Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Globe 103 & SFU's Peak

In the Globe 100 Rebecca Rosenblum's Once received an honourable mention from Jim Bartley. It gets much more than that from this SFU Peak reviewer, who writes "... these stories stand out as some of the best I’ve ever read." Very astute reader.


Once, a collection of short stories by Rebecca Rosenblum, was published in September, 2008.

Simply put, this collection of short stories is pure pleasure. The characters and their situations are so real that by the end of each story you’ll feel like you know everything about their life. Rebecca Rosenblum has managed to capture the essence of everyday life through the lens of various unique and well-defined characters. From the girl who can barely understand English working in a Vietnamese restaurant to the boy who lives in a burnt-out shack, these lives resonate off the page with stunning authenticity.

All the relationships portrayed in these 16 stories are confusing, heart-wrenching, or tragic, and all of them cause the reader to empathize greatly with the protagonist.

“ContEd” tells the story of Isabel, a waitress who takes a night school tax class. She thinks she has a thing for the instructor, Mr. Denby, but maybe she just wants to have a crush on someone or maybe it is the girls at work that want her to.

“Linh Lai” is a girl who has been sent to live with her Uncle in Toronto and given a new name. She is now called Jinny, an excellent Canadian name. Her new boss at Pho Mi 99 gives her a name tag that says “Xing” which is supposed to be unpronounceable in order to satisfy the customers. When Linh/Jinny/Xing finally talks to the cute skateboarder, he calls her Jimmy. Her helplessness in her new environment is portrayed exceptionally by Rosenblum.

Jamesy is probably the most tragic character. In “Wall of Sound” he is depicted as a hobo and loyal grandson in one. He must squeegee windows on the highway to buy his breakfast, but he never lets his grandparents know, and faithfully does their yard work before taking advantage of their shower.

Some of the stories have overlapping characters or settings, making them feel less isolated from each other and giving the book more cohesion. Pho Mi 99 is the focal point of a few stories, but each has different characters and new points of view which make these stories all the more inventive and wonderful. After Linh Lai is only the waitress (a background character) in one story, she becomes the protagonist in another.

The Canadian setting and perspective is a nice change, and the realism of the characters and their lives makes these stories stand out as some of the best I’ve ever read. Rebecca Rosenblum uses dialogue, everyday settings, and mundane events to create evocative and genuine characters that people will relate to. These stories start in the middle of life and end there as well; they show the lives of these characters unapologetically and without judgement. One would not think that the daily activities of a fruit factory or tech support department are all that exciting, but when Rosenblum writes about them, they gain a whole new level of meaning and interest.

November 27th:The Salon des Refuses Redux: Windsor, Ontario

The real Salon des Refuses dirty work: play-doh pizzas.

Heather Birrell reading from her wonderful, wonderful story Impossible to Die in Your Dreams.

Mark Anthony Jarman reminisces about Old Timer's Hockey.

Rebecca Rosenblum reads from a marvellous short new short story, Hello Hello, currently in Rampike.

Mark. Rebecca, Kim Jernigan, Rosalynn Tyo.

Though the New Quarterly has already put out another issue, and we're working on our own Salon follow-up, three Salon-des-Refuse-niks came to Windsor on Thursday with Kim Jernigan and Rosalynn Tyo of the New Quarterly. It was a wonderful evening of short fiction and conversation at the Art Gallery of Windsor. It was a pleasure getting a chance to meet Mark, and Heather (along with her husband Charles and new daughter Maisie), and spending a bit more time with Kim, Ros and Rebecca.

Friday, November 28, 2008

D. M. Thomas on Bruce Jay Friedman's Three Balconies

A Google Alert came through this morn, linking to D. M. Thomas's blog. D. M. Thomas wrote, most famously, The White Hotel. Writing about what he is reading right now, Don writes: But I can now read other writers' fiction, as I don't allow myself to do while I'm writing, and I have a very good book to indulge myself in: Three Balconies, by the American writer Bruce Jay Friedman, a collection of short stories and a novella. The short stories are real, funny, wry, observant and written with grace. It will sustain me in this sad interim.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PIF Magazine reviews Three Balconies

He’s back. And for that we should be thankful. Of course, Bruce Jay Friedman never really went anywhere. It’s just that Friedman, who was at the top of the literary heap with his hilarious, dark, comic novels, Stern and A Mother’s Kisses, not to mention his successful plays, Scuba Duba and Steambath, seems to have been in the Witness Protection Program for the past decade or so.

But you can’t keep a good man down, and so now we have Three Balconies, a welcome collection of 17 short stories, three of which, “The Thespian,” “The People Person,” and “The Great Beau LeVyne,” (which, at a mere 30 pages certainly stretches the definition of novella, but what the hell) have never seen the light of day before now. Most of the others were previously published in magazines like Esquire and Playboy. Yes, some of the stories are dated, but what’s wrong with that? Others, no matter when they were written, are timeless.

Friedman has never really been interested in well-adjusted winners, but rather those on the way up or down, or even better, those going nowhere fast. The neurotic, the unhappy, the malcontent, the put-upon, the outsider, that’s patented Friedman territory, and we’re the better for it. But the beauty of it is that Friedman never makes fun of his characters. Instead, they are drawn so sharply and with such understanding, that even though we might feel a twinge of pity for them (okay, sometimes a bit more than a twinge,) we certainly don’t feel guilty laughing at them. In large part, this is because one suspects that they represent a not so hidden side of Friedman himself.

In “Fit as a Fiddle,” we are introduced to Dugan who, “though he was hale, if not hearty, at sixty-two, his friends were dropping like flies.” And so, it logically follows that Dugan would be obsessed with his own well-being, which results in a nice comic payoff.

In “Neck and Neck,” Friedman writes of the writer Baum, and his arch rival Albert P. Wiener, both of whom were named “as two of the most promising artists of the Post-World War Two era.” But as Wiener (that name is obviously not chosen carelessly and could he possibly be a Philip Roth stand-in?) rises, Baum settles into mediocrity bordering on oblivion. As they age together, try as he might, Baum can’t quite reach the heights of his nemesis whose success seriously throws him off his game. Perhaps there can be second acts in America. But you’ll have to read this story to find out how.

In “The Thespian,” we have Harry, a former Hollywood screenwriter, now asked by an ex-girlfriend to play a small role in a movie she’s producing. Following the wisdom, “’There are no small parts,’” he said, quoting someone he’d heard on the Bravo channel, “’only small actors,’” Harry agrees. Besides, maybe it’s a way to get back into the game. “Your name,” a Hollywood agent had told him, “no longer comes up on the radar screen.” He’s asked to play a rare book dealer with, as his daughter points out, “…three lines and one of them is ‘hi.’” But Harry is “relieved to see that his third line had to do with Pushkin and seemed to be central to the plot. Harry had never actually read Pushkin, but he knew a lot about Pushkin. He felt he could really sink his teeth into the Pushkin line.” Vintage Friedman.

Some of the stories, like The Reversal, are a bit too predictable and fall a little flat, but that’s more than made up for by “The Convert,” and “The Great Beau LeVyne,” which showcase Friedman at his dyspeptic albeit comic best.

Good to have you back, Bruce Jay, and hope you’re working on something longer.

by Charles Salzberg

McGill Tribune on Rosenblum's Once

Refreshingly honest and poignantly subtle, Once, a collection of sixteen short fictional stories, is McGill alum Rebecca Rosenblum's debut. Set mainly in the diverse urban corners of Toronto, Rosenblum presents a number of mere glimpses into the lives of different characters, each struggling with their own brand of confusion, constricted self-awareness, and meditated acceptance.

We meet a whimsical, delicate girl who's always chilly but finds a certain warmth in a mysterious stranger identified only by his ice blue socks and coat. Next we discover a pair of girls who take the bus on route 99 and attempt to superstitiously control whether it comes or not by ordering either shrimp cakes or duck stew for lunch. In another story and another part of town, a young high school dropout floats somewhere between his grandparents' world of dried onion husks in the garden with Ronnie Spector reverberating on the radio, and the dingy world of daytime squeegeeing and showering at public pools. In yet another, we meet a city library worker whose past confronts her present, forcing her to examine what the people in her life really want, and whether or not she can give it to them.

The stories are simple, detached, and playfully dark with seemingly inconsequential details concerning each character's daily reality. Rosenblum, however, offers much beneath the mundane and mediocre, and doesn't attempt to shove her own meaning down the reader's throat. She only offers up her stories, her characters, and her insight, as if dangling them all gracefully before us, letting us pluck whichever thread should grab our attention, and allowing us to unravel it for ourselves.

While it would be tempting for a writer to intertwine the tales of a collection into one tight knot, gratifying the desire to see the connections before the story does itself, Rosenblum, thankfully, uses extremely loose ties to link the tales-so loose they sometimes aren't even there. We might see a character reappear a second time or the Vietnamese restaurant, Pho-Mi 99, feature occasionally, but Rosenblum doesn't demean her characters by pushing it too far. It's enough for the reader to see the small passing intersections, without being hit over the head by an extreme interrelatedness which would, really, make everything implausible.

What makes each glimpse so fascinating and revealing is the inexplicable relationship we develop with that specific character. The thoughts and musings that play out in their mind are ones we recognize as passing observations of our own, only they are thoughts we never could have expressed because we didn't consciously know they were there.

Once beautifully captures sixteen exposing and sincere illustrations. Character background is left unrevealed, plot details unexplained, and revelations stunted or even non-existent. There's no conclusion, no huge moral discovery, no change, no finality, because there can't be. We're given only a few moments of each person's time, a few thoughts, a few dry details or hidden secrets, and it really comes down to just a glance. But that glance, just once, is enough.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three Balconies is "as good as it gets."

Today's Globe & Mail review:

Friedman in fine form


By Bruce Jay Friedman

Biblioasis, 203 pages, $26.95

What a treat it is to have new fiction from Bruce Jay Friedman, this one a volume of stories, a couple of humorous sketches and a novella. Three Balconies brings together some uncollected stories, or stories written since the landmark Collected Short Fiction of Bruce Jay Friedman, published more than a decade ago, and complements an impressive body of work: eight novels, including Stern, About Harry Towns and The Current Climate; five volumes of short fiction; five screenplays, including Stir Crazy; three plays, including Scuba Duba; and four books of non-fiction, including The Lonely Guy and The Slightly Older Guy.

What is it about Friedman's work that is so appealing? When we can stand back a little and look at it at the level of the line, we realize that we are witnessing a triumph of language, of street idiom. As in great music, in which one note follows naturally upon another, not a word is out of place in Friedman, and not a word has been written to impress. These are the words of the office, the diner, the golf course, the bedroom and the bar.

In Neck and Neck, a rival author asks Baum, the protagonist, "Why do you waste your time on movies? All that counts is the novel. Nothing else. Nada. Nada. Nada." Baum is stung by the remark: "One Nada would have been sufficient," he remarks.

In The Thespian, Harry's wife, Julie, has taught Harry "to say 'I love you' at the end of all conversations, whether he felt like it or not. On automatic now, he had once said 'I love you' to his accountant."

Friedman's world is one of Everyman and Everywoman, a world of imperfections, one in which dreams don't quite get realized. His alter ego, Harry Towns, who has not quite become the great novelist or great screenwriter he has always aspired to be, is asked by an old flame to play a bit part in a feature film of hers. In the role, he works the cash in a bookstore and is to ask the lead nothing more than, "May I interest you in Pushkin?" But feeling confident in his delivery, "the bit firmly between his teeth, Harry gave a colourful account of Pushkin's fatal duel with his wife's paramour, raising the possibility that the poet's rival, D'Anthes, might have cheated by wearing a steel vest. He described in detail Pushkin's final moments and Nicholas II's graciousness in not only settling the poet's debts, but also establishing a trust fund for his family. 'Can you imagine an American President doing that for his family?' "

In The Investigative Reporter, Alexander Kahn, the novelist and journalist, hates his own dull life, visits a prison and ends up lighting up a joint within view of the guards. In The Secret Man, Jacob challenges the neighbourhood tough guy, only to see him back down. Jacob learns in later years that, as a consequence, he was viewed as something of a bully himself. In Kneesocks, Harry Towns, who has never gotten over being dumped by a girlfriend in college, sees her again 25 years later. He realizes "the fit wasn't quite right" - it never has been, and the encounter serves to fortify his love of Julie, waiting for him at home.

Friedman is great at encapsulating people as they strive heartily within the confines of their lives. In The Great Beau LeVyne, Heidi is a "slender raven-haired woman with exquisite skin and patrician features whose flesh was cold to the touch. As I was later to learn, she had been a Homecoming Queen at the University of Missouri, majored in political science and then veered off to become a curator at the Indian Museum. She now spoke with an English accent that was convincing."

In Fit as a Fiddle, Liebermann, "his long time editor, keeled over at his desk, as if he had grown weary of reading introspective first novels."

While Friedman's characters rarely despair enough to take their own lives (with one notable exception in this volume), in the title story, Harry is lured to the railing of one of the three balconies in his new Miami condominium. His "Two Big Pictures" are a distant memory, his image as a gentleman and lover are fading, his inspiration is fleeting, yet he knows still where to look for hope. He "would deal with the balconies one at a time. Wasn't that what life was about - taking it one balcony at a time?

"If that wasn't a philosophy, he didn't know what was."

In these stories, Bruce Jay Friedman blends his brand of humour with a kind of sadness and darkness that sneaks up on you and reminds you of that old adage of Mark Twain, that "the true source of humour is not joy but sorrow."

This is as good as it gets. Treat yourself to Three Balconies.

Joe Kertes is dean of the School of Creative and Performing Arts at Humber College. His most recent novel is Gratitude.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rosenblum's ONCE makes Q&Q's Top 15 Books of the Year

Though I've not seen it yet -- the cost of living in a rural backwater and letting my subscription to Q&Q lapse -- Rebecca Rosenblum's first collection of short stories ONCE seems to have been selected for the Q&Q's list of the Top 15 Books of the Year. We are, quite obviously, thrilled. Congrats to Rebecca!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Review of Patricia Young's Here Come the Moonbathers

from Fredericton's Daily Gleaner.

Though her fans were delighted when she won the 2006 Metcalfe-Rooke Award for Canadian fiction, few knew why Patricia Young, twice shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Poetry, moved unexpectedly to prose.

The former University of New Brunswick writer-in-residence answers that question in Here Come the Moonbathers, her first volume of poetry since 2000.

Assembled and revised this spring in a blue house overlooking Fredericton's St. John River, Young's new poems are provocative. They pinch. They prod. There's anger to which you'll say Whoa! until you've thought things through.

The dazzling lyric voice, pictorial quality, empathy, and terror of Young's Ruin and Beauty: New & Selected Poems (House of Anansi) is conspicuous, as is the poet's interest in the close connection between love and loss. What appears to have changed is the attitude toward experience that informs her writing.

Although Live Trap whimsically contrasts a boy's behaviour with that of rodents, its true subject is perception - tricks of the brain. Mice "[f]ar-seeing and fatalistic / but also capable of Houdini-like feats . . . light up the mind's nether regions, / always an afterimage, the thing that just was."

In Nocturnal, assonance, consonance, and kinetic lines help illuminate age and gender differences.

By day, "human cannonballs" (aligned with "phallic" cattails) hurl themselves from docks; girls (the moonbathers of the title) reject "noon's buttery spit." Precociously "wise to the moles threatening / to hatch tiny brown / spiders / on the downy / smalls of their backs," they slide into "gelatinous black water" after dark.

Desolate the Gooseberry records how it feels to lose a father ("Summer's elsewhere, a butterfly behind glass"); Mother Tongue highlights family life's astonishing gifts: "In each nest // a small miracle rubs against a great sorrow."

Before Sleep, A Conversation confronts fear head on:

She says, I was thirty-eight before I got it -

I mean, really got it - that I'd die too.

That sucking sound isn't the river, he says, it's the sound of us dying.

Though many have experimented boldly with poetic form, few have matched Young's proficiency: The haunting repetition of the pantoum suits The Day the Pigs Got Loose, Jack(s)knife and Miracle of Language perfectly.

In Praise of Poetry (or Why I Stopped Writing It) shows even strong writers what to aim for. Grievous Road, Melt (Patricia Young on climate change), Adoption, 1962, and Deluge will take your breath away.

- reviewed by DIANE REID

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Metcalf-Rooke Shortlist Announcement

Emeryville – Biblioasis, along with judges John Metcalf and Leon Rooke, are pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2008-2009 Metcalf-Rooke Award for fiction. Selected from more than 90 entries, these five short fiction collections each exhibit an individual style and attention to craft. The winner of the $1,500.00 cash prize from Steven Temple Books will be announced on Friday, November 28th. In addition, the award recipient will be given

- a publishing contract with Biblioasis

- a book tour

- a profile in the New Quarterly

- a leather-bound copy of their winning book

- an appearance at the Ottawa International Writers Festival

- and the winning author will be featured at a TINARS launch (This Is Not A Reading Series) hosted by Pages Books and Magazines in Toronto

Shortlist for 2008-2009 Metcalf-Rooke Award for Short Fiction

Daniel Griffin. Mercedes Buyers’ Guide and Other Stories

Amy Jones. What Boys Like & Other Stories

Dave Margoshes. A Book of Great Worth: Stories from My Father

Ryan Turner. What We’re Made of

Terence Young. The Garden of Fugitives

Previous winners of the Metcalf-Rooke Award are Patricia Young for Airstream, Kathleen Winter for boYs, and Rebecca Rosenblum for Once. The Metcalf-Rooke Award is sponsored by Biblioasis, Steven Temple Books, The New Quarterly, TINARS and Pages Books and Magazines and the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

For further information

Dan Wells, Publisher, Biblioasis at (519) 968-2206 or e-mail,

The Pangborn Defence

Norm Sibum's The Pangborn Defence arrived in the drive this morning, the sole poetry title on our Fall 2008 list. We'll make up for that in 2009, promise. This is a fine collection, both humorous and humble, political and personal, a book I'm quite proud to have on Biblioasis's poetry shelf. Should be hitting select indies within a week to 10 days, and is always available online and direct. We'll be trying to set up a Montreal launch soon, so please check back for updates.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Toro Reviews Dragonflies

The fall of Troy is a story that will be encountered by even moderately literate people any number of times over a healthy lifetime. You know the set-up (or I hope you do): Helen is snatched up by Paris, and her beautiful visage sends a thousand ships to the city of Troy. A war is fought for years, until Odysseus hatches a plan involving a wooden horse secretly stuffed with Greek soldiers. That’s the gist of it (with a lot in between), covering Homer’s Iliad and some time after, before the great warriors set off on the long voyage home to Ithaca.

Grant Buday’s kind of modern adaptation, Dragonflies, tells the story of the Trojan Horse, its inspiration and execution, through the eyes of Odysseus, but it’s really through eyes you may only think you recognize. Whereas Homer’s poems are told through action more than characterization – if the characters have depth (that is, flaws) it is secondary to the flow of history and the grand heroics of Greek tragedy – Buday’s adaptation includes ruminations on doubt, both personal and cosmological. Here, nothing is guaranteed, even for the mightiest warrior. The Gods are not characters, but wisps of wind and symbols of fate, which both favours and destroys us.

Odysseus, Ajax, and others are described more as soldiers than warriors. They are not the literal descendants of gods who are birthed to fight, but men conscripted by Agamemnon and battered by years of war. They put up with injuries and with homesickness. They fart and spit and bleed. When Dragonflies begins, the camp along the beach is filled with men who have grown old in battle and whores with children who do not know anything else. Buday’s fall of Troy closely resembles modern sieges, instead of seeming ancient or mythic – the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad, for example.

In this style, Buday succeeds where many have failed in adaptations of ancient stories. He imagines the war as it would have been documented by a writer of the late 20th century. He does not implant our customs but twists the narrative into something accessible. As a character, Odysseus is admirable and clever but not infallible. His Trojan Horse plan is examined from realistic angles. It is, as Buday and his characters admit, a rather far-fetched plan, which succeeds in part thanks to the Trojans' carelessness rather than merely being a triumphant, fiendish plot.

At a lean 164 pages, Dragonflies does not waste words. It's a tale well told – an updating of myth that avoids grandeur and favours subtlety. Buday is a gifted writer, and what comes across in his novel is a love for storytelling, a keen sense of history, and an ability to make even the most tired of tales worth hearing again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Upcoming Biblioasis Events

Friday, November 14th
Zach Wells: Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets
W/ readings by Wells,
Lyle Neff, Steven Price and Alan R. Wilson
Black Stilt Cafe, #103-1633 Hillside Ave., 7:30 pm

Thursday, November 27th
Rebecca Rosenblum (ONCE), with Mark Anthony Jarman, Heather Birrell and Russell Smith as a Salon des Refuses event
Art Gallery of Windsor
7:00 pm

Tuesday December 2nd
Mike Barnes, Lily Pond, along with Sally Armstrong and Ernst Hillen
La Salle Park Pavilion, Burlington
9 a.m.

Tuesday, December 2
Grant Buday (Dragonflies) reads with Craig Boyko (Black Out), Samantha Warwick (Sage Island) and A.S. Penne (Reckoning)
Cornerstone Café
1301 Gladstone Avenue, Victoria
7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, December 2nd
Joshua Glenn, Idler's Glossary
Bookslut Reading Series
Chicago Illinois

Thursday December 4th
Grant Buday (Dragonflies): The Vancouver Launch
Café Montmartre
4362 Main St., Vancouver

Staurday, December 6th
Zach Wells & Rachel Lebowitz
Anything but Hanks at Tinars for Tots
Gladstone Hotel Ballroom
1214 Queen St. W.
Toronto, Ont.
9:30 a.m.

Idling: The Windsor View

The Lance, a paper I penned some of my first reviews for a decade or so ago, has featured the Idler's Glossary in its current edition. See below.

Glenn, Boston-based journalist and scholar, examines the etymology and history of hundreds of terms and phrases used to describe idlers and the act of idling in his new work, The Idler’s Glossary. In doing this, Glenn looks to clarify the misconceptions about idling and introduce a new way of thinking about working and not working.

Glenn examines why work time—slaving away in a cubicle, factory, or elsewhere—is more valued than free time in today’s society.

Alongside Glenn is Mark Kingwell who contributes an introductory essay to the glossary.

Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and also well known for his appearance in The Corporation. His involvement in the project stemmed from a longstanding online friendship with Glenn, who had edited a magazine called Hermenaut out of Boston, MI. Kingwell became interested in the magazine and donated money when it was strapped for cash. The two became long distance friends that only met offline for the first time earlier this year.

An early version of The Idler’s Glossary, which appeared in The Idler Magazine in the U.K., caught Kingwell’s eye.

“I thought it would be a great standalone book. Around the same time I had been talking to Dan Wells at Biblioasis who was looking to start a pamphlet series, and I thought this is the perfect kick-off project for that series,” said Kingwell.

Seth, the pen name of Gregory Gallant, a Canadian comic book artist and writer, has a keen sense of design that contributed greatly to the look and feel of The Idler’s Glossary. The raised print on the cover accented in gold along with the old-timey feel of the graphics gives the reference guide a unique look.

“As soon as we had the package together we knew that if Seth could make time to be a part of it, it could really bring it to another level,” said Kingwell.

As for what Idler terms he can best be described with, Kingwell opts for flâneur. “I like to spend a lot of time walking and specifically walking in cities and the flâneur is an indication of that sort of idling where you’re not going anywhere particular you’re just kind of drifting through the streets and experiencing the variety of stimulants a city has to offer,” explained Kingwell.

Recently, Kingwell released a collection of essays called Opening Gambits, which he says is kind of related to The Idler’s Glossary because “it looks at art and philosophy as forms of play. A lot of what we talk about in Idler is really a kind of play.”

Furthering the concept of The Idler’s Glossary, Kingwell and Glenn are currently in talks of possibly working on a sequel.

“We’ve found so many words even since this book came out that are interesting and relevant,” said Kingwell.

The focus of the glossary this time around would be more on the words that characterize the working world.

“Some of them are already in this glossary, but there are a lot of terms on the edges of the working world that we didn’t really think about, and that could make another book,” Kingwell explained.

The big misconception about idling is that the term is interchangeable with slacking. Not so, according to Kingwell.

“Slacking is avoiding work and it’s closely related to procrastinating. True idling is to set yourself free from all those worries about what you should be doing instead and live in the moment of not doing anything in particular,” he said.

The definitions are funny, but only because they’re true. One of the definitions that sum up the idlers versus slackers debate pretty well is Asleep at the Switch: “Why demonize those unfortunate souls who lose focus and zone out while on the job? No matter how focused their caffeinated colleagues may be, aren’t they sleepwalking through life?”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Very Bad Cell Phone picture of the Brooklyn Launch for the Idler's Glossary

Cabinet Magazine hosted the Brooklyn launch of The Idler's Glossary this past Saturday, an event that was, by all accounts, fantastic. No real cameras, alas, so this is the best image we can provide you.

There's another Boston event with Josh Glenn this week, and on December 2nd he'll take part in the Bookslut reading series in Chicago. In late January we are hoping to bring Mark, Josh and Seth together for the long-awaited Windsor launch. Stay tuned for more details.

Mike Barnes: The St. Clement's Talk

On November 2nd, Mike Barnes was the guest speaker at the St. Clement's 40 Minute Forum, and all indications are that it was, like every other Barnes / Lily Pond event this fall, a moving, powerful, and thought provoking presentation. Mike has since taped his discussion, which can be found here, at, where you can download it and listen to it at your leisure.

We're looking to set up some additional speaking engagements for Mike, so if you like his talk and would like to set something up, please get in touch. I can be reached at

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Talented Observer of Lives In Between

Yet another rave review for Rebecca Rosenblum's debut story collection Once, this one from the Toronto Star. If you haven't gone out and picked up a copy yet, what are you waiting for?

Rebecca Rosenblum's head-turningly good debut, Once, is a story collection about people who tend not to see the narrative of their own lives.

They're preoccupied by the more mundane distractions of the immediate. They want to know why they suddenly don't love somebody any more (or if they ever did), why their wife has never noticed the bald spot on the back of their head, who the woman is that keeps leaving messages for a guy who hasn't shown up for work for a week, and why that stupid 99 TTC bus hasn't stopped to pick up passengers for a year.

Here's our introduction to a guy named Joe, from a story called "The Words": "People used the words holy fool if you were still thirty-two and still messing around with your guitar. If you wore stretched-out T-shirts with brand names on them and played for free at parties while the only perk at your real job was a headset phone. If you couldn't afford cable or brand-name cheese, but you thought you were a musician. Joe accepted that, mainly."

Once trades in the kinds of hangnail distractions that tend to obliterate all thoughts of larger patterns and greater significance. When you're waiting for a bus on a killingly cold Toronto day, your thoughts tend to dig in to the here and now. But such observations also make for a great story.

Rosenblum, who was born in Hamilton and educated in Montreal and Toronto, is an expert observer of lives lived in between. Her subjects are mostly people in their twenties who can't find the traction necessary to gear up for adulthood. There's a grad student who works in a bookstore; a waitress taking a night school course in tax accounting; a man living in a dissipating marriage with two kids and a blind baby; a tech support employee who, tagged on the nose by an airborne calculator, nearly bleeds to death in the men's room.

There's a squeegee kid who visits his grandparents weekly to trim their lawn (and accept their thoughtful but useless gifts of mix cassettes), and a Vietnamese immigrant who becomes enraptured with skateboarding while working in a Vietnamese restaurant owned by a man with the conspicuously non-Vietnamese-sounding name of Koenberg.

Koenberg's establishment is called the Pho-Mi 99, and it sits at the intersection of both a number of apparently phantom TTC bus routes and the lives of Rosenblum's characters. It's a typical grace note of the collection that most of the characters that pass through or by the Pho-Mi 99 pay no attention to the other characters who do also, a device that enhances the stories' pervading sense of existential randomness.

In "Cal is Helpful," Cal finds himself sitting next to an explanation-hungry former flame. He's bone-tired, itchy and wishes he were anywhere else.

"He didn't even wait until she turned before scratching through his pants, but the fabric was too thick and slippery for it to be satisfying. He knew he couldn't escape until he told Mira what she wanted to know, but he didn't know what that was. She seemed to want to be told why she'd broken up with him. And he didn't know."

Rosenblum has that good short story writer's gift of making complex events out of stalled lives, for riveting reader interest to the most outwardly non-dramatic of circumstances. There's precious little by way of revelation, even less by way of personal breakthrough, and practically nothing by way of emotional reckoning.

Remarkably, Rosenblum's characters are made vividly dimensional not by their transcendence but their surrender to low horizons. The insight is left entirely to the reader. That's the real story here, and – especially for a writer so fresh to the game – it's as good as telling gets.

Author and broadcaster Geoff Pevere is The Star's books columnist. He appears weekly.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

St. Louis Dispatch review of Three Balconies

From the St. Louis Dispatch, a review of Friedman's Three Balconies. Friedman will be in St. Louis as part of the Jewish Bookfair there this Friday.

Prankster Friedman reveals his alter ego

"As is the case with most men, Harry wanted to be taken seriously and resented the suggestion that he was not a serious man," begins one of the stories in "Three Balconies." "Yet there may have been some truth to the charge."

It's a theme taken up again and again in this delightful new collection by Bruce Jay Friedman. Harry, an aging writer and the charming protagonist of three of the book's stories, weighs his literary output against the years he spent chasing women and churning out Hollywood scripts. Alexander, a failed novelist, dreams of escape through prison, while the writer Baum is stymied by the success of his prolific nemesis.

Not failures, exactly, each of the characters looks back on his life with a sense of good-natured puzzlement. Whether his name is Baum, Harry or Alexander, the protagonist in most of the stories is in essence the same person, given to the same preoccupations. By the time Friedman, who penned the screenplays for the hit movies "Splash" and "Stir Crazy," has a character repeatedly mention his Two Big Pictures, it's impossible not think of all these Harrys as tweaked versions of the author himself. In a departure from the strictly realistic style, several stories read like off-beat fantasies, riffs on daydreams that end with a twist. This is Friedman in prankster-mode, and you can almost hear him chuckle as he has his bit of fun. In the hilarious "The People Person," an unnamed president with ties to Texas is abducted and "tortured" with literature. In "The Reversal," a troubled psychiatrist unburdens himself to a long-time patient.

Though humorous, not all of these lighter pieces are successful, and one wonders whether it's precisely this kind of work that fuels the self-doubt of his alter-ego in Friedman's more serious stories. If so, they are worth it.

A graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, Friedman will appear on the Missouri's Own panel at the Jewish Book Festival with local authors Jody Feldman ("The Gollywhopper Games") and Joanna Campbell Slan ("Paper, Scissors, Death."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rysard Kapuscinski's Stone Reviewed on Bookslut

Andrew Wessels writes that Ryszard Kapuscinski's I Wrote Stone "...touches upon the great fear of death with a surprisingly unbiased touch even as the lines are imbued with emotion by the reader, who knows the inevitability and is faced with a posthumous message from beyond."

The complete review can be found here.

Rebecca Rosenblum on Nigel Beale

Rebecca Rosenblum has been interviewed by Nigel Beale about her Metcalf-Rooke Award winning short story collection Once. You can hear it here.

More Idle Coverage

Idler's Glossary coverage is coming fast and furious. There's a good interview with Mark Kingwell on CBC's The Point, (check out the Part Two section, first 7 or so minutes) which can be found here.

The Walrus blog has posted on the Idler's Glossary, with a list of Kingwell's favourite terms. Jared Bland writes, "To celebrate the publication of Josh Glenn and Mark Kingwell’s excellent small book, The Idler’s Glossary, I asked Mark to offer glosses on a few of his favourite entries. His response is below. I urge everyone to buy this book; there’ll be nothing more curious and delightful published this fall. (Nor many as beautiful—Seth’s design work is lovely.)" the rest of the post can be found here.

The LA Times Book Jacket also weighs in here.

Dwell Magazine weighs in here, saying, in part: "While it's perhaps difficult to sit down and read the book from cover to cover, The Idler's Glossary is a fun–and beautifully produced– book to set aside some time to flip through, as these gray autumn days turn cold and we're all faced with slumberous (Slumberous: "To be slumberous [from the Middle English word for 'doze'] is to be tired in the sense of lethargic, torpid.") winter."

The Atlantic Monthly has confirmed that they will be reviewing it as well. And more is sure to follow, so stay tuned.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Idler's Glossary in the Guardian

We had a short review of the Idler's Glossary in the UK's Guardian yesterday. Our first UK review! If anyone out there gets the Guardian could you send it in? It's on page 8 of the Features and Review section!

You can read the review here.