Monday, June 29, 2009

Amy Jones in Maisonneuve

The new issue of Maisonneuve is out, with a range of fine reading, including a new story from Metcalf-Rooke winner Amy Jones. Check it out!

More Love for Kahn & Engelmann

There's been more coverage of Hans Eichner's Kahn & Engelmann. I find it interesting that the majority of the coverage, both realized and planned, has come from abroad lately: interesting Canadian media in this book, whether they be traditional, Jewish, or online, has proved a very difficult task. Outside of the starred rave in the April Quill & Quire and the Maclean's obit, there's been little mention of the novel in Canada. Hopefully this is set to change.

In the past week we've seen favourable coverage of the title in The Jewish Telegraph (UK), and have had received notes about forthcoming coverage from NextBook and several other American and UK media outlets. We've also seen this mostly favourable review over at Three Percent, one of the leading online resources for literature in translation, and came across this rave by a US(?) blogger, who, as far as we can tell, picked up the book on his own. Nice to see the book beginning to reach the audience it deserves.

We have received word that the Globe & Mail will be running a review of Kahn & Engelmann "in due course", and hope that this will be just the first of a series of Canadian media reviews over the summer. Really, as the Library Journal argued, though this book is "essential reading" for anyone interested in Jewish history or literature, it is also simply essential: a book for anyone interested in quality literature. Pick up a copy today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

CNQ 76

CNQ 76 is now out. For those of you who subscribe, it will hopefully have made your mailbox by now. For those who prefer to buy it on the newsstand -- Why? When we so desperately need your name on our subscriber lists, so that we may show the Honourable James Moore that small cultural magazines do matter! -- it will be awaiting you eagerly (unless you tend to frequent Chapters/Indigo: then you are likely out of luck!). As an issue it's getting more than its usual reader response: so far, it has cost us one long-time subscriber, and resulted in a very strongly worded blog post from another reader. We're readying ourselves for more.

Should you want to see what the fuss is about, please pick up the latest issue. Or check out our spanking new website, provided courtesy of Aleks and co at Soluble Designs. To say we are in their debt would be a tremendous understatement. If you see something you like -- or something you don't -- write us a note: believe it or not, we do care what our readers think, even if we are getting used to having our editorial judgment questioned.

I should also mention that some major changes are underway at CNQ, both editorially and physically, in terms of design. We're going to really start shaking things up over the next few issues, bringing in a new editor, new features, new writers, and piecing our way through a new design. There will also be new developments over at the journal website as we continue to tweak things, adding more in the way of archives, new features and web-exclusives. It should prove to be a very interesting summer, so check back often.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Post-Tour (A Cynthia Flood Post)

When east-bound planes take off from Vancouver they fly west first, past the delta and towards the Gulf Islands. Far below, the great plume of the Fraser River, cloudy dark brown, meets the green of Georgia Strait. Then the jet turns. The mountains are pale blue in the early morning.
After that, days and days of Book Tour zipped by before I really looked at any landscape again.

Toronto -- Ben McNally's beautiful store, with family and friends gathered for my reading. Thanks Rebecca for the fine intro! Afterwards, dinner at Torrino's, and then an unexpected ride home in a convertible Volvo with the top down and Ferron singing at high volume as we five roared along Richmond Street in the rainy dark, waving to the multitudes.

Ottawa -- People from The Nation's Capital smile fondly when I say, "My reading was at the Manx Bar." Such a great place that is, and a fine reading series led by David O'Meara. Pals from college days appeared (we are all even more beautiful than we were then), and also friends from other rooms in the house of my life. That's a fine thing about Book Tour: remaking connections.

Waterloo -- Another terrific bookstore and manager, Words Worth and David Worsley, and a meeting at last with Terry Griggs, and then a tiny audience that was nonetheless fun to be with. We had a good Book Tour evening together.

Guelph -- One more many-star store! The Bookshelf, with owner Barbara and manager Dan Evans, plus a restaurant/bar, plus a movie theatre -- a cultural hub. At last, after exchanging 100s of emails, I happily met Dan Wells of Biblioasis. Then Terry Griggs and I were joined by Kari Grimstad, widow of Hans Eichner, the author of "Kahn & Engelmann." In a magical Book Tour way, our three readings all leaned towards the comic, and the large audience had a good time.

Windsor -- A unique venue, the Canadian Anglo Club, on a little strip mall. Ah, the decline of Empire. . . yet within, no decline! Dartboards, flags, a startling handpainted mural of Britain, and a terrific spread of culturally appropriate food prepared by Biblioasis' publicity manager Laurie Smith: cucumber sandwiches, Peek Frean biscuits, a huge trifle, and Empire cookies. Paul Vasey, retired CBC host, interviewed me as part of the evening's entertainment.

Toronto again -- in the reference branch of the Public Library I clicked on the Globe's review of The English Stories. Such a moment when that headline appeared: "In A Class Of Her Own." I'll savour that Book Tour memory too.

Now I'm back in Vancouver, resettling into my life here.

The day after my return we went with friends for a picnic in the arboretum at Riverview. That's a sad though beautiful place, once a vast institution for thousands of mentally ill people; now it houses only a few hundred. The grounds are large and feature many unique or unusual trees, planted over nearly a century by devoted gardeners. Sycamore maples, camperdown elms, rare locusts and oaks and tulip trees -- all have been spared the pruning that trees in parks usually suffer. Need I say that the condo developers have their eye on this spectacular greenspace?
We wandered about the greensward among these huge beautiful creatures, trees tall enough to make worlds of their own. At one point we lay down on the grass under an enormous European beech and looked up. From a distance the leaves had looked dark red, almost black, but now they were soft green edged with pink, in a great plume against the pale blue sky of early evening.

That made a beautiful end to Book Tour.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vancouver Sun reviews Flood's English Stories

by Candace Fertile

Vancouver writer Cynthia Flood has won a slew of prizes for her fiction, and her latest book, a collection of linked short stories called The English Stories, shows why the accolades are so well deserved. Flood is a thoughtful writer whose richly dense prose opens up worlds to explore.

In this collection of 12 stories, she employs several narrative stances to show what happens when a Canadian couple and their daughter go to Oxford, England, for two years in the early 1950s. Gerald Ellis is an academic working on Keats and Shelley -- or, as he and his editor wife, Rachel, joke, "Sheets & Kelly."

The wordplay is extended by Flood, particularly to expose the difficulties 11-year-old Amanda Ellis has with her Canadian accent and vocabulary.

Amanda is at the centre of the stories. The collection begins and ends with a third-person narrator focusing on her departure from Canada and her return.

In some of the stories, Amanda is the narrator, giving the perspective of a young girl thrust into uncomfortable circumstances.

She is sent to boarding school so her parents can travel, unencumbered, for their research. Flood does an amazing job of getting into Amanda's head and describing what life is like at St. Mildred's School, a no-nonsense establishment meant to prepare girls for the world, but which destroys some in the process.

Intelligence and being Canadian partially save Amanda from the grief that afflicts other students.

As for me, my Canadian speech and ways precluded both popularity and rejection. I'd settled into the familiar route of a minor planet, not as peripheral as the weepers who didn't have a clue and threw balls poorly, nor as the other foreigners orbiting further out -- the girl from the Orkneys with an accent so peculiar she scarcely spoke, and the Irish girl suspected of Roman Catholicism.

Amanda occasionally leaves the school to stay with her parents at The Green House, a residential hotel where some rather eccentric characters live. Flood dips into the lives of the teachers at St. Mildred's and the inhabitants of The Green House and uses different narrative points of view.

In The Usual Accomplishments, for example, Flood focuses on the elderly twins Milly and Tilly Talbot and their penchant for doing puzzles from The Times.

They are quite competitive with the puzzles, and Flood shows how circumscribed their lives have been because of gender and economics.

In A Civil Plantation, the only male teacher at the school tells his story. He agonizes over a grade he gives Amanda for a picture she has drawn of English settlers planted in the ground, their mouths open in Edvard Munch-like screams.

The multiple voices create a vast and profound examination of time and place. So many of the characters appear trapped in worlds not of their own making, and unhappiness infiltrates most of the lives.

Along with the unhappiness is a kind of acceptance of how things are and, as visitors, the Ellis family provides a counterpoint to the others in Oxford. The Ellises get to go home and resume their comfortable lives. But the others (with the exception of some schoolgirls) carry on valiantly, if perhaps gracelessly.

One of the guests at the hotel is Captain George Belland, who is in Oxford to study for his viva voce (an oral exam). Occasionally his wife comes to stay with him, and they are a wildly mismatched couple. Belland would love to emigrate to Canada to teach in a boys' school, but it's quite clear that his wife would never agree.

He pumps the Ellises for information about Canada and is delighted when Amanda shows him her "Indian box," a handcrafted container of birchbark, sweetgrass and porcupine quills.

But Belland has his dark side, and while the adults understand what is happening between him and his wife, Amanda doesn't. Readers see her confusion and her desire to know, but no one will explain.

The English Stories is a remarkable book. Flood's insight and skilful prose illuminate a diversity of characters and provoke thoughtful sympathy for people caught in lives they wouldn't have chosen, given a choice.

Animate Perceptions: a Review of Eric Ormsby's Time's Covenant

by Monika Lee. From Canadian Literature.

Eric Ormsby’s Time’s Covenant: Selected Poems is a lengthy compilation (281 pages spanning from 1958 to 2006) of this remarkably cosmopolitan poet’s best writing. The lyrics, as great poems are apt to be, are so rich and complex as to defy summation. Simultaneously concrete and abstract, optimistic and pessimistic, prayerful and irreverent, truthful and deceiving, Ormsby’s creations are singular, layered, and exciting. His poet persona Jaham says, “I drive the syllables before me” and “The colts of my sinuous vowels tug against the leather of my consonants”; Ormsby’s identifications with Islam and his poetic negative capability have particular contemporary force in the post-9/11 world on which parts of this volume provide a courageous commentary. These poems are, above all, earthy, and they celebrate milkweed, moths, pigs, lichen, moss, a potato, spiders, shells, a big toe, skunk cabbage, a dachshund, and all the other wonders of the natural world through intensely metaphorical language revealing meaning in every specific detail. The sheer density of the language and imagery is sometimes reminiscent of Keats or Spenser, but the humour and the irony are thoroughly modern and postmodern. The imagistic force of many lines rivals Ezra Pound’s; there is an obvious painterly (and sculptural) pleasure in studies such as “Wood Fungus”: “Jawbone-shaped, inert as moons, neutral entablatures, they apron bark and pool rain.” The poetic voice is unsentimentally committed to a semantics of the terrestrial and the implicit personifications of nature are subliminal and latent. There is something of a Renaissance cosmology in Ormsby’s contemplative perspective on the relation between microcosm and macrocosm, but he inverts the traditional hierarchy by valorizing the microcosm: “I love everything that perishes. Everything that perishes entrances me.” Hence “Lazurus” poems open the volume with the beauty of the reduction we call death: “Death, here, / Means curling back into that / Simplicity of shape.” The book’s title poem “Time’s Covenant,” second from last, frames a community of fear in which Ormsby is a participant after 9/11. He wears a beaded muslim cap, symbolic of the Islamic traditions he weaves into poems, in order to keep his “brains together.” Time’s Covenant brings us into community with things with which we do not normally identify. Ormsby’s poems, “calligraphic patterns of decay,” witness the paradoxical liveliness of the inanimate as they work a tactile magic to animate the dead: “cessation itself is a fragrance of time.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

In A Class of Her Own: A Globe Review of Cynthia Flood's The English Stories

Reviewed by Linda Grace Philippsen

Vancouver writer Cynthia Flood, whose past novels and short stories have been distinguished with numerous awards including The Journey Prize, takes readers into the milieu of 1950s England in her latest collection, The English Stories.

Flood recreates the cultural, social, political and economic tenor of the era by examining the lives of various middle-class characters. Through linked narratives, she develops the thematic complexity of a novel but gives readers the satisfaction of short stories – the more dense and intense art form. And by using several voices to narrate the stories, she achieves greater depth than the single perspective of her principle child-narrator, Amanda Ellis, would allow.

Amanda, a plucky fifth-grade girl, is uprooted from her familiar Muskoka, Ont., surroundings to a residential hotel, The Green House, in Oxford. She attends St. Mildred's as a day girl. She boards during those times that her father, Gerald, on a fellowship to write a book on Keats and Shelley, and mother, Rachel, an editor, must travel for research.

No longer shielded by the WASP pretensions of her colonial Canada, Amanda discovers how the maps and the margins of her world have altered without “my own country spread solidly around me.” In addition to coping with loneliness, bullying, and the sexual hazing of “dirty night,” she can't come top in anything because the penmanship learned in Canada slants incorrectly, and marks evaporate from her exercises and tests. Assignments that deserve more are given less, because, Mr. Greene, instructor of Foreign Affairs (the only male at St. Mildred's other than Fitzgerald the factotum) explains, “She must learn shame.”

English becomes a foreign language. People hoover. Girls wear frocks and plimsolls. No one speaks the word toilet; they spend a penny and use the loo. Branches rhymes with launches. Amanda chafes “at the mockery at St. Mildred's for her lapses in English usage and accent. She would never learn the language, not entirely. Never.”

In this ultra class-conscious world that meticulously sorts insiders from out, “One word can kill,” says Mr. Greene, who is not only adept with languages, but also “Irish as Paddy's pig.” However, he has “cracked the code and achieved a flawless accent,” thereby passing for what he is not. He lets drop, “Miss Pringle and Miss Hodgson [the Head and Assistant Head] are irreproachably Home Counties, but Miss Lincoln's speech is too carefully not northern, while I suspect that Miss Flower's gentle voice overlies an origin involving coins, counter, and till.”

Miss Pringle bemoans the ubiquitous materialism, lapsed moral standards and the lasting stringencies of a war that cost Britain its imperial status. Though she claims to welcome “the post-war trend of arrivals from other lands in the Commonwealth, as we are now to call it,” her bigotry is obvious. “The ways of life followed by persons from the Caribbean ... cause social disruption. Naturally, there is nothing of this sort with Amanda, who is indistinguishable from her classmates, but.”

Perhaps the most compelling of Flood's wonderfully imperfect characters, Pringle's charm is in her restraint. Hers is the only diary in the collection, and reading it is deliciously akin to snooping through things that were never meant to be known. She subtly reveals much – pride, prejudice, meticulous attention to detail and a stiff upper lip. However, telling exclamation marks that are as school-girlish as her charges (HRH) and Victorian connotations of words also reveal her hidden passion and love.

In all, here is little to fault here without seeming petty. A minor incongruence: Flood creates a precocious, pre-pubescent narrator who, in some instances, is bewildered and insecure, in others poised, challenging authority with questions well beyond her tender years.

Tellingly, in an interview with Laurie Smith in which she probed for which aspects of the stories might be based on “real people” in Flood's parallel childhood experience, Flood says, “The theological issues [Amanda raises] actually came up in Canada in my high school years.” Exactly.

The English Stories consistently delight for their careful craft and thematic intricacy, but especially for their attention to language – the pleasure of logos. Word. Green House resident retired Professor McGeachie tells Amanda the Greek alphabet is the beginning of learning, “The first step to Low Goes.” In play-by-play fashion, 77-year-old twins Tilly and Milly battle to complete The Times Crossword each day. Amanda keeps lists: amaranth, ignoble, crystal, vicissitude.

As well, for the knowledgeable reader looking back on the politics, prejudices and practices of the day, the stories are charged with dramatic irony. Readers realize the disquieting truths the author reveals even though the characters are blind to a broader world-view and their own flaws. Still, the microcosm in which they operate is universal and representative, even today.

This is perfect summer reading. Without being light or trite it can be picked up and put down with ease, and the characters linger with the reader long after.

Lynda Grace Philippsen is a freelance writer and contributor to A Verse Map of Vancouver.

Poems About Children (A Shane Neilson Post)

(NB: Biblioasis is publishing Shane Neilson's first trade book of poetry in the fall of 09, and he has agreed to help out around Thirsty with the occasional post on anything related to poetry (which means almost anything). I've been stockpiling these of late, as all of the travelling has kept me away from the blog, but I'll start getting these posts, as well as other reviews and other original Thirsty material, quite soon.)

Poems about children should obey a certain ethic: there should be nothing embarrassing about them, nothing potentially damaging; the child should be able to grow into an adult and not have misgivings at being so portrayed. A prominent Canadian poet, after hearing me read an otherwise innocuous poem about my daughter, mentioned that her children forbade her from writing about them. I asked the poet if there was any transgression involved, if any confidences were betrayed, and she said no, just that her daughters were “very private people” and in order to preserve her relationship with them, she obeyed.

This anecdote gets to the fundamental ruthlessness of poetry: it has to get at a thing, it has to turn it over and over, it has to possess a knowledge –not necessarily factual- that is revelatory in character, or at least speaks to the revelatory capacity in the reader. Something must be discovered. Often it is a feeling, most commonly of a regarding and unprepossessing love, but sometimes of regret, sometimes of loss. And these are honourable things, and I told the poet so, I told her that love poetry is hardly a means of commodification of her parenting and that if the poet was to take into account matters other than poetry, as a refusal, then where would the poetry turn? I told the poet that I write about my children as they are loved, as they are a part of my life, and excluding them from that life would be excluding them from the best part of me, as Milton Acorn once said in the asylum in a letter to Joe Rosenblatt, it would be unnatural and granting them a power they should not possess, that they do not deserve. I present their best selves, questing, learning; and children are best reared, as Seamus Heaney has said, when commented on frankly and in earnest. They exist in my life, and in my imaginative life; I would be betraying myself if I were to exclude them. I told the senior poet that her children were both taking themselves too seriously and not seriously enough, and that she herself was too fearful, and if I had not been interrupted by my wife, who commented that my son wanted his father, I may have got myself into trouble by disobeying the other ethic of writing about one’s children: one has to be sensitive to emotional tissues. I had to let this woman’s poetry be the captive of her progeny. I picked up my son, checking my own motivations, considering him my son, not opportunistically as proto-poem material. Indeed he will play amongst the lines, I will not refuse him those lines, in some way he deserves them, they are talismanic and will attest of his hold on me. But never did I think, and I feel this absolves me, Now I have the material, the experience, for poetry, as I let the life happen, without also squelching the poems that come as a consequence of my love, not as a looting of it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Death Becomes Her (from the National Post)

by Mark Medley

Traditional thinking has it that if you want your novel to sell well, one of the last things you should do is encourage the murder --even fictional--of a literary critic. But celebrating the demise of book reviewers is exactly how Stratford, Ont., novelist Terry Griggs has promoted her new novel, Thought You Were Dead. Thus far, the Revenge Lit contest Griggs and her publisher Biblioasis have cooked up -- submit a short story imagining the death of a critic--has received dozens of entries -- including some from notable authors -- and garnered buzz across the book world. But what does it say about the authors lining up for the chance to plot a critic's grisly fate?

"We've all, I suppose, experienced our humiliations in the writing world," Griggs says. "Perhaps bad reviews, or what we feel are unjust reviews. It's a very common experience for writers." She laughs: "I noticed that [in] some of the entries, there's a lot of feeling."

The murder of a "freelance reviewer" kicks off Thought You Were Dead, Griggs' seventh book in a career that has spanned more than 20 years, from short stories to comic novels to children's lit.

"I don't like being classified as this kind of writer or that kind of writer," she says during an recent interview at a downtown Toronto coffee shop. "I like moving in between the genres. And besides, this book itself is a bit of a hybrid."

Indeed, Thought You Were Dead blurs the line between genres; the plot apes well-known tropes of hard-boiled detective paperbacks, at the same time packing in enough absurdist humour to render the book a send-up of the genre. There are even illustrations by Nick Craine, lending the book a slight graphic novel vibe. Still, the writing is literary enough to remind you that Griggs was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for her first book, Quickening, way back in 1990 ("It sort of trails behind me like those cans behind a car at a wedding," she says). And the initial idea for the book was even more bizarre: some kind of fictionalized writer's manual concerning genealogy.

Her own literary genealogy is long and varied. Griggs, 57, has published with small presses (Porcupine's Quill), big presses (Random House) and presses that no longer have a fiction program (Raincoast). In 2002, she won the now-discontinued Marian Engel Award, awarded to a female writer in mid-career for a distinguished body of work.

It took six years of writing -- off and on -- to complete her most recent work. Trouble arose when her editor, Patrick Crean, at Thomas Allen & Son wanted changes made to the manuscript that Griggs wasn't willing to make. She withdrew the novel.

"Something just didn't jive," she says. "I couldn't see any problem with it. So I just sat on it for a while. I thought, 'Hmm, maybe I'm missing something here.' ...It was puzzling."

Dan Wells, publisher of Biblioasis, knew Griggs was working on a novel. He asked to read it, then jumped at the chance to publish it. In hindsight, it was a good business move: The book, in stores for a hardly month, has already gone back for a second printing.

"People talk about writers as word-drunk: Terry's work leaves me feeling physically tipsy and giddy," Wells gushes. "I love everything about her writing: the headlong energy of it, the verbal sparring, the humour, the zaniness of her plotting, the biting social farce and criticism. She's a great artist, but she's also a hell of a lot of fun -- an undervalued concept in literary circles these days: We seem to prefer our literature flavoured with castor oil."

And to think Griggs has achieved this success with a quasi-mystery is even more surprising after she admits she'd never even read a mystery before starting to write Thought You Were Dead. She eventually fell in love with the genre through authors such as Ian Rankin, P. D. James and Martha Grimes, but agrees the mystery novel, like other genres of fiction, gets no respect.

"I think it's unfortunate, especially in Canada, that genre writing is stigmatized -- it's thought of as a lesser form," she says. "I certainly don't look down on any other genre. I'm quite happy to read anything that's well-written. That's what I'm looking for.

"But of course," she adds, "the reward for those books is that they sell really well."

As a full-time writer, Griggs ekes out a living through her craft, though she jokes it doesn't really allow her to make a "decent" living.

"I'm happy to be publishing, and I haven't made any compromises. I write my idiosyncratic books and I get great response from readers. That's very gratifying. It's hard to say. I have lots of things planned and on the go, but who knows? Maybe I'll get a real job."

Monday, June 08, 2009

Kahn & Engelmann

Over at Jew Wishes, they've reviewed Hans Eichner's Kahn & Engelmann, giving it a rave treatment. For the whole review -- and it is worth reading in its entirety -- please go here. Below, the usual excerpt:

Eichner is a true Jewish story teller, in every sense. Some compare him to Proust, and I can understand why they do, due to Eichner’s amazingly beautiful word paintings. His insight into Jewish life and Jewish guilt is profound. Eichner’s fondness for Jewish humor shines through, as he injects it throughout the novel, through Jewish stories and fables. If his writing reminds me of anyone, it would be Sholem Aleichem. But, I digress, because I do not like to compare one author to another, as I prefer reading an author for their own merit.

There is no comparison, in my opinion, on the brilliance of Eichner’s writing. His depiction of Jewish daily life and Jewish traditions is written with forthrightness, yet with a voice that is unsentimental. Kahn & Engelmann is much more than a familial tapestry. It is a novel that depicts the hardships of three generations of a family caught in struggles to survive, not only in a country no longer their original homeland, but struggle within the family dynamics of envy, desire, financial survival, love and loss, and the struggle to survive the Holocaust. The story honors those Viennese Jews who had to flee their homeland due to annexation to Nazi Germany.

Hans Eichner has written a novel of historic proportions, with minute details that astound the mind. Kahn & Engelmann, although a novel, will remain in my mind for quite some time. It is not only intriguing and fascinating, but is a masterful work. The scenes depicted are not only illuminating, but also a testament of life within the imagery. In my opinion, it is an important work of not only Holocaust Literature, but historical Literature, and is beautifully written tribute to the Jews of Vienna. Once I began it, I was engrossed until I finished the last page. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Rather Late Cynthia Flood Pre-Tour Post

I'm a bit late getting this one up: Cynthia sent it to me while I was in New York, but I had a lot of problems getting online at the hotel. And, truth be told, a lot of other places I either needed or wanted to be. In any case, here's Cynthia on her Ontario tour.

Funny Retirement. Religious Baby.

Those are categories in the greeting card aisle of the local drugstore, but there are none labelled Voiceless Book Tour. For three days this past week such a card would have been appropriate for me. Only a kind of short dry squeak was possible, and even that hurt.

To spend days in silence is in some ways pleasant. No effort is required. Others do all the talking. Because of my speechlessness they sometimes went into a lot of interesting and thoughtful detail, impossible if I'd been in my usual mode of Yes but and Don't you think and Why on earth doesn't he, etc. Also, in many conversations (not just the ones I'm in!), listeners often do not really listen to speakers but just wait greedily for their turn. That pattern too was broken. To be outside of habit felt good. Finally, because I couldn't talk I could read even more than usual. Always welcome, that.

So -- yes it was restful, yes instructive, but all the time I was anxious as the squirrels now rushing about the roof and eaves of our house. They are frantic with parenthood; my brain ran horrid fantasies of being unable to do my readings in Ontario. I'd have to sit silent, feeling a total idiot. Meanwhile some luckless "volunteer" would read parts of The English Stories aloud. And I wouldn't be able to greet anyone who bought a book and wanted it signed. And of course I wouldn't be able to do any interviews. And and and.

On the last full day of laryngitis, while editing the bulletin board in our kitchen I found among the cartoons and clippings a quotation from Sathya Sai Baba: "Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?"

That erased all the anxiety. Gone gone gone. Completely.

Yes, my voice is back, about 85% today, and I hope 100% by Tues June 2 when I read at Ben McNally's Bookstore, 366 Bay Street, Toronto, 6 pm. I'm happy at the prospect of the two weeks ahead. The clipping's in my wallet. I do believe I'm ready for the book tour.

Back ....

Back from New York, and trying to get my head on straight and not waste too much time looking longingly out the window as I sit here at my desk. Much to report at a later date, about Ottawa and New York. Especially New York. I had a week there: wasn't anywhere near enough.

Thanks to Shane and Rebecca for filling in while I was away.

A few things in the meantime to catch up on. Terry Griggs took over the National Post blog last weekend, and there's some excellent Griggsian posts you can find here. I may post a few of them myself in the coming days. There are reviews of Jailbreaks up here and here . There's another review of Griggs's Dead here. Rebecca was one of the shortlisted finalists for the Danuta Gleed for Once. Congrats to Pasha Malla. Some new Revenge-Lits, including one by Rebecca, up here.

There's a lot else I'm likely forgetting. Plane got in lllaaaatttteee last night, and I'll be picking up the kids in 45 minutes, after not seeing them in near two weeks. So, mind's on other things. More anon.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Blogging Biblioasis Book Launches (a Rebecca post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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