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 BolaƱo, 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.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pause For Breath

The first of three poetry titles we're expecting in the coming week or so arrived in the driveway this afternoon: Robyn Sarah's wonderful Pause For Breath. Sarah's ninth collection, it offers meditations on the times and on time itself, offering up what I think some of the most quietly beautiful poems of her career. The book itself turned out quite beautifully, printed as it was by the Coach House crew.

To celebrate its launch on this last weekend of summer, perhaps then a poem on summer's passing.

Once was full summer

Once was full summer.
Down the valley blew
a cheesecloth wind,
screening the curds of cloud
from the whey of haze.

Soon the mists burned off.
Sun sipped the dew
from the long grasses,
then laid them limp with heat;
waxing towards mid-day,
made them sweat
their own juices,

Sun made his rounds
under the blue dome,
striding his realm
while all afternoon
hills cooled facing hills
with their shadows.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Biblioasis Fall Event Schedule

Biblioasis's Fall is shaping up to be quite busy. Below please find our confirmed list of events. More, including additional fall launches and several East Coast events, will be confirmed soon. Stay tuned: we'll do our best to update this schedule on a regular basis.

If there are any Biblioasis authors out there with events I've overlooked, please let me know and I'll get them up as soon as possible.

Sunday, September 20th, 2009: Ray Robertson, Hans Eichner(w/ Kari Grimstad reading), Grant Buday, Terry Griggs, Leon Rooke - Eden Mills Writers Festival, Eden Mills
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009: Ray Robertson: David (Thomas Allen) & Moody Food - TINARS, Gladstone Hotel, Toronto (Dave Bidini providing the music.)
Friday, September 25th, 2009: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead - Thin Air (Winnipeg Writer's Festival) 12:15-12:45 pm (Millenium Library/ Carol Shields Auditorium)
Saturday, September 26th, 2009: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead - Thin Air (Winnipeg Writer's Festival) 4: 00-5:00 Aqua Books, 274 Garry St. Winnipeg.
October 1st, 2009: Terry Griggs (Thought You Were Dead, University of Windsor, Windsor, TBA
October 3rd-4th, 2009: Fredericton Poetry Weekend: Shane Neilson (Meniscus) and Zach Wells (Track & Trace) attending
October 4th, 2009: Amy Jones (What Boys Like), Rebecca Rosenblum, (Once): Draft Reading Series, Toronto
October 14th, 2009: Terry Griggs (Thought You Were Dead), Trent University, Peterborough, Details TBA
October 17th, 2009: Rebecca Rosenblum, (Once), Plan 99 Reading Series, Manx Pub, Ottawa, 5 pm.
October 20th, 2009: Amy Jones (What Boys Like), BOOK LAUNCH, TINARS, Gladstone Hotel, Toronto, 7 pm
October 23rd, 2009: Cynthia Flood (The English Stories), Vancouver International Writers Festival, 10 – 11:30 am, Revue Theatre
October 24th, 2009: Terry Griggs (Thought you Were Dead), Vancouver International Writers Festival, 2 – 3:30 pm, Revue Theatre
October 24th, 2009: Cynthia Flood (The English Stories), Vancouver International Writers Festival, 8 PM, Waterfront Theatre
October 25th, 2009: Terry Griggs (Thought you Were Dead), Vancouver International Writers Festival, 3:30-5PM, Performance Works
October 25th, 2009: Amy Jones (What Boys Like), Ottawa International Writers Festival, 8:30 PM, Saint Brigid's Centre
October 26th, 2009: Grant Buday (Dragonflies), Ottawa International Writers Festival, 2 PM, Saint Brigid's Centre
October 26th, 2009: Horacio Castellanos Moya (Dance With Snakes), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Details TBA
October 26th, 2009: Cynthia Flood (The English Stories), Regina, Vertigo Reading Series, Aegean Coast Coffee & Tea, 190l Hamilton S
October 27th, 2009: Mike Barnes (the Lily Pond), Toronto, Fairlawn Neighbourhood Centre: 7:30-9 PM
October 28th, 2009: Grant Buday (Dragonflies), Humanities Resource Group, University of Windsor, 7 pm.
November 3rd, 2009: Robyn Sarah (Pause For Breath), BOOK LAUNCH, The Word Bookstore, Montreal, TBA.
November 4th, 2009: Shane Neilson (Meniscus), Pivot Reading Series, Toronto, TBA
November 6th, 2009: Ray Robertson (Moody Food), Phog Lounge, Windsor, 10 pm (Gram Parsons's Birthday Bash, with music by Kelly Hoppe, formerly of Big Sugar)
November 7th, 2009: Terry Griggs (Thought You Were Dead), Bookfest Windsor, Art Gallery of Windsor, 7:45 pm
November 14th, 2009: Zach Wells (Track & Trace), Collected Works, Ottawa, 7:30 PM
November 15th, 2009: Zach Wells (Track & Trace), Poetry & Co., Kingston, Ontario, TBA
November 16th, 2009: Cynthia Flood (The English Stories), Vancouver Public Library, Main Branch, 2:00-3:00
November 18th, 2009: amy Jones (What Boys Like), Pivot Reading Series, Toronto
November 25th, 2009: Biblioasis Poetry Bash, Ben McNally, Toronto (Details to follow shortly)
November 26th, 2009: Zach Wells (Track & Trace), Toronto, LiveWords, TBA
November 28th, 2009: Cynthia Flood (The English Stories), McNally Robinson, Saskatoon, Sask: TBA
December 6th, 2009: Shane Neilson (Meniscus), LITLIVE, Hamilton, Ont.
January 5th, 2010: Amy Jones (What Boys Like), Strong Words, Gladstone Hotel, Toronto
February 7th, 2010: Amy Jones (What Boys Like), LITLIVE, Hamilton, Ont.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An Anti-Horror Story

Mike Barnes's The Lily Pond is one of the books I'm most proud to have been a part of. It's also proved to be one of our more successful titles south of the border, even though we have not received as much publicity for it: it is a case of the importance of word-of-mouth, and how important it is for a writer to take an active role in the promotion of his or her work. In Mike's case, he has emailed and corresponded with countless readers, doctors, psychologists and others, conversations which have continued since the book was released close to a year ago now.

Unless you live under a rock, you're probably aware that Barack Obama is trying to pass health care legislation in the US, and that there has been a tremendous amount of acrimonious debate about it. In the process, our Canadian health care system, held up by some as a potential model for the US to follow, has come under attack by right-wing radio pundits and others opposed to Obama's health care plan. Some of Mike's US correspondents have asked him about his thoughts about the Canadian health care system, and if all of the horrible things they've been hearing are true. He's just posted a response on his excellent blog, 2009, which you can find here. He's titled it "An Anti-Horror Story." Here's the first few paragraphs:

Dear Jenny,

Thanks for your email. You say that down in Florida you're hearing horror stories about Canada's socialized medicine, which have got you more worried than ever about Obama's proposed health care reforms. You ask if I can shed any light on the matter.

I'll try. We hear the horror stories up here, too. In fact, most of us have told a few. Stories about long waits, bad doctors, wrong treatments, no treatment–all the ways a system can let you down just where you feel it the most: your health. They're like stories of bad car crashes or miscarriages of justice, with this difference: no one claims that privatized roads or courtrooms would eliminate those ills.

Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I heard a Canadian suggest we abandon our public health care system in favour of a private one. Even those with a financial incentive usually advocate privatizing parts of the system; they want to tinker up their returns, not tear down the house. Everyone wants the system to work better, but they want it to work better, not be scrapped for another one that does not guarantee universal coverage.

Complaining is natural; everyone does it. When it comes to putting a bad spin on a good thing, Canadians take a back seat to nobody. Still, we need to balance the horror stories with other kinds of stories, just as true and happening every day. Call them anti-horror stories.

Here is one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Moody Food

This week we release the sixth title in the Biblioasis Renditions Reprint series: Ray Robertson's critically acclaimed sex, drugs and rock'n'roll-suffused modern tragedy, Moody Food. It takes place in 1960s Yorkville, when Bill Hansen hooks up with Thomas Graham, who draws Bill into an obsessive quest to create what he calls "Interstellar North American Music." As Bill recounts the rise and fall of Thomas Graham and his musical vision, he simultaneously tells the story of frustrated idealism and the passing of an entire generation.

Thomas Graham, as a character, is based on country-rock legend Gram Parsons. This book introduced me to Parsons's work, something I'm deeply grateful for. But the novel is more than a fictionalized biography of a wonderful musician: Moody Food is also, as Books in Canada opined when it was originally published back in 2002, "as good an elegy for the counter-culture as we've seen."

We'll be tagging along for the ride for the Toronto launch of Robertson's David (Thomas Allen) at the Gladstone Hotel next Wednesday, whith Dave Bidini, formerly of the Rheostatics, providing the music. If you happen to be in town, please drop on by. We'll also be doing a Windsor launch as part of Bookfest Windsor on November 6th, celebrating Parsons's birthday, with Kelly Hoppe (formerly of Big Sugar) performing the tunes. Details for this event and others to follow shortly.

Since this is a novel about the power of music -- and no one I can think of writes better about popular music than Robertson -- it only seems right that we launch it with some. Below, courtesy of YouTube, Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers singing WHEELS:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Places to Drink Outside in Halifax

Last week both the Globe & Mail and Maisonneuve listed Metcalf-Rooke Award winner Amy Jones's What Boys Like as one of the big books this fall. Maisonneuve has also put her excellent short story 'Places to Drink Outside in Halifax,' first published in issue 32 this past summer, online. For those who did not have a chance to check it out earlier, it can be found here.

Publishers' Lunch

We spent Saturday out on the water with Dawn Kresan, publisher of Palimpsest Press, and her family. Somehow, miracles of miracles, we managed to make it through most of the day without talking about business. Not much wind, alas, though it was nonetheless a picture-perfect day. Don't expect that there will be too many more like it.

A lot on tap this week: the last copy-edit of Marty Gervais's Rumrunners, review copy mailings for Moya's Dance With Snakes, Robertson's Moody Food, Sarah's Pause for Breath (due back from Coach House in the next day or so.) Re-reading Nieve, Terry Griggs's fabulous YA novel -- destined for a Spring 10 release -- and readying Spring 2010 catalogue copy and covers. Trying to get CNQ 77 off. Event planning. And preparing for Eden Mills this coming Sunday, where we've been blessed with a surfeit of authors. Grant Buday, Kari Grimstad (reading for Hans Eichner), Terry Griggs, Ray Robertson, and, of course, Leon Rooke. Should the weather be as excellent as it has been this past week, should be a wonderful festival.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ondjaki's Good Morning Comrades

Good reviews keep coming in for backlist titles, as well as news that others are forthcoming -- including a review of our Kapuscinski in Rain Taxi. This time Australian Damian Kelleher, a prominent Australian blogger and reviewer, weighs in on Ondjaki's Good Morning Comrades, the second title in our Biblioasis translation series. This book did not get the attention it deserved, as we did not have the appropriate US distribution in place and had little reputation south of the border as a literary press. that has changed somewhat over the last 18 months, which has resulted, it seems in a few of our backlist titles getting a bit of additional attention.

Damian writes of Comrades:

Good Morning Comrades is short, and it refrains from seeking too much closure. Life goes on, though life has changed, and Ndalu accepts this, though he doesn't like it much. Much of the flippant, charmingly positive boy remains by the end of the novel, though his personality has now become tempered with the truths he has realised. Stephen Henighan, who translated Good Morning Comrades from the Portuguese, provides a brief overview of Angola's troubled history since gaining independence, which provides an excellent postscript to Ondjaki's novel. On a second read-through, many of Ndalu's offhand comments become clearer, and the sad shape of Angola begins to coalesce.

Ondjaki's debut novel is very strong, thanks in large part to the charisma of its narrator. Ndalu is very much the sort of young boy you would expect to become a writer, or reporter, or academic, or even politician. He is, in short, an intellectual, a curious boy who will, we hope, become an even more curious man. Ondjaki himself is an astonishingly productive author, having written nine novels and directed a documentary about Luanda, his home city, the capital of Angola, and the setting of Good Morning Comrades – and this all from a man barely into his thirties. Good Morning Comrades is a charming novel, subtle in its examination of the political difficulties of a small, poorly known African nation. Well recommended.

For the whole review, please go here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sibum Needs No Defence

It is nice to see some of our backlist -- and our backlist poetry -- getting a bit of late coverage. Below is a review of Norm Sibum's Pangborn Defence, which runs in this week's Concordia Link.

It is not every night that you’re kept up reading a book and have trouble putting it down.
What Norm Sibum has delivered with his third published series of poems, The Pangborn Defence, is just that. His use of language and characters create a beautiful symphony of images and storytelling.

With Sibum’s latest work, he delivers a change of scenery from previous outings, like Girls and Handsome Dogs, for which he won the Quebec Writers’ Federation's A.M. Klein Prize.
Sibum captivates his audience and sends them on a journey through what seems like his own life history.

Having grown up in Germany, then travelling to Alaska, Utah and Washington and finally settling in Montreal, Sibum has let his inspiration from different worlds and cultures infuse his poetry.

Through political undertone, Sibum compares past conflicts with their modern equivalents. This isn’t just another middle finger to the establishment; Sibum seems serious in his mockery of political targets, but underneath his words it is evident that he wants to find a way to change things, to make them better.

Through his characters, Sibum has left us questioning how we can make our own mark on the world today, a sentiment that can be shared by the young and experienced alike.

Sibum has managed somehow to mix humour, gravity, originality and truth in his writing. Within the portraits that Sibum paints with his words, we are always left with a sense of accomplishment, yearning and captivation. He brings readers back to the past by introducing a new kind of present. He has the power to change what we think is so normal in today’s world.

Pick up a copy and prepare to have your world changed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Horacio Castellano's Moya: Dance With Snakes

One of our lead fiction titles arrived from the printer yesterday afternoon: Horacio Castellanos Moya's Dance With Snakes. Set for a September 30th release, Snakes is the fourth title in the Biblioasis International Translation Series, and certain to be one of our lead titles this fall. We expect to receive a lot of attention, especially south of the border for this one. Though Moya is well known in many parts of the world, he first came to attention in the English-speaking world last year, when New Directions published the first English-language edition of his work: the critically acclaimed novel Senselessness. An exploration of genocide and political persecution and paranoia, it ranked as one of the most brilliant and psychologically intense novels I've read in recent memory, and ranks right up there with the best of Coetzee -- especially Michael K and Waiting for the Barbarians.

Snakes is an earlier work, a macabre and violent farce, about an unemployed sociologist, Eduardo Sosa, who becomes fascinated by a homeless man in a beat up yellow Chevrolet, and through a series of unexpected events assumes his identity. The Chevrolet is home to four poisonous snakes, and together they unleash a reign of terror on the city of San Salvador.

Snakes is a high-speed romp of non-stop action, a work in which violence and comedy becomes almost indistinguishable. It raises provocative questions about social exclusion and the role of the media, while exploring the tenderness of relations among those on society's margins. Nothing in the novel is held sacred, and numerous taboos rarely crossed in literature or elsewhere are traversed here. It is a book which will leave many uncomfortable, but there is little doubt: Moya's world is quite unlike any out there. His is an original and inimitable literary voice.

The writer he is most often compared to, at least in the English-speaking world, is Roberto Bolano, the author of The Savage Detectives and 2666. I've not yet read enough of Bolano to make up my mind about this, though from what I have read they seem to be markedly different writers. Regardless, Bolano was himself a fan of Moya. He wrote in an essay on Moya's work that Moya is the "only writer of my generation who knows how to narrate the horror, the secret Vietnam that Latin America Was for a long time ... The acid humour of Horacio Castellanos Moya, resembling that of a Buster Keaton movie or a time-bomb, threatens the hormonal stability of imbeciles, who when they read him feel the irrepressible desire to hang the author in the town square. I can't think of a higher honour for a real writer."

And with this, Bolano has given us perhaps the best entryway into Dance With Snakes. It is both a Buster Keaton movie, chock full of a surreal, violently comedic slapstick, and a time bomb. It's a book we hope will help cement Moya's reputation among English readers.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Here come the Moonbathers: Victoria Book Award Finalist

Patricia Young's 2008 collection of poetry Here Come the Moonbathers has been selected as a finalist for the Victoria Butler Book Award. It's the second time she's been short-listed for the award with a Biblioasis title, the first coming with her first collection of short fiction, Airstream.

The winner will be announced on October 14th at 7:30 pm at a gala event. The winner receives $5000.00.

The other finalists are:
Dede Crane, for the Cult of Quick Repair
Patrick Lane for Red Dog, Red Dog
David Leach for Fatal Tide
Ilana Stanger-Ross for Sima's Undergarments for Women.

Congratulations to Patricia for some much deserved recognition for what is a very fine book!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Two Poems:: Robyn Sarah & Norm Sibum

As this is a season of three poetry books -- Shane Neilson's Meniscus, Robyn Sarah's Pause for Breath, and Zach Wells's Track & Trace -- and I'd like to buy a few additional days respite from the pleasures and pains of trying to keep this spot fresh, let's begin this new season of Thirsty postings with two poems by Biblioasis authors. The first by Norm Sibum, reading from his Pangborn Defence: A Suite for the Good doctor O (Ormsby, that is). The next, Robyn herself, readingThe Star, from her soon to be released collection, Pause for Breath. Videos courtesty of the Montreal Gazette. And I promise that we'll see more of one another the other side of this weekend.