Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Blogging Biblioasis Book Launches (a Rebecca post)

Monday was the Toronto launch of Terry Griggs's Thought You Were Dead, at McNally Robinson's. Though I sadly had to miss it, August Bourre's write-up of the evening gives a good sense of it.

Last night (Tuesday, for those falling behind) was the launch Toronto of Cynthia Flood's The English Stories at Ben McNally Books (no relation). This one I actually made it to, and though most of my pictures turned out bizarrely terrible (everyone was smeared with orange, as though on fire) here are a couple of Cynthia reading, which I think convey both her poise and animation, and the sheer loveliness that is that bookstore:

It really was a charming evening, with a good size crowd, cake and coffee and conversation, and of course a wonderful 20 or so minutes of reading. There was also a warm and lively Q&A at the end--everyone asked astute things (even me, I think and I never ask questions at Q&As) and Cynthia answered beautifully. When my posse left, the informal talk-and-sign-books-and-eat-cake portion of the event was still going strong.

The evening began with me giving an introduction to Cynthia and her book, largely provided by Dan but somewhat annotated by me. In case you couldn't be there and wondered just what *The English Stories* is all about, below is more or less the text of that intro, minus the stumbles over hard hard words like "collections." I'll leave Dan's words alone and put my own in square brackets, so that no one confuses intentionality (I pointed out where I deviated from the text at the event, too!) Also, Dan probably would not have chosen to speak publicly wearing an orange sweater with a bow on it.

The book that we’ve gathered here tonight to celebrate is a very special one. As a publisher and as a reader, Cynthia Flood’s work constitutes one of my greatest and most joy-filled discoveries. My Father Took a Cake to France and The Animals in their Elements are exquisite collections; and her new book, The English Stories, almost miraculously, improves upon these earlier efforts. It rates as one of the best books I think we’ve done here at Biblioasis, and it is a quiet marvel of a book. Through individual, linked stories, Cynthia has managed to create a fully realized, almost novelistic world. [I would add for myself that this is the miraculous part: the varied ways Cynthia provides for us to see into this world. Through a child's eyes, an old woman's, a male teachers. Also, the variety of narrative forms these view take: a simple narrative description of a day in the country as seen my that child, the working of a crossword puzzle, a history of Irish struggles in England.

Cynthia and I share an editor in John Metcalf, and he once put the question to me, "Well, do you want to be clever, or do you want to be profound?" In this collection, Cynthia Flood has leapt over this dilemma. While many of the structures mentioned above do *sound* clever--who wouldn't like to see how a crossword-based story could work?--once you read them, you see that these aren't constructs imposed on the stories from without, but organic to the characters and genuinely the best and only way the stories could have been told. In Cynthia Flood's hand, something clever becomes something genuinely profound.]

The collection ranks, in my mind, right up there with Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women. It’s a collection to be very proud of, and I feel quite honoured to have it on my list. Though The English Stories is a quiet marvel of a book, this does not mean that we need to be quiet about it. Everyone here tonight needs to make a pact, with blood, if necessary – such pacts play a role in the collection – to let anyone who might be interested in Cynthia’s book know about it. Please: help me spread the word. If the literary gods are just – they have a tendency to be a rather fickle lot – Cynthia’s English Stories will turn up on several prize lists come September. It is that kind of book, and she is that kind of writer. Perhaps if we raise our voices both loud and long enough, those literary Gods might take note. And isn’t it really about time?

Congratulations to Cynthia on the publication of a wonderful, wonderful book. I wish I could be at Ben McNally's myself this night, but have been on the road for the last two weeks, and won't be getting back until tomorrow night. But I wish to thank everyone who came out to Ben's place this evening to kick off Cynthia's Ontario tour, and for helping to make this night such a success. [From me, too! Please welcome Cynthia Flood.]


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