Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unabashedly Canadian

But this time it is a good thing. Mainly because of the other half of the equation: Beautifully Written.

Justin Scherer writes:

Though constantly sought by avid readers, it seldom happens: complete immersion into a novel, getting lost in the pages. It’s the benchmark for good writing. And after a long dry spell of books which, though good, didn’t seduce me into complete suspension of disbelief, I picked up Combat Camera by A.J. Somerset. His beautifully written novel, full of dark humour and utterly compelling characters, took me to that place most readers long for.

At the center of the plot stands Lucas Zane, a once-famous combat photographer who, scarred by most of the major conflicts of the latter twentieth century, returns to Toronto and hides from his hallucinations in his dank apartment. To pay the bills, he takes photos for a low-budget porn company. “After awhile, skin is just skin.” There he meets Melissa, a disillusioned young porn actress who gets beaten to a pulp by her male co-star. In a sudden burst of empathy, Zane takes her under his wing and takes her away from all of it, to Vancouver, where she wants to start over. The plot unfolds during their car trip across the country as the characters confront both each other and the stories they’ve constructed to shield themselves from the past.

The novel is unabashedly Canadian. The most obvious example of this is the well-used plot device of the cathartic trans-Canada journey. But the road trip isn’t forced. It grows organically from the first part of the novel. Toronto’s seedier neighbourhoods, bleak truck stops, and the Vancouver rains also feature prominently in the novel and give a particularly Canadian flavour to the book’s brooding tone. Despite this, the novel avoids the preoccupation with “the land” and the long, indulgent passages of description that burden many other Canadian novels. Although the story takes place in Canada, it’s not just about Canada, and thereby avoids the Canadiana pitfall, where well intentioned musings about national identity degenerate into kitsch.

For the entire review please go here.

Over at the Rover,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Annabel Lyon's Top 10 Books of the Ancient World

Over at the Guardian Annabel Lyon, who is celebrating the British launch of her excellent The Golden Mean, writes on ten historical novels dealing with the ancient world which subvert expectations. Coming in at number two, Grant Buday's Dragonflies.

A prose retelling of the Iliad from Odysseus's point of view. The great strength of Buday's novel isn't in any formal innovation or revisionism. Rather, it's the crispness, humour and beauty of the prose that make this book worth seeking out.

If you have not read it you really should seek it out. You can also see Annabel's other picks here.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Over at the Afterword, the National Post's book blog, A.J. Somerset continues his guest-editor stint with a second post about men, strippers and wish-fulfillment.

About one month into the first draft of Combat Camera, I read a creative writing book which advised, “Middle-aged men always want to write about strippers. Do not do this; you know nothing about that character, and you can’t do her well.”

This disturbed me, because that was exactly what I had set out to do. Lucas Zane, formerly a celebrated war photographer, finds himself in Toronto, shooting low-rent pornography to make ends meet, and possibly to destroy his own reputation. Here he meets Melissa, who plans to make a bunch of money in porn, and then make a fresh start. But clearly this creative writing advice did not apply to me. I was, after all, still a few years shy of middle age. A loophole.

The problem with strippers in stories written by men, middle-aged or otherwise, is simple wish fulfillment. A sexually avid and beautiful young woman, for reasons both inexplicable and unexplained, falls for our (probably autobiographical) older male protagonist; 300 pages of self-indulgent fantasy follow. Everyone comes away from the story feeling slightly soiled, except the fictional stripper, who is insufficiently developed as a character to feel anything at all.

That I wished to avoid this should go without saying.

To read the rest of A.J.'s post, please go here:

Monday, September 27, 2010

A. J. Somerset Hosts the Afterword Blog

Over at the National Post A.J. Somerset has stepped in as Guest Editor for the week. His first post is up, called WHAT DO I KNOW?, and it offers a bit of a history on the genesis of his Metcalf-Rooke Award winning Combat Camera.

I’d like to ground this story in concrete specifics, as good storytelling requires, but I can’t. The story is, consequently, short: some years ago, I knew a guy, a keen, dedicated armoured corps Master Corporal. He had married his high-school sweetheart. They had a baby. A girl, I think. And he went over to Bosnia and then came back and, months later, poured a hot bath and took his clothes off and got in and slashed his wrists. I remember his last name, the name every soldier is known by. I remember his first initial, which goes on every soldier’s paperwork. His wife found the body. And that’s all I know.

I didn’t set out to write a novel about post-traumatic stress disorder. It was March 19th, 2003, American ground forces were punching deep into Iraq, and I sat down to write a nasty and superficial little black comedy about media manipulation. But fiction doesn’t work that way. These things, things that make us angry young men and, later, sadder men, they have a way of creeping in and taking over. And now it is September of 2010, and American soldiers are still in Iraq and Canadian soldiers are still in Afghanistan, and soon they will all pull out and come home, and PTSD is very much the flavour of the week.

For the rest of his post, please go here:

Reminder: Combat Camera Toronto Launch September 28th at the Garrison, 7:30 pm

Just a quick reminder to all Toronto-area Biblioasis-o-philes that the Toronto launch of A.J. Somerset's excellent Metcalf-Rooke Award winning novel Combat Camera will be at the Garrison tomorrow evening. Details below.

Tuesday, September 28 · 7:30pm - 10:00pm
Location The Garrison
1197 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON

Best-selling author Russell Smith will discuss Combat Camera with its Metcalf-Rooke Award-winning author, A.J. Somerset, followed by literary critic James Grainger in conversation with John Metcalf and Leon Rooke.

As Solid as a Punch

Over at the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Mary Jo Anderson weighs in about Light Lifting:

‘I’M OBVIOUSLY thrilled and surprised and almost stupefied that this little book made it through everything to get on the Giller (long) list," said Alexander MacLeod about his debut short story collection Light Lifting.

There is nothing little about this book, except perhaps the small, independent press Biblioasis, which published the book.

Though this is MacLeod’s first book and he is up against some veteran writers for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, including Douglas Coupland and Jane Urquhart, he has been writing for almost as many years as them.

"The first story was completed in 1997 so it took me 13 years to get to this point. I’ve been writing since I was in high school and I published my first story when I was 21 years old, a long, long road to this destination" said Macleod during an email interview.

Miracle Mile, the first story in this superb collection, opens with the conjuring of a moment in history. "This was the day after Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear."

Mikey and his lifelong friend Burner are in limbo waiting for the start of a track meet where they are to compete in the 1,500-metre race. Television stations endlessly air the grisly visuals of Tyson’s "rawest impulse;" the channels "churn it around and around, the same thirty-second clip of the fight. It was like watching the dryer roll clothes."

Before every race, Burner will always "zone out and go way down into himself and stay there perfectly silent for long stretches, staring off to the side"

Mikey accepts Burner’s behaviour: "When you get right down to it, even the craziest ritual and the wildest superstition are based on somebody’s version of real solid logic."

There is a moment mid-stride when a runner has both feet off the ground. In each of the seven stories in this collection, the lives of the main characters are illuminated to reveal those pivotal moments where nothing is solid beneath their feet.

Mid-air can mean either falling or flying — and the stories have characters experiencing both as the action spirals through the past, present and towards implied future.

What is true in this story is true in all the stories — MacLeod’s subtle structuring embodies both the themes and the emotions of the narrative. The oscillating time frames bring us to and away from the threshold again and again. And the worlds in which we are immersed are so concretely and completely realized and so visceral.

For the compete review, please visit here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

National Post Review of Light Lifting

It's been a busy weekend for Light Lifting, with major reviews in the Globe, Post, and Halifax Chronicle Herald -- which I'll link to in another post -- and a profile in the Toronto Star. The last time a first book of short stories has received this kind of immediate coverage was .... I'm not sure when it was.

Jeet Heer in the Post writes:

As a compulsive yet sedentary reader, I found this passage superb, appropriately lean, muscular and punchy. But I’m not even a jogger let alone a sprinter, so I couldn’t vouch for the authenticity of MacLeod’s details about the running life until a Google search took me to a short review in Canadian Running of MacLeod’s story when it had earlier appeared as a chapbook. The runner-reviewer enjoyed the story as much as I did, finding it a chilling portrayal of the hyper-competitive
milieu of mile runners.

Almost all MacLeod’s stories revolve around people being bustlingly active at work or play. His characters swim and play hockey, they lay bricks and they build cars. All these exertions are described with such knife-sharp precision and finesse that your own muscles may start tensing up as you read them.

He is an unexpectedly physical writer; given his background, I would have expected him to be a more bookish writer than he is. His father is the writer Alistair MacLeod, a retired English professor. Alexander teaches literature at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. But unlike other writers ensconced in the Ivory Tower, he has an imaginative reach that extends far beyond the academy.

One of the stories in this book is about a graduate student; most portray blue-collar workers, many of whom live in the Detroit-Windsor automotive belt.

An undertow of anger tugs at more than a few of them, occasionally surfacing into violence. Many of the men have a need to prove themselves, either through barroom bluster or reckless acts of derring-do. In Miracle Mile, the runners aren’t content to compete against each other on tracks, they also play a game of chicken by running through the tunnel beneath the Detroit River, risking being crushed by an oncoming train. In one tense passage, a runner manages to stay only a few seconds ahead of death: “Burner was there charging toward me, the only dark space in front of the light. He had this long line of spit hanging out of his mouth like a dog and the look on his face wasn’t fear but something more like rage.”

What makes Light Lifting an impressive collection is its variety. I thought I had MacLeod nailed as an explorer of gritty masculinity and adrenalin-fuelled anger. But he can also be surpassingly delicate.

Wonder About Parents starts unpromisingly (and unappetizingly) as a tale about a family struggling with lice, but splinters off into an engrossing examination of parental worry and the constant anxiety with which any guardian of children must live.
In Adult Beginner I, MacLeod demonstrates he can write persuasively from a woman’s point of view. A young woman, long fearful of water, learns to swim, a training that parallels her growing personal confidence but also her increasing willingness to embrace danger, if not death.

Read more:

A.J.'s Week in Review

Over at his blog Banjaxed A.J. Somerset writes about his first tour of duty in support of Combat Camera.

Monday: Launched Combat Camera at the London Public Library to an appreciative crowd. Alexander MacLeod also read from Light Lifting, fresh off his Giller nomination. By a strange coincidence, both of our selections referred to acres of Canada Goose droppings. Must be something in the zeitgeist. In the general post-reading excitement, I forgot to pick up a box of books I needed from Biblioasis publisher Dan Wells, with devastating results….

Tuesday: Drove downtown at 2 am to pick up said box of books from Dan, who was still hard at work. Slept one hour, then got up to pack, drive to the airport, and catch a flight to Winnipeg via Toronto for the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. Snoozed briefly on flight.

Spoke to a classroom full of creative writing students at the University of Winnipeg, who to my surprise actually took notes and stuff. I felt like saying, “No, don’t write that down. These are the ramblings of a sleep-deprived hack—do I look like I know anything?” The students asked lots of good questions, questions to which (writing being writing) there is often no single answer.

Stumbled back to hotel room and worked feverishly to find a good excerpt to read on the main stage. After two hours, returned to my original plan, wishing I had slept. Folded my carefully prepared notes into the book and went on down to face the music. Got to the podium and found my carefully prepared notes had somehow changed places with my to-do list. Lesson: plan to wing it, remarks-wise.

For the rest of his week, including information regarding a near death experience, please go here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Toronto Star Feature on Alexander MacLeod

In today's Toronto Star Vit Wagner writes about Alexander MacLeod, Light Lifting, our just completed first leg of promotion, and the Giller.

Author Alexander MacLeod and his publisher Dan Wells tossed a box of books in the trunk of a car last Sunday and struck out from Windsor for the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival.

It was the beginning of a weeklong promotional tour to drum up interest in MacLeod’s debut short story collection, Light Lifting, issued by Wells’ small Windsor-based publishing house Biblioasis.

“It’s a pretty low-tech, pure thing for us,” says MacLeod, prior to the book’s Toronto launch at the Gladstone Hotel earlier this week. “We are just literally driving around with a box of books. That’s our publicity tour. We don’t have any middlemen.”

By Monday morning, the job of getting the word out suddenly and unexpectedly became that much easier when MacLeod learned, via email from a friend in Halifax, that his book was one of 13 that had been longlisted for the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

“I thought he was joking at first. But he included a link in his email,” MacLeod says.

“There were a million things working against something like that happening. We weren’t holding out high hopes. It was a fluke.”

For the rest, please go here.

A Black Rose of Regret....

blooms in Alex MacLeod's Light Lifting. Or so says the Globe & Mail.

Saints, of course, have a tough time staying fresh. They gather scholarly dust and, too easily, an ossified adulation that can do disservice both to the subtleties of their gifts and to the acolytes (or progeny) who write in their footsteps. I’m happy to say that Alexander MacLeod’s debut fiction collection, just long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, fully dodges the behemoth of homage and expectation. This writer swims entirely in his own waters.

Miracle Mile opens in a generic hotel room with best buds Mikey and Burner flat out on their beds watching the sports news. They’re career runners on yet another cross-country track tour, their world narrowed daily to the prep and the race. TV surfing is one way of clearing their minds. “This was the day after Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear.” As a video loop of the carnage plays over and over, Mikey acknowledges, almost celebrates, the bestial sensuality: “Mike moving in for the kill, the way his cheek brushes up almost intimately against Evander’s face just before he breaks all the way through and gives in to his rawest impulse ... and his teeth come grinding down.”

A chummy-rivalrous erotic current underlays the story, from Burner’s open speculations on his hotel bed about wearing underwear, or not, that day, to the light touch of a hand on a back just before a race. MacLeod’s detours into scarier specifics of the track-addict demimonde are fascinating, plunging us into minds and bodies tortured in months of abuse to shave off crucial 10ths of a second. The story veils its deeper structure, building toward bursts of understanding. These guys love each other. They will never say so. And, like Tyson, they fight their rawest impulses and sometimes don’t win.

Wonder About Parents pivots on the prospects of a babe in arms whose fever is judged a little too casually by her parents as they undertake a gruelling Montreal-to-Windsor highway trip on Christmas Eve. The more diversionary pivot is an episodic historical biology (both personal and global) of head lice, with surprise cameos from Aristotle, Henry IV and Vladimir Lenin, among others. Weighty with research, the tale nonetheless rattles along on arresting factoids and sharp set pieces, including a comically horrific diaper change in a crowded rest-stop men’s room (“Got your hands full there, buddy”). Brisk and loose, it cuts the predictable sick-child suspense with a sustained ironic tone and an incisive take on the learning curve of parenting.

For the full review, please go here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Stone Motherfucker of a Book

When we move into a second printing for Light Lifting, we know what we're going to put on the front cover. Forget Robert Wiersma's Pure Literary Transcendence. I prefer his unedited enthusiasm over at Beattie's Shakespherian Rag. "It really is a stone motherfucker of a book. It blew me away."

Over at That Shakespherian Rag Steven offers his own take on Light Lifting:

Sometimes a debut collection appears that’s so assured, so confident, so poised that it’s hard to believe it’s the author’s first time out of the gate. This was true of Rebecca Rosenblum’s 2008 debut, Once, and it also applies to Alexander MacLeod’s newly Giller-longlisted collection Light Lifting. (Like Rosenblum’s book, Light Lifting is published by Biblioasis, a press which seems to have some kind of alchemical formula for discovering talent in the short fiction arena.)
Not that MacLeod’s book appeared fully formed as if out of Zeus’s head. The author published his first story when he was 21 years old. He’s now on the cusp of 40, so the seven stories in his collection have clearly been percolating for quite some time. Such patience and dedication is apparent on every page of MacLeod’s staggering debut, which collects a group of tough-minded urban tales about people at defining moments in their lives – moments that often involve a recourse to violence or harm.
Each story is a small stylistic marvel. “Adult Beginner I” features a potent, vertiginous scene – one of the most visceral in recent memory – of a swimmer attempting a daredevil dive off a hotel roof into the Detroit River. “Wonder About Parents” employs staccato, declarative sentences to trace the trajectory of a relationship through the prism of a head lice infestation at an elementary school. The title story, about the macho dynamics of a bricklaying crew, opens with a scalding description of a sunburn: “You could see it right through his shirt. Like grease coming through waxed paper. Wet and thick like that, sticking to him. Purple.”

Full review here.

And MacLeod bunkmate A.J. Somerset has this to offer over at his Banjaxed.

Alexander MacLeod’s debut collection of short fiction, drawn from 15 years of writing for literary magazines in Canada, tempts you to indulge in the kind of superlatives that might be counterproductive in the age of hype; just how brilliant can it really be? Well, pretty damn brilliant, actually. Among the seven longish stories that make up this collection, there is not a single misstep. This book is that good.
These stories lead in one direction, dart down a side alley, and then return to themselves, without any bad welds or weak seams to give away their construction. “Number Three” erects the Chrysler minivan as a mythic object, while exploring the consequences of a devastating accident; “Adult Beginner I” finds teenaged lifeguards diving into the Detroit River from the roof of the Holiday Inn, as a swimmer goes out of her depth; and “Wonder About Parents” encapsulates, in staccato prose, the strange intimacies of parenthood. “Good Boys,” an apparently simple story about four brothers and the kid across the street, manages to be both funny and moving while avoiding any form of predictability.
Read it. Oh, yes. Read it.

That, pretty much, is his full review. So just visit AJ's blog by chicking over the right. And pick up his Combat Camera as well. It also is a Stone Mutherfucker.

I just like saying that.

Pigeon Wars of Damascus launch this evening at the Dora Keogh

Just a quick reminder to all Thirsty readers that we'll be launching Marius Kociejowski's The Pigeon Wars of Damascus at the Dora Keogh at 6:30 pm this evening (September 23, 2010). The Keogh is a pub at 141 Danforth Avenue in Toronto. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Oran Feature on Light Lifting

Over at the Inverness Oran, John Gillies has written an interesting profile of Alexander MacLeod and Light Lifting.

They say write about what you know, and anyone who knows Alexander MacLeod knows he knows something about running.
Consequently, it’s not surprising that Alexander gets a firm grip on his readers in the opening pages of his story, Miracle Mile, from his long anticipated new short story collection, Light Lifting.
Born in Inverness, Cape Breton and raised in Windsor, Ontario, Alexander MacLeod’s award-winning work has appeared in numerous North American journals – including a selection for the Journey Prize Anthology.
This week the Saint Mary’s University English professor (who is currently on sabbatical to promote his new book) got a welcomed boost when the Scotiabank/Giller prize announced Light Lifting on its 2010 longlist.
The seven stories in this collection have been called “darkly urban and unflinching elegies for a city and community on the brink.” While suspense and the potential for violence are often present in his stories, MacLeod told The Oran last week that when it does appear it represents “a fragility” present in our everyday lives.
In Miracle Mile, two distance runners, one coming into his own, the other coming to the painful realization that he’s already past his prime, wrestle with the idea of what it means to win and lose. Scenes of those runners in their youthful days racing a cargo train through a rat-infested tunnel underneath the Detroit River are hard to forget. The story is not only a meditation on running and civility but seems to ask why we care enough to do the things we do.
“I was interested in exploring the private and public nature of running which sort of parallels the process of writing. The two are more similar than many people might imagine. I was also interested in why people give themselves over to anything. The only thing that can be meaningful is something we care about. Those guys have a very pure relationship and friendship. They really care about running when nobody else does,” said MacLeod.
In Adult Beginner I, a young swimmer who overcomes her fear of water leaps from the roof of over a hotel building into dangers of the unknown waters below.
In Good Kids, an intelligent but unpopular kid from poor and transient family demonstrates a toughness that his older friends cannot even imagine. In Reggie Laroque, MacLeod creates a character who reminds us all so much of those young people, often forgotten, who nevertheless formed such an important part of our childhood.
MacLeod offers an unsentimental and unflinching look at contemporary urban life with an unmistakable honestly that should resonate with his growing number of readers.
While it’s not surprising the Windsor/Detroit area figures prominently in this work, it might be a surprise to some readers that no “Cape Breton” stories are included.
“I made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to leave my Cape Breton stories out of this collection. I have always lived between those two worlds, Cape Breton and Windsor, and I love both places, and they’re both very important to me, but the two kinds of stories didn’t blend very well, and I realized that the whole book would cohere a little better if I made that choice,” he says.
There’s often an element of danger present in many of the stories. There are important choices to make and consequences for those choices.
“We are what we do,” he says.
“I don’t think there’s anything more boring and disappointing than being two paragraphs into a story and being able to guess exactly, exactly, what’s going to happen in the end. I tried to avoid that,” he added.
Regarding influences, MacLeod says his parents “are probably the most influential people in my life” with his father the “biggest, most important literary influence I’ll ever have,” though never in an “overbearing or intrusive way.”
“I try to learn lessons from (many writers) Jarman, Moore, Munro – and from Joyce and Carver and O’Connor and all the other amazing people who have been able to catch a story once in awhile and really make it work.”
The presence of the Windsor/Detroit area also provided MacLeod an opportunity to explore not only a world he’s familiar with but a canvas to create material with from the industrial/rural experience that has always been such a strong presence in his life.
“In Essex County you have the most productive farmlands in Canada just twenty minutes from the most industrialized centre of the country. I find that pretty fascinating. Growing up in both Windsor and Cape Breton made me aware that sometimes what matters so much in one place often doesn’t even register in the other,” he said.
It’s rather fitting that MacLeod will be reading this weekend in both Windsor, Ontario (Friday) and Inverness at the Arts Centre at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. His rural and urban worlds collide again.
“It’s kind of weird but it should be a lot of fun and I’m glad that my family will be able to take part in many of the reading events,” said MacLeod.
Like his father Alistair before him, Alexander MacLeod writes compelling stories that stay with you and that have an impact on you as a reader. They are stories that get into your blood; stories you’ll remember. They are stories that matter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Two Days Down

It's into the wee hours in London, Ontario - pushing 4 am - and it is probably time to call it a night. But I wanted to write a quick post about the two events we've had here this week, before they get lost in the shuffle of what follows. This has been one of the best kickoffs to a Fall season we've ever had, and I mean that in a way that does not include the Giller nomination.

Alexander MacLeod's Light Lifting has been, for me, a long time coming. I remember back when Biblioasis as a press was still barely more than a glimmer, getting a drive from Alex in his beat up Toyota Tercel - a Tercel which makes a cameo in one of the stories -- from the Book Festival I was then organizing. He told me about his plans for this collection, and even though I was not yet even entirely sure I wanted to be a publisher, or the kind of publisher who did trade collections, I knew I wanted to publish this book. And I remember the despair I felt knowing that it would almost certainly never happen. I'd already read what would turn out to be the title story to the collection in Exile magazine, and knew that this book would be something special. Even when, several years later, we'd decided to work together, it took several more years to get to the point we reached this weekend: the evening in a Guelph Hotel I was able to put the book into his hand. One hurdle managed.

And, at that same hotel 30 hours later, we learned that we'd cracked the Giller's thirteen.

The next thing was the reading itself. Alex may be a hell of a writer. But could he read the stuff? Turns out he can. His first reading, not much more than 12 hours after he held his book for the first time, was a bit of a revelation. He had the crowd's entire attention, and the applause which greeted his closing was as spontaneous and genuine as any I heard all day. I have it on video, and will be posting it next week. It'll be worth a listen.

Today, we launched A. J. Somerset's Combat Camera. Though Andrew has had his book in hand a fair bit longer than Alex -- a week or so -- this was also the first time he'd read from his work. But when he read, following another excellent reading by Alex, he proved himself to be equally poised, equally skilled, and seemingly equally comfortable. So much so that a newspaper man in the audience who goes to readings almost weekly commented that he was amazed that two rookie authors were so damned good. An hour and a half of stories and questions and discussion passed as quickly and entertainingly as any I've been part of as a publisher. Then we topped off an excellent evening and one of the more frantic and exhilarating I've had as a publisher with a few beers and exceptional company, including Jean McKay, David Hickey and Melissa Krone from TNQ.

Two hours from now Andrew will be on a plane to Winnipeg to read at Thin Air, twice in one day. And in six to seven hours I'll be driving Alex down the road to Toronto for his This is Not A Reading Series event at the Gladstone. i wish I could be at both, though I take solace from the fact that they'll be sharing a stage in Windsor in a couple of days.

So, please: if you find yourself in the same city with one of these gents over the next month or so, please take a chance and go to see them. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't Let It Get Overlooked

Or so says, Robert Wiersma in the just published Q&Q review of Alexander MacLeod's Light Lifting. I'm glad to report we seem to be off to a good start.

from the review:

Light Lifting is one of those rare debuts: a breathtakingly good collection of short fiction that heralds the arrival of a significant new talent. It’s also the sort of book one worries won’t get the attention it deserves.

The seven stories each encompass a keenly observed, immersive world, and each carries the weight and impact of a novel. They are reminiscent of the work of Alice Munro at her best: rich and deep, merciless and utterly unflinching.

MacLeod’s stories are shorn of sentimentality but drenched in an amorphous yearning, an omnipresent sense of loss and peril that seeps into even the happiest moments. ... Light Lifting is a brilliant collection without a weak link. Steeped in the guts and sadness of life, it provides moments of pure literary transcendence.

But all of that is just the pull-quotes. Read the full review here.

Light Lifting Longlisted for a Giller!

Not enough time to post about how excited we are, as I'm already late for London, but wanted to post here to say the Alexander MacLeod's Light Lifting, which we launched yesterday in fine style in Eden Mills, has been longlisted for a Giller Prize. This is a first for the press, and something we are quite obviously happy about. More anon, but for now off to London!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fall Events: An Incomplete List

Despite the fact that by the time tomorrow ends this will likely be a 100 hour week (another sure sign fall is now here), I've not found time to update Thirsty much this week. There's been event promo and practicalities, editing and digging up photos for our history of the Windsor Spitfires (which led me to the basement of a NHL Hall of Fame defencemen with seven Stanley Cups (including 4 with Detroit and one with the Leafs the last time they won: but more on that later)), Eden Mills prep, grant-related prep, and a range of odds and sods to keep us busy.

But the next week is quite busy with events and launches, and though I've been posting these on the new website (sadly already out of date, and will be until next week), Facebook, Twitter and all the other online water cooler spaces, I've neglected to do so here. Until now.

Sunday, September 19th. Alexander MacLeod, Mauricio Segura and Leon Rooke read at Eden Mills

Sunday, September 19th: K.D. Miller reads at the Words ALive Festival

Monday, September 20th: A.J. Somerset & Alexander MacLeod read at the London Public Library 7 pm

Monday September 20th: Rebecca Rosenblum reads at Vagabond Trust in Toronto

Tuesday, September 21st: Alexander MacLeod reads at TINARS/Gladstone Hotel. Music by the MacLeod clan, in support of Lewis MacLeod's new album, For Sale As Is. $5 cover

Tuesday, Septemeber 21st: A.J. Somerset reads as part of Winnipeg's Thin Air Festival

Tuesday, September 21st: Marius Koceijowski reads at Drawn and Quartely in Montreal as part of the Maisonneuve 37th issue launch. Also reading Kathleen Winter.
Wednesday, September 22nd: Alexander MacLEod reads at Trent University, Peterborough. Music by Lewis MacLeod and siblings

Thursday September 23rd: Marius Kociejowski will be reading at the Dora Keogh in Toronto 6:30-8:30

Friday, September 24th: Alexander MacLeod, Marius Kociejowksi, Norm Sibum and A.J. Somerset will be reading at Phog Lounge in Windsor. Music by the MacLeods.

Sunday, September 26th: Alexander MacLeod will be reading at the Inverness Centre for the Arts in Inverness Cape Breton, 2-4 pm.

Tuesday, September 28th: A.J. Somerset will be interviewed by Russell Smith as part of Tinars at the Garrison in Toronto.

If you can make it to any of these events, please come on down. And apologies if I've left something out: going by memory here, in a Guelph hotel room, as I wait to prep for Eden Mills. I'll post October events later in the week.

Prize Juries & Street Cred

In this morning's Toronto Star, this short note to the GG & Giller Juries:

The Giller and G-G juries could do worse to establish some street cred than nominating a decidedly edgy small press debut by a photographer, ex-soldier and outdoor mag writer named A. J. Somerset. His Combat Camera (Biblioasis, 255 pages, $19.95) is a mean city tale of a burnt-out war photographer who tries to rescue a damsel, and maybe himself too, from the cheap porno world he’s working in.

Here's hoping both juries are listening.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bookmarked: Rogues' Wedding

On September 2nd, Terry Griggs's Rogues' Wedding was honoured in Owen Sound with a plaque as part of Project Bookmark, the second title in the series so-honoured, following only Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin of a Lion. The series "highlights and celebrates the stories that are embedded in our everyday geography."

For those of you who have not read Rogues' Wedding, this should serve as notice that you should do so. It tells the story of Griffth Smolders, who bolts on his wedding night after interpreting a rather odd natural occurence as an evil omen, not even waiting to consummate his marriage. When his wife Avice discovers this, she decides to pursue him to the ends of the earth, if she needs to, to have her revenge. Both embark on a flight of accidental discovery and cataclysmic misadventure -- including making what may be one of the first pornographic films.
Griggs weaves the folk stories and tales and landscapes of northern Ontario into a hilariously ribald tale, and it may be at least partly for this reason that Project Bookmark has honoured her creation. It's well deserved. We've made it clear here our admiration for Terry's writing over the years, and we're thrilled that she's getting a bit more wider recognition. Here's to hoping this leads more people to discover not only Wedding, but her other work for both adults and young adults alike. Like, perhaps, this and this and this.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It is what is called a soft launch. Meaning, that despite the fact that we are 10 months behind on this thing, it ain't yet close to being finished. But we still have a brand new website, and I must say, it looks smashing. Plenty of new features, including updated digital catalogue, forthcoming and featured books, links through Facebook and other social media, far better Event Calendar, excerpts (though not all of these are up yet), a new and improved shopping cart, e-books (though not all of these are up either), multiple book views, to recreate, as much as we are able, the tactile aspect of book shopping, and much else. Eventually you'll have an indie bookstore locator, audio, video and other media components, a fully incorporated redesigned blog, and much, much else. And when we learn to update it, hopefully next week, we'll keep it fresh, your one stop shop for all things Biblioasis-related.

So stop by, check it out. But go easy on us. We're not fully there yet, but we're getting there.

Thanks to Aleks, Sean and company at Soluble Design for the work, and finally, finally, getting this thing up and running.

What Boys Like on Relit Shortlist

I'm late on this I know, late on most things it seems these days, but last week it was announced that Amy Jones's What Boys Like made the Relit Shortlist for short fiction. I'm very happy to see it get this, both because it deserves it, and because it's the first time Biblioasis has made a Relit shortlist in a few years. Fingers crossed it will be the first title to win a Relit. She's facing good competition, including interesting collections from Stuart Ross and Ryan Turner. The rest of the Relit shortlist can be found here.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Living Colours

Over at the Rover, Neil MacRae reviews Mauricio Segura's Black Alley. Interestingly, this is the first review by a Montreal english language journal/newspaper of this novel, which is about racial tensions and the immigrant experience in Montreal. What is it with that? The book certainly gained plenty attention among francophones when it was published in 1998. Does the anglophone media just not give a shit? Anyone have an answer out there?

MacRae writes, in part:

Mauricio Segura is an established journalist specializing in issues of multiculturalism. Black Alley is his first novel, originally published in French in 1998, and it is primarily an examination of those same issues. But while its thematic concentration and narrative focus are sharp and specific, its scope is much broader. It is certainly a valuable glimpse into the life and nature of conglomerate immigrant neighbourhoods, racial animosities and street violence. It is also a universal coming-of-age story. Marcelo becomes Flaco, leader of the Latino Power gang, and Cléo grows into CB, head of the Haitian gang The Bad Boys, and the tragedy of violent racial conflict between two childhood friends is what the novel is about. But it is as much a story of the need to belong, and the choice that every maturing human is given and must make: will we define ourselves by what is inside us, or who stands beside us? By what we are not, or by what we are?

For the rest of the review, please go here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Maisonneuve / Pigeon Wars of Damascus Joint Launch

On September 21st in Montreal Maisonneuve and Biblioasis will be joining forces at Drawn & Quarterly for a an evening of readings, music, food and wine. The event will serve as the Montreal launch of Marius Kociejowski's The Pigeon Wars of Damascus, the kick-off to what we at Biblioasis hope will be a regular series of travel literature. The follow up to his Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool (which Adam Thorpe, writing in the TLS, said was destined to be a classic), Pigeon Wars is, for my money, a far better book. It is equally beautiful, compelling, eccentric and true, but it is also immediately important, a darker book grappling in part with the changing nature of Damascene - and Middle Eastern -- society in a post-9-11 environment. It is a s urgent as anything I've read on the subject, and I hope readers of Thirsty will go and pick it up when it is released later this month.
The event serves as well as the launch of Maisonneuve's Fall issue, a magazine which has quickly become one of my favourites. Their last issue on The Music We Hate was brilliant, and contained an essay on villainy by Rebecca Rosenblum. This new issue also has Biblioasis author connections: there's an excerpt from A. J. Somerset's Combat Camera, an early review of Alexander Macleod's Light Lifting, and Kathleen Winter, the author of boYs (Biblioasis) and most recently Annabel (Anansi), will be reading that evening. It promises to be an excellent night, complete with music by James Irwin.

If you find yourself in Montreal that night, please head on down to Drawn & Quarterly. And pass the word: it promises to be a heck of an evening.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Salty Ink reviews Light Lifting

The first review of Alexander MacLeod's Light Lifting is in, from Chad Pelley's Salty Ink.

The apple may have fallen from the tree, but Alistair and Alexander are two very different apples, writing-wise. Green and red, or Granny Smith and Gala: each with their own distinctive qualities. Alistair seems known as a masterful storyteller, and the voice of dwindling cultures, whereas Alexander feels like part of the “new wave” of “the new writing” out of Atlantic Canada. His writing is clean, confident, and distinctive. His stories — urban and universal — are ambitiously constructed and all the more solid for it. In fact, Light Lifting, features a story, “Miracle Mile,” that was a Journey Prize finalist — the Journey Prize being the country’s most esteemed award for short fiction. And it’s not even the best story in the collection.


Calling B iblioasis "the metal detector for short fiction gold" -- Rosenblum, Jones, Winter (not to mention Young & Young, Rooke, Flood and others) anyone -- he finishes by saying that "Light Lifting is an assured and promising debut, and one of the region’s finest collections of shorts in 2010. It puts a new MacLeod on the scene, and the way I see it, from here on in, we’ll have to say, “Which one?” when someone refers to MacLeod’s writing."

For the whole review please go here. And we're expecting copies of Light Lifting to arrive any day, and should see bookshelves near you by the 20th of the month.