brand new short story by me. It's about unhappy people (obviously), but also features a reclusive fantasy writer and a monkey that shits too much.
  • this coming Sunday's edition of the Toronto Star will include my review of Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme. I will link to that when (and if) it gets put online.
I've also recently joined on as the fiction editor for Driven magazine. Since Gary B. (the pun-happy editor I referred to a few posts back) took over last year, the magazine has featured original fiction from Andrew Pyper, Kenneth J. Harvey, and Joseph Boyden. So kudos to Gary. The upcoming issue, out shortly, features a nasty little nugget from Pontypool author Tony Burgess.

(Very soon, too, Driven's web site will begin featuring original micro-fiction from authors both known and not.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ikhyd Edgar Arular Bronfman

That's the name of M.I.A.'s kid.

It's like something out of a "satirical" novel by a Canadian "humour" columnist.