Sunday, May 31, 2009

Toronto is a pot o' gold

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

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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

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

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Show no mercy

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


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

Gimme the old guys with the cigars...

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Another Story, a second wind...

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

There is always more rhetoric to say and do

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

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

A "sable sapphist?"

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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Talking to the hand

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

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

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

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

Apparently not:

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

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

And yes: I am wildlife blogging.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The princess and the pirate

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

Monday, May 04, 2009

Quirk it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quirk quirk film deal quirk!

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

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

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

Quirkiddily quirk, quirk inevitable Sheila Heti reference quirkalicious quirkagoo.

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


[NB: full disclosure.]

Sunday, May 03, 2009

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

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

    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...