Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dirty sheets

Though some of Jon Haddock's stuff – like the most recent "Cartoon Violence" series – indulges in a little too much hipster sangfroid for me, his ISP series (porn with the people photoshopped out) is something I've thought about – and brought up in semi-drunken conversations as a perfect illustration of this or that – probably more than is healthy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Talking 'bout the Giller with Mr Good

I'm part of an online panel over at Good Reports discussing this year's Giller Prize.

Sadly, I will not be attending the big gala next week, so I can pretend to have some integrity about such things for at least one more year. (And possibly many more to come!)

[UPDATE: I've been told that the page can't be read in Firefox, only in Internet Explorer. One option for Firefoxians is to Select All and read it highlighted, or cut and paste the thing into a WORD document. The text is there, it's just hidden.]

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Friday night was the party to celebrate it being ten years since Anne McDermid first hung out her shingle in this country. Despite the venue, with its "let's play at being an exclusive club" vibe, the night was full of warm feelings, helped along by the generously open bar.

Anne, ever the agent, even took a moment to blow some ego-inflating smoke up the ass of one of her nickle-and-dime clients.

I don't believe a word of it, Anne, but I thank you nonetheless. And congratulations.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Penguin Porn

Many thanks to the unnamed employees of Penguin Canada who allowed me to walk out of their party with Phil Baines’s Penguin By Design: A Cover Story 1935–2005 under my arm.

It is easy to go all fetishistic over covers from Penguin’s classic years, but looking through the book, I’m still baffled as to why more North American publishers and book designers do not follow the clarity-plus-cleverness standard set by some of Penguin’s more famous designs and series. Non-fiction fares a little better, but with literary fiction, there still seems to be a default setting called “averted gaze in sepia.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Who likes short shorts?

Wired has a thing up where writers and celebrities are asked to write six-word stories.

Margaret Atwood's contribution: "Longed for him. Got him. Shit." Which is especially interesting when one considers a contribution from her husband, Graeme Gibson: "Thought I was right. I wasn't."

[mimes cracking a whip]

By the way, no one mentions "veni, vidi, vice" – an epic in three words, with room left for a sequel. (Ba-da-boom! Thanks folks, please tip your waitress....)

The saddest short-short story, one I actually think about a lot, is from Chekhov's Notebooks: "Instead of sheets – dirty tablecloths."

I like this one from the Notebooks, too (if "like" can be taken to mean "makes me squirm with horror ," which is my usual definition of the word): "The ice cream is made of milk in which, as it were, the patients bathed."

There's also this, which maybe hits a little too close to home: "A writer of no talent, who has been writing for a long time, with his air of importance reminds one of a high priest."

Ha ha ha, that's so, hmm... fuck off.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Beyond the reach of satire

from CNN.com:
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (AP) -- A candidate for state superintendent of schools said Thursday he wants thick used textbooks placed under every student's desk so they can use them for self-defense during school shootings.

"People might think it's kind of weird, crazy," said Republican Bill Crozier of Union City, Oklahoma, a teacher and former Air Force security officer. "It is a practical thing; it's something you can do. It might be a way to deflect those bullets until police go there."

Crozier and a group of aides produced a 10-minute video Tuesday in which they shoot math, language and telephone books with a variety of weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle and a 9mm pistol. The rifle bullet penetrated two books, including a calculus textbook, but the pistol bullet was stopped by a single book[....]

Thoughts from the IFOA

Eden Robinson has the loudest and most easily triggered laugh in all of Canadian literature. She'd make an excellent audience member at the live taping of a comedy show – with her in the front row, even the Air Farce would sound as though it were going over like gangbusters.

If you haven't already read Robinson's excellent first book, Traplines, please do so. And then read Blood Sports, a novel-length sequel to one of the stories from Traplines.

For the curious, you can read my review of Blood Sports here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The boards and the borders

At my work, I still get all of the email intended for my predecessor. The most frequent emails I get are updates from the Centaur Theatre in Toronto and from The Minuteman Project, those jolly border-watchers from down south.

It’s an odd juxtaposition, but it gels perfectly with my own perception of James as a theatre-loving xenophobe.

I kid, I kid....

Two ways to take a joke

Like old money:
For a certain kind of person, satire is just another little party thrown in your honour – Henry Alford

or like new:
New York is all about publicity, and everything that isn't puffery is looked at as assassination. – Walter Kirn

[both quotes are taken from SPY: The Funny Years, by Kurt Anderson, Graydon Carter, and George Kalogerakis]

Friday, October 20, 2006

And meeting Trudeau got Lennon shot

from The Calgary Sun:
Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn says he and Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams helped take the shine off [McCartney's] romance with Heather Mills.

He pointed to McCartney's appearance last spring on the Larry King Live Show.

Hearn said McCartney appeared to appreciate the points Williams made, while his wife -- a vocal animal-rights activist – was "not so gracious."

We Canadians, as a people, are geniuses in the art of embarrassing the fuck out of ourselves.

Bravo. Bra-fucking-vo.

"We're actors, not figments of your imagination!"

Terry Gilliam’s Tideland is getting some fairly harsh reviews so far, blasting it as a series of self-conciously “weird” visual images anchored in very little narrative. It’s hard to tell if the critics are right, based on the movie’s trailer, which is a series of self-conciously “weird” visual images anchored in very little narrative. But that may end up being a very, very good thing.

I haven’t really expected much of Gilliam lately. Twelve Monkeys was fun to watch, but was far from the subversive mainstream mind-fuck it is occasionally hailed as. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was like two interesting movies playing simultaneously – one a clever and breezy goof on Hunter S. Thompson by Johnny Depp, the other a volcanic lesson in real character acting by Benecio Del Toro. Plus Gilliam never set a consistent visual tone, which is strange for a former animator known for the look of his movies. Aside from the inevitable freaky-deaky, psycho-fornia set pieces, a lot of the incidental scenes seemed shot by an assistant director on loan from some hack Toronto-shot SF series.

The Brothers Grimm was one of those works that contain all of the most obvious things you liked about an artist, but seems to use them only in a desperate attempt to distract from a hollow core. The kind of thing that makes you start wondering if the earlier works you loved so much were all that good to begin with. This is known as a “Rushdie.” Or maybe a "Costello.”

And yet, I'll probably go see Tideland. If it's a mess, it'll be an interesting one.

CSIS to Muslims: Use Telepathy!

Matthew Behrens of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials, part of the work done by Homes Not Bombs, writes a letter to The Toronto Star concerning the recent decision not to deport Mahmoud Jaballah to Egypt. Jaballah is one of the men Behrens and many others (including Alexandre Trudeau and James Loney) are working to either free or be made subject to a fair and open trial.

Matthew's letter, in its entirety (or read it here, while the link is active):
Allow him to stay here , Oct. 19.

I welcome the decision not to deport Mahmoud Jaballah to torture in Egypt, but it's unfair to declare he should eventually be removed from Canada. I have known Jaballah and his family for more than five years and he does not in any way resemble the scary individual outlined in bare-bones CSIS allegations.

The Federal Court upheld a security certificate against Jaballah largely based on secret "evidence" that neither Jaballah nor his lawyers can see or cross-examine. There is no appeal of the decision, and no charge is ever laid.

The standards of "proof" are the lowest of any court in Canada ("reasonable grounds to believe" certain things may be true) and the legislation specifically states that anything not normally admissable in a court of law can be entered in one of these proceedings. In other words, we are no longer in a court of law.

And so it was that straight-faced government lawyers recently named Jaballah a "communications relay expert" because he wasted no time in getting a phone hooked up in his first apartment, borrowed a cellphone to stay in touch with his pregnant wife, "procured" a fax machine and surfed the Internet. If that's the basis for suspicion, Canada's 600,000-plus Muslims should, in an abundance of caution, revert to smoke signals or train in telepathy to stay in touch with family and friends.

This is the same Jaballah who was found to be credible and had a prior certificate against him thrown out in 1999. Two years later, he was re-arrested and CSIS admitted in the open portion of the secret hearing that it had no new evidence against him, only a "new interpretation" of old evidence that was previously dismissed.

If the allegations against Jaballah had any factual basis, why hasn't he been sought by the U.S. or Britain to face charges? The U.S. is not shy about rounding up people, even if the case against them is weak.

Most frightening, in light of the Maher Arar inquiry, is the heavy reliance in these cases on Canadian "intelligence" agents who have little or no training and base their cases on recycled newspaper articles. As the Star reported during Jaballah's recent bail hearing, a high-level CSIS official was "too busy" to read the 9/11 Commission report on intelligence failures, including those sections that dealt with Canada. The officer also refused to confirm that torture takes place in Syria and Egypt, even after the finding that such horrid acts are systematic by Justice Dennis O'Connor of the Arar Inquiry.

Until we return to court-of-law standards with respect to any "national security'' allegations, it is grossly unfair for the Toronto Star to draw such drastic conclusions about Jaballah or anyone else subject to this medieval process.

Matthew Behrens, Toronto

Read more here.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Aragorn Doctrine

from Salon:

In an interview with the editorial board of the Bucks County Courier Times, embattled Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has equated the war in Iraq with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. According to the paper, Santorum said that the United States has avoided terrorist attacks at home over the past five years because the "Eye of Mordor" has been focused on Iraq instead.

"As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else," Santorum said. "It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States."

That's at least a little more imaginative than the "Practice Makes Perfect" Doctrine offered by Christopher Hitchens:
How are we going to learn – how are we going to learn how to fight these people in rogue states and failed states if we don‘t – which are bad conditions, if we don‘t try?

Hmm, that's pretty bad, but you're up against Mordor here, Mr Hitchens – can you try for something a little stupider?
If we‘re going to pay—if we‘re going to pay for this huge military establishment, then I think...

Ah, the "Use It or Lose It" Doctrine. Close enough.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Cute One

from The Star:
Allegations made in leaked divorce court documents that Sir Paul McCartney abused his now estranged wife are untrue, says the former Beatle.
In the document, Heather Mills McCartney alleges that Sir Paul attacked her four times. During one incident, she alleges that McCartney poured a bottle of wine on her head during an argument, then threw the wine still left in his glass into her face, broke her glass and stabbed her in the arm with the broken stem. She also alleges that on separate occasions McCartney shoved her, sending her flying over a coffee table, grabbed her around the throat and pushed her into a bath while she was pregnant.

She also alleges that McCartney drank heavily and used illegal drugs, despite promises to curb the habit, that he called her an “ungrateful bitch,” prevented her from breastfeeding, saying “They are my breasts,” and made her cancel a crucial operation because it got in the way of his vacation

You'd think that people
Would have had enough
Of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn't so
Some people wanna fill the world
With silly love songs
And what's wrong with that?
I'd like to know
'cause here I go again
I love you, I love you

¡Aye Carumba!

Brad R. at Sadly No! says "Wow" – to which I can only add... Wow.

Just watch it.

[I especially like the white father who tries to get his eight-year-old daughter a job, only to be disapointed by the Bi-Lingual Only! sign]

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Globe's ALT snark

Gary C. has discovered something very odd about the ALT tags – "a piece of optional code that is attached to an image, providing a textual description of the photo or graphic" – accompanying a piece about a Paris fashion show on the Globe and Mail's website.
It seems that a Globe web programmer decided to do a bit of editorializing in these seemingly invisible ALT tags. Hidden in the source code of a Chanel photo (pictured) is the comment, "Is getting your sweatshirt stuck halfway over your head the new look? Because I can totally pull that one off."

Other photos include text such as "Fashion models know all too well the pain of the wedgie" and "Apparently, throwing on your husband/father's white shirt is now high fashion." One image that shows a model's nipple is accompanied with the text, "Is it chilly in here, or is it just me?"

Read the whole thing here.

Call the tech guy – the Reviewtron 3000 is on the fritz again...

Can somebody please explain what this means? (From Michelle Berry's review of Adam Lewis Schroeder's new novel in the past Saturday's Globe):
Harry is funny and mean and intelligent and dumb and tender. In 1942, he is a strong-willed sailor with a deep love of jazz, then, in the camps, he is light-headed from hunger and has lost his eyesight from beriberi.

So, he's not only intelligent and dumb, but funny, mean, tender, strong-willed, jazz-loving, light-headed, and blind as well?

Or this?:

Harry's 1995 travels in Thailand, at the end of the book, take on a surreal feel as he stumbles through his past and confronts people he didn't know existed. This is a scattered first-person narrative that is brilliantly written. With dry wit and intense emotional longing, Harry moves the reader around his world, his past, the war and what happened to men and women back then. Memory comes in fragments. Even if it is linear and presented chronologically, memory scatters and moves around with emotion.

Memory moves around with emotion, in scattered fragments that are linear and chronological?

Cornball Leafs

In Saturday's Toronto-Calgary game, Darcy Tucker, usually to be counted on to go bug-eyed and fighty at a dishonourable check or a bad penalty call, seemed unusually sanguine about being called for hooking in the last ten seconds of the game, putting the Leafs on the penalty kill going into overtime.

The penalty was questionable at best, so where was the Pacino-esque scenery-chewing?

Of course, less than a minute later Mats Sundin netted his 500th career goal. Unassisted. From about thirty feet out. And it was the game winner. In overtime. Short handed.

I made a joke afterwards that Tucker took the penalty well because he knew the fix was in – he heard the swelling strings, and could see that his team was about to pull off one of those ultra-cornball moments of melodrama, where, the odds stacked against them, the true-hearted Buds pull off a miracle with the help of grit, determination, and – yes – just a little luck.

Ha ha, right?

Then I read this, in today's Toronto Star (scroll down):

TUCKER PSYCHIC? Darcy Tucker had an odd sense of peace when he was sent off the ice for hooking with just eight seconds remaining in Saturday's game, even though the game was tied 4-4 and appeared headed for overtime.

"I had a funny feeling when I was in the box that something good was going to happen. I don't know, maybe you get calmer as you get older, but I was pretty calm in there. I just had this feeling that something good was about to happen," he said.

That something good was Mats Sundin scoring the winning goal, shorthanded in OT.
[Emphasis mine.]

Cue the dying child: "Score me a – kaff, kaff – overtime winner tonight, please, Mr Sundin..."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Frazier has left the building

It's not like I was likely to read Charles Frazier's new book, Thirteen Moonshistorical fiction not being my thing – but now that I've read Stephen Metcalf's review at Slate.com, I may start crossing the street when I see someone carrying it:
Sacred water, huckleberry juice, wolf teats—Thirteen Moons, you may have guessed, is a catalog of faux naive Americana. Much of the book is written in a "ye olde" diction: People go "a-roving," and get "a-plenty of oats," and "travel retrograde to [their] anger," whatever that means. It's a yokely-dokely pastiche, of Faulkner (by way of Toni Morrison) and of the King James Bible (by way of Jack Handy), and it is to the actual American idiom, past or present, roughly what the Rainforest Café is to the Amazon basin. The aim is as follows: to indict the modern way of life, in tones of noble pathos, and at precisely zero cost to the modern reader's self-esteem. Great care is taken to ensure that huckleberry juice goes down nicely with that mochachino you're enjoying. Consider Frazier's talents for flattering multiple constituencies. Even as he extols the simple piety of the unlettered heart—a reverence for Native American illiteracy is announced no less than three times in the first 60 pages—the author winks maniacally to his old English-major friends, giving Will a horse named Waverly and throwing in showy namechecks, from Horace to Rousseau to Byron.

Many books are manipulative, of course, and a great many are trash, and a very sorry many of these become best sellers. And yet only a precious few reach the level of bad faith attained by Thirteen Moons.

It just gets better, pointing out something that routinely dooms these kinds of books:
The intuition that capitalism has robbed human beings of something essential has been a staple of art and thought since the advent of modern life, and it has been measured by writers as different in purpose and temperament as William Cobbett and T.S. Eliot. But what they never suggested was that hidden beneath the old rural folkways, the old courtesies, and the observances of traditional belief, lay all the liberties of interpersonal freedom. Strip them of their old-style hats and stilted speech, Frazier would have us believe, and our forefathers and mothers (the good ones, at least) were just like us: free, spontaneous individuals, life-affirming figures straight off a highway cigarette billboard. That the pose of sexy spontaneity Will and Claire enjoy with each other, it could be argued, is itself a product of modern life—of the factory and the wage system, of national markets and advertising, of the appurtenances, dreadful and otherwise, that swept away the quasi-aristocracy of the Old South—well, this never seems to perturb Frazier. The ahistorical conscience gets quite the workout in Thirteen Moons.

Ah! it is made bright, it is wrapped up for the slaughter.
- Ezekiel, 21:15

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Amis fils

My god, Martin Amis is a self-righteous, hypocritical, intellectually lazy prick*:
"When I come back to Britain I see a pretty good multicultural society.... The only element that is not fitting in is Islam. Who else isn't fitting in?"

Aside from the fact that Islam is a religion, and therefore not a “who” (we call them “Muslims,” Mart), I’m pretty sure you could, were you to scour the English countryside, find a few other groups who don’t “fit in.”

I also liked this:
[Amis] also admitted having experienced a moment of "sanitary racism" on a recent long-haul flight.

"It was quite unsettling," he said. "I was sitting on an aeroplane with 349 Chinese, and it's really quite disturbing the way it comes round. You see them getting up or going to the toilet and you catch yourself thinking 'there goes another one'."

Chinese? Chinese?

Sounds an awful lot like Amis’s father, Kingsley, describing for his scandalized son how it feels to be a “mild” anti-Semite:
"Well, when I'm watching the credits roll at the end of a TV program, I say to myself: 'Oh, there's another one.'"

Except that where Kingsley’s admission is honest, sad, and human, Martin inadvertantly reveals – as if the evidence of his recent novels was not enough – just how little he knows his own mind, never mind his grasp on human nature in general. This is why I never trust writers like Amis – self-consciously modern and rational and sensitized – when they write about racism or sexism or classism: they believe themselves to have evolved beyond what are basic, if unpleasant, human responses. When these responses inevitably become more insistent (it's called getting old), writers like Amis assume they must be new, and therefore somehow more legitimate and noteworthy than the boorish opinions of their elders. A writer like Kingsley knew he was a pig – born and bred – and never fooled himself into thinking his own sexism and racism was somehow different from or more nuanced than that of his father or his father’s father. Martin, on the other hand, is the type who would write a 3000-word essay for The Guardian because he got an erection at a strip club. ("And yet, her sad, spasmodic gyrations had a curious and unexpected effect on me...")

Also, though Kingsley got fat and old and lazy and gave in to toxic bigotry, he was still able to write a book like The Old Devils. At this rate, Martin will be lucky if he writes another Dead Babies.

In the slave labour camps of the Soviet Union, conjugal visits were a common occurrence. Valiant women would travel vast distances, over weeks and months, in the hope of spending just one night with their lovers in the so-called House of Meetings. Unsurprisingly, the results of these visits were almost invariably tragic.

Martin Amis’s new novel, The House of Meetings, is about one such visit; it is a love story, gothic in timbre and triangular in shape. Two brothers fall in love with the same woman, a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl, in 1946 Moscow, a city poised for pogrom in the gap between war and the death of Stalin. The brothers are arrested, and their fraternal conflict then marinates over the course of a decade in a slave labour camp above the Arctic Circle. The destinies of all three lovers remain unresolved until 1982; but for the sole survivor, the reverberations continue into the next century.

About the only thing in that description that is even mildly interesting is the fact that the book will be “triangular in shape.” When did Amis become a middlebrow Canadian novelist, raiding someone else’s history for thematic padding?

Sad, if not entirely unexpected.

* I freely admit that this description applies to the author of this blog as well. I will also admit there are many, many sentences and paragraphs in Amis's novels that I'd kill to have written – though not so many of the novels themselves.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Jay-Z

Pitchfork says meh, Graham says yeah, but until I actually hear it, I'm going to split the difference with a myeah.

A much as I want Graham's take – "The beat is ridiculous both in the sense of its overwhelming dopeness and the expectations that would seem to be built into it... [Jay's] flow continues to be miles ahead of anyone else working today in the mainstream (and probably the underground...)" – to be right, and as much as one should always mistrust Pitchfork, especially when it comes to hip hop, this sounds all too plausible:
The stubborn Hov-apologist side of my brain wants to inflame lame excuses. It's better than "Change Clothes"! It's not easy to flow over this shit! [...] But, really, we've been waiting two years for this. There's no excuse. "No two alike like a snowflake," he says, obviously not referring to his own lyrical output. With few B.I.G. lines left to plunder, Jay recklessly reverts to his own past. Seasonal updates. Gold bottles. "The king's back!" And, of course, the Jordan obsession, which is getting creepier (and lazier) by the verse.

[UPDATE: Listened to the track a couple of times last night, and I’m going to have to go with Pitchfork for this one. The beat is interesting – maybe a little too interesting: these self-hyping, horn-heavy “events in sound” get tired fast. But the fault really lies with Jay – at his best, the man can ride a beat as if there’s only half the earth’s gravity in the vocal booth, and he clicks here a lot during the verses, but mostly it sounds like he did it all in one take at the end of a long day. The beat just keeps getting away from him.]

Editorial cartoons for the slow row

Allow me an Andy Rooney moment:

An editorial cartoon is a single, easily parsed opinion (more often the conventional wisdom and not that of the cartoonist himself) on a recent event or headline, distilled into cartoon form, agreed? Agreed. By definition, it is fairly easy to work out what the cartoon is saying, yes? One needn't spend a few minutes on, say, a cariacature of George Bush at the wheel of a broken-down car that says "US economy" on the door, or of Stephen Harper handing a big bag marked "$" to fat men in pin-stripe suits, right?

So why, when the Toronto Star reprints editorial cartoons from Quebec papers, which it takes the time to translate into English, does it then take the absurd step of having the cartoonist briefly explain what it was he was trying to put forth in the cartoon?

An example: this past Saturday, the cartoon, by Serge Chapleau of La Press, was titled "Ignatieff Recognizes Quebec as a Nation." In it, a jowly looking Michael Ignatieff is saying, "And if I open this door..." and is about to stick a big key into a little door marked "Constitution." The anthropomorphized doorknob yells back at him: "No! No! No!"

Get it?

Here, I'll describe it again:

A little door marked "Constitution."

Ignatieff: "And if I open this door..."

Doorknob: "No! No! No!"

Apparently this is like string theory for readers of the Star, so Chapleau offers this helpful explanation:
In this cartoon, I tried to show the sentiment in many parts of Quebec that it would be a bad idea for Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff to open the Constitution to enshrine in it Quebec's status as a nation, as he said he would like to do.

What, no explanation for the talking doorknob? Why is Ignatieff's head so abnormally huge and his features grossly exaggerated? Why is speech represented by a little, white cartoon containing actual text? How are these characters able to speak at all when they are, in fact, TWO-DIMENSIONAL REPRESENTATIONS IN INK????

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Here comes the Sun

This morning I bought the Toronto Sun – with my own money – for the first time in my life, entirely on the strength of the cover. I think I walked by it three times before finally conceding defeat and digging out some quarters while giggling like a schoolgirl.

Here's the Sun's wise, informed, and nuanced take on North Korea's nuclear sabre-rattling:

This isn't quite up to the level of their post-9/11 cover, which was just a picture of the exploding WTC and the word "BASTARDS!", but it's close.

I also think it would have worked better to put "SCARIER" in a creepy-looking, italicized typeface, a la Count Floyd.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Snuff puppies

"In Fallujah, dogs survived by eating bodies of insurgents that we killed. You can see why some animals had to be put down. If you are lying there sleeping, you look like a dead person."

- Jay Kopelman, author of From Baghdad With Love (interviewed here)

That cover doesn't really say "Iraq War" to me. I think they should have gone with something more along the lines of this:

Beat down

Craig Davidson launch was much fun. Yes, it was a big publicity stunt, but all four fighters went at it with honour. The card girls were a strange touch, though authentic, I guess. The decision to stick an interview between the fights was a potential mood-killer, but it went by mercifully quick.

Read an account from Torontist.com here.

One of my more notable memories of the evening was sharing a can of beer with Anne McDermid, whom I'd snuck into the media area.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The wet paper bag

Because of tonight's book launch/ boxing match, there has been a lot of talk in the office about fighting – who has done it and who has not.

I'm always shocked to discover how few people I know have even thrown a punch since their childhood. It's similar to the shock I feel when I find out how many people have never worked in a bar or restaurant, something I always assumed was pretty much universal. I'm no brawler, so I always assume the very low number of altercations I've been in since high school should stand as a kind of absolute minimum.

And then I came across this, from Slate's paraphrased excerpts from Bob Woodward's new book about the decision to invade Iraq:
Page 143: In the run-up to the Iraq war, [Colin] Powell notes that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice have never seen combat. "You know," Powell says. "the problem with these guys is they've never been in a bar fight."

Some variation of that quote, with varying degress of literalness, is always running through my mind when I'm at a book event. Boxing match or no, it'll be running through there tonight, too.


Having waited too long to make up my mind whether or not to go, I missed last night's sold out show by Joanna Newsom at the Mod Club. Instead, I watched the first period of a hockey game in which both teams looked hungover, then gave up and tried to do some writing when it seemed sure the whole thing was shuffling toward its completely predictable result.

Dan D. gave me a copy of Newsom's first album last year, and it has been growing on me ever since. Even those members of my household who have a violent allergic reaction to kind of thing she is trying to do – her voice alone makes Cyndi Lauper sound like John Houseman in comparison – will admit it is strangely compelling, and will even allow it to remain playing for more than one song.

There is still a half-minute or so, every time I put it on, where I have to force myself to get over the impression that I am listening to the musical equivalent of a Sheila Heti story.

On the other hand, the fact that her new album will have the fingerprints of Van Dyke Parks, Jim O'Rourke, and Steve Albini on it is reason enough for me to go pick it up. It'll be like the Ocean's 11 of harp-based, faux-naif non-rock.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Reading the tea Leafs

Damien Cox has a column in the Star today about the Leafs chances for going all the way this year. (If you know Cox, or the Leafs for that matter, you know that answer is "not good.")

Cox notes that new head coach Paul Maurice was born in 1967, the year the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup.

I just know there are a few thousand guys in blue-and-white jerseys furiously trying to determine whether this is a sign of hope or a harbinger of doom: "Do I add up all the players' birth dates, or just the ones on the active roster?"

I swear to God, Leafs fans are worse than the son in the mental institution in Nabokov's "Signs and Symbols":

Phenomenal nature shadows him wherever he goes. Clouds in the staring sky transmit to one another, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees. Pebbles or stains or sun flecks form patterns representing in some awful way messages which he must intercept. Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme.

James G. says the Leafs will win tonight 3-2. (But then, he would, wouldn't he?) I predict they don't find their legs until late October or November.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

If Gillers were horses...

I wasn't even close.

Finalists for the 2006 Giller Prize:

* Rawi Hage for his novel De Niro’s Game, published by House of Anansi Press
* Vincent Lam for his short story collection, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, published by Doubleday Canada
* Pascale Quiviger for her novel The Perfect Circle, translation by Sheila Fischman, published by Cormorant Books
* Gaétan Soucy for his novel The Immaculate Conception, translation by Lazer Lederhendler, published by House of Anansi Press
* Carol Windley for her short story collection, Home Schooling, published by Cormorant Books

Four out of five are small press; two books in translation; two short story collections; no big names – why do I get the feeling that this year's Giller jury has just become the equivalent of Kurtz in the eyes of much of the Canadian publishing industry?

"The shortlist. You're looking at the shortlist. Sometimes they go too far. They're the first ones to admit it."

[UPDATE: I just did an interview with CBC-TV about the shortlist – no idea how it will look once they finish editing me into articulacy, but right now I'm thinking I should stick to ham radio and semaphore.]

I may be burning bridges, but I'm teaching the world to singe

In the past month or so, this site has been visited by people from Norway, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia, Thailand, Switzerland, the UK, Ghana, and more, as well as a few hundred each from the US and Canada.

And not one of those visits was the result of a mistake made while googling for porn.

Truly, the yearning for impotent rants against irretrievably minor Canadian celebrities is a universal one.

Smile on your brother.

Monday, October 02, 2006

March of the Penguins

Gary C. sent me a link to this collection of old Penguin and Pelican paperback covers.

This is porn for people who have spent much of their lives in used book stores. I once made instant friends with a guy from Scotland, based entirely on the fact that he was wearing an old-style Penguin logo T-shirt. (Don't read too much into that.)

I still buy those crappy orange Penguin paperbacks – it's worth the darkening paper, the small type, and the psoriatic crumbling of the spine glue just to get a book for less than three dollars.

[The cover above reminds of something Sam Raimi said about the making of Evil Dead: one of their financial backers – probably some local used car-dealer or something – wanted the boys to "make the screen run with blood," so they obliged by having a scene in which they actually threw a bucket of fake blood at the camera's lens.]

The Importance of Being an Asshole

from Alicublog, some thoughts I fully endorse:

... but one is forced to admit that the critic has a point, and if we honestly disagree we must, at least in our own minds, answer it. Sometimes harsh criticism provides shocks that are not just tittilating, but salutary as well: they force the mind to encounter a contradictory point of view (as with, say, Christopher Hitchens on Mother Teresa). There is much to recommend the more patient and polite kind of criticism, but when attitudes have hardened, the discussion can always use a swift kick in the ass.

    A very subtle and funny writer - one I've become obsessed with over the past year - in a decidedly Muriel Spark mood. Imagine The Pr...