Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Not, Toronto? UofT Mag on Ray Robertson

Review available online here.

“Trying to be happy is like trying to be tall,” writes Ray Robertson, referring to the period of depression he experienced in 2008 after completing the first draft of his novel David. His latest book, Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live, is not a memoir of that depression, but instead a reflection upon the things he yearned for most from his darkness. Each of the 15 essays in the book – with titles including “Work,” “Individuality” and “Humour” – is an attempt to understand what makes life worth living, and what happiness means.

In spite of the general nature of these ideas, Robertson’s address is profoundly personal – “So listen to me as if I were speaking to myself” reads part of the epigraph. Robertson admits that his approach is limited by his own experience, and also by what he has read – though this is actually not much of a limitation at all, with references to writers from Flannery O’Connor to Baudelaire (and also to TV detective Columbo and hockey player Tiger Williams) in the first four pages alone.

For Robertson (BA 1993 VIC), reading is one of the most essential reasons to live – but not just any kind of reading. Throughout Why Not? he calls upon Canadian readers to be more critical of their national literature, and to demand artistic works that generate an authentic aesthetic response. With these critical skills, readers are thereby equipped to better understand the world, and also to articulate their experiences of it – both two great pleasures of being alive.

He gives other reasons to live as well, including love, and meaning, and friendship, and solitude, each essay offering surprising illumination about ideas that might seem familiar. In “Duty,” Robertson connects a story about his wife’s futile recycling efforts to his own commitment to creating the kind of literature that goes uncelebrated in a culture of “middlebrow mediocrity.” Never, ever boring, within the wild trajectory of each piece, Robertson backtracks, repeats himself, changes his mind and displays his characteristic ribald humour. Why Not? is intentionally provocative, stirring readers to vehemently agree or disagree. But this is Robertson’s point: to be stirred at all, regardless.

--Kerry Clare, UofT Mag

How does David Hickey sleep at night? Winnipeg wants to know.

A short but pretty review of David Hickey's Open Air Bindery came in on the weekend from the Winnipeg Free Press. Here's the text in full:

"Hickey hails from the Maritimes originally, so here, too, we get prodigal poems, but Open Air Bindery is as informed by the poet's insomnia and his (perhaps concurrent) backyard astronomy as it is by any notion of homecoming.

Set on ferries and in hotel rooms and suburban neighbourhoods with their "collected sidewalk(s)" and "selected raccoon(s)," these poems are wry and tired and human.

Hickey might proclaim himself "lost in the staging / of the twentieth-first century. // And never sure / if it's my turn to sing" ("Short Lives"), but in this book he croons out into never-ending night, ignoring the demands of the day to come."

"Bruce Jay Friedman" Scrawled All Over Tablet

Today the independent Jewish-American online magazine has released a full-length interview with novelist and screenwriter Bruce Jay Friedman. To listen to the interview (and--shhh!--to preview a section of Lucky Bruce), check out In the Picture.

That not enough BJF for you? Here's Tablet's two cents on why Philip Roth is more famous than Bruce Jay. Here's a heads-up: it has something to do with being a Funny Guy ...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Marius Kociejowski Interviewed on Wasafiri

Following the interview he performed with Zimbabwean writer Brian Chikwava for issue 67 of Wasafiri, Wasifiri online has done an interview with Marius himself.

Wasafiri When did you begin to write literature as a serious pursuit? Are there any artists you particularly admire (literary or otherwise) that have influenced your writing?
Marius Kociejowski I think I’ve always written seriously, which is not to say I’ve always written well. It took me years to find my voice, with a hundred failures behind every success, only for those successes to be later seen by myself as failures. At times I’m so self-critical I wonder if I will ever arrive at that imaginary goal I carry within me. The list of writers I admire is long, although not nearly as long as the list of those I do not admire, but to suggest they have influenced me would be to put myself in their esteemed company, which makes me feel uncomfortable. Maybe it is best to say they have inspired me. Among poets of recent times I can cite Zbigniew Herbert, W S Graham, Ivan V Lalic, Geoffrey Hill, Christopher Middleton and many others; in the travel genre, Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Tim Robinson, Alberto Denti di Pirajno’s A Cure for Serpents (but not his subsequent work), and, in a slightly different vein, Gustaf Sobin.
Wasafiri Your book The Pigeon Wars of Damascus depicts your trip to the country five years after your last visit was documented in The Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool. Do you intend to revisit the Middle East during this time of political upheaval in the Arab world? Also, having visited the region firsthand, are you optimistic that a people’s revolution can successfully bring about political and social change?
MK I dare not return any time soon simply because I do not want to compromise my friends and acquaintances. It is too risky to even write to, or phone, them. I am not greatly optimistic about change but then, a few months ago, I could never have predicted the massive protests that are now taking place. The question as to whether any revolution brings about the desired changes is a complex one because almost always there are also dark forces at work. If, for example, the Islamicists were to seize power in Syria it could spell catastrophe for the many religious minorities and sects living there. The one thing that can be said for the Asad regime is that it enforced religious tolerance. Mind you, it did so in its own self-interest. The lifting of any lid, and here I am thinking of the collapse of the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe in 1989, is that it brings to the surface any number of simmering prejudices. The fate of the Roma is a case in point.
Wasafiri You have given talks on the subject of ‘European Travellers to Syria and the Question of Orientalism’. Could you elaborate on your thoughts regarding the topic of Orientalism, for those that are unfamiliar with your discussion of Edward Said’s thesis?
MK I wonder if there is any thinker of modern times who having brought into the intellectual forum a valuable discourse has had such a pernicious effect on the thinking or, rather, theunthinking of his many admirers. What he has given us is yet another ism, another lens through which students and critics, with their prescribed narrowness of vision, deprive themselves of the larger picture. As right as he may have been in general when it came to the particulars Said falsified almost everything he touched. Students read him rather than the works he so casually demolishes.
Wasafiri God’s Zoo, the book you are currently working on, depicts London’s exile and émigré artists. Furthermore, you write in your interview with Brian Chikwava of a sentence in his novel Harare North that ‘captures perfectly the disillusion that sets in when people who come to London’. As you were born and raised in Canada and now reside in London, to what extent has your own background influenced your representation of people who have moved here from elsewhere?
MK So many of the people about whom I write have come from deeply traumatic circumstances. I would never put myself amid their company, even though I do conclude the book with a chapter describing my own experiences of coming to London. This said, I grew up in a condition of exile, with a father who, after the war, was unable to return to his homeland. I grew up with, and breathed daily, that deep pain. I think, too, I gravitate naturally towards ‘outsiders’. I suppose most artists and writers do.
Wasafiri As somebody who has published four poetry collections thus far, has this form of writing complemented your other roles as an essayist and travel writer?
MK Somewhere Baudelaire writes that a poet should always be a poet, even when he is writing prose. This is not an argument for ‘poetic prose’, which I normally despise, but I do like to think of myself as being governed by a poetic perception of things, which is why I think my two ‘travel’ books do not fit easily into any genre.

Marius's interview with Brian Chikwava appears in the latest issue of Wasafiri.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cathy Stonehouse on Largehearted Boy

Biblioasis has the honour once more of playing digital deejay for Largehearted Boy's synesthetic blog-of-goodness. This time round our table-turner is Cathy Stonehouse, who will be touring (along with Rebecca Rosenblum and Laura Boudreau) in Ontario this fall. Take a look, take a listen. Britpop, Brit folk, B.C. bards, and (um) Queen.

Friday, August 12, 2011

National Post Praises Mihail Sebastian's The Accident

Over at the National Post, Randy Boyagoda reviews the latest title in the Biblioasis International Translation Series: Mihail Sebastian's The Accident, translated from the Romanian by Stephen Henighan.

All serious writers have at least two dreams. The primal dream is of immediate discovery: at a preposterously early point in your career, Important People will discover your genuine greatness and encourage it along, putting you in place for decades of attention and accolades. Call this the Philip Roth model of literary success. The back-up dream is of posthumous discovery: many years after one has lived, written and died, Important People somehow come across your work, perceive its true worth, and make up for your life of being ignored by introducing you, posthumously, to enthusiastic new generations of readers. Call this the John Kennedy Toole model of literary success. Of course, most successful literary writers live out more modest versions of one or of both of these dreams.

In recent years, however, the posthumous discovery, at least by English-language readers, of books by otherwise little-known international writers such as Robert Bolaño and Irene Némirovsky has been newsworthy for the intense interest and runaway success of their works upon the release of English translations. In both of these instances, the inherent strengths of the works are matched by both their authors’ compelling and tragic stories and by breathless tales of the works’ miraculous uncovering.

If not as prodigious as Bolaño or as emotive and dramatic as Némirovsky, the Jewish-Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian is nevertheless very much deserving of fresh discovery today, which has been made possible by the first-ever publication of his fiction in English — in this case his final novel, The Accident. Long a respected name in European circles, Sebastian, a lawyer, playwright, intellectual and novelist who grimly suffered through a succession of anti-Semitic cruelties and indignities during the Second World War only to be fatally hit by a truck after the war ended, enjoyed a flurry of English-language attention about a decade ago with the translation of his war-era diary,Journal 1935-1944: The Fascist Years (which won rare praise from Philip Roth, incidentally, among many others). One hopes this new book, whose lyricism and depth of feeling have been made wonderfully apparent thanks to Stephen Henighan’s elegant translation, will only expand his English readership.

For the rest of the review, please go here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Poets in Profile: David Hickey

Open Book Ontario interviews our very own David Hickey about poetry, poets, and ... um ... socks.

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following the Poets in Profile series.

In Open Air Bindery (Biblioasis), David Hickey builds on the success of his first collection with poems that have been described as playful, humorous and profound.

He talks with Open Book about his new book and the poet's life.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Publisher's Weekly Reviews Rebecca Rosenblum's The Big Dream

In what I expect will be the first of many, many positive reviews for Rebecca Rosenblum's new collection of short stories - due to hit bookstores in mid-September -- Publishers Weekly praises Rebecca Rosenblum for The Big Dream.

In her spry, satirical new collection, Rosenblum (Once) presents 13 dialogue-rich and highly readable vignettes featuring a colorful cast of characters who work for Dream Inc., a foundering Canada-based lifestyle-magazine publisher. There's the Vice President of Human Resources, forced to lay off customer-service reps while her mother lays dying in a local hospital; the college student on the verge of a nervous breakdown who works in the cafeteria; the corporate-branding specialist experimenting with lesbianism; and the retired exec who can't quite let go of the dream. None of her main characters are editors; they come from other areas of the publishing industry, and they struggle with such mundane decisions as where to eat lunch and what to do after work. Rosenblum makes these challenges read like monumental events in her characters' lives (which they no doubt are), and deserves admiration for her well-chosen details and nuanced protagonists.

RainTaxi Reviews Light Lifting

Benjamin Woodard reviews Light Lifting in the latest edition of RainTaxi:

The Canada found in Alexander MacLeod’s impressive debut story collection, Light Lifting, is full of anxiety and obsession: a land where man masters the ins and outs of minivan combustion engines, parents fixate on the origin of lice, and the powerless struggle to overcome childhood fears. Across seven wide-ranging tales, lives are saved, others are lost, and redemption, both physical and spiritual, is occasionally found. Nevertheless, the world harnessed by MacLeod is also one that bursts with wonder and nostalgia, and the author lets his subjects shine with both raw power and supple beauty throughout. Each story in Light Lifting is a true marvel—there are no fillers here—and with every passing page MacLeod firmly establishes himself as a bright new talent in literary fiction.

For the full review please go here.

Monday, August 01, 2011

John Eklund (American book sales rep and Canadian literature aficionado) has done a bit of spin busting lately on his blog, Paper Over Board. He talks about the invisibility of the working classes, both historically and in the present, and lauds a couple of recent books for their treatment of manual labour--notably Light Lifting. Thanks to John for the shoutout, and for (will she say it?) all the hard work.