Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beauty & Sadness by André Alexis, with extra sadness

My review of André Alexis's Beauty & Sadness gets the full-page + cartoon treatment in the Toronto Star.

A wee taste:

It’s hard not to think, while reading André Alexis’s Beauty and Sadness, that its author got the title back to front. What moments of beauty there are in this intriguing, odd and occasionally perplexing mix of short fiction, literary essays and personal memoir are thoroughly drenched in sadness. In the book’s introduction, Alexis, who is in his early 50s, writes that “I have come to a time in my life when leave-taking, death, and change have begun to seriously impinge on my imagination.”

Read the whole thing here.

ADDED: Just as night follows day and drunk-dialing leads to grief, Mr Alexis has offered his own lower-case thoughts on my thoughts on his thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Are you feelin' it?

The parts of my mind not currently occupied with visions of dancing sugarplums have been taken hostage by this new novel, which I am determined to have done-ish* by very early 2011 - as in end of January, if things go swimmingly. So allow me a brief digression on the subject of the supposed war between feelings and craft in the making of fiction....

From the Dept of False Dichotomies:

"I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing, speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings." - Jack Kerouac

To which I say: exactly... exactly the opposite of all that.

Or, less glibly, I say: I like feelings in fiction, too! (Whatever "feelings" means, but let it stand for now.) However, I have discovered that, for myself at least, the feelings that come across in fiction that has not been put through a process of "revisions and endless rehashing, speculation and deleting" are the most obvious ones, the most superficial, the least interesting. The people I am interested in writing about do not spend their days endlessly emoting, which may mean I need to find more interesting subjects, but if it doesn't, then those people's feelings need to be teased out through much careful work, not violently harvested with a rusty spork. We'd all like the people around us to be emotionally honest and authentic and in touch with their feelings, etc, but in the real world, and especially in this country and this culture, feelings often get hid. So it's down to detective work, not the kicking down of random doors.

There's more life and pleasure in unholy mess to inert precision, but I'd rather not have to choose between the two, preferring to abide by the old Led Zeppelin ideal of "tight but loose."

Now, back to it.

* that is: done, but for the fretting, re-revising, re-working, and the slaughter of all darlings who ignored previous evacuation orders.


Also, if you really prefer raw, unrehearsed FEELING, there's always Nicolas Cage:

Constant commentary by the wayside

Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle, despite being one of the my absolute favourite rekkids, is one I am usually hesitant to proselytize on behalf of, because it's an either/or, hate/love kind of rekkid, and even I hate the idea of an avant-whimsical take on Americana. But as with most great art, what doesn't work in theory, can utterly astound in practice. Or just grate on your nerves. This one does the former for me. That it does the latter for most people is absolutely not a sign of poor taste or philistinism or anything like that - a lot of very wise music-minded people can't stand the thing. It just does what it does, regardless, mincing around in its own little world where Charles Ives writes ballet for B'rer Rabbit.

Here is the man in a NYC radio studio just this year, showing again why Song Cycle can only be loved or hated:

Monday, November 22, 2010

I ain't got time to read

Here is Sarah Palin on her current reading habits:
“There’s nothing different today than there was in the last 43 years of my life since I first started reading. I continue to read all that I can get my hands on — and reading biographies of, yes, Thatcher for instance, and of course Reagan and the John Adams letters, and I’m just thinking of a couple that are on my bedside, I go back to C.S. Lewis for inspiration, there’s such a variety, because books have always been important in my life.” She went on: “I’m reading [the conservative radio host] Mark Levin’s book; I’ll get ahold of Glenn Beck’s new book — and now because I’m opening up,” she finished warily, “I’m afraid I’m going to get reporters saying, Oh, she only reads books by Glenn Beck.”
First of all, this is all bullshit, but not just because everything that comes out of Palin's mouth is bullshit (though that is true), but because Palin is someone with a schedule crammed with daily interviews, fundraising, conference calls, strategy sessions, and meetings with image consultants and political managers. She must also put aside time to promote her new eight-part infomercial, as well as turn out to support her daughter on that dancing show. When all that is done, and there are no animals to shoot or fish to be snatched out of the water bare-handed – you know, like a grizzly would – then Palin must also squeeze in a minute or two to help raise her large family, which includes a toddler with special needs. Filipino nannies are not exactly thick on the ground up there in Alaska.

You can call her a cynical, thin-skinned, corrupt, hypocritical, and ideologically thuggish embarrassment spurred on by nothing more than greed, self-regard, and a vampire-like hunger for attention – but don't call her idle. She is busy, busy, busy, and as such, probably has precisely zero time to read anything longer than a tweet or a Facebook update.

As an author and an all-around books guy – with all the petty resentment, agoraphobia, and sense of entitlement that implies – I should now be expected to chuckle haughtily at Palin's claims of well-readedness. But here's the thing: I don't care if Palin doesn't happen to read any hefty tomes in the five or six minutes of free time she has leftover in a day. I have a part-time job, zero public stature, and only two (blessedly healthy) kids, and even I cross myself at the sight of a book that pushes the 400-page mark. (Thanks a lot, Mr Foran...) If someone with as busy a schedule as Palin's can't actually find the time or energy for the collected letters of her supposed political heroes, that's entirely understandable. I've been meaning to re-read Anna Karanina for a while now, but every time I pull it off the shelf, some part of my mind says fuck that shit and reaches for something slimmer.

Palin's a liar, sure, and a pretty bad one, but why does she feel she needs to lie in the first place? Well, because we demand that politicians display such cultural signifiers. Books = smart. Books = gravitas. Books = seriousness. Witness (and I swear I will try not to reference this here anymore) Yann Martel's ongoing unilateral book club, which might as well be re-titled Haught or Not? Just as we want our leaders to demonstrate some level of cultural hipness (What does Ms Palin think of Bieber's big win at the AMA's? What's on her iPod? Does she think Glee has fallen off this season?), we want the other side of the coin covered, too. We want fireplaces and wingback chairs and leather-bound volumes and Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

This speaks to an enormous amount of cultural anxiety, as well as at least a small serving of class-lensed elitism. The fact is, books also = a certain amount of spare time. I am certain that Palin has a team of researchers combing the letters of Reagan and Adams for possible quotes to be used in interviews and speeches, but cozying up with them herself at the end of a long, long, Alaskan day? Bullshit. My guess is that most high-profile politicians feel they are doing well if they can put aside the briefing notes long enough to read Get Shorty for the fifth time while on a red-eye to Los Angeles.

And so what? Obviously, I think anyone who is so politically influential should read widely and be familiar with modes of thinking that can only be achieved through long immersion in perfect-bound texts, and I like the idea of a politician who sees reading serious books as a necessary component of being in a position of power, but I don't actually expect them to be sitting up until 5 am with a flashlight under the bedsheets, tracing the fall of the Roman Empire or Leopold Bloom's progress across Dublin, even as half-a-dozen morning show hosts are warming the mikes for them.

That Palin would try to represent herself as a voracious reader is a laughable and not at all surprising. That we should care either way is just kind of dumb. There are, after all, many other reasons to despise her and everything she stands for than just her non-existent reading habits.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Feelin' Groovy

Here's some excerpts* from the self-help book I'm writing called Take It Slow: The Wisdom of Gaspereau Press, which I should have done by next year. Or the next. Or the one after that - don't rush me!
  • From the chapter on Raising Kids: "This is risotto, not mac & cheese! Tell them to sit outside and take in the wonder of the sky while they wait. And if you miss the birthday party, well, there's always one next year."
  • From the chapter on Finances: "Monthly rent payments are an abomination. They turn what should be a gift - a living space, a home - into a kind of regular shakedown. Landlords must learn patience. Instead of cheques, offer them roasted chestnuts, or fresh apples straight from the tree."
  • From the chapter on Friendship: "A true friend knows that, even if you have not called them or sent them an email in a long time, that you still speak them them every day in your heart. And they would know that expressions of condolence for a dead parent or partner are meaningless - death comes to us all in the end."
  • From the chapter on Sex: "One must never be trapped into an artificial quid pro quo framework when it comes to orgasms. The essential question is the quality of the orgasms, not their even distribution. Sexuality is not socialism."
  • From the chapter on Publishing: "A book is only ever perfect in the conception, in the idea. So if, say, you are unable to get finished books into the hands of readers, know that this will only preserve this perfection for them. The book will always be the book they want, and never the book they have. To have the anticipated object in their possession can only be a kind of disappointment. In this way, NOT publishing books is the best way to ensure their eternal perfection."

* I've already posted these on my Facebook page, but hey: why waste comedy gold on mere friends?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"I mean, when you've loved and lost the way Alice has, then you know what life's about"

You know what the title of my book should be? Yes I Can, If Alice Munro Says It's Okay.

I had to forcibly put yet another of her books aside the other night because every time I read or re-read one of her stories, and then try to do some of my own writing, a tiny, limo-driving Bruno Kirby pops up in my head saying, "I would never tell you this, but... this, this is a fad."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Big Fog

I took the kids out for a late-night walk last night specifically to see the fog, which was so thick at its peak, we could barely see the houses on the other side of the street.

Here are some photos people have posted to give you and idea of how truly cool it looked here. (Some of those shots are from my neighbourhood, or close enough.)

It all looked like something out of a horror movie - like, say, The Fog. Or even The Mist, for that matter.

Needless to say, I had a little hand clutching at mine for most of the way.

Don't bring dead canaries to a coal mine

A blog I often go to, one that deals mostly with US politics, recently touted a new book about how America is nickle-and-diming itself to death by refusing to pay the full costs of things like energy and infrastructure.

The blogger then noted enthusiastically that the book could be had for more than 40% off the cover price on Amazon.


Friday, November 12, 2010

It's oh so quiet

Around here, anyway. Life has been elsewhere.

Last night, out of curiosity, I mentally stacked up the books I've read (for reviews and other purposes) over the past two months or so, and the stack was rather sickeningly impressive, if I do say so myself. Eye-high to a mermaid's knees.

I'm also continuing to prod this bugger of a second novel toward its conclusion. Why is it that this "light" book has been so hard?

ADDED: well, at least my troll still loves me... (see comments)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mordecai and I... again

My review of Mordecai: The Life and Times is online at The Toronto Star.

A wee taste:
In his preface, Foran states that Richler “was a novelist who, though he debuted at 22 . . . may not have produced his finest works of fiction for another three decades.” This means that much of this biography is concerned with what can only be termed — inevitably, inescapably — a very lengthy apprenticeship. Indeed, Mordecai is not so much the story of an author slowly building toward late-career literary triumphs and vindication as an account of one who expended enormous amounts of effort chasing a stated goal — the creation of a great novel that will last — that may have eluded him right to the end.

Whole thing here.

This is my fourth kick at the Richler bio can - two previous kicks here and here (can't find the other one). I am reluctant to check, but I am fairly sure I have not repeated myself much. And if I have, oh well...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Has Ford driven a city (off the cliff) lately?

I sometimes push back against the reflex mocking of my adopted city, but if this man becomes mayor - and I think he will - we deserve everything anyone says about us from now on:

I will say this: his grasp on municipal budgeting is as firm as his grasp on the importance of appearing relaxed and confident on video.

I've seen more natural-looking performances in an S&M dungeon.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Memories of 2010's Word on the Street (Toronto)

Stuart McLean reading in a nearby tent, making me think someone had CBC Radio on too loud.

Yann Martel in the audience, bouncing a baby on his lap, while I moderated a panel on YA writing that included his wife.

My ugly mug on the Toronto Star's billboards all over the park. (Thought about stealing one.)

A chat about circumcision in the VIP Lounge (hello...) with Andrew Kaufman and Steven Beattie.

An old man wandering around the park wearing a skull cap with a fake, blue mohawk - for no apparent reason.

Dan Smith of the Star, answering an audience member's question about whether her self-published book could get reviewed in the paper thus: "Not with a ten-foot pole."

Human feces all over the inside of one porta potty, which I later used as a metaphor for the life of a book reviewer. (VIP Lounge notwithstanding.)

A child of about five, not wanting to go home and crying "No no no no no no no no no..." For about ten minutes.

A veteran author saying hello at the end of the day and asking, "I was on the jury that gave you some prize, wasn't I?"

Trevor Cole and Ken Finkleman - a double-shot o' murder

My double-review of the new Trevor Cole and Ken Finkleman novels is in today's Toronto Star. If you disagree, come tell me at the Word on the Street TO Star tent today at 4. Come one, come all.

A taste:

Murder mysteries are among the most conservative of literary genres. Though their plots revel in crime, corruption, lies and death, the understanding is that murder happens for a reason, and those reasons are discoverable, even if the perpetrators are not always apprehend able. There are many brilliant exceptions to this formula — most sophisticated mystery fans will already be silently mouthing them — but that is the formula at its simplest.

Comic writing, especially the black-hearted kind, is possessed of a much more anarchic vision, one that delights in disorder and sees no reason to correct it. When a murder occurs in a comedy, the reason behind it is often irrelevant or non-existent. Simply put: Nobody really cares why or how Bernie died, they just want to watch two goofs spend a weekend with the corpse.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Let freedom reign!

Given that the Tories feel the long gun registry represents wasteful and unconscionable interference by the govt, I assume they will next be supporting marijuana legalization, abandoning their opposition to things like gay marriage, stripping anti-terror laws of anything that undermines the justice system and legal protections, stop muzzling their own scientists (not to mention their own MPs and bureaucrats), drop all moral or ideological objections to instances where potentially "controversial" art receives public funding, and making a formal apology to all those detained during the G20.

That's the shortlist, but it's probably where they'll start. Right?

(What's so funny?)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Andre Alexis, c'est moi

There are many, many things upon which Andre Alexis and I disagree (one might say furiously), but on this, he and I are like two bitter, occasionally impulsive, and potentially career-damaging peas in a pod:
"i hate the literary community so much, i hate its “careful you might insult so-and-so” very much. so much that i’d love to be something other than a writer. vomiting things up on a blog allows me to contemplate a desired outsider-ness. a good thing, a helpful thing, in the end."
As for the rest of that comment, in which AA takes about 800 words to say "sometimes it feels good to talk shit about your cultural enemies online," well, birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, literary writers gotta literaryize.

(I am reviewing Alexis's new book for a easily guessed daily newspaper, btw. Coming soon.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Topsy Turvy

Some say that one of the great things about the Internet in general, and social media in particular, is discovering who else shares your own deeply felt cultural enthusiasms.

Those people are wrong:

In my best Captain Kirk: "Jiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnn!!!"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I plan to write about this here at greater length later on in the week, but having seen the new Mike Leigh movie last night (with Leigh in attendance: my pants are still peed), I can only say this: lengthy, autumnal films that employ cello-laden soundtracks, gardening scenes to represent the passing of time, and nothing but long scenes of dialogue in kitchens and living rooms, and that focus on slightly self-satisfied older couples and their desperately lonely friends, should not be so fucking entertaining.

Uncorking the imagination

Got another good email from a publicist:
Authors Reveal Step-by-Step Plan for Wine Tasting Party at Home
All authors have such a plan: it's called "alcoholism."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tell me about the war book, Grampa

Steve Galloway, in the process of reviewing Alison Pick's Far To Go in the Globe, writes this:
It’s very popular these days to declare historical fiction irrelevant, a wallowing in nostalgia, rife with over-moralizing and easy answers. Perhaps this is occasionally true, even often true, but this position strikes me as intellectually lazy, and dismissive of the obvious fact that everything that’s ever happened is now history. To suggest that writing about the past is somehow dismissive of the present is the literary equivalent of teenagers rolling their eyes when grandparents try to tell them what things were like when they were children.

The teenager believes that everything he needs to know about the world is happening right in front of him, that what he sees at that moment is all there is or ever will be. The grandparent is trying to tell him something about the world as it once was and therefore is now – the past is a story that exists in its connection to the present.

Now, being one of the people who argues that historical fiction is very often "rife with over-moralizing and easy answers," I have to admit I'm a little surprised to discover that this is the "popular" opinion these days. And not only that, this position is "often true."

(I am also surprised to discover that it is also "often true" that historical fiction is "irrelevant." I would not go that far myself, but hey, facts are facts.)

But then, having been told that my opinion is both often true and the popular one, I am informed it is also intellectually lazy, the equivalent of the arrogant, impatient, baseless certainty of a teenager.

I'm confused: if it's often true, how is it intellectually lazy? Am I lacking in the mental energy and stamina required to believe something that is very often not true? And really: when did this impatience with the middlebrow sentimentalities that so often form the basis of historical fictions become the popular position? As far as I can tell, the people expressing this impatience tend to be a small minority of cranky reviewers, writers, and readers - and often all three in one. (Hello.)

Now, I will readily concede that there is probably a lot of opposition to historical fiction that comes in the form of simply not caring about any time other than one's own. There are enough readers out there who won't bother with books that don't describe the comings and goings of their own narrow, self-absorbed cohort. But that's not my own feelings toward historical fiction, and nor is it the position of a number of writers who have argued that literature should be more concerned with engaging with the present, less so with revising or unearthing the past. Not solely concerned, just more so than it is at the moment.*

The paradox is that a lot of readers and critics (like myself) who argue for more contemporary-minded fiction spend a lot of their time reading books written decades, if not centuries, ago. And that is because what these readers and critics are looking for are not books that grapple with their own times in some way (though that's nice to have once in a blue moon), but books in which an author grapples with his or her own times. Which is why some novels written a hundred years ago feel so much more alive and fresh and contemporary than last year's historical doorstop.

There is no substitute for the feeling of reading someone who is writing their own society into literary existence, who is writing into a void, as it were, and having to do most difficult thing, which is establish a point of view in relation to a world that is still in the process of coming into being.

* The reign of the historical fiction in Canada has weakened slightly in the past decade, and there seems to have been a bit of a peasant's revolt in the form of a lot of very sharply contemporary (or at least non-historically minded) novels appearing and getting some attention, but that reign is far from over.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Is our children yearning?

Given my day job, I get a lot of kid/book/literacy-related e-mail, most of it instantly disposable.

But every once in a while, there is a gem - an unintentionally dirty, greasy gem - such as the message I got this morning that asked,

Is Lap Reading to Children Still Important?

(The answer to that question is: of course! Cuz all kids like a happy ending.)

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Labour Day at the races

Thanks to my daughter - that is, thanks to my unrelenting efforts to fill my children's heads with the ripest fruits of klassic komedy - Charlie Chaplin has reared his bechapeaued head in my life after a few years' absence. (My son currently prefers Mitchell & Webb, and I went through a period of finding Chaplin too sentimental, especially as compared with Buster Keaton*.)

It being Labour Day, I should probably post something from Modern Times, but I would much rather post this, a short that I still think about every once in a while, and have done so since I first saw it in the Concordia University library AV department nearly two decades ago [pause for stunned silence] while skipping an evening class. The set up and premise is so dead simple - some people just love to get in front of a camera - and he doesn't exactly stretch the idea very far, but I find there is something hypnotically funny about the bit. (It also, I think, anticipates much of the satirical hay made in the past few decades about the lengths ordinary people will go to to get on TV.)

*I still get impatient with some of Chaplin's later reflex sappiness and heart-tugging, but am more willing to see that all as merely the inevitable excesses of genius. Isn't that big of me?

ADDED: And by "sappiness I am impatient with", I don't mean the ending of City Lights, which even a UFC champ would tear up over. That's the good stuff. (Talking to myself, now...)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

In the land of the blind, the four-eyed man is king

PM Harper starts wearing glasses. The Toronto Star sends out a reporter. Hilarity ensues.

From the article:
So what is motivating Harper?

Allergies? Astigmatism? Fatigue? Focus group?

No one could or would answer that question — or even share the make and the model of the glasses, despite a valiant attempt by Harper press secretary Andrew MacDougall, who said he “scoped” them but discovered no brand name.

“I don’t know and I don’t care!” Geoff Norquay, former Harper director of communications, said with incredulous laughter that did not stop until the short conversation was over. [Emphasis added.]
As much as I detest the man, I'll give this to Harper: he has a way of making otherwise intelligent people look completely ridiculous. (See: Martel, Yann.)

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Victor Wulpy prepares to countersign

"Victor, the perfect lion, relaxing among Evanston admirers while he drank martinis and ate hors d'oeuvres, took in the eager husband, aggressively on the make. and the considered the pretty wife - in every sense of the word a dark lady. He perceived that she was darkest where darkness counted most. Circumstances had made Katrina look commonplace. She did what forceful characters do with such imposed circumstances; she used them as a camouflage. Thus she approached Wulpy like a nearsighted person, one who has to draw close to study you. She drew so near that you could feel her breath. And then her lowering, almost stubborn look rested on you for just that extra beat that carried a sexual message, It was the incompetency with which she presented herself, the nearsighted puzzled frown, that made the final difference. Her first handshake informed him of a disposition, an inclination. He saw that all her preparations had been set. With a kind of engraved silence about the mouth under the wide bar of his mustache, Wulpy registered all this information. All he had to do was countersign. He intended to do just that." -from "What Kind of Day Did You Have?" by Saul Bellow

(Latest in a series of Random Passages I Like From Things I'm Reading. If I can't be bothered to write anything clever on this site, I might as well offer up bits from writers who are more than clever.)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

If you worked here you'd be bored by now

Great news! There's a job out there that's perfect for any journalist willing to hole up in a chilly backwater country: The Wall Street Journal is looking for a bureau chief. That sounds pretty impressive, and you can tell the position's a prestigious one by the fact that they are advertising on, right next to notices that Alberta Health Services are seeking a Communications Advisor, Youthink is seeking a High-school liaison, and Voice of Pelham (in beautiful and presumably typographic-rich Fonthill, Ontario) is seeking an Ad Builder.

From the notice:
Canada, despite its low-key reputation, is a fascinating economic story; it is one of the few robustly-growing developed economies, thanks to its mining and energy sectors, which have attracted much international interest, including from China. The strong Canadian dollar is of special interest as the Journal and wires ramp up global forex coverage. Multicultural and land-rich, Canada is also a font of features, both quirky and socially resonant.
In other words, we're a little boring, but we're economically stable, thanks to all the shit we have buried underground that real countries like China want to scoop up and make millions off of. We've got lots of people from other countries and lots of space, we're loaded with "features", and we're all a little goofy. (I have no idea what "socially resonant" means.)

I'm thinking of snapping up the job myself, especially since my ad building days are over (bad back), and the cops have threatened to pick me up if they catch me high school liaising again.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Send in the clowns

Is it a full moon? I go months without a comment on this dumb site, and then all of a sudden I've got me a troll.

They're sort of fun to kick in the belly, but I feel a little guilty about picking on the poor thing.

ADDED: Just so's we're clear - trolls are not people wishing to tear a stripe off me or make fun of dumb things I say - those people are welcome; the more clever the putdown, the better - rather they are sad, obsessive idiots who can't understand jokes, but know jokes are being made, and so respond with the verbal equivalent of a wet fart and a pirouette that ends with them tripping over a chair. And since they are trolls, they will always pick themselves up from the floor, pull the sodden underwear from the cracks of their asses, and say, "Had enough, sir?"

(If you be really, really quiet, you might even spot one in the comment thread to this post. Shhhhh...)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gone Readin'

Headline from the NYTimes Fashion & Style section:

E-Books Make Readers Less Isolated

Isn't that a strike against them?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rex Murphy to Muslims: take off the mosque!

In the National Post, Rex Murphy - who, as I may have noted before on this site, looks like the twin brother Tom Hanks tried, only partly successfully, to eat in the womb - has a go at the dreaded Ground Zero Mosque. You know, the one those bastard muslims are planning to built RIGHT ON THE ASHES OF THE TWIN TOWERS. Or, a little bit over, but still in sight of Ground Zero. Or not in sight, but within a short walk. Okay, it's two blocks away, but still: it's a mosque!
On the matter of the Islamic centre set to be built near the site of the downed Twin Towers...
Hang on, the towers were "downed"? It is still strange to see the Manhattan skyline without the World Trade Center hovering there above it.

On the matter of the Islamic centre set to be built near the site of the downed Twin Towers, I dismiss utterly what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems to fear — that Americans will carry the mark of intolerance unless they permit the building to go forward.

From 9/11 onwards, from the White House to main street, Americans have made it sunshine clear that the attacks of that day were not going to warp their country’s values, were not an occasion for raining abuse or vengeance upon America’s Muslim citizens.
It was an occasion to rain down missiles and cluster bombs on many non-American Muslims, but abuse? Never. Well, sometimes. Actually, a lot, but at least the country's values were not warped and everything was kept "sunshine clear." (I usually associate sunshine with brightness, not clarity, but Murphy's the big-time writer here, so oh well.)
George W. Bush himself, with the full weight of his office (and, I’d add, at some political risk to himself) was without stint in proclaiming Islam a “religion of peace.” He even went to a Washington mosque to underline solidarity with American Muslims and their peaceful co-religionists all over the world.
Bush then, of course, declared war on two predominantly Muslim countries within a couple of years, but let's move on...
Which strips all force from Bloomberg’s lukewarm pleadings that there is now, a near decade on, the need for a 13- or 15-storey homage to Islam but a shadow away from ground zero, to supply some sort of architectural instantiation or proof of that tolerance.
Mr Bloomberg, your lukewarm pleadings have been stripped of all force! And some of their heat, making them utterly cold pleadings! That's right: we stripped them of all force, then left them on the counter to cool - they are now gazpacho pleadings, and nobody likes that.

But Rex is right: When it comes to Ground Zero, mosques must be kept more than a shadow away. (In this case, "a shadow" equals "two city blocks" - this form of distance-charting probably meant more in the days when the WTC was floating up there throwing shadows on our eyes.)
How tolerant America has been on this issue is further shown in the near insouciance and ease which which the proponents of the Ground Zero mosque (as it’s become known)...
... by bigots opposed to the mosque or cynics intent on whipping up said bigots, but go on...
...make their proposal. They think it’s the most normal, casual thing in the world to propose such a building next door to the greatest terror operation ever unleashed in America, executed by Islamist fanatics in the dead heart of America’s greatest city, and involving the murder of thousands, the desolation of families, unspeakable mental and physical sacrifices by first-responding fire and police personnel — not to mention the cataclysmic financial repercussions the destruction was also designed to achieve.
Don't those Muslims know that 9/11 was very bad? More to the point, do they know that it was very, very bad? I would not be at all surprised if those gentlemen were not aware that it was, in fact, very very VERY bad. Don't they know that when bad things happen, all activity stops for a decade? There are people in New York still waiting to resume Central Park chess games that were interrupted by the attacks. It's the first rule of horrific terrorist acts: you can't do anything afterward. Except invade countries not related to the attack. Other than that: nothing. Don't even warm up dinner. 9/11 is like the eternal Sabbath - keep the lights out and don't use tools.
It is an almost boundlessly tolerant city and society — New York and America. But we must make a note on this point: A tolerance is being, and has been, shown, toward Islam, which Islam emphatically does not show to other creeds in regions or countries where Islam is predominant. In some Muslim places, a mere Bible in a suitcase is an indictable offence.
Rex was doing okay until this point - and by "okay" I mean, he had not gone full-on ignorant and offensive - but arguing that "we" don't have to be nice to "them" in our countries (which are really also "theirs" since they are all US citizens) because "they" are not nice to "us" in their countries is a bit of a dead-end. Some muslim societies do a lot of things we don't plan on adopting. Anyway, I'm sure he will move on from this point.
What is the numerical gap, I wonder, between the number of mosques in Western, nominally Christian cities, and the number of Christian churches or cathedrals in predominantly Muslim ones? In New York alone, there already are at least a hundred mosques. How many Catholic cathedrals, shinto shrines or Buddish temples in Saudia Arabia? On the subject of religious tolerance, that grand old rancid imperialist Kipling is still au courant: East is East and West is West, and ne’er the twain shall meet.
Oh, that is his point. We don't have to live up to our ideals because they don't live up to... our ideals. Makes sense.
Islam has a voracious appetite for tolerance when it is the suppliant; when it is, so to speak, a sojourner among the infidels. It is aggressively, even imaginatively, vigorous in availing of the democratic rights of societies to which some of its followers have migrated. It has acquired an admirable expertise in taking advantage of the institutions and practices of host societies, from politics and the media, to protests and the courts, which aid the full pursuit of those rights.
Islam is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It is also like the Mafia. So why do they think we're intolerant? (Interesting intellectual exercise: substitute "Judaism" or "Zionism" for "Islam" in that paragraph to make your own Nazi propaganda!)
This commendable agility finds no mirror in most Muslim societies. Tolerance received or enjoyed by Muslims in the West does not seem to awaken a concordant impulse to afford a reciprocal tolerance from Muslims to other religions in countries where Islam is dominant.
They suck, so we should get to suck, too. Never mind that we're talking about actual U.S. citizens, here - they are the wrong kind of citizens, so fuck 'em.
So, again, America has nothing to prove in this domain. And if New York authorities are going along with this proposal because they are afraid what people outside America might think, they are being, needlessly, both callow and cowardly.
As opposed to being needfully callow and cowardly. I'm just guessing, but maybe the authorities are going along with the proposal because it has every right to go ahead. Because there is not reason to stop it other than "Islam = 9/11".
But if the Islamic centre is built; and if it is to be, as professed, a bridge to understanding and reconciliation, there are a few tests we could apply — a few thoughts or suggestions for what might reasonably be found in such a strategically placed building, shadowed as it will forever be by the spectral dust of 2001.
There's that shadow again, though now it is filled with spectral dust. There may be some ghostly ashes, too. Spirit powder? Otherworldly detritus?
For example, a mosque in deliberate proximity to the scene of the Ground Zero slaughter will surely — unavoidably — have a section, a room, or a display, perhaps a miniature museum, on the events of that horrible day — giving some interpretation on what happened and why: what that day said, and did not say about Islam.
Maybe even a little miniature plane that flies into a miniature twin tower, except instead of a massive fireball, all that comes out is a little flag that says, "Do Not Want!"
Could there not be, for example, photographs of the 19 fanatic terrorists? They could be presented in some sort of stylized rogues gallery: Here are those who plotted and executed evil jihad against America.
How about "Wanted" posters? Oooo, that'd be so cool. Maybe one of them Muslims can work something up on Photoshop - though, come to think of it, those guys are so backwards, they probably still use CorelDraw...
Underneath, there could be a statement of categorical condemnation: These were a band of betrayers and corrupters of Islam, who did perverse deeds in Islam’s name. We Americans, Muslims all, in this holy place condemn and scorn their deeds and motives. Maybe this could be accompanied by some work of art to commemorate the dead — those who died in the attacks themselves, and those who died during the attempt to rescue people within the towers.
You know, I don't think I'll be calling on Rex Murphy for interior decorating tips anytime soon - that dude is grim. Or maybe pictures of a few thousand dead people next to a group of nasty terrorists and a plaque noting that terrorists are bad is exactly the kind of thing that'd spruce up my living room.
If it is to be in the vicinity of 9/11’s wreckage, it must pay respectful and felt homage to 9/11.
Just like the "Check out these twin towers!" display at Thunder Lingerie and More.
A mosque, that by its installations and presentations, derided the mischiefs done in Islam’s name, which in its declarations and stated understanding of 9 11 actually turned out to be a thorn in the side of fanatic Islamists everwhere, would be a worthy adjunct to the precincts of the now absent twin towers. It would be a work of understanding.
Just like all those churches with whole sections dedicated to the "mischiefs" done in the Christianity's name.
So, maybe the question now is not “Should it be built?” But, “What is to be built?” And if those who speak of understanding and reconciliation are serious, following a few of the suggestions here, or others from people much closer to this affair than I, could disarm all criticism and reproach. This should be, in this sense, if it goes ahead, the most American mosque ever.
As American as apple pie, baseball, gun-and-liquor stores, and racially motivated lynchings.
If instead, it retains a purely claustrophobic Islamic character...
Ha, cuz you know, so many North American mosques are located in basements - that's what he means, right? "There is no god but Allah, just like there is no goddamn headroom in this place!"
... if it is just an Islamic centre physically very close to where the towers once stood...
In other words, if it they build what they want, and not what muslim-haters want...
....but intellectually or civically remote and aloof from its all important site, it will be a failure.
... if it rejects any show of explicit condemnation or does not offer tokens of memorial, then I think the case of the critics will be immeasurable strengthened: that is, that this project is a none-too-subtle provocation, a tacit baiting of an already wounded America, and — worst of all, a kind of gaming of that precious tolerance to which it makes a spurious and offensive appeal.
In other words, if the mosque is not built according to the express wishes of bigots and cynics, the terrorists have won.

Is this a good time to note that there are not only two mosques already in the neighbourhood, but one in the PENTAGON as well? And that the U.S. has enshrined freedom of religion in its founding document? And that said freedom does not come with a proviso stating that one's place of worship must be decorated like the basement of a disaster fetishist?

Perhaps if someone were to mention these facts to Rex, he might revise his opinions, inshallah.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

These self-flogging scars are starting to heal a little

After a year or three of painful, halting forward progress - frequently interrupted by boring life dramas and sudden losses of faith and direction that resulted in tens of thousands of words being assigned to the "Scraps" folder, the name of which barely conceals the true nature of its contents by putting an "S" at either end - Unloveable Novel #2 has finally passed the 80,000-word mark and is still purring along happily. The end is in sight at last. (After which comes the painful, but still much more enjoyable, period of rewriting and editing.)

Not all that impressive a feat, I know, but after a couple of annos horribilis, I will happily take what I can get.

As the King of Swamp Castle knows, sometimes you just gotta keep building until one stands up.

(And even better: Unloveable Novel #3 is already starting to percolate and accumulate random jottings. Hurrah.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Karma is a Hitch

Is is it so wrong that I cannot manage to care at all about Christopher Hitchens' current battle with cancer? Having recently read (and reviewed) his memoir - along with too many of his flatulent, boorish essays and columns, too many of which hew to no moral or political standard beyond impatience, Hemingwayesque man-of-action fetishism (what used to be called "existentialism"), and a searing desire to always be seen as "tough-minded" - I find the current widespread lighting of candles for this asshole to be more than a little rich.

Yes, yes: it would be nicer for all those who (for whatever reason) do love him for him to pull through, and death-by-cancer is always a nasty business, but really - this is Christopher Hitchens we are talking about. It's hard to work up any sympathy for a man who saw nothing amiss (and certainly nothing to apologize for) in the clumsy, bloody, illegal, unprovoked, and utterly stupid destruction of an entire country. This is a man who likes to align himself with Orwell, but who has done little more than hump the leg of Orwell's corpse - when he is not shitting in its moustache.

Which really just goes to show that I am even less of a Christian than he is.

NB: the original title of this post - as you can see from its URL - was "Am I going to have to choke a Hitch?", which is funnier, but less relevant.

More hygienic

"Why, she wondered, was Edward always trying to get her into soapy water? It must have some connection with his days at boarding school; he probably thought it more hygienic to do it in the bath.

She didn't know why she felt so despairing inside. All the big issues were over and done with - it wasn't likely now that she'd get pregnant and even if she did, nobody, not even her mother, was going to tell her off. She didn't have any financial problems, she didn't hanker after new carpets. She didn't hanker after anything - certainly not Edward with a block of soap in one hand and that pipe spilling ash down her spine."
- from Injury Time, Beryl Bainbridge (1977)

I haven't been around here as much lately, I know - blame life and the realities of paying rent - but I do sometimes find time to embarrass myself @nathanwhitlock, so join me there, if'n you like.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

My review of Alice Munro's newest is over at the CNQ site, which was also recently the scene of some minor theatrics I had a dirty hand in.

ADDED: A few months ago, at a Harbourfront thing I was hosting, I spoke to Douglas Gibson, who is Munro's editor at M&S. Within minutes, I was thoroughly embarrassing myself by outright begging the man to make sure she wrote another book. I felt like a middle-aged Rush fan buttonholing Geddy Lee's accountant at a party. Sad.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Jacob Richler includes delusions of grandeur

From the catalogue page for Jacob Richler's forthcoming book My Canada Include Foie Gras (Key Porter Books):
In My Canada Includes Foie Gras, Richler profiles ten chefs, including himself, and features signature menus from each. In this celebration of fine Canadian dining, the luminaries profiled include:

Rob Feenie (Vancouver)
Thomas Haas (Vancouver)
David Hawksworth (Vancouver)
Normand Laprise (Montreal)
Yvan Lebrun (Quebec City)
Mark McEwan (Toronto)
Frank Pabst (Vancouver)
Susur Lee (Toronto/New York)
Marc Thuet (Toronto)
Jacob Richler (Toronto)

[Emphasis added; hubris in original.]

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hey, Schadenfreude!

The link he gives is to video taken by a SWAT team as it tours Columbine High School, shortly after the massacre.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shorter Stephen Marche in the LRC

"I once met Michael Ondaatje, who I was into before everyone else was. He recommended a dead writer to me. Lots of famous writers have had rejections. Me, too! We're not as cool and up to the minute as some people. Everyone thinks everyone else is running things. I am Canadian, and Canadians are on the outside looking in. (Bet you never heard that before.) America is big, we are not! That's cool, though. We have a lot of immigrants in Toronto, but they all still write like Dickens and Trollope. Wait til they really get started! Toronto in 2010 is such a great place to be for a writer, you don't even have to write about it. Peace out."

(Real thing here.)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens

My review of the new memoir by Christopher Hitchens in the Toronto Star.

A wee taste:
From the evidence of Hitch 22, the notorious author and journalist has always been riddled with the same contradictions, conflict fetishism, allergy to boredom and bores (but not boors), and preference for emotion-fueled opinionizing over analytical thought that characterize his recent career as a neoconservative fellow traveler and professional crank.
For more of me on the Hitch, see here.

Friday, June 04, 2010


Haven't heard that one in a while...

Hey, didn't Rod Steiger play that guy in In the Heat of the Night?


Thursday, June 03, 2010

For those who like that kind of thing...

You are reading what I am blogging about someone else's online account of James Wood's lecture on David Foster Wallace.

Faaaar out, man.

This is funny:
Midway through the lecture it becomes apparent that many of the elders have not read Wallace before. You can tell when Wood reads aloud a particularly disturbing passage from BIHM and some of the older ladies crinkle their faces, their better-humored husbands guffawing resonantly. Later, when Wood glosses Wallace’s suicide, he is stopped mid-sentence by an elaborately coiffured lady in the front row, who demands clarification; when Wood explains that Wallace took his own life in 2008, the lady gasps and turns to her dozing husband.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Worst reality show ever

From TPM:
California Gubernatorial candidate Douglas Hughes (R) is running on a platform of expelling all convicted pedophiles from his state.

Don't worry though, Hughes has a plan for where they'll go: Santa Rosa Island, or as he calls it, "Pedophile Island."

Remember when that kid wandered into the jungle and got attacked by a bunch of nasty little dinosaurs at the beginning of Jurassic Park 2? Yeah, like that. But not dinosaurs.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Monáe is money

I've been listening to a lot of Northern Soul lately, and James Brown's "Brother Rapp" has always been one of my favourites, so this just hits me in the sweet spot:

(Don't know why half the video is cut off. Just double-click it to see it in full.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Pretty stunning.

And to the good people of Montreal:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What is David Cameron reading?

So... the U.K.'s new prime minister is an untested Tory heading up a coalition government propped up by a left-of-centre third party. He replaces the stodgy, uninspiring Prime Minister who took over – unelected, and after a long time in charge of the purse strings, waiting for his chance – from a deeply flawed (but charismatic) PM who took his centrist-with-lefty-pretensions party to three straight majorities.

How long before Martin Amis starts sending David Cameron used paperbacks accompanied by glib and self-satisfied personal notes about "cultivating stillness"?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lukashevsky on WNYC

My friend Alex on the air in New York with a new song and a new musical set-up:

You can listen to the entire show here.

In the photos, Alex looks like a messianic bigamist who performs alongside two of his wives. But that's a good thing, I think.

NB: Alex is recording some music with these two fine singers, but he also has a very limited-edition CD out called Prints of Darkness that has some old and new songs done up with over-the-top orchestration. As far as I know, it is only available at Soundscapes in Toronto or here. Prints, along with the new Johnny Cash and an Orchestra Baobab compilation I found at the Gladstone library, was the soundtrack to a whole pile of unpacking and shelf-hanging I had to do last month

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Uno de Mayo

At last: the first day of National Prose Month.

ADDED: Yikes, I was joking - now I hear tell it's actually Short Story Month or sumpin' like that. I've said this before (on this site, I think - too lazy to look), but I always find the idea that literary forms need protecting, like endangered waterfowl, very much beside the point. I'll stick up for a given writer's undeserved obscurity, or argue the merits of an unjustly unloved book or story, but a form? People will read more short stories (if that is, indeed, a desirable thing - let's assume for the sake of argument that it is) if there are good stories written and good critics writing about them and good editors working to get them attention and provide places for them to be read. That's true of all literary forms, though, as well as of all artistic forms and mediums, more or less.

If there is a story (or book) I love and am excited about, I will try and bring attention to it however I can (on this blog, in an email to a friend, as part of a drunken rant), but I could care less whether "more people," defined in the abstract, read stories in general. It won't change a word.

Maybe there are too many stories being written and read. Ever think of that, huh?

Monday, April 26, 2010

M.I.A. commits gingercide

Holy shit.

No, really: holy shit.

ADDED - My new line: M.I.A.'s video makes Children of Men look like Three Men and a Baby!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Silverman is gold

Well, sorta. I've never fully copped to the potty-mouthed pixie thing that Sarah Silverman does - and does relentlessly. Unless you are the kind of person who goes out of your mind at the sight of a purty girl being ironically racist and obnoxious with no real critical/cultural intent or meaning other than "I can't believe she just said that! Outrageous!!!", it gets tired quick* - but all the same, a gig is a gig, so I jumped at the chance to interview her for the new issue of Fashion magazine. How's that for gratitude?

* Though that Matt Damon thing was a hoot. So was The Great Schlep. Maybe she just works best in small portions. How's that for faint praise?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Keep reaching for the stars

From the AP story on NASA big new plans:

Landing on an asteroid and giving it a well-timed nudge "would demonstrate once and for all that we're smarter than the dinosaurs and can avoid what they didn't," said White House science adviser John Holdren.

Yes, NASA will spend billions of dollars to prove we are smarter than giant, lumbering lizards with acorn-sized brains who all died out when it got a little too cold or a little too dark (maybe).

Next up: proving once and for all that we can drive better than Neanderthal man, that mouth-breathing degenerate.

(On the other hand, does anyone else feel this "land on asteroid to prepare for Mars" plan is maybe just a positive-sounding cover story for "Operation Move Big Fucking Planet Killer"?)

Chain poem in The Globe & Mail

Six poets, ten lines each, and the theme of "Spring," but without the use of "Spring" words (blossom, flowers, etc.). And they couldn't know who else was participating.

The phrase "herding cats" came to mind when I first thought of doing this, but it turned out to be fairly easy to throw together, thanks to the six very generous poets who agreed to pitch in.

Read it here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Compare and contrast: inhuman visions edition


(Watch the whole thing. Seriously.)

With this:

I was going to say that the Thing clip was not for the squeamish, but really, both clips are a little stomach-turning at times.

Monday, April 12, 2010

One more Fahey farewell

I posted this tune before, and got a grateful message about it from the person for whom I am posting it again today.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Time is not on my side

I have been offline moving house, twisting my ankle (and the night away), catching up on overdue freelance work, and suchlike.

I did, however, take the time to answer a couple of questions for Open Book.

(I dare you to read my answers and not feel the urge to punch me in the face. I couldn't.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Top o' the mornin'

Happy St Pat's, everyone. Speaking of which, I'm always a little surprised to see people wearing "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" buttons. Don't the Irish spread disease? Is that still true?

Anyway, I am of English descent (with a little Welsh, I think, to keep me humble), so I will be watching the day's festivities from the windows of the ancestral manse. I do so enjoy all the charming dancing, singing, drinking, fighting, and fornicating.

In honour of this day, I offer you my favourite Irish drinking song:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"The nature of this evil is arrogance"

I got a message in my work e-mail inbox with the above subject line, and my immediate thought was, "What have I done to piss people off now?"

Instead, it was part of a pitch from a publicist. Which just shows, I think, how much better and more valuable I am than anyone else. N'est-ce pas?

Monday, March 15, 2010

February by Lisa Moore

My review of Lisa Moore's novel February is in the new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries.

A taste:

“Without the reflection of characters scarred by traumatic events, such as war, depression, natural disasters and genocide, to name a few, Canadian literature would lose its essence, not to mention its most celebrated authors.”

That is one of the more harsh and sweeping (not to mention deadly funny and sadly accurate) condemnations of the current state of Canadian fiction I have come across in a while. It is not a Canadian invention, nor do we have any particular monopoly over it, but it does often seem that the Sensitive Person Remembers Bad Things novel is one of our literature’s specialties. As a literary culture, we are the Good Grandchildren, the ones who come to visit, bring treats, and sit patiently through stories of past hardships.

Unfortunately, the assertion quoted above was meant as a compliment....
Read it all here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nuts in March

It's sunny and warm out. When you get to my age, you learn appreciate the small things.

Everyone sing!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Life can really circumstance you up sometimes

In his review of Roman Polanksi's new thriller, The Ghost Writer, Peter Howell refers to the diminutive director as "a prisoner of circumstance."

Which is, I guess, perfectly accurate, as long as by "circumstance" you mean "knowingly drugging and raping an underage girl in Jack Nicholson's hot tub."

(As for the movie, if it manages to work around the indisputable fact that Ewan McGregor is to good acting what I am to a lush mane of hair - that is, a complete stranger - it may actually be okayish.)

A big asshole at Dufferin Mall

There's always more than a few there, to be honest, but this time it's giant and inflatable.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Dead on survival

From the Toronto Star:
Just before dawn on Thursday morning, Richard Code disappeared into the darkness and lit out for the Ontario wilderness, bringing little more than a few supplies and the skills he had learned from watching Survivorman, a reality show about subsisting in the bush.

The 41-year-old left behind a note, asking his landlady to call police if he failed to return by Sunday night. On Monday, she reported him missing and on Wednesday afternoon, Code’s body was found in a marshy, snowed-in area just north of Huntsville.
I have nothing much to add to this, other than that crass headline, and the fact that I've been a Survivorman fan for years (and have recently inducted my poor kids), and have never felt the urge to imitate the man - perhaps because pretty much the most exciting thing that ever happens in the show is that Les Stroud occasionally gets the runs from creek water. (Still, that's part of its charm.)

Here is my review of Stroud's book, Survive! Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere – Alive.

(It is a testament to my fanhood that I did this review pro bono.)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ebert talks

Roger Ebert can no longer talk or eat, the very two things most people would imagine were previously his most frequent activities. (Yes, I just made an oblique fat joke about a man who lost most of his jaw to cancer... My apologies: it's a reflex.)

But there is hope - for the talking, at least:

A company called CereProc has taken voice samples from Ebert's DVD commentaries and created a computerized voice that Ebert can use to "speak." This could even lead to Ebert using the voice for other media, including podcasts, video, and commentaries.

With any luck, they will have grabbed a few choice sentences from here:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

If you lived here you'd be home by now

I am on the move, and giving up a great apartment on the third floor of an nice, old building overlooking High Park.

The rent's not cheap*, but it's all inclusive (with free laundry), the neighbours/landlords are very friendly, and you can literally roll a tennis ball into the park from in front of my place, if that's what you're into.

Anyone interested? (It's available April 1, but can probably had for May 1.)

* for one person, that is. Shared between two people, it is very affordable.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pictures of lily(-white authors)

The Andrew Kaufman launch I onstageinterviewed at the other night had some photos taken thereof.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pleased to meta me

Tonight I'll be interviewing Andrew Kaufman onstage at the Gladstone Hotel for the launch of his second novel, The Waterproof Bible.

To mark the occasion, Torontoist has seen fit to interview me about interviewing (and about second novels).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Down on the Valley

The Globe and Mail, in giving some background on Colonel Russell Williams, the former commander of CFB Trenton who has been charged with the murder of two young women, takes a moment to disparage the area in which I was born and raised:

Born on March 7, 1963, in the Midlands region of England, young Russell was quickly uprooted for a new life in Chalk River, Ont.

The 800-person village, which is home to Canada's premier nuclear research laboratory, was hiring experts - including Russell's father David Williams, a metallurgist.

David and his wife, Nonie, had another son, Harvey.

The marriage soured and they divorced. But in the remote and frigid Upper Ottawa Valley, Ms. Williams found love again, and married Mr. Sovka, in 1970.

Okay, so we aren't the most open-hearted and lively people, but come o-

Oh, they mean the place....

Yeah, it gets pretty cold up there. But hey, my dad worked in Chalk River, too (as did my brother), and I ain't never killed nobody. Yet.

(Coincidentally, I've been reading a lot of Ottawa Valley-set Alice Munro stories lately, and it's not like the place comes off much better there, either.)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

My review of Zadie Smith's new collection of essays in the Toronto Star.

A capful:

Early fame can set very young actors on the road to notoriety and a mug shot-accompanied crack-up. The effect it has on youngish authors is much less dramatic, though similarly destructive. Sudden literary fame turns the essentially internal, intuitive and private act of writing inside out, exposing it to dangerous new strains of self-awareness.

For Zadie Smith, this fame has made for a full decade of second-guessing herself. When critic James Wood used a review of Smith's first, 2000 novel, White Teeth, to rail against what he called "hysterical realism," Smith, who was only 25 when that book was published, replied that the term was "painfully accurate ... for the sort of overblown, manic prose to be found in novels like my own." Even with two more novels under her belt, she still seems to be finding her way back either to the certainty of intent that made White Teeth such an anomaly, or, more likely, to some completely other authorial state of mind in which uncertainty and second-guessing are strengths, not weaknesses...

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger RIP

I hear he was shot by an obsessed former fan who had a copy of Imagine in his pocket...

(Too soon!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Cum" is always house style

Not long ago, while earning a portion of the money I hand over to my landlord each month in rent by proofreading a work of fiction not written by me, I had to double-check the name KITT, the issue being, if I remember correctly, that of proper capitalization.


"Imagine if Janice wasn't being licked out" is a handy mnemonic device for that rule, actually.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why music videos don't need to exist

Maybe this is somehow intended as ironic bad, but in the end it's just bad.

I think I came off as less self-conscious and awkward at my first Grade 7 dance than Ezra Koenig does here. (Though I'm pretty sure I wore my shirt just like that....)

Still, great song. Next time, go with claymation or something.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Joe Fiorito says: "No snitchin'!"

Having occasionally come dangerously close to nodding off at my own desk, I am a little sympathetic to the plight of the TTC ticket booth operator who got snapped in full snooze. Not much, but a little.

Even if I were more sympathetic than I am, however, it would still seem odd that the Star's Joe Fiorito seems to have forgotten he works for a newspaper:

Suppose the kid with the camera had given the picture of the sleeping token taker to the brass at the TTC. The correct response, in that scenario, would have been for the brass to make sure the token taker hadn't had a stroke or a seizure or a bad reaction to his meds.

And then the brass should have thanked the kid with the camera for the picture, told him the matter would be dealt with, and given him a month-long pass, with an apology and the promise that they'd let him know the outcome.

If the picture was offered to the brass and ignored, then that's the story. But maybe it's not the story.

We all know it's not good to sleep on the job, especially if you work in public service.

I'm not defending the guy.

But if there was a crime, we should let the punishment fit it. What's the point of posting a picture where it can, as the kids say, "go viral?"

Have we made the world a better place? Or have we merely indulged in a drive-by shooting?

Yes, what's the point of publicizing a very accurate symbol of the TTC's approach to customer service shortly after a wildly unpopular rate hike? Why reprint a photo that a million people are already talking about online? What's the point of reporting things?

(Oh, and stroke victims and people having bad reactions to medication don't usually push their chairs to the back of their booths, lean back, and clasp their hands comfortably on their belly. Perhaps Fiorito is in the habit of running up and performing CPR on people he sees dozing in hammocks.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Paul Quarrington

Sad news.

I only met Paul a few times, though I did do an onstage thing with him as part of the IFOA in 2008. He seemed like a guy supremely uninterested in maintaining any aura of writerliness about him, which I liked a lot. (The disinterest, not the aura.)

The next time I met him was last fall. We were in an elevator together, on our way up to a self-consciously swanky party being thrown by a publisher (his, to be precise). I introduced myself; he remembered me and asked how I was doing. I said something like, "Fine," and was about to do the obvious thing of asking him the same question, when suddenly, for some stupid reason, I decided this was the exact question I could not ask him. I knew how he was doing, after all: he was dying!

I think I ended up making some comment about how slow the elevator was going...

I feel less bad about being so stupid than about not seeking the guy out later and confessing the whole thing. My guess is he would have got a good laugh out of it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

catl call

I went to see these folks on New Year's Eve at the Dakota, and while there's definitely a bit of a schtick to what they do, it's a pretty good schtick and they don't go overboard with it, and they are a bucket of fun to see live. (Plus, I'm not exactly anti-schtick, by any stretch.)

(One of the better parts of the evening - for my ego, anyway - was being approached before the show by the drummer, Johnny LaRue, who told me he really liked my book - which just shows that blues musicians are, by definition, a little more sympathetic to works that are monotonous and depressing.)

They're doing a CD launch at the Silver Dollar tonight, and play an all-ages show at Sonic Boom on Bloor that I am going to try to drag the kids to. (I may try to get LaRue to repeat his compliment in front of my son, who didn't believe me when I told him...)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

My new motto

"Writing may not be enjoyable, its discontinuance may be worse..." - Temporary Kings, Anthony Powell

This is also partly to explain why there has been so little activity hereabouts.

In the meantime, have some Marianne Faithfull, from the album I am subjecting everyone to who is unfortunate enough to ride in my car:

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Great twitterature

It's funny cuz I read books but don't have a twitter account.

So, har har.*

Speaking of books, that Alice Munro can really write those stories, can't she?**

* ... he laughed, haughtily.

** This is to be understood as a joke on me, for having nothing much to add at the moment, rather than a shot at Munro, who really can write those stories. Am in the middle of Friend of My Youth (the collection, not the story itself - I'm not that bad) and feeling suitably humbled/inspired/mostly humbled