Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Couple more

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

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

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

The end is nigh

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

Monday, July 21, 2008

Uptight (Paglia's not alright)

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a cock, Camille, a cock.

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


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

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

Monday, July 14, 2008


A Week of This got reviewed in–

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

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

Friday, July 11, 2008

AWOT in Ottawa Xpress

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

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

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fanboy Chabon

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

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

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

Monday, July 07, 2008

Doing right by Joshua Key

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

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

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

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

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

FYI: my review of Key's book here.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Exactly [UPDATED]

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

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

[Responding to Zach in the comments]:

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

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

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

So it's a stunt, and nothing more.

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

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

Friday, July 04, 2008

Teach them well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    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...