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