Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Shane Neilson's Meniscus

Shane Neilson's first trade book Meniscus has come in for a bit of late season praise I'd like to draw your attention to. Carmine Starnino has listed it -- alongside Wayne Clifford's Jane Again and Robyn Sarah's Pause for Breath (3 of 10? Hey! Not bad!) -- as among his top 10 poetry titles this season. There's a review up at Agora and the excellent Quill & Quire review is up online as well. This past weekend The Winnipeg Free Press also reviewed Meniscus, saying:

SHANE Neilson's Meniscus (Biblioasis, 93 pages, $18) is an example of that rare and defining moment in a poet's career when subject and language meld into authentic poetic voice.
Meniscus is the first full-length collection by Neilson, an Ontario physician, who takes on the confessional with precision and purpose.
Neilson doesn't hold anything back when he writes about what he knows best: the horrors of child abuse, the darkness of illness and the equally challenging states of love.
What is most compelling is Neilson's unsentimental range of emotion. An abusive father who taught his son "in the end there is fear" is also a farmer who, after losing $30,000 in one year, "lightly shovelled / shit onto sun-browned spots."
Every line is taut with pain and heart under Neilson's staunch eye. In For my father, he writes:

it is about being able to bear the load,
be it two cord of hardwood on a truck,
two cord in the ledger, the two cord of the heart,
two cord hauled out from backfields
and split with the hydraulic, carried in a child's arms
and piled head-high.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The English Stories ... in England

A blogger over in great Britian has discovered Cynthia Flood's English Stories and had the following to say about them:

Partially because of reading The English Stories by Cynthia Flood. It's a fantastic collection of linked stories about an 11-year-old Canadian named Amanda who is uprooted and sent to a girls' school in 1950s England. Though the book is not set in Canada, Flood evokes Canada in a beautiful yet unsentimental way.

Flood examines the devastation of colonialism in a complex manner, subtly and brilliantly creating links between England's subjugation of Canada, Ireland and Nigeria. Amanda's chosen connection with Canada's First Nations (despite her own parents' racism and indifference) adds another lush layer to this quiet yet persistent background music. Flood also avoids the potentially bad Canadian cliche of the coming-of-age story by switching the focus of several stories from the little girl to other characters in the narrative. This creates a depth and complexity that the story would otherwise lack. One of the most exquisite parts is when we switch to the point of view of an Irish man who sometimes teaches at the school; we see his struggle between English and Irish identity, and the racism he both experiences and inflicts. In places the book is heartbreaking; Flood creeps up on you in unexpected ways.

This was another title which could have quite easily made the Globe 100, or a range of other best -of lists -- and did, I believe, over at Kerry Clare's Pickle Me This. Word of mouth, that best of all possible reviews, however, seems to be helping The English Stories find its audience: if you've yet to do so, go and find a copy.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Complete Review on Dance With Snakes

Over at The Complete Review there is another review of our Moya title. The reviewer gives it a B : rough and tumble -- but quite fun -- pulp thriller cum sociological-political allegory, arguing:

Dance with Snakes is obviously (but, vitally, not too obviously) also allegorical. The fear that grips the community, the confusion about identity and motives -- and those scary-ass snakes, potent symbols of overwhelming but unknowable violence -- and all the overkill (both on the side of Eduardo and the snakes, and then in reaction to them) all reflect the El Salvadoran situation and society of the time.
Dance with Snakes is a reasonably good (if very peculiar) thriller, and an interesting take on late-twentieth century Latin America; it's also unlike almost everything else out there (including Castellanos Moya's other fiction). In it's own way -- and that is a very bizarre way -- it is very effective... engaging and surprisingly entertaining.

For the complete review, go to The Compete Review

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Some praise for CNQ 77

Over at Sans Everything, Jeet Heer has some praise for CNQ 77. On newsstands now, why don't you go pick up a copy and help us raise our readership numbers and please the Ottawa bureaucrats. Or, better yet, subscribe.

I’m always afraid to tell people that my favourite literary magazine is Canadian Notes and Queries. The name is so off-putting. It sounds like a mimeographed sheet devoted to esoteric bibliographic information about Duncan Scott Campbell and Stephen Leacock. And in fact that’s what the magazine was for most of its history. But for the last decade or so, it’s been the home to the best essays on Canadian culture, and also some excellent short fiction. (John Metcalf was the editor who re-invented CNQ and he’s been helped by Daniel Wells, Alex Good and others). Perhaps wisely, the editors have tried to rebrand their journal as CNQ, to hide their embarrassing original name.

The new issue of CNQ, number 77, is chock full of the goodies including a new story by Clark Blaise. And some of these essays are already available online.

For Jeet's whole piece, please go here. Or check out the journal website, at

I should say though, that the real innovator behind Canadian Notes & Queries was Doug Fetherling. He's the first editor to transform it into a cultural journal, and much of what has happened since has been a basic fine tuning. Have to give credit where it is due. A lot of those early Fetherling -- and Metcalf -- back issues are fabulous. If you would like to try out some of those back issues, do let me know. They don't really date.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Novelist from Another Planet: The Nation reviews Dance With Snakes

Over at the Nation, Natasha Wimmer reviews our Moya title, Dance with Snakes, alongside New Directions excellent She-Devil in the Mirror. The entire review, which lays out both the political and literary background to both novels, is well worth a read, and can be found here. Below is the section which deals most directly with Snakes.

If El asco is a torrent of inspired vitriol, Dance With Snakes is an extra helping of venom. It's Castellanos Moya's only overtly fantastical novel, and a different kind of revenge fantasy. Instead of working the intellectual angle, it goes for the jugular. Eduardo Sosa is an unemployed graduate in sociology who develops a fascination with a yellow Chevrolet parked on his street. The windows of the car are covered with cardboard, and its inhabitant, a grimy individual called Jacinto Bustillo, emerges only at night. Shortly after befriending Bustillo, Sosa stabs him to death in an alleyway and takes possession of the Chevrolet. He feels strangely comfortable in Bustillo's smelly hideout, where he's surprised to discover four poisonous but friendly snakes in residence. Beti, Loli, Valentina and Carmela--ladies all--fill him in on Bustillo's story. Before Bustillo took to the streets, he was a prosperous accountant, but then he began an affair with his secretary and her husband had her killed.

Curious, Sosa sets out to visit Bustillo's former wife and his lover's husband, but he and the ladies get sidetracked by a visit to the mall. The snakes are thirsty for action, and guards and wealthy customers are slain left and right. A stop at the market in the city center is even more deadly: the ladies slither through the stalls, leaving behind dozens of bodies. Sosa knifes Bustillo's wife and then moves on to check out Raúl Pineda, the husband who had Bustillo's lover killed. After a temporary setback and another snake attack (plus a giant fireball) at a fancy Esso station, Sosa and his snakes massacre Pineda and a roomful of his friends, who turn out to be narcotics agents partying with bags of dope.

By this point, Deputy Commissioner Handal is on the case, and the novel turns into a police procedural. Handal is one of the many recurring characters in Moya's novels (he'll show up again in The She-Devil in the Mirror); another is Rita Mena, an ambitious reporter for the newspaper Ocho Columnas. In the fictional climate that Castellanos Moya conjures up, the idea that there are policemen and reporters who go about their business in a more or less efficient way is almost harder to believe than the possibility that four talking snakes and a rogue sociologist might terrorize a city. In fact, the snake attacks come to seem almost plausible--just another tabloid horror tale--that is, until the lurid, outrageous denouement, which begins with a dose of marijuana-inffused snake-flesh soup and ends with a graphic episode of man-snake love.

The snakes are a living, writhing embodiment of the paranoia that Castellanos Moya so often channels. Nothing could be as terrifying and unpredictable (and faintly ridiculous) as a gaggle of poisonous snakes. In the novel, all of San Salvador lives in fear of a new attack. Even Rita Mena, the tough reporter, is spooked by a false sighting of a yellow Chevrolet ("'The snakes!' she shouts. 'They're coming!'"). Precisely because they're so ludicrous and so terrible, they're the perfect stand-in for real-life violence that's too extreme to be credibly portrayed in fiction. And Sosa might easily stand for those Salvadorans who were seduced by the culture of violence during the war; who took on new wartime identities (everyone assumes it's Bustillo who's committing the crimes); and who resume their civilian lives in the end, with no repercussions.

Castellanos Moya's writing is plain and colloquial, even calculatedly artless. Often it achieves a pleasingly jittery, caffeinated rhythm, but the satisfaction of these novels is less in the prose than in their cleverness and the sharpness of their bite. And the no-frills language serves a purpose: it signals that nothing is hidden in the trappings of eloquence. Like Roberto Bolaño, who was a friend, Castellanos Moya is an anti-rhetorical writer, determined not to settle for smooth turns of phrase (though Bolaño's oblique lyricism otherwise has little to do with Castellanos Moya's bluntness). The plainness and the slang make his work tough going for translators, but both Katherine Silver and Lee Paula Springer acquit themselves admirably. Springer tackles the snake mayhem with relish and delicacy, and Silver (who also translated Senselessness) grapples valiantly with the chatty flow of The She-Devil in the Mirror, which is a monologue of the sort that makes translators tear their hair out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Globe 100

Though it's not officially out until tomorrow, if you're a compulsive snoop and head over to the Globe & Mail Books Pages, you can see that they are publishing their annual Globe 100 list tomorrow. Biblioasis has two inclusions in the top 100 for 2009. Terry Griggs's fabulous farcical slacker-cozy of a literary novel makes the cut of the Canadian novels, as it well should, sitting alongside titles by Annabel Lyon, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and company. Sally Cooper enthuses:

Chockablock with winks and digs at the literary set, Thought You Were Dead is a gleeful Russian doll of a novel. Reading it, one trips along, revelling in its wordplay, its wit, its puns and allusions, and its jokes. Then there are the characters: the inventors, writers, realtors and reputation-management specialists who people the antic “sleepy town” of Farclas, Ont. The story is equal parts comic murder mystery, hero’s journey and layered intellectual puzzle, and it satisfies on every level.

Perhaps a bit more surprisingly, Kahn & Engelmann has made the cut as well, this time in the Best Foreign Fiction Category, alongside titles by Zoe Heller, A. S. Byatt, Aleksander Hemon, William Trevor, Lorrie Moore, Nicholson Baker and several others. Very good company indeed. (We have, incidentally, received some even potentially better news about Kahn & Engelmann this eve, though I shall not share it quite yet, for fear of jinxing things. Stay tuned, and I will say more when I can.)

Of Kahn & Engelmann Chris Scott writes: A fascinating family saga, Kahn & Engelmann chronicles five generations of Jewish life. Beginning in 1880 near Lake Balaton, Hungary, the narrative moves episodically from turn-of-the-century Vienna through the 20th century’s convulsions, culminating in the Holocaust, the foundation of Israel and the battles for the survival of the Jewish state.

Other Biblioasis alumni made the cut for books with other presses. Leon Rooke was listed for his collection of short fiction The Last Shot, as was Ray Robertson, for David, both published by Thomas Allen. And though it may be a bit much to claim Annabel Lyon as an alumni, we did publish a chapbook of hers back in 2005, a few copies of which are left. Congratulations to all.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Best Canadian Essays

The first volume in Tightrope's Best Canadian Essays launches in Toronto this evening at Revival (783 College St.) at 7 pm. CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries has contributed two essays to the collection, the only publication, other than the Walrus, to be granted multiple slots. Not bad for a journal the Department of Canadian Heritage will stop funding next year because we do not fit their definition of cultural relevance (ie: our circulation numbers are no match for Chatelaine's or, even, the Walrus's). Fuck 'em.

Kamal Al-Solaylee's essay on Theatre, and Nathan Whitlock's essay on Fiction, both from issue 75, are included in the compilation, alongside work from Katherine Ashenburg, Kris Demeanor, Jessa Gamble, Nicholas Hune-Brown, Chris Koentges, Anita Lahey, Alison Lee, Nick Mount, Denis Seguin, ChrisTurner, Lori Theresa Waller and Chris Wood.

I should say, I am quite excited by, and envious of, Tightrope's vision in putting together this and other 'Best Of' anthologies. I'd thought of doing something similar, and never got around to it, daunted by the task. I think they should be congratulated, as these volumes fill much needed voids, and have been handled in a very prefessional and engaging fashion. I'll be picking up a copy and urge you handful of Thirsty readers to do the same. These are publications we should support in any way possible.

On Transition (A Cynthia Flood Post)

Transition quite recently became a verb.

Parent has been one for a while.

Concerning used to be a preposition but sometime in the last 18 months or so it turned into an adjective.

These changes make me feel as if the floor is tilting, though not as steeply as some of the grammatical and idiomatic shifts of the past couple of decades. People now say without embarrassment, "They invited him and I for dinner," or "The twentieth is Mary and I's anniversary." They declare that, "Greedy bankers played a big factor in the global meltdown" and that "Each applicant has to bring their resume," and "No less than nine demonstrators turned up for the protest."

Of these surely the silliest is each/their, because a plural would so easily resolve the mismatch -- "All applicants must bring their resumes." But that resolution will not occur. Also, in the remainder of my lifetime I don't expect to be able to write the words passion, vision, terrible, or awesome in their "true" senses. I accept all that. Part of me doesn't care much anyway; I'm not as upset as Madame the concierge in Muriel Barbery's remarkable novel "The Elegance of the Hedgehog." She's truly horrified by what she sees as not simply imprecision or carelessness but as actual abuse of language.

I do though remember with much love my aunt Isabel Wilson, a fine editor and broadcaster who was never in her long life able to write a sentence starting with But (as I did in the previous parag) or with And. She tried, but just couldn't leave those poor co-ordinating conjunctions out on the ice-floe with no help at hand. So then I feel guilty because my standards have slipped; I am part of the process of change, perhaps even of the general deterioration. I haven't parented my language well.

Like many writers who've been at it for decades, I use far less punctuation than formerly. My diction includes fewer formal words. My paragraphs overall are shorter, I think. Less, more, shorter, longer -- for good or ill these all have to do with writing fiction, which is supposedly what I do with my life. I am however transitioning between the publication (end) of one book, The English Stories, and the creation (beginning) of another, possibly titled Red Girl Orange Boy.

So here I am. I hate this in-between place, this flux. I'm afraid to go into my writing studio. The stories there, whether half-first-drafted, many times drafted, sent out and rejected, or only present in the form of a few scribbles in my notebook, could easily all be dead. And if I find one or two in the morgue that have a pulse, I don't feel confident about applying the paddles with any skill. So I dither and avoid, and I daydream about grammar. Yes, it's concerning.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Introducing A. J. Somerset

The winner of the 2009-2010 Metcalf-rooke Award is A. J. Somerset.

Combat Camera by A. J. Somerset is that very rare thing, a really superbly realized Canadian novel. It concerns Lucas Zane, a celebrated photographer who has burned out emotionally after covering battles in most of the wars of the late twentieth century. He has come to the end in Toronto, drunk, hallucinatory, all ambition fled. He earns the rent by taking photographs for Richard Barker, an impresario of shoestring-budget pornographic movies. On the set he meets "Melissa" and the novel explores their involvement.

Zane says at one point in the book:

I'm sure you'd like a nice, pat explanation for my life. Something to tie up all the loose ends: I left it all behind after witnessing unspeakable horrors, etcetera, that left me reduced to a whiskey-soaked shell. You'd like to think you're in some tale of sin and redemption. I guess we all like to think we're walking through some grand, redemptive story. Well, we're all going to be disappointed. Disappointment is one of the two fates that we must all eventually meet.

I ran out of horror a long time ago. You start with conviction, and then you just end up sad. You know you aren't going to stop anything. You'll be off to cover another war tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that and the day after that until you retire, until you just give up and leave the job to the next quixote. You realize that all the things you thought and believed were all bullshit. You just get tired out, and you can't feel anything anymore but a kind of distant sadness.

God looks down on his children and shakes his head. Free will, he thinks -- what was I smoking when I came up with that one? You drop one tab of acid, eight days later you got snakes in the Garden of Eden.

Zane tries to make a comeback by constructing a photo-essay about "Melissa's" life, a stripper and porn-chick utterly lacking a heart of gold. Zane's reflections on camera angles, available light, film stock and shutter speeds -- all the by now obsolete technology of his years of fame -- form a hymn to the beauty of art. Though Zane himself would deny that.

But the power of the book lies in its voice, a voice that is restless, ceaseless, meandering, tragic, sometimes very funny, a mind and voice that maintain an almost hypnotic grip on the reader.

Combat Camera is one of the finest Canadian novels I have ever read.

-- John Metcalf

A. J. Somerset has been a soldier, a technical writer, a programmer, and a freelance photographer. His non-fiction has appeared in numerous outdoor magazines in Canada and the United States, and his articles have been translated into French and Japanese. He lives in London, Ontario with his wife and children. Combat Camera is his first novel.

As the winner of the Metcalf-Rooke Award, A. J. Somerset will receive:

- a $1500.00 cash prize, presented by Steven Temple Books
- a publishing contract with Biblioasis, with publication set for September 2010
- a leather-bound copy of Combat Camera
- publication and profiles in The New Quarterly, Maisonneuve, CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries and elsewhere
- a U.S. and Canadian marketing Campaign
- a Toronto TINARS launch, an Ottawa International Writers Festival appearance, as well as other festival appearances
- a regional book tour

The other shortlisted authors for the 2009-2010 Metcalf-Rooke Award were:

Laura Boudreau. A Cat Starving Its Way Through Winter (Short Fiction)
Daniel Griffin. Stopping For Strangers. (Short Fiction)
Lauro Palomba. Measuring Spoons. (Novel)
Cathy Stonehouse. Something About the Animals. (Short Fiction)

For further information, or to arrange an interview with A. J. Somerset, please contact Dan Wells at

The Seth Non-Canadians Don't See

An interesting post over a tthe Comics Comics blog on the work Seth has been doing as a designer. Several of the entries focus on the design work he's done for Biblioasis. This might also be the time to announce that he is completely redesigning CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries, hopefully in time for issue 79 (May, 2010). More on this to follow.

From the Comics Comics article:

Seth’s commitment to Canada also extends to the publishers he works with. Drawn and Quarterly is a Montreal firm, although of course one with an international reach. What non-Canadian readers might not know, however, is that Seth is also closely involved with several other Canadian imprints and magazines, often in his capacity as a book designer but sometimes as a writer. This work is often done for quite small presses, such as the Porcupine’s Quill and Biblioasis (in my opinion two of the best publishers not just in Canada but in the world).

Since Seth has fans all over the world, I thought it might be a useful service to call attention to some of the work he’s done that non-Canadians wouldn’t necessarily know about. If you care at all about Seth’s work, all these items are worth tracking down. Even when working with small specialty presses, he lavishes on each task the same care and attention that he gives to projects for The New Yorker and Penguin Books.

For the entire article, please go here.

His latest design project, Zach Wells's Track & Trace, also comes up for some praise of the Freefall Magazine blog:

Opening a small package in the FreeFall mail I was immediately enchanted by the little book that came out. The cover a textured white stock with embossed shoe prints wandering around the grey title plate, literally tracks in a snowy white background, how wonderful. I ran my fingertips over the textured surface embracing the promise of an absorbing experience with the enclosed poetry. The decoration continued inside with a single snowflake dangling at the end of a dotted white line on a black page, how elegant. The decoration continues throughout the volume with wintery scenes that say so much in their sparse nakedness. Seth has decorated this volume beautifully, I can’t wait to discover the poetry enclosed. It is everything that my tactile sense wants in a book. I’m now off to explore the contents.

Another publisher and book design teacher told me a few weeks back, upon seeing this volume, that no one has done design work like this on a trade poetry book in Canada since the 1940s. It remains to be seen if the extra details will help to sell any more copies: it is painfully hard to even get many independents to stock poetry these days, let alone at Chapters or Indigo. But it seems to be helping in getting people to pick it up. That, at least, is a small victory.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Zach Wells Reading: Collected Works Edition

Last Saturday Zach Wells read at Collected Works in Ottawa, a well attended event where he recorded his reading. You can listen to it here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Vermeersch on Track & Trace

from Paul Vermeersch's blog:

This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautifully produced trade paperback editions of a poetry book I have ever seen published in Canada (and with publishers like Gaspereau Press, Pedlar Press, and this book's publisher Biblioasis on the scene, there are more beautiful trade paperbacks around than ever before). When I first heard it was being illustrated by Seth, I worried the result might be a little too gimmicky, but no. Seth's stark, simple illustrations work well as a counterpoint to Zach's meticulous craftsmanship. As for the poems themselves, Zach has definitely built on the burly aesthetic he demonstrated in his first book (which was edited by me, incidentally). This is an aesthetic generally characterized by an assertive (even, at times, severe) approach to metre that is enhanced by an ardent attention to sonic effects like alliteration, syncopation, rhyme, etc., and his control over such a severe metre is both admirable and remarkable (only on a couple of occasions does it sound too conveniently clippity-cloppity to my ear). And verse with such a robust physicality is well-suited to his subject matter: woods, ponds, floods, cormorants, slugs, briars, ice floes, etc.

I'm recommending that you order one today.

Metcalf-Rooke Award Shortlist

Laura Boudreau. A Cat Starving Its Way Through Winter. (Short Fiction)

Daniel Griffin. Stopping for Strangers (Short Fiction)

Lauro Palomba. Measuring Spoons (Novel)

A. J. Somerset. Combat Camera (Novel)

Cathy Stonehouse. Something About the Animals (Short Fiction)

The winner of the Metcalf-Rooke Award will be announced November 23rd.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Off the Road (A Placeholder)

Finally back in the office after about two and a half weeks of events. There's not been much activity around these parts for a while, though I'll do my best ot change that in the coming days. I have photographs from launches in Toronto, Montreal, and Windsor, among other places; a post on the Metcalf-Rooke shortlist (soon, soon) which we announced in Montreal last week, and much else. There's the new website we should be launching within the next several weeks, the new issue of CNQ which should hit newsstands and mailboxes later this, news about our current titles, forthcoming titles, a guest post or three, among many other things. So stay tuned ...

Friday, November 06, 2009

Parsons Legacy Inspires Words, Music

by Ted Shaw: Windsor Star

The truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels will gather tonight at Phog Lounge.

There's a unique event planned linking popular music to the literary arts, celebrating the music of Gram Parsons in song and the spoken word.

Novelist Ray Robertson, who is in town promoting his latest book, David, at Bookfest Windsor at the Art Gallery of Windsor, will slide over to Phog, 157 University Ave. W., at about 10 p.m. to join a Parsons tribute staged by local musicians, Kelly Hoppe and Greg Cox.

The event was put together by Bookfest, Phog's Tom Lucier, and Robertson's local publisher, Biblioasis Press.

Robertson, originally from Chatham, wrote a 2002 novel, Moody Food, which was based on the life of country-rocker Parsons.

The first line of this column was taken from Parsons' 1974 song, Return of the Grievous Angel, one of the tunes Hoppe and Cox will perform during tonight's set.

"I was a big fan of Gram Parsons all through the wilderness years of the 1970s and '80s," said Robertson, 43, who now lives in Toronto.

During that time, Parsons was often mistaken for the British pomp-rockers, Alan Parsons Project.

But Robertson was a purist who was drawn to Parsons' unique talent for blending many styles of American 20th- century music.

"I was drawn to it because, for me, (Parsons' music) consisted of all the stuff that makes up popular music. It had rock, it had country, it had R&B, it had gospel.

"It also had a quirky, psychedelic vibe to it."

Parsons is credited with being one of the originators of the country-rock sound. Born in Florida in 1946, he formed the Boston group, The International Submarine Band, in 1967, then got hired to join The Byrds the following year.

His time in The Byrds resulted in the seminal album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which pop musicologists regard as one of the first country-rock records.

Parsons was in The Byrds a mere four months before splitting to form The Flying Burrito Brothers with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman and future co-founder of The Eagles, Bernie Leadon.

The wayward Parsons, whose fast life was fuelled and eventually felled by booze and drugs, was also a friend of Keith Richards, and his influence can be heard on The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street albums.

Parsons died at the age of 26 of a drug overdose in a motel room in Joshua Tree, Calif.

But in his last two years he managed to produce a pair of stunning solo works -- GP and Grievous Angel -- with the help and guidance of Emmylou Harris.

Today, Parsons is a patron saint of alt-country, and his influence is evident in the likes of Old 97's, Drive-By Truckers, Uncle Tupelo, and The Waco Brothers.

In Moody Food, Robertson used Parsons as the inspiration for his fictional character, Thomas Graham. (In a famous Rolling Stone Magazine article at the time of Sweetheart of the Rodeo's release, Parson's first name was misspelled as Graham.)

The novel is set in Toronto's downtown Yorkville neighbourhood in 1966. It was a time of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and Yorkville was a mecca for aspiring musicians, American draft dodgers, wannabe hippies looking for a score, and college dropouts -- like Bill Hansen, the narrator of Moody Food.

Those who lived through those times have praised Robertson for his accurate portrait of the Yorkville scene in the late-1960s.

But it was all a work of the imagination -- Robertson was born in 1966, so he has no direct knowledge or experience of the period.

The character of Graham, his band The Duckhead Secret Society (Parsons produced the debut album of short-lived New Jersey band, Quacky Duck and His Barnyard Friends, in 1973), and the formative months in Yorkville are purely fictional.

There is no evidence, said Robertson, that Parsons visited Toronto in the late-1960s, although some of his contemporaries, including Jesse Winchester and Bill King, emigrated north to escape the U.S. draft.

Robertson will read passages from Moody Food at The Phog, and sign copies of the book.

Kelly Hoppe, meanwhile, was only too happy to prepare the musical appetizers.

He and Cox will have acoustic versions of, among others, 100 Years From Now and Hickory Wind, from the Sweetheart of the Rodeo album; Hot Burrito #1 and Dark End of the Street, from The Flying Burrito Brothers' The Gilded Palace of Sin album; and Return of the Grievous Angel and In My Hour of Darkness from the last two solo records.

"I like Gram Parsons," said Hoppe. "But I don't think of him as a huge influence on my music."

For his inspiration, Hoppe goes back to the same sources, namely the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

Hoppe also uncovered a passion for covers in his research of Parsons' discography.

He will include many of those in the set, such as The Louvin Brothers' The Christian Life (covered by The Byrds on Sweetheart), The Bee Gees' To Love Somebody, and Haggard's Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pause For Breath: The Montreal Launch

We'll be heading down to Montreal for three events, including the above at the Word bookstore on Wednesday evening. If any Thirsty readers happen to be in Montreal please stop by for what promises to be a wonderful launch for a wonderful collection.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What Boys Like: Launch Tomorrow Night

What Boys Like arrived in the driveway at 9:05 this morn, 34 hours before we launch it in Toronto at the Gladstone Hotel tomorrow night. It's the tightest we've ever been to a launch date. The cool thing about it will be that Amy hasn't yet seen her book, so she'll be getting a first look at it the same as everyone else: when she walks through the doors of the Gladstone at 7 pm. For those of you who can make it tomorrow eve, please, please come on down. It's not every day a talented young writer launches her first book, and she deserves a good crowd. For those jaded readers of this blog with four or five books under your belt, remember what it was like that first time, and get over your cynicism and come on down to celebrate. For all of those who are still struggling to put together their first, well ... you know what she's been through.

Amy will be quite busy in the coming weeks, so I thought I'd list her upcoming events here. Should there be any readers in Ottawa, Kitchener, Montreal, Halifax or the surrounding environs, you'll soon be able to catch Amy there as well.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009: BOOK LAUNCH, TINARS, Gladstone Hotel, Toronto, 7 pm

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009: with Rebecca Rosenblum & Carrie Snyder, Art Bar, 101 Queen St. North, Kitchener, Ontario, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, 7 pm - 10:00 pm.

Sunday, October 25th, 2009: Ottawa International Writers Festival, 8:30 PM, Saint Brigid's Centre

monday, November 2nd, 2009: w/ Rebecca Rosenblum & Kathleen Winter, Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore, Montreal.

Thursday, November 5th, 2009: w/ Zach Wells & Wayne Clifford: Company House, Halifax, 6-8 pm

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009: Pivot Reading Series, Toronto

More events, including stops in London, Windsor, Vancouver and elsewhere, almost certainly to follow.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

12 or 20 Questions: Amy Jones

Over at rob mclennan's blog, he's posted an interview with Amy Jones, whose What Boys Like launches next Tuesday, October 20th, at the Gladstone Hotel as part of TINARS.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I don’t know yet! I’m hoping astronomically! My first book is very brand new, so brand new, in fact, that I have yet to actually see it. I guess completing it and having it accepted for publication changed my life in that I started to think of myself as “a writer” as opposed to “a student” or “an unemployed hobo,” although I still can’t actually bring myself to say “I’m a writer” when people ask me what I do.

The stuff I’m writing now is different only because I’ve moved on to different obsessions. When I first started writing, I was obsessed with language; I wrote sentences because I liked the way they sounded. Lately I’m more obsessed with story – I really want stuff to happen. And my newer stuff is better, I think. I guess I still think of myself as a student in that way... I like to think I’m not even close to being as good as I could be.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

I actually came to poetry first, if I’m going to be honest about it, but my poems really sucked, in that sixteen year old self-indulgent kind of way (even long after I was ever sixteen). I needed more room, so I started writing fiction. Non-fiction was never really appealing to me; the main reason I write is to entertain myself, and reality is almost never as entertaining as what’s going on in my imagination... or at least, I can’t write it to be as entertaining. I sometimes tell people that I like writing fiction because I feel like fiction can sometimes be more truthful because it’s not stuck in fact, but in really I just like to make stuff up.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

When I first started writing, everyone told me the best thing to do was to just write and write, even if it was crap, and then re-write it later, and for years I really tried hard to do that. But eventually I realized that method just frustrated me. For me, writing like making pastry or dough or something, cause I have to mix things together carefully, and if I handle it too much it just ends up ruining it. So I won’t sit down to write something until I have it completely worked out in my head. And I don’t take notes! If it doesn’t stick in my head, if it doesn’t burrow itself into my brain until I’m going so crazy that I have to write it down, then it won’t work for me. The story doesn’t always end up where I thought it would go, because my characters tend to sometimes have a mind of their own, but I have to know the voice inside and out before I can start putting it on paper. And when I start, it just comes tumbling out.

For the remaining 17 questions, please go here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


A post-it note poem from Mike Barnes's blog, Graphomaniac.


God-wire arcs
In the brain.
Smother the sparks?
Fan into flame?
Or rejig the load
- up to what code?

Kerry Clare on Cynthia Flood

Over at her blog Pickle Me This, Kerry Clare has a rave review of Cynthia Flood's The English Stories. This was a title I really thought might have had some shot at a Giller longlist, at the very least, especially when one considered the makeup of the jury. The good news is that word of mouth is doing very well for this collection, and we're working our way through the last boxes of the initial print run: perhaps a reprint will be necessary. This is as it should be, as this is one of a handful of the best books we've published here at Biblioasis, which I for one think is saying quite a lot.

More good news: according to Kerry, all of the copies of The English Stories in the Toronto Public Library are currently out. So if you live in the GTA and hope to read it soon, might be best to head on down to Ben McNally or Nicholas Hoare or Type Books or your favourite neighbourhood bookseller (even these guys seem to be keeping it in stock, at least for now) and pick yourself up a copy.

From the review:

This was an England not long out of war, in the throes of an age of austerity, coming to terms (or not yet) with fundamental changes in values and beliefs, and grappling with centuries of a empirical past that was quickly becoming irrelevant. And though Flood's protagonist is young, her stories' themes are not, which becomes the point-- Amanda struggling with the gap between the world as it is and her limited understanding. Understanding which is little achieved here, for Amanda is only eleven after all, and then just twelve, and thirteen. Far too young yet for "coming of age" and Flood doesn't do such neat resolutions anyway.

What she does do is a marvelous sentence: "At lunch on the rainy February day the King died, the sweet was custard and stewed damsons" opens "Early in the Morning", or "The Spring term in which Kay died and Constance disappeared from St. Mildred's, and I broke my glasses featured a school wide obsession with mealtime talk of sex" begins "Magnificat". These sentences both convey the way in Flood encapsulates the world wide and near, the great and small, inside her literary universe.

Read the rest here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

More on Moya and Snakes

There have been a few hits on the Moya/Snakes front this past week, including a good plug on the influential Shelf Awareness, and this review over at GoodReports. We've also seen a posting of an interview over at Bookslut between Translation Series Editor Stephen Henighan and Moya. Here's a bit of what Moya has to say about the origins of Dance With Snakes:

Dance with Snakes, the novel that Biblioasis is publishing this fall, first appeared in El Salvador in 1996. What was the context -- literary and/or historical -- of the composition of this novel?

I wrote that novel during the months of September and October 1995, in Mexico City. I had just come back from El Salvador, where a very ambitious journalistic project, the weekly newspaper Primera Plana, of which I was editor-in-chief, had failed. We went broke in July of that year. My mood was dark and defeated. Writing Dance with Snakes was cathartic, liberating. A couple of months later I wrote El asco (“Revulsion”).

As you’ve mentioned, journalists appear in your novels on various occasions. In Dance with Snakes, the journalist is a young woman. Was this a way of trying to dismantle some of the literary stereotypes associated with the figure of the journalist?

That novel was written in a very compulsive way, as if the story had already been saved on a hard disk in my head. The truth is that I didn’t set out to dismantle any stereotypes with the character of Rita Mena, but rather that she was the right person to continue the plot development. I constructed a cocktail of a character on the basis of two women reporters and a female designer who had worked with me on the newspaper, and I rushed ahead.

For the full interview please go here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Cynthia Flood: The Rabble Interview

I haven't been doing my usual check-in on writer's websites these past few months, and so missed this link on Cynthia's to this summer's interview with Vancouver Co-op Radio. To listen, please go here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Advance Review of Track & Trace

from Quill & Quire:

Born on Prince Edward Island, currently based in Halifax, frequent Q&Q contributor Zachariah Wells is a Maritime poet of direct speech and muscular lexicon, both of which can be counted among the legacies of fellow Maritimer Alden Nowlan. However, Wells boasts more cosmopolitan affiliations than Nowlan did: he takes his book's epigraph from Ivan Klima, and recasts poems by Rilke and the baroque sonneteer Jean-Baptiste Chassignet.

Since Wells works for Via Rail, one might supppose that the track in his title alludes to the transcontinental routes he travels. But this is no railroader's verse: he is interested in the tracks we follow and the traces we leave. Such abstract concerns are conveyed with admirable, if sometimes too effortful, exactness. In "Slugs," the titular creatures are "creeping beads / of cool snot"; in "Briar Patch," ploughing a cane thicket, the poet's father "John-Deered the patch." Sometimes he leans a little too heavily on line breaks, creating a stuttering effect, as in "The Pond," in which a creek is "percolating into a reek- / rich bog." On rare occasions, he succumbs to jarring metaphors, as in "Fool's Errand," in which a valley in a snowstorm is a "bowl of stirred-up curdled milk."

Yet, taken overall, such poems are among the most powerful in the collection, to which may be added the impressive "Dream Vision of the Flood," in which the poet, a Noah retreating to a hilltop, dreams of his island home becoming "redrawn / by water." Since PEI in winter is more or less an iceberg floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it's not surprising that snow figures in many poems. Then, too, snow relates to his theme, given its ability to erase both tracks and traces.

Unashamed of end-rhymes or reworking the sonnet form, Wells also varies his work with incantation-like poems, in which line openings reiterate words or phrases like "Roads...," "Out with the...," and "It was a winter of..." Such litany-like exercises in parallelism are less successful than the poems in which variations on a theme are smoothly melded.

Even in Vancouver, Wells finds traces of his island home. Indeed, his most resonant poems reach back to the cormorants, red earth, and mussel mud of the province nicknamed "the million-acre farm."--Fraser Sutherland, whose next poetry collection, The Philosophy of As If (Bookland Press), is forthcoming in 2010.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Salon's Afterlife

Though it's been more than a year since the Salon des Refuses, and both issues of the magazine have been long-sold out, the Salon continues to have an afterlife. In the mail today, the above from Mount Royal College, where the Salon des Refuses issue of CNQ is being used for an Introductory Canadian Literature class. If there are any others out there who would like to put together a similar issue, do let us know: we'd be happy to get the work out there.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Introducing Open Letter Books

Today, I'd like to introduce Open Letter Books, the excellent literary translation press run out of the University of Rochester. Some who read this blog will already, no doubt, be aware of their work: I've blogged about them before and talked them up to many. I'm also a daily reader of the press's blog, Three Percent, one of the best online resources for those interested in literary translation.

Translation has always been a big part of what Biblioasis is about. Our second and third titles were translations, of Goran Simic's From Sarajevo With Sorrow, and Yesterday's People. From there we went on to start the Biblioasis International Translation Series, with Stephen Henighan as series editor, and this is now the second year we've put out two translations. These have included Ryszard Kapuscinksi's I Wrote Stone, Ondjaki's Good Morning Comrades, Hans Eichner's Kahn & Engelmann, and Horacio Castellanos Moya's Dance With Snakes; forthcoming titles (2010) will include Mauricio Segura's Black Alley (Cotes des Negres), Mihail Sebastian's The Accident, and Jaime Sabines Love Poems. But I've had an urge to do more for some time, to expand the series to four or six titles a year. For the time being, alas, it simply isn't possible: we don't have the available resources of enough time, money or manpower, so we'll have to continue to develop the series at a more reasonable pace.

In some ways I've been jealous of Open Letter: if I could do more of what they are doing I'd do so. I've been corresponding with Chad Post, publisher at Open Letter for some time now, and we finally got a chance to meet in New York last May for Book Expo. Taking a break from the Kick the Can music festival we were at, we sat down for a few beers and hatched a plan which would allow us to bring some extra international literary titles to Canadian bookshelves and readers.

So: as of this month, Biblioasis will be representing Open Letter Books in Canada. For booksellers, this means that Open Letter books will be available through the LPG and Litdistco. Just talk to your sales rep, or place your orders when you order other LPG-repped books. For readers, it will mean you'll have easier and better access to some of the most exciting translations being published in the English language. If you don't see a title you want on your local shop's bookshelf, get them to order it. You won't regret doing so. To get a head start, please check out Open Letter's most recent catalogue here.

We'll be profiling and reviewing key titles on Thirsty in the coming weeks and months, starting with Jerzy Pilch's fabulous The Mighty Angel (pictured above) and keeping you posted of any other Open Letter developments, reviews or events that might be of interest. Just another reason to stay tuned.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Two Reviews of Dance With Snakes

We've recently come upon two early reviews of the fourth title in our Biblioasis International Translation Series, Horacio Castellanos Moya's Dance with Snakes. Damian Kelleher writes early on in his review:

Dance With Snakes, an equally slim novel written eight years prior to Senselessness, but published in English in 2009 by Biblioasis in Canada for its Biblioasis International Translation Series, offers both a further unnerving glimpse into this controversial author's mind, and a sense of where he has come from as an author, what territory he has uncovered as a writer. Dance With Snakes shares the comedy and violence of Senselessness, but it has a wholly original aspect of its own, a dark and disturbing side that outright rejects the possibility that the outsider in society can ever truly be understood by the common man.


It is indicative of the sad state of foreign translations that such an intriguing and – terrible word, but here it is justified – original writer had published eleven works before being translated into English, but both New Directions Publishing and Biblioasis should be commended on their courage. Moya is not an easy author, and his novels eschew – at least both that have been published in English – both easy answers, and indeed often an answer at all. Obsession, darkness, the fringe of the fringe of society: these are Moya's stomping grounds. Eduard Sosa is sympathetic while being almost totally alien, he is an enigma both to the reader, the other characters, and himself, but his answer, it seems, is this: there is no answer. Lee Paula Springer's translation handles admirably the shift in tense and perspective, while retaining an overall feel of the novel that remains coherent throughout the most bizarre of happenings.

Dance With Snakes is harrowing and violent, a deliberate and relentless effort to shock the reader. And, you will be shocked. There is something in here for everyone, to the extent that all boundaries are crossed and morals broken into insignificant pieces. Yet it is the ease with which Moya shows this happening that is the novel's greatest strength. We live in societies where we operate under the tacit assumption that most everyone will behave in a mostly orderly, ordinary, and regular manner. When a person shifts too far outside what we expect they are ostracised – witness the antics of teenagers as they jostle for attention and express their identities in an increasingly outrageous manner – and everyone knows someone who “isn't quite right”. Moya turns this concept into a novel, creating a mostly ordinary fellow who forces himself to become extraordinary simply to see what it is like, and succeeds so tremendously because people simply do not and cannot accept that which is so wholly different to their concept of normality.

For Damian's full review go here.

Over at Ron Slate's website, the poet and reviewer comments as favorably on Moya's novel:

Now, Biblioasis has brought out Paula Springer’s taut translation of Dance With Snakes (Baile Con Serpientes, 1996), Moya’s second novel of four parts. Dance With Snakes is a plot-driven story with twists and misunderstandings among its characters. ... Moya has cultivated a unique talent for giving senselessness a screwy depth – and the style and shape of his fictions, often compared to that of Roberto Bolaño, are truly his own. Only Moya could come up with a scene where Sosa and his ladies, spiked on cocaine and a surprising aphrodisiac, have terrific sex. Such is the dance with snakes.

Elsewhere on the internet, Scott Esposito over at Conversational Reading points to an essay -- only available in Spanish -- Moya has recently published on the American creation of the Bolano mythology:

Basically, in order to sell books marketers invented the Bolano myth, which Moya is taking as an act of U.S. cultural imperialism on Latin America. Throughout the rest of the piece, Moya goes on to argue that marketers and journalists created an image of Bolano to fit preconceived U.S. stereotypes of what a Latin American is--and especially what a Latin American author is.

Moya concludes that the Bolano created by American marketers and journalists fits in with a sterotype popularized in recent movies and books about Che...

We expect we'll start to see a lot more coverage of this novel in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. Better yet: pick up a copy, as they should be on shelves across North America any day now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Draft Reading Series October 4th

Please join us for

Draft 5.1

Sunday October 4th, 2009

4 – 6 p.m.


The Blue Moon Pub

725 Queen St. E.
That's just East of Broadview on the South side.

Including new work by:

Amy Jones

Lina Medaglia

Sachiko Murakami

Rebecca Rosenblum

Roz Spafford

There will be an open mike. Seven readers, three minutes each. Please arrive at the beginning of the reading to sign up.

With the $5 admission fee you get a copy of Draft, a limited-edition publication available only at these readings.

For info:

416 433-4170

Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Confess? - A Shane Neilson Post

Shane Neilson's Meniscus is due from the printer mid-next week. In a guest-blog post, he writes about the poem as act of confession.

* * *

Why confess? Why take the personal and attempt to sanctify it in a poem? Why take what a few friends and family should know, and offer it up to a public?

The working title of my book was “My Manic Statement,” a reference to the granddaddy of the confessionals, Robert Lowell, and his “Memories of West Street and Lepke.” Lowell has been the presiding genius of this collection, not in terms of style but in terms of the confidence of utterance: I tried to do what Elizabeth Bishop said in a letter to Lowell, that Bishop might write about the events in her life but she doesn’t have the historical position that Lowell easily mines. I wanted to take a personal history and make it brittle, I wanted to make that history somehow relevant and pressing to more than just my own need. I wanted soul-excoriating poems that I could at least confirm had the ring of truth.

Many years ago, the first manuscript –drivel- I sent out to publishers was a collection of political poems, mostly about the then-ongoing war in Kosovo. One editor wrote back asking what knowledge I had of war, what legitimacy I possessed; he said it was a basic question that people would ask, how I was positioned to speak, if I was authentic. (What was understood: who was I kidding, really, a boy from New Brunswick.) I was devastated by this comment, and resolved instead to write about things I could verify; the war poems, little trinkets as I look back now, began to fall into the shadow of the only tumult that I really knew, and the only experience I could ever have.

But that doesn’t mean I’m left with a confidence. People have read my manuscript and said, “I think I now know you too well,” which means that there is the cringe factor in the confessional; but what man has not grieved, or longed, or succumbed? A man of serial failures and dogged persistence? One might say, “That’s just biography”, but I like to think that instead it’s authorship: these are the only things known to me, and are therefore the only things I can adumbrate, the only poems I could ever write, and the fantastic, odds-defying nature of the survivorship is the ringing back and front story of the collection, that it was written in spite of an unusual adversity. Rilke said in “Archaic Torso of Apollo” that “You must change your life” but as someone familiar with the confessional I know that the opposite is true, that my life changed me, and the very stuff of poetry is an investigation of states, of crossroad moments, of blunderings. Why not compose statements-in-poems that attest? That wrangle and pratfall? That “say what really happened?”

And then there is that great redeemer, love. It validates, and the book can be read as an in extremis love poem. The “I” of the book, used, I admit, as a function of the bondage of self, is rescued when the “I” looks at the cost: mounting, unmanageable. “I” becomes a love letter, a recognition that I owe all of this kingdom to “you.” Lowell broke the rules here, populating his poems with juiced biography, presenting one of his wives unfairly as a contrast; all of my use of the personal pronoun is an admission of culpability, a springboard to launch into reflection and not pronouncement.

But confessional, yes. A manic statement.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Boys Like: List # 1 (Songs Boys Like)

As we count down to the launch of Amy Jones's What Boys Like at the Gladstone on October 20th, I thought it might be interesting to try and answer that question, at least insofar as Amy's collection offers answers.

Thankfully, Amy has made my job quite easy. She is, like a couple of characters in her book, somewhat ... list-obsessed, and her blog Listophelia offers a small window in on that obsession. Among the myriad lists you'll find there -- including one about a Spongebob roller coaster -- are a few tied directly to her book. The one I'll post this morning is 'Songs Boys Like,' a soundtrack to the collection -- and hopefully the soundtrack to her book launch as well. Amy writes: "if this amazing soundtrack doesn't make you want to buy my book, then i don't know what will."
  1. "mr. jones" (a good girl) - sung by alex and yousef while drunk and high on a boat.
  2. "rock you like a hurricane" (a good girl) - on the radio while alex drives home hung over.
  3. "she will be loved" (a good girl) - alex and martine's first wedding dance.
  4. "oh what a night" (one last thing) - playing at julia's imaginary prom.
  5. "all apologies" (one last thing) - playing in the background at the coffee shop where julia searches for joey.
  6. "in bloom" (one last thing) - blasting from a car stereo.
  7. "girlfriend" (army of one) - playing on the radio as eric drives becca to the hotel.
  8. "all i want is you" (army of one) - the song playing in eric's head all day.
  9. "i'll be there" (all we will ever be) - emily and daniel's first junior high dance.
  10. "powderfinger" (all we will ever be) - emily buys daniel the record and they listen to it while they cook dinner.
  11. "funkytown" (all we will ever be) - emm and james get drunk and dance on a speaker.
  12. "knockin on heaven's door" (all we will ever be) - emily listens through her headphones while making coffee.
  13. "crazy" (all we will ever be) - emily and daniel dance in the kitchen.
  14. "wild horses" (all we will ever be) - playing on the radio the morning after.
  15. "bed of roses" (where you are) - playing on the radio when anna brings natalie home from the hospital.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Eden Mills Update

Spent the weekend at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival, one of the highlights of the Fall literary calendar. It proved to be a picture perfect day. Biblioasis had five authors reading, though not always, admittedly, in support of Biblioasis titles. These included:

Terry Griggs, author of Thought You Were Dead & Quickening

Ray Robertson, author of our latest reprint, Moody Food

Grant Buday, author of Dragonflies

Kari Grimstad, the wife of Hans Eichner, the author of Kahn & Engelmann

And Leon Rooke, the father of Eden Mills, and author of, most recently, The Last Shot, a damn fine short story collection.

Other Biblioasis authors, though not reading, were also in attendance, including

Rebecca Rosenblum (accompanied here by Mark Sampson), who was celebrating an anniversary of sorts, as it was at Eden Mills last year that she launched Once. It was also good to see Stpehen Henighan, who helped me man the booth and ended up being a much more convincing salesperson than I was -- if we sold enough books to pay for the weekend, it is largely thanks to him -- Shane Neilson, Kerry Clare (with Harriet and Stuart), Catherine Bush, Sandy Griggs-Burr (who will be illustrating Terry Griggs's Nieve), Paul Quarrington, Rosalyn and co. at TNQ, Mark Laliberte, Evan Munday at CH, Kitty Lewis, Alex Good, Nick Craine, Chris Banks, Seth ...

Thanks to everyone who came out and visited, to Dan and company at the Bookshelf, and the Eden Mills crew for throwing another wonderful weekend.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Letter from a Giller Judge

Victoria Glendinning, current judge of the just mentioned Giller longlist, has offered some thoughts on her experience of Canadian Literature in the Financial Times, worth quoting here in full:

James Naughtie, announcing the Man Booker shortlist on Tuesday in London, spoke euphorically about the “pure, energising stream of talent” he and his team of judges found in their chosen six. October 6, when the winner is announced, is also the date for the announcement in Toronto of the shortlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s equivalent of the Man Booker.

Reading almost 100 works of Canadian fiction, as one of the judges for this year’s Giller, is a life-enhancing experience, and gives a glimpse into the culture. The Canadian for “gutter” is “eavestrough”, which is picturesque . Everyone is wearing a “tuque”, or “toque”, which in English-English suggests the lofty headgear worn by Queen Mary but is actually a little woolly hat. And in the holiday cottages among Ontario’s northern lakes and forests – evidently, the prime setting for emotional turmoil – they sit, brooding, on Muskoka chairs. (Look those up on the net.)

. . .

There is a convention in Canada of appending to your novel a list of people who are fulsomely thanked for their support, starting with the book’s editor – unfailingly sensitive, creative and patient – plus family, friends and first readers. These last are generally fellow members of a writing group, who have contributed insightful modifications.

But has any major work of art ever been produced by committee? Readers may wonder whether a writer’s vision and voice may not get ironed out by such proactive input, and indeed there is a striking homogeneity in the muddy middle range of novels, often about families down the generations with multiple points of view and flashbacks to Granny’s youth in the Ukraine or wherever.

The US, too, is a nation of immigrants, but American novelists do not bang on so about their heritage and antecedents. Brits do, but differently, less personally. As it happens, all the Man Booker shortlisted novels are set back in time.

Apart from brilliant Giller contestants, there are – as Naughtie boldly said about the Man Booker entries – “unbelievably dreadful” ones. It seems in Canada that you only have to write a novel to get grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and from your provincial Arts Council, who are also thanked. Complaints were once voiced that most shortlisted Giller novels emanated from just three big-name publishers, all owned by Bertelsmann, and that virtually every winner lived in the Toronto area. Now, many of the submitted authors, and their rugged subject matter, hail from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland. That’s maybe because small publishers too are now subsidised, and they proliferate. If you want to get your novel published, be Canadian.

Kahn & Engelmann: Buddenbrooks and Bildungsroman

Another excellent review international review of Kahn & Engelmann, this one again by Damian Kelleher. It would be nice to see a bit more Canadian coverage: outside of the Globe and Quill, Geist, MacLeans, one or two university papers, we haven't been able to interest a single Canadian media outlet in reviewing it. Yet in the US and internationally we're starting to build up a solid collection of rave reviews from industry journals, newspapers and blogs If anyone out there cares to review this book, please let me know: I'd love to see it get more attention, and know we won't be able to count on awards season to keep it afloat.

From the review:

It is difficult to properly pin down the novel. At times it is a family saga reminiscent of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, complete with the rise and fall of the family company (though in this case, there are several); other times it resembles a bildungsroman, as Peter Engelmann's young self slowly awakens to the rich intellectual heritage of both his Jewish ancestors and the immensity of German literature. There are scenes devoted to young men escaping the clutches of SS troops, but also letters between estranged brothers-in-law who quarrel as the Austrian kroner rises and the business they are discussing steadily disintegrates. Add to this the slow awakening of the elderly Engelmann that his life has been a lie because he never truly faced the horrors experienced by the Jews during the Second World War, and you have an incredibly complex tale, one in which so many balls are being juggled it seems Eichner must drop at least one, though happily this is not the case.

Engelmann as a narrator is not particularly overbearing intellectually, though at no time are we unaware of his formidable intelligence. Several pages might go by during which Kafka or Rilke are analysed, or on a single page can be found the names of Proust, Mann, Dostoevsky and Neitzsche. Engelmann often wonders at how the German nation could fall under the sway of Hitler and his brutality, a thought he admits isn't particularly original, but he is able to shape it in new and interesting ways. Kahn & Engelmann is rich with Jewish and Austro-Hungarian history. Toward the end of the novel Engelmann visits the grave of his poor father, only to find the cemetery neglected and forgotten by his fellow Jews to the extent that swastikas still remain etched into stone because nobody thought to remove them. The swastikas, like Engelmann himself, bear “witness to the way that world was lost.”

Biblioasis's Translation Series also comes in for some praise:

Kahn & Engelmann continues Biblioasis' impressive International Translation Series, an imprint that has already proved its worth, and continues to do so with each new novel. Eichner's novel is a monument of intellectual exploration, a thoroughly satisfying journey through the memory of pre-WWII Jewish life, a bitter examination of the difficulties of family and business, and a fine example of the bildungsroman in miniature. The sheer volume of ideas presented in this novel is staggering, and the meticulousness with which Eichner brings to life the Jewish culture of his grandparents time is simply wonderful.

For the full review, please go here.