Thursday, June 26, 2008
Surely Biblioasis, the small independent press run out of Emeryville, Ontario, is among the bravest entities in Canadian literature. This spring, after all, their list contained not one but two books of critical essays. One would be risk enough. Two is sort of admirably crazy.
Also, for Jailbreaks, the second nice bit of praise it has received this week. The Winnipeg Free Press reviewed it last Saturday, saying it belonged in every school library across the land, but thus far they are the only major paper to give it som much as a millimetre of ink.
Jared had this to say:
But what’s most endeared the press to me this year is Jailbreaks, a collection of ninety-nine Canadian sonnets, edited and annotated by Zachariah Wells. (Just how eclectic and broad is Biblioasis’s scope? This fall it will release Wells and Rachel Lebowitz’s children’s book in verse, Anything but Hank!, which has a really awesome cover.) Wells’s collection makes me happy for a number of reasons, but foremost among them is the eccentric range of names contained within ... What Wells offers is a thematic survey on formalist grounds, a sort of sleight of hand that makes the collection immediately familiar and intelligible but also, as his insightful notes on each poem show, rigorous in its aesthetic evaluations and thoughtful in its attention to details of prosody. As an editor and commentator, Wells is incredibly perceptive and mercifully concise. ... It’s perhaps a fine distinction, but this is a collection for those interested more in poetry by Canadians than Canadian poetry.
The whole post can be found here:
Monday, June 23, 2008
Here's a short excerpt:
poet and critic Zachariah
Wells has edited a collection of
Canadian sonnets that should be in
every school library. Jailbreaks:
99 Canadian Sonnets (Biblioasis,
160 pages, $20) reminds us of our
national involvement in one of
English poetry's most significant
The entire review, which also has a good review of honourary Biblioasis poet Adam Getty's latest, can be found here:
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Here's a short excerpt:
A public intellectual on the cutting edge is lauded in most countries, but in Canada many literary types have not read Henighan or they bristle defensively at the name as though he doesn’t quite know how to behave around the Canlit table. Picture your favourite uncle who comes to Christmas dinner and pokes gentle fun at stuffy family habits.
Friday, June 20, 2008
One of our big books this fall looks like it will be Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell's Idler's Glossary. Think of it as a Devil's dictionary for the idling classes, a volume that is destined to open wounds with Calvinists, Timekeepers, clock-watchers, workaholics, uptightniks and punctiliocrats everywhere. It includes an essay by Mark Kingwell -- Idling Toward Heaven: The Last Defence you will Ever Need -- and Glenn's glossary proper, which gathers and closely examines (and in some cases coins) hundreds of idler-specific terms and phrases. Illustrated by Seth, if you can't tell from this first cover mock up. I love the Bertie Wooster-ish feel of it. Wodehouse would have approved, I think.
Josh has just put his glossary in Wordle, a web-based tool that gives you acloud of key words and phrases: that can be found here:
This will be the perfect volume for all you idlers, loafers, layabouts, shit-heels, losers, dawdlers, amblers, indolents, flaneurs, epicureans, dodgers, spongers and cadgers: the bulk, I expect, of Thirsty readers.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
That Steven Beattie guy just might like us. Two posts in one day. This one an absolutely fabulous interview with Charles Foran around this April's Join the Revolution, Comrade. For which I thank him, again, heartily.
You can find the whole interview at That Shakespeherian Rag, here:
A brief excerpt:
Novelists who do make an attempt to write in a more challenging or idiosyncratic way that might lack mass popular appeal are often castigated for being “elitist,” an epithet that William A. Henry III has suggested “has come to rival if not outstrip ‘racist’ as the foremost catchall pejorative of our times.” How do we counteract the prevailing cultural tendency towards comfortable, staid fictional products and authors?
At this stage, there is likely no escaping charges of elitism. Simply to aspire to write not a “literary’” book or a “real” novel or any such loaded term but to write simply to the tradition, to Cervantes and Sterne, Eliot and Conrad, Virginia Wolf and Keri Hume, is to open yourself up to epithets. As I said before, it seems we don’t really want these books, these writers, any longer. We only accept, begrudgingly, the “difficult” ones that the Nobel committee or, sometimes, the Booker jury, bully onto our media bookshelf. (What a tiny, badly constructed shelf that is, too: can’t hold more than a few titles at any one time, books rated by gaudy covers and sensationalized titles, then still filed upside-down or spines-to-the-wall; all excess releases allowed to topple off the edge and tumble to the ground, there to be not even trampled on; just ignored, until covered in dust, dirt, and returned to the earth.) We no longer have the time or attention span or, possibly, the faith in the form. We’ve moved on.
What to do? Join the Revolution, Comrade, I suppose — or else …
Steven, in part, writes:
At a Luminato reading on Friday, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Rebecca Rosenblum, a Toronto-based short-story writer whose debut collection, Once, which is set for release in September, is already receiving astounding word of mouth. No less a stalwart figure than John Metcalf has commented that Rosenblum “is among the most talented of the writers I’ve worked with in forty years” — quite a compliment considering that this list includes Michael Winter, Caroline Adderson, Terry Griggs, Sharon English, and Russell Smith, among others.
I picked up an ARC of Once at Book Expo Canada over the weekend, which I’ve been dipping into. From my experience there, and having heard the author read her story “Route 99″ on Friday, I expect that this is a collection you’ll be hearing much more about round these parts in the run-up to September.Smart guy, that Beattie.
He also pointed me over to Rebecca's own blog, where she has a wonderful post on the short story and its/her imminent demise. You can find that here:
You'll also be hearing a lot about Rebecca in the lead up to her September launch 'round these parts, so get used to it...
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Russell Smith's pornographic tale of one woman's sexual conquest of an unnamed metropolis a lot like Toronto seems to have struck a chord in Calgary, Alberta, where it is now number 4 on the Herald Bestseller lists, where it sits only behind Elizabeth George, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Salman Rushdie. You can check it out here:
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Katia-the interviewer-cum-reviewer: "I like the book more each time I read it." Which is what I was saying in yesterday's post. This is a book you read more than once. It keeps drawing me back to it (the last time being yesterday, hence the post), if only for the pleasure of dipping in for a few pages. It's as gratifying, as pleasurable, as a back-rub from Janet Jones Gretzky. Not that I've had one of those. Yet. But an impoverished publisher can dream, can't he?
So, please, go out and buy the damned book before Chapters/Indigo sends them all back.
In which I flirt with Lorna
June 14, 2008
By Lorna Jackson
Biblioasis, 93 pages, $16.95
Print Edition - Section Front
Lorna! Oh. Sorry.
- Mouthful of hair, sorry.
- I'm used to the two-cheek Montreal kiss. Leads to accidental making out when I try it with West-Coasters.
- The West Coast doesn't kiss. Flirting's transgression enough.
- Were you trying to be transgressive with this book, a literary incarnation of flirting?
- Not particularly. Just to show ... Just a coffee for me. This is a great old dive.
- Do you have The Macallan? 15? 21? Thanks.
- This was one of only three that got licences after Prohibition, the other two long gone. Vancouver's reinvented itself 14 times since we played here. "I lived in the city when it meant something, before it meant so little." I say that in the book.
- In Flirt, every short story is a mock-interview - with musicians, athletes, writers - cobbled together from real interviews, research, biographies, but each piece crescendos to reveal the interviewer. Like your first collection and your novel, the primacy of character is what drives the story. The tone is similarly edgy, too; you describe breastfeeding as being stabbed with a chainsaw.
- Alice Munro takes exception to the feasibility of that comparison.
- You've always done violence well, the latent violence of how hard it is to live a hard life well. You strike a risky balance between tenderness and honesty. Your writing revs. Mark Jarman summarized it as Hamlet meets Baywatch.
- Mark's a hoot.
- You wouldn't have wanted to flirt with him in this one? Or Hamlet, for that matter? David Hasselhoff?
- Nah. Flirting with Mark, we'd've ended up eloping to Vegas in robot suits or something. Hamlet's too wordy wordy wordy, and as for the Hass, I don't like men with bigger breasts than mine. Anyway, you're here with Lorna the character. Ask me about the interviews. Lorna the writer is home watching the game.
- Right, yes. The writer is not a tube of toothpaste, sayeth Atwood.
- But I toy with that autobiographical distance.
- Lorna-the-writer's last book was about hockey. In Flirt, we see you cruising around with Bobby Orr in his Cadillac, kayaking with your real-life pretend boyfriend Markus Naslund, getting a backrub from Janet Gretzky. What is it about hockey?
- You know, it's the facing opposition, often against the odds, and then someone at last does something. It's not unlike an interview, with a different set of players.
- Constructing the self by confronting the other. And the self is the story? I was concerned initially about the lack of linear plot in Flirt. I was worried too about keeping track of who's saying what. Like in some unattributed dialogue, when you find yourself counting backward to figure out the speaker. But the voices here are clear, just idiosyncratic enough. And the through line is Lorna-the-character's need to tell her stories, the way everybody has stories, plural.
- Yeah. To quote myself quoting Richard Ford, whose answers to the mock interview are lifted from a real interview I did with him.
- But your questions were different?
- The character I construct, her thoughts on writing, art, fatherhood, daughterhood, teenage love and rebellion, all that is elaborated against those real answers, yes.
- What was your favourite mock-terview? The Janet Gretzky is hilarious; she's so self-helpish, repressed. Has abolished the first-person singular pronoun. Says gosh.
- Totally wanted me.
- Totally. And Alice Munro - "Maybe it's flirting you smell, not manure." Your frustration with how she wrote Dance of the Happy Shades while her girls were napping ...
- ... while my daughter wailed, "Come get me, you slut," as soon as I sat down with a pad of paper.
- You have a little crush on Alice Munro. That's probably the most seductive interview, you coyly reminding her of the end of Floating Bridge ...
- Great story; she dances so much so fast, without her "tights getting saggy."
- You seemed sweet on Benjamin Britten, too. By that last piece, the protagonist-cum-interviewer has told her whole story, in subtle bits that emerge organically, if somewhat megalomaniacally, through each conversation: the older sister who died young, the father who ineptly faked his own death, the string of musician boyfriends, the end of alcoholism. What's Britten like?
- Meticulously attentive, even posthumously, waiting for the world to amaze him, wondering what instrument he'll use to mimic the happy hens cavorting roosterless nearby. He held my hands, you know.
- Yeah, I liked that part. It was sincere; the interview rings true, sketches the subject exactly while touching on your own ars poetica.
- So it works, the character of the interviewer?
- Perfect. I like the book more each time I read it. She's a great character, flawed in all the right places, the kind of hard knocks all women would dare to rub up against, and sympathetic because it is hard, but you live it anyway. No self-pity ...
- Gawd no. Suck it up, snarls my Don Cherry-esque alter ego.
- You get the secondary characters, too -- you explain an absent God and do a full portrait of the dead sister in three sentences. A cutlery-coddling husband. Chelios. Thurber the spaniel.
- The story emerges from those details. Storytelling, like interviewing, is about the ability to lead your audience to a different perspective.
- You ask Britten whether "superficial effects are the will of the material, rather than the ego of the artist." Alluding to writing as well as to his Three Divertimenti?
- A writer has to listen to the writing, to the characters, in order to know the story and how to tell it.
- A good listener, in short. Like a musician, like ... You used to be a bassist, right? Good listeners. And bassists are hot.
- Are you flirting with me?
Katia Grubisic bats her eyelashes and drinks reasonable scotch in Montreal. Her first collection of poems, What If Red Ran Out, was published this spring.
Friday, June 13, 2008
I haven't posted enough about this book yet. Available for about two months now, we only got around to launching last weekend in Victoria. There's only been scant coverage thus far -- a rather poor review of it in Q&Q, an article in a Victoria paper -- the Times-Colonist? -- which got many of its facts mixed up. A piece last week or this I have not seen yet in Monday magazine, Victoria's ALt-weekly. There's a Globe review upcoming, and I expect a few others to follow. Not the wide net cast by Lorna's Cold-cocked, but nor did we expect there to be. It's not a hockey book (though several of the pieces deal in some form with the sport), and it's a book which is awfully hard to define. A book which may fall between the cracks.
Which is a damn shame, as it is certainly the most idiosyncratic book of fiction Biblioasis has published, and perhaps the oddest title that will be published in Canada this year. Is it fiction? Okay, then, short fiction? A strangely arranged novel? A collection of linked riffs? Is it, as we've said in the cover bumpf, a long, comic essay on grief?
It's all of these things, and also brilliant. Comic. Beautifully conceived and written. Every time I look at the book I'm drawn into it, abandon myself to its pages for the pure pleasure of them. It has nothing to do with the interview subjects, Ian Tyson, Bobby Orr, Alice Munro, Janet Jones-Gretzky, Michael Ondaatje, Benjamin Britten. Richard Ford. It is entirely the book's finely crafted sensibility, its humour and sadness, its language and the joy Jackson takes in it. The intelligence and compassion and the absolutely bizarre shape this book takes. So give the damn thing a chance, will you?
As it ahppens, we've put Lorna's Richard Ford interview online on the CNQ website, so you can read it here:
Here's an excerpt, which starts with a question from the narrator:
—Do you have anxieties about writing in the first person from the narrative perspective of a guy who has sex with 18 women after his little boy dies, or a guy who thinks Canadians and their sport are boring? Are you afraid friends and family might confuse author and character?
—Is that maturity, or did you never have those anxieties?
—I don’t give a shit.
—And did you never give a shit?
—If I did I made myself quit.—One more question, Richard, then my time’s up. Who’s writing better short stories than you are?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Pulled my own version of There and Back Again last night as I headed up the 401 for the Toronto launch of the Zach Wells edited Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets. As boring as the 401 between Windsor and Toronto may be, one is quite thankful for it at 4 AM. Too tired to do so tonight, but I should be able to post a fair number of photographs tomorrow. It was an excellent event, with some very fine readings.
In the meantime, Nathan Whitlock has posted an interview with Zach about the anthology on Open Book Toronto that can be found here:
And Alex Good has reviewed the anthology in his usual thoughtful fashion on his website, which can be found here:
A brief excerpt:
"It's refreshing to see an editor so engaged with his material. And while there are omissions and inclusions individual readers may disagree with, the result is a collection that successfully showcases remarkable variety within its narrow room."
Speaking of Alex Good, he's getting a lot of attention and praise for his fine, sharp and straight-talking piece Looking Backward, in the current edition of CNQ, seemingly on newstands everywhere. Quillblog, Bookninja, and That Shakespherian Rag, among others, are all atwitter. Though I think Susan Glickman put it best: "Alex Good is great!"
If you are unwilling to part with $7.95, you can read Good's essay for FREE -- a CNQ public service -- here:
Russell Smith's Diana: A Diary in the Second Person, a pornographic novel he published earlier this year with Biblioasis, has finally hit the bestseller lists in that sexiest of all Canadian cities, Calgary, Alberta. If you want proof, you can check here:
Number 9, but, hey, it counts! Notice it's the only book they don't give a one line synopsis of, letting the subtitle do all of the work. I WONDER WHY. Perhaps "A story about a woman's sexual conquest of an unnamed city" was a bit much for the arts section.
Elsewhere, if you haven't read Russell's column on Caroline Adderson and the short story, from yesterday's Globe, please do so. You can find it here:
Caroline is one of my favourite writers, one of the best in the country -- even her two kids books are fabulous. (We've just finished reading I, Bruno in this household for the second time, and look set to start Very Serious Children a 2nd time as well. Both boys are already showing signs of having exceptional taste.) Her latest collection of stories Pleased To Meet You is everything Russell says it is. It's probably not on the shelves too many places these days, as it's been 20 months or so since it was originally released, but you can special order it or get it at amazon.ca. If you love short fiction and have not read her, I envy you the treat of discovery.
We published a profile of Caroline Adderson a couple of issues ago in CNQ. I'll get it up on the web soon.
But back to my original point:
BIBLIOASIS: PUBLISHERS OF BESTSELLING PORNOGRAPHY SINCE LAST WEEK.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Word has reached me from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal that CNQ 73: the Translation Issue, has actually already hit mailboxes, perhaps the fastest turn-around for Canada Post in the history of magazine delivery. It's a packed issue, most of it dealing in some fashion with the issue of translation, and includes work by Mike Barnes, Stephen Henighan, Robyn Sarah, Alberto Manguel, Amanda Jernigan, Goran Simic, Sheila Fischman, Andrew Steeves, Roy MacSkimming, David A. Kent, Barbara Nickel and Alex Good, among others. As an added bonus, there are 14 verse translations of Charles Baudelaire by Richard Outram published here for the first time anywhere, complete with an exceptional introduction by Amanda Jernigan. There's also a photo-essay by Amanda to accompany a suite of photographs by Erin Brubacher. Really, it's the best buy on the newsstands at 7.95, so why don't you head on out, if you don't already subscribe, and pick up a copy. Better yet, subscribe yourself, and help us keep the Canada Council happy.
The website has also been updated for the first time in the last two issues, and I promise to keep it updated (fairly regularly.) I don't have everything up yet, and I'll be trying to make it a touch more visually appealing -- I've been at it since 5 am (7 hours or so now) -- and need a break. But you'll find a few articles from the magazine on there, as well as some web-only exclusives: Shane Neilson on Covering Up, Lorna Jackson Flirting with Richard Ford, and a review of Margaret Somerville by Michael Goodfellow. Additional reviews and articles will be added over the course of this week, and then with charming irregularity thereafter. The website can, of course, be found at www.notesandqueries.ca.
I'd like to draw your attention in particular to two of the pieces on the website, especially if you do not subscribe or intend to buy the print version. Alex Good's take on the 2007 Giller's is blistering, thought-provoking and at least mildly (to put it mildly) controversial. Also take a gander at Mike Barnes's fabulous A Real Spaceship From Across: Thoughts on Translation, which ranges through Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem and does battle with two different translations of Celine. I think these two essays are evidence of why CNQ is one of the best critical journals in the country.
There will be a quick turn-around between this issue and the next, which will hit newstands at the end of July/beginning of August. For issue 74 we have partnered with The New Quarterly to present our joint Salon Des Refuses, a highlighting of the work of 20 of the most important short story writers not included in Jane Urquhart's less-than-magisterial Penguin Anthology of the Canadian Short Story. (These issues will include work by, among others, Douglas glover, Terry Griggs, Mike Barnes, Sharon English, Mark Anthony Jarman, Clark Blaise, Baharti Mukherjee, Steven Heighton, Ray Smith, Russell Smith, Diane Schoemperlen, Noramn Levine, John Metcalf and many others. And then there is our 40th Anniversary/75th Issue, guest-edited by Carmine Starnino .... So, really, what are you waiting for?
(PS: Yes, we know about the typo.)
Sunday, June 08, 2008
David Whitton and Rebecca Rosenblum
(moderated by Lynn Coady)
Friday, June 13, 12:30p.m. Northern District Branch,
40 Orchard View Blvd
Rebecca will have on hand 50 chapbook samplers to give away in anticipation of the publication of her first book, ONCE, set for early September.
Should you wish to take a sneak peak at some of the stories in the collection, in the coming month's you'll be able to find Rebecca in the following magazines and anthologies:
Best Canadian Stories (September)
Coming Attractions (3 stories, September)
CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries ( summer issue, an author profile)
echolocation 8 (a short story)
The Fiddlehead summer fiction issue (a short story)
The Journey Prize Anthology
Maisonneuve (September issue, short story)
New Quarterly (summer issue, 3 stories and an interview)
Rebecca won this past year's Metcalf-Rooke Award, yet more proof that the award can help make good things happen. We'll be posting details about this year's award, hopefully, by week's end, so stay tuned.
Kathleen Winter has won a silver medal at the National Magazine Awards for her story You Can Take One Thing, published in The New Quarterly as part of her Metcalf-Rooke Award profile last year. Steven Heighton topped her for his story the Dead Are More Visible, first published in the Walrus. Congratulations to both of them!
You Can Take One Thing is the opening story in her Metcalf-Rooke winning collection, boYs. It's a fabulous story, about a young girl's emigration from England to Newfoundland. It is Winter at her best: beautifully conceived, with an eye for details and dialogue, charming, quirky, humorous, honest and very moving. It presents me with yet another opportunity to urge you to go out and pick up this collection. It's still in all Chapters and Indigos, the best independents, amazon.ca, or at the press website, where it can be found here:
It has been a very good year for Kathleen. The Metcalf-Rooke Award, the Winterset Award, shortlisted for the Newfoundland-Labrador book award, and now a Silver Medal at the National Magazine Awards. And she deserves it all and more for this fine, fine collection.
Friday, June 06, 2008
For those in Victoria, a reminder: tonight Hernighan will be at the Black Stilt. Let's try for another fabulous event.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Attention all Toronto-area Biblioasis-o-philes. We'll be launching, finally, Zach Wells' fine anthology Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets Wednesday, June 11th at 8 pm at the I.V. Lounge in Toronto (326 Dundas St. W). All of this due to the fine work of Alex Boyd and Colin Carberry. My thanks go out to both.
Confirmed readers are as follows, though I'm still hoping to guilt at least a few more into coming out (you know who you are: Mike Barnes, David Hickey (I'll drive you to and from, same night, Redbulling it late back at 75 k/hr in my less-than-trusty minivan along the 401), Ken Babstock (who, in case you didn't know, is a proud dad now (& he seems to think that is reason enough not to come to this shindig. Imagine.))
Walid Bitar, Colin Carberry, Evie Christie, Eric Cole, Pino Coluccio, E.A. Lacey (read by Fraser Sutherland), Gwendolyn MacEwen (read by Meaghan Strimas), David W. McFadden, Shane Neilson, Stuart Ross, Joshua Trotter, & Zachariah Wells.
Zach is flying in for this event from Vancouver, so come on out and congratulate him on a hell of a fine job with Jailbreaks.
Looking forward to seeing you all there.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
A short excerpt:
The "Report," which is the long essay that makes up the entire first part of this collection, is one of the most engaging and provocative pieces of critical writing I've read in years. And for those who enjoy seeing blood on the floor, well, you might want to go right to the final section and witness the flaying of Globe and Mail reviewer T. F. "Rave" Rigelhof. In the face of such a globe-trotting, erudite onslaught, caveats register like speed bumps. ... But disagreeing with a book like this -- and I disagreed a lot -- is the whole point. For jagged insight and provocative, anti-establishment rhetoric there's probably no other commentator on literary matters in Canada more worth reading. Or so much fun.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
His interview with Henighan, from early last month, can be found here:
On Sunday, Biblioasis authors Lorna Jackson and Patricia Young will be launching their spring titles in Victoria at 7pm at the Fernwood Inn. (1302 Gladstone Avenue). Patricia will be launching Here Comes the Moonbathers, her first collection of poetry in nearly a decade. Lorna will be launching her collection of linked fictions Flirt: The Interviews. Also launching this evening, fellow Victorians Bill Gaston (The Order of Good Cheer (Anansi)), Dede Crane (The Cult of Quick Repair (Coteau)), and Steve Galloway (The Cellist of Sarajevo (Knopf)). Quite a literary line up, so please come out if you are in the area this Sunday.
Monday, June 02, 2008
There was an article last week in the Newfoundland Independent about Kathleen Winter I've been meaning to post to for more than a week. It can be found here:
Kathleen was rather quietly shortlisted for another east coast prize, the Newfoundland-Labrador Book Award, won last week by Bernice Morgan. The judges had this to say of Kathleen's collection, boYs:
Kathleen Winters' BoYs is a debut collection of short fiction that thrives on its own unconventionality. Using whatever methods she can to defeat expectations (an elastic time-sense, odd details that constantly loom into the frame, interior monologues constructed out of the loose ends of dangling, half-spoken feelings) Winters rewards readers with deeply felt tales—funny, startling, often dark—about the relationships between men and women. Both spare and speeded-up, these stories have the energetic subtlety, kinetic quickness and emotional honesty of an original voice.
If you haven't yet picked up a copy of Kathleen's collection, let me urge you once more to do so. It's a splendid book, and her voice, as the judges' commented, is original. If you're a writer intending to submit to this year's Metcalf-Rooke Award -- which we'll be officially announcing the start of in the next few days -- it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up one of the books by a previous winner: Kathleen's boYs, or Patricia Young's Airstream. It'll give you a sense of where the bar is at.