The Globe’s John Barber speculates that we’re in a golden age of literary awards here in Canada. Well, gold-plated, anyway. And apparently this is a good thing.
Snap quiz: Who won the 2009 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize?
The fact that somebody might actually know the answer to such a question represents a real achievement for Canadian writers and publishers, who habitually fret that an image-addled world has forgotten them. Fifteen years of heavily publicized, open-bar galas have made a name for the winner of the annual Giller Prize, but this year the charmed circle of recognizable Canadian authors magically expanded.
Douglas Coupland would call it a “syzygy,” which is what happens when three celestial bodies line up to make an argument. Bettors would call it a “Triple Crown.” The effect is similar: Awarding three national literary prizes on consecutive Tuesdays every November has added new dimensions of drama to what was formerly a one-night coronation.
Mark Medley got his grubby paws on a Kindle and gives an even-handed review of the wee beast.
The keyboard is tiny, like it hasn’t finished growing, which makes searching for books in the Kindle store a pain – tapping out titles is like Morse Code. Amazon promises over 360,000 books, but there are glaring omissions, especially when it comes to Canadian novels: none of the Giller Prize finalists are available, nor Atwood’s new novel or Munro’s latest collection. There are add-ons, like a built-in dictionary, but navigating the menus with the tiny joystick is frustrating and slow. And the most useful tool, web-browsing, is disabled in Canada, so you’re limited to Wikipedia.
While the interface leaves much to be desired, the reading experience is actually quite pleasurable. The e-ink screen eliminates glare common to computer screens, though it means photos and text are restricted to 16 shades of gray, which sounds like an Ingmar Bergman film.
I found I read differently on a Kindle; I raced through the “pages” faster than normal, pushing the next page buttons as if playing a GameBoy. My best experiences came reading the newspaper in the morning; without the cumbersome broadsheet I could now hold a coffee in one hand and the entire paper in another. My fellow subway riders no doubt appreciated this, though they looked at me oddly, eyebrows raised, like I was reading a Weekly World News.
I’m home with a coughing young Ninja today, so I’m typing this under the extreme pressure of a tugged sleeve and snot-faced whines for a game of pokemon cards. I tell you, the life of a poet is so glamorous I can barely stand it.
- Is it sexism when the list is all female? (Answer this similar to how you would the classic “Why don’t we have a STRAIGHT pride day?” Answer: because every day is straight pride day.)
- Alice Munro gets a mixed review in the NYT ( I don’t usually link to reviews, but it’s like our reigning monarch just got touched inappropriately by Wubblewoo)
- Remember how everyone thought the leader of the Congo was audacious enough to fake a foreward by Mandela? Apparently he’s not quite so audacious… Still a complete dickhead, but not a forger
- Want to get your name into a scifi novel? Well, you better tauntaun up the dough, my hoopy frood
There’s a variety of reactions around the Borders UK closing, ranging from running around with hair on fire screaming “We’re all going to die!!!” to running around with hair on fire screaming “Not necessarily!” Glad to see reasoned thought has not be lost.
Yeah, I took Yanky-Thanky off yesterday. What are you gonna do about it, huh? One of my sons is American, so I feel it’s incumbent upon me to ensure he develops a deep pride in the historical accomplishments of his birth natio…. BWAHAHAHA. No, I’m kidding. I just fucked around for a day. I couldn’t stand the thought of Dennis and Maud and Jessa and everyone else getting to goof around whilst I slaved away, so I used my spare time to work on my book instead. And by that I mean I did everything but work on my book while the file was open on my desktop. Sigh.
- The five hotties of the Anansi Girls bookclub get some love at the National Post (I’m telling you, this group is a heart attack waiting to happen. Browr.)
- French fairy tales (hint: the children teach the mice how to smoke)
- NYT’s holiday gift guide
- Borders UK: still warm but already having books and buckles removed by scavengers
- This is how bad it is to be a writer: hooker-cum-author misses being a prostitute (aw baby, you’re still a whore, just a different kind now…)
- Bloomberg Press is closing
- Kindle’s bestsellers are mostly books about, or in some cases by, vampires
- Publishing, like Celine’s heart, will go on, even without Orpah
A few years ago, when Michael Wolff was still writing for New York magazine, he wrote a fun column taking the book business to task: “I mean, books suck. Most books are dopier than television or movies or even advertising (many books tend to be just collateral promotions or the lesser offspring of dopey television, movies, and advertising). Even if there are precious exceptions, the overwhelming number of big-money, industry-sustaining books are incontrovertibly dum-dum things. More cynical, more pandering than any other entertainment product.”
The “books suck” comment, he says, led to his being subjected to “much middlebrow opprobrium.”
Now, he says in a new column at Newser, “I’d like to revise that line: Books are evil. They’re pernicious. They represent themselves as being one thing, when they’re insidiously the opposite.”
E-book readers: The market for electronic books sure is heating up. Barnes & Noble just unveiled the Nook, its stylish competitor to Amazon’s Kindle. In December, Sony will add a new model to its line of e-book devices—the Daily Reader, which features a touch-screen interface and, like the Nook and Kindle, wireless book downloads. There’s also a new reader from Irex and a slate of colored Cool-Er readers from the British company Interead.
This isn’t a good time to buy any of them.
It’s really a great thing that Dimitri decided to honor his relative with this shoddily compiled gathering of notes. What a way to ensure the health of a reputation: hang the dirty underwear in the window to make a profit.
Let’s come clean—$35 is at stake, after all. Vladimir Nabokov’s posthumously published The Original of Laura (Dying Is Fun), despite its considerable width (nearly 2 inches) and heft (2 pounds, 11 ounces), its publisher’s description (“a novel in fragments”), and its advance praise (“a fascinating novel” says biographer Brian Boyd), is not a novel. Not remotely. It is not to be confused with Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth, or Italo Svevo’s Further Confessions of Zeno—unfinished novels that contain long, continuous sections of writing, from which it is possible to apprehend the larger work’s subject matter, scope, and ambition, however imperfect the execution. To describe The Original of Laura as a novel would be like mistaking a construction site for a cathedral. Yes, the blueprints might call for flying buttresses and oriel windows, but for now it is only a mess of wheelbarrows, uncut limestone, and piles of sand.
Happy Thanksgiving to you Yanks. Try not to kill anyone.
- Annabel Lyon wins Writers’ Trust (she seems so nice, I’m surprised she didn’t win our trust earlier… badump bump! Thank you! I’ll be here all week and I’m back on at 11. Try the veal!)
- Quoting Catullus can still get you in trouble if you’re a moron
- The skinny on cookbooks
- An iTunes for magazines?
- Palin fans (who can be seen in action here) number at least 700,000
- In related news, Bible book business booming a bit
The Muppets doing Bohemian Rhapsody. You can thank me later.
Social media experts said they’re not surprised so many people have subscribed to the exciting new site, as it’s the only online service in which users can post a major multivolume epic in the morning, and have it read, critiqued, and reNovelled by thousands of other people around the world before lunch.
The Observer asks a bunch of prominent intellectual types for their books of the year. No word yet on what the nurses, plumbers, data analysts, and falafel vendors think.
Colum McCann – novelist
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s Books; published here in February by Hamish Hamilton) is an examination of America in the time of Katrina, an indictment of bureaucracy, a testimony to the possibility of goodness, a level-headed look at Muslim America, a heartbreaking rap sheet for the Bush years, all this and more… I was completely enthralled by this book from one of the most socially engaged and provocative writers of our times. The Infinities (Picador) is John Banville’s best book, I think. The prose is honed, as always, and every word matters, but the book breathes with humour and shines with a lovely discursive wink. It’s also the sort of novel that you nod along to, then it swerves and you don’t quite know where you are, but you experience the thrill of being suitably lost.
China is a gold mine for thriller authors looking for a bad guy. Wow. How….. predictable.
For novelists, China’s rise is pure gold. The Communist Party’s opacity and its passion to control China’s image have had the opposite effect: they feed Western fears of China’s intentions, and dare Western thriller writers to invent disaster.
Never mind that so far the Chinese have not projected military power outside of East Asia, that they prefer to compete mainly by accumulating dollars by the trillion. Military power grows from economic strength, and military analysts do not doubt that the People’s Republic could one day become a full-bore competitor to the United States, offering its protection to all manner of governments throughout the Persian Gulf and Africa.
For journalists, couldis a blank page. But novelists exist to fill that space.
Amis thinks his new book will get him in deep doo-doo with “the feminists” and is doing some pre-emptive damage control. My guess is that “the feminists”, with a capital T and capital F, doesn’t do justice to the well-learned fear he’s trying to hide. At issue is his belief that the sexual revolution killed his sister by turning her into a compuslively promiscuous mental midget. Maybe there’s info I’m missing here, but… huh?
The Pregnant Widow, described by its publisher as a tragicomedy, follows the lives of six young people spending a long, hot summer holiday in an Italian castle during the sexual revolution and the “sea change” of 1970.
Amis said he had been told it would get him “in trouble with the feminists”, but he insisted that it was actually “a very feminist book” and that “they haven’t got a case”.
The title of the novel, which will be published in February 2010, is taken from the Russian intellectual Alexander Herzen, who said that after a revolution we are left with “not an heir but a pregnant widow”.
A few Bookseller articles outline the state of affairs at Borders UK, which is starting to look like a student with huge loans, no job, and an apartment just high enough in the building to reach terminal velocity from the balcony.
Where the news becomes a natural disaster.
Daily Dose of Digital
- Amazon tries to halt Google settlement—what could they possible have invested in this?
- The Publishers Association overseas there has good things to say about the Digital Economy Bill going round
- B&N sells out …. of the Nook (see what I did there? see?)
- Granta editor John Freeman profiled around his new tech book Shrinking the World (apparently not available yet over here)
- Ebooks: not as green as you think
I stupidly tried to use WordPress’s “upgrade automatically” feature last night and experienced about half an hour of what it must be like to be a ‘roid addict with serotonin problems. Anyway, here’s hoping she holds together for the weekend until my RL crap passes. Come on, baby, hold together….
- Flannery O’Connor wins American vote
- Book trailers—sign of the apocalypse?
- Oxford gets museum of storytelling
- Women and the Twilight of American culture
- NYPL leader steps down
- Something happened down south with the words “National”, “Book”, and “Awards” in it, but I’m not sure what that is
- Guardian seeks good sex in fiction—we got the discussion right here
- UK Booksellers’ Assoc. to import US indie initiative
Orpah will leave the building (presumably buying it, and the country it’s based in, on the way out) in 2011. I… I… I’m too emotional to comment further right now. Somebody pass me a diamond-studded, monogrammed hankie to wipe my retouched nose on. It’s like a long, deadly world war is ending for me. Now, on to the guerrilla quagmires!
After more than 20 years in which Oprah Winfrey shook up the medium of the daytime talkshow, rising to become a ratings and cultural powerhouse, she is to announce today that she is bringing her show to an end.
Yesterday she told her 600 staff in Chicago that the Oprah Winfrey show would end in September 2011. That will be its 25th season, after it was first broadcast to the US in 1986.
The single best explanation I’ve ever seen about how to have productive conversation with someone who’s just made a racist remark. Bril. Liant. (via Lady Ninja)
I’ll resume posting again on Monday, but for now, take this quote from Cormac McCarthy in a WSJ interview and suck on it for a while, you short fiction writers (speaking as someone who just handed his editors 20 new pages of novel, yo… oh, yes, this is happening. It is so ON!) (from the pages of my beloved ex-Ninja Pete (or beloved ex, Ninja Pete))
I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.
A single sentence animation from the boys and girls at Electric Literature.
An acrostic poet, but a poet nonetheless. Stuff like this makes my day cozy.
Did Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office use a coded veto message to send the f-bomb to Tom Ammiano, soon after the San Francisco assemblyman made news by telling the governor to “kiss my gay ass”?
Schwarzenegger’s people say no. But the X-rated evidence is hard to miss in a message that Schwarzenegger sent to explain why he was vetoing an Ammiano bill dealing with financing for the Port of San Francisco.
A straight reading of the guv’s letter laments “the fact that major issues are overlooked while many unnecessary bills come to me for consideration,” and concludes, “I believe it is unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.”
As I said, busy busy busy. Will try to resume normal posting on Monday. Until then, it’s roundup city.
- Will smartphones trump ereaders in the hardware battle?
- Poet Andrew Motion to chair Booker Prize jury
- Harlequin finds only possible way to get even shittier writing into print
- Ever want to dance on a poet’s grave? Here’s your map to happiness
- Gaiman just won a teenage book prize (Ninja Boy and I just read his kids book “Odd and the Frost Gaints” and it was pretty good)
- Warhol’s kids book comes with soup can label, wig fibers, and a few crystals of coke scraped from Basquiat’s nostrils and goes up on the block with other rare ephemera
- Is the bookseller/publisher model the way to go? If you can be as good as Melville House, I say, Yes!
- Perseverance and a Nobel was all it took for Herta to worm her way into our language, and hearts (remember, kids, you can’t spell “heart” without “Herta”—unless it’s in that foreign script with the backward Rs or something, in which case you might need a Q for all I know)
- Dan the Man in Tan helps Random to $23M in ebook sales
- I Can’t Believe It’s Not Poetry–-Flarf: indistinguishable from most contemporary poetry, but with half the caloric drain on brain cells
- The Beeb thought Blyton was a hack
Congratulations to all, both those with the bigger cheques and those nominated who go away with the smaller cheques. In all truth, it really is being nominated at all that’s the award. You should see how hard it is to pick those five, much less one. The winners will be listed here, but I can tell you now that David Zieroth just won moments ago for poetry. More to come on this over time, including my thoughts on the whole thing. Right now, just celebrate literature!
- Pullinger for Fiction
- Zieroth for Poetry
- Loring for Drama
- Vassanji for Non-Fiction
The Kindle is coming to Canada. You too can own a piece of the One True Cross on which the book was hung to bleed out.
Canadian book worms have waited long enough. Amazon.com Inc.’s popular digital book reader is officially available in Canada, the company announced Tuesday.
The hand-held wireless device, which Amazon.com boasts is its No. 1 bestselling product, holds up to 1,500 book titles and also lets users download newspapers, blogs and magazines.
More than 90 top newspapers and magazines are available in the Kindle Store for single purchase or subscription. Available for the first time on Kindle is the National Post. Additionally, all of Canwest’s major daily newspapers will be available on Kindle. They join top papers such as Le Monde (France), the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph (U.K.) and the Washington Post.
I’ve got a crazy week ahead of me, preparing for a big event at my day job, so I’m not sure how much posting will be done. Check back, but don’t send me angry emails if nothing’s here. Here’s a few news items to keep your vampiric desire for media blood blunted.
It depends on where you stand:
At least, that’s how this comes off to me. To ex-Ninja Pete, it’s probably a love letter.
That’s the problem with loving typography. It’s always a pleasure to discover a formally gorgeous, subtly expressive typeface while walking along a street or leafing through a magazine. (Among my current favorites are the very elegant letters in the new identity of the Paris fashion house, Céline, and the jolly jumble of multi-colored fonts on the back of the Rossi Ice Cream vans purring around London.) But that joy is swiftly obliterated by the sight of a typographic howler. It’s like having a heightened sense of smell. You spend much more of your time wincing at noxious stinks, than reveling in delightful aromas.
If it’s bad for me (an amateur enthusiast who is interested in typography, but isn’t hugely knowledgeable about it), what must it be like for the purists? Dreadful, it seems. I feel guilty enough about grumbling to my friends whenever I see this or that typographic gaffe, but am too ignorant to spot all of them, unlike the designers who work with typefaces on a daily basis, and study them lovingly.
“I think sometimes that being overly type-sensitive is like an allergy,” said Michael Bierut, a partner in the Pentagram design group in New York. “My font nerdiness makes me have bad reactions to things that spoil otherwise pleasant moments.” One of his (least) favorite examples is the Cooper Black typeface on the Mass sign outside a beautifully restored 1885 Carpenter Gothic church near his weekend home in Cape May Point, New Jersey. “Cooper Black is a perfectly good font, but in my mind it is a fat, happy font associated with the logo for the ‘National Lampoon,’ the sleeve of the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ album and discount retailers up and down the U.S.,” Mr. Bierut explained. “I wouldn’t choose it as a font for St. Agnes Church even as a joke. Every time I go by, my vacation is, for a moment, ruined.”
This fellow’s had enough of corporate bookselling, which puts him just about 15 or 20 years behind everyone else.
When the Borders Group first imported its corporate ambience to the UK in 1998, it seemed the book business had been made anew. Here were stores in which not only could you get away with browsing noncommittally, you were positively encouraged to do so. There were armchairs for lolling in while you read a chapter or two, as well as coffee-shops that offered cappuccinos and a range of sugar-laden treats to keep your energy levels up while lolling.
There will be people who still feel it’s good to be able to sit and think, without being pressured into making a decision. I do remember a fearsome manager at the WH Smith of my childhood, who used to follow you about tidying up the shelves every time you put back a book you had just briefly looked at. But I also remember a small independent bookshop, staffed only by a man who looked far too young to be wearing a cravat, and who only looked up from his own book in order to tie up your purchase in brown parcel paper and string.
- Michael Moorcock to write Doctor Who novel….?? Isn’t that like asking Yo Yo Ma to do a mall musak CD?
- Winnie-the-Pooh is back in court, but not on burglary and public nudity charges (would somebody get that pervert some pants?)
- Plaintiffs in Google case are UK, Oz, and Canuckistan
- Sure you’d read her when she was an anonymous $600 an hour hooker with a loose tongue, but will you read her when she’s a research scientist-cum-novelist from Bristol?
- The Governor General’s Literary Awards are announced tomorrow. Who will win? Being a judge, I already know, but I’m not telling. You should buy all the titles and decide for yourself, but they’re all very good
Meet the face of your imminent demise, publishing. No, it’s not Drew Carey on Slim Fast, it’s Canadian sci-fi writer and uber-blogger Cory Doctorow, muthatruckahs. And he’s here to bust an affable, common sense cap in your ass. That or he’s the anti-Christ. Are we supposed to be mad at him because he makes money? Because his analogies are sensationally brutal? Because he cornered the black plastics market with those glasses? Can anyone tell me what this ridiculous article is actually saying?
As an example of that, Doctorow cites Amazon.com’s decision to delete – unilaterally and by remote control – thousands of electronic copies of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four it had previously sold to users of its Kindle e-readers.
“They gave everybody back their copies and promised they would never do it again – unless they had a court order,” Doctorow said. “I’ve worked as a bookseller, and no bookseller has ever had to make a promise at the cash register: ‘Here’s your books. I promise I won’t come to your house and take them away again – unless I have a court order.’”
Traditional copyright law is like a tank mine, according to Doctorow, a fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights watchdog. It exists to regulate the activities of large commercial interests. “A civilian can’t set it off by stepping on it.” But new corporate models born of digital technology are changing that, so that penalties for comparatively petty violations – like sharing a book – are targeting individual readers. “They’re redesigning tank mines to blow the legs off children.”
Ongoing at Bookninja is an argument in the comments of the post right below this one about whether publishing, and especially the term “chicklit”, are sexist. One of the many streams flowing through this discussion is the idea that men don’t really read. Orpah, in all her bookish wisdom, is trying to change that. A bit. Moby stumbled on to the “Books Men Want” pages at Orpah’s media empire and does a bit of analysis to answer the question: What is it men want? Sports and guns? I think I can answer that without any analysis at all, but rather by resorting to a little rural Ontario linguistic razzle dazzle: “tail”. Men want tail. Case closed. So how do we translate tail into books? Apparently we don’t. There are only three pages on Orpah’s site. And sexism still rules the day, even there.
As we all know, the question, “What do men want?” is thought to be much easier to answer than is the same question of women. Nowhere, apparently, is this more true than in the book section where, it appears, men don’t want much.
Each of the books selected by Oprah has its own page. After clicking through three pages, I found that I was being directed to other features. I tried this several times, thinking that I must have made a mistake, but, after all, it seems that only three pages are needed for the Books Men Want: Open, by Andre Agassi; True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy; and Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer.
For men, by men, about men.
66.6 % of the titles have to do with an athlete. Zero percent, it almost goes without saying, are fiction. All are biographies of public, accomplished men, although the subject of Krakauer’s book, Pat Tillman, the professional football player turned soldier, was not so well-known until he was killed in the war in Afghanistan.
If anybody knows who’s reading what, it’s got to be Oprah and her crew (Sara Nelson must have a pretty good idea, herself). After all, Oprah regularly decides just what that will be –- for millions of people. A feature like Books Men Want, I have to think, must be close to the mark. On such anecdotal evidence as this, then, it looks as though uncoupling gender stereotypes from reading is a lost cause.
After twisting its shapely ankle on a strappy, five-inch heel caught in a sewer grate, Chick-lit has bravely righted itself, adjusted its skirt so only a sliver of panty is visible, wiped away its drunken mascara tears, and screamed, “Fuck you, asshole!” into the night. It’s, like, transformative.
When I was an editor, my books were in the genre known for some reason as “commercial women’s fiction”. We – my colleagues and fellow publishers – loved these books and knew the truth, which is that books bought by women prop up the book trade, and that we should be proud both of the product itself and the diversion it gives hardworking people who want a good read. Now I’ve left, I’m looking at it from the other side – and what I see alarms me.
I am passionate about this kind of writing, but it seems to me to come in for an extraordinary amount of bile and patronising comment which I rarely see applied to novels by men in the same vein. Books – both fiction and non-fiction – reflecting women’s lives, whether young or old, are labelled. Hence “chick-lit”: often a derogatory term used to mean books by young women drinking chardonnay and being silly about boys, without the thought that novels by women about women might accurately reflect their lives and thus have merit or, at the very least, relevance.
It winds me up that books about young women are seen as frivolous and silly, while books about young men’s lives that cover the same topics, are reviewed and debated, seen as valid and interesting contributions to the current social and media scene. Take anything from Toby Young’s How To Lose Friends and Alienate People to The Contortionist’s Handbook to Toby Litt or David Nicholls’s One Day, or the works of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Lethem. Often these books are far more sensationalist than those by the authors’ female counterparts: about how many women the protagonists have slept with, how many drugs they’ve done, what a crazy nihilistic time they’re having in London / New York. I’m not saying they’re bad books: Jonathan Lethem is one of my favourite writers and One Day is probably my book of the year. I’m just saying they aren’t belittled and dismissed in the same way on the grounds of their subject-matter.
Eggers early work I can get, but Lethem compared to Trollope? We’re into talking bananas and figs here people. And for the record, I strive to be an equal opportunity belittler of poorly written, philosophically vacant, socially inexcusable prose. But it’s hard when the market is flooded with SO MUCH of the crappy escapism this woman wants us to take seriously.
Between wheezing, mechanically-assisted breaths, Waterstone’s has responded to the Guardian’s assertion that the company is out to kill publishing. Their argument in a nutshell: want a sausage, doggies? I have a whole chain of ‘em right here! Fetch!
Jeffries believes the atmosphere in Waterstone’s is one where “you’re invited to buy as much as possible and then shove off”. This is not the reality of a network of hugely inviting stores that give people the opportunity to meet writers they love. Waterstone’s hosts countless reading groups – some of which have helped decide the winner of the Guardian first book award. Over the last year we have held nearly 9,000 events.
Our sponsorship of the children’s laureate has helped Michael Rosen, Jacqueline Wilson and Anthony Browne champion kids’ books to the nation, and our children’s book prize turns new writers into bestselling authors every year.
It is absolutely right that Waterstone’s has evolved, and that you will find more than books in our stores. However, the fact remains that our stores have sold over 400,000 different titles in the last year. Books were the reason the company started, and remain the core of our business.
I’d like to see some breakdown numbers on those 400G different titles….
Newfoundland poet Des Walsh has the distinct, if odd, honour of having had a book of his poems adapted into a major motion picture. He’s intereviewed along with the director at the Afterword.
NP: What challenges arose in deciding which parts of the book to adapt?
JNS: We were adapting a book of poetry, not a novel. Unlike The Englishman’s Boy, my previous film, I didn’t have a huge amount of story and a huge number of character to whittle down. Instead we had the opposite problem. We had to make a story from a bunch of love poems. The poems are very delicate cries from the heart. I wanted to keep this sensibility. This meant creating a visual poetry which would bring out the underlying themes and emotions that triggered the making of the poems originally. It was the decision to base the film’s story on an actual trip Des had made to Ireland that gave me the specifics of place. From this landscape I was able to work with my cinematographer to create that visual poetry which tells a large part of the story.
DW: One of the things I found interesting in developing the story was relying on my experience of being raised Catholic and remembering those moments as a child and the the wonderment of mythology. I needed to relive that to truly understand the character of Cathleen, why she stays on the path she walks, and how the character of Michael, even though he has turned his back on what he sees as the paganism of Christianity, he still has to understand Cathleen’s choices.
A Rushdie essay that had been cut from Granta by Alex Clarke right before her departure has been restored by new editor John Freeman. Speculation abounds about whether this was part of the reason for Clarke’s departure.
An essay by Salman Rushdie, rejected by former Granta editor Alex Clark for inclusion in the magazine shortly before her departure, has been reinstated by new editor John Freeman and will run in the next issue, Granta 109: Work, available from January.
Granta owner Sigrid Rausing has denied suggestions that a row over the rejection of the Rushdie piece was a contributory factor in the twin departures of Clark, and later Granta Publications m.d. David Graham, during last summer.
Clark, Granta’s first woman editor, left in May after nine months in the chair, with Graham leaving in June. Reasons for their departures have not been made public.
What’s creeping up the venal structure of your news leg right now on its way to your news brain.
- Remember the hot spy Cheney tried to sacrifice but instead he ended up tossing his best friend under the steamroller of blame so he could retain his scaly deathgrip on power? She lost something in court around her memoir… But the take home message here is that she was A HOT SPY…
- Book huffing as a science
- Get the Bible on your Xbox, but for God’s sake, don’t download a pirated edition… or ‘nade jump over the Apostle Paul
- Want to go in on a first ed WCW? I have this much monies….
- Don’t tell Goncourt winner to sit down… She’ll sit down when she’s good and ready (God bless French intellectuals everywhere as they sit with raised-eyebrow-responses in their own private fog of the world’s best blue cigarette smoke)
- File under, Not Surprising, but Still Depressing to Know: From Here to Eternity author forced to edit out gay sex
- Achebe calls for paternity test on African Literature
- Sarah Palin’s book was leaked and apparently the verdict is: HEARD IT! Also some surprise registered at lack of crayon drawings and lipstick kiss dingbats
- Lemonier: More Snickett coming
Even though we never really settled on a collective nickname for the first ten years of the century, the Telegraph leaps out of the gate with it’s “100 books that defined the decade” thing under the title “Noughties”. Rah-THAR! How droll, old chap. I see what you did there. Fawfawfaw. Wait a minute. Um, someone got a crystal ball here they aren’t sharing with the group? I have a book coming next year. It’s about a boy wizard who bore a gaggle of Jesus’ celebrity vampire children that cook naked, present economics as freaky, and lie about their crack habits. So hold the lists, okay?
If you want to read something a little more poetic, with local appeal, try Jake Mooney’s gradually unfolding list, Knotting Off the Aughts, over at his blog Vox Populism. Inspired by Mooney, Gander poet Stephen Rowe has followed suit with his own list. So much more interesting. I’d like to see this done with fiction and non-fiction as well. “Citizen journalists?!” (excuse me while I barf in my mouth for having used that term) “Saddle up!”
TIGA, which is apparently the sector council for videogames, is urging developers to mine fiction for fresh ideas. Some good ideas here (ie, skipping the middleman of a Hollywood adaptation and paying the pub/author directly for partnerships), but I still get this creeped-out feeling like TIGA is a one-eyed funeral home embalmer with blush powder smeared on his cheek and his fly unzipped.
The organisation is currently working with Penguin and Bloomsbury on potential iPhone projects and is keen for other publishers to get involved. Publishers can meet developers online via the Creative Industry Switch initiative which TIGA is running with NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Education) for a further six months, focusing on TV, films and books.
Chief operationg officer of Monumental Games, Paul Mayze, points to the “thousands of unexplored opportunities in literature” for games developers. He said: “Every game developer knows that working with existing IP (Intellectual Property) is a great way to improve the risk/reward ratio in a highly competitive industry.” However, many collaborations are limited to video game renditions of Hollywood blockbusters, such as Harry Potter, he said. “Why were we waiting for Hollywood when we should have been checking out Waterstone’s?”.
If you ran the great speeches of Winston Churchill, or the prose of Ernest Hemingway through new computerized grading software used to assess A levels in the UK, they’d fail. I hate to say this, but the computer can never be wrong. I know because it told me that.
Churchill’s speeches, Hemingway’s style and Golding’s prose would not have been appreciated by a new computerised marking system used to assess A level English.
The system, which is a proposed way of marking exam papers online, found that Churchill’s rousing call to “fight them on the beaches” was too repetitive, with the text using the word “upon” and “our” too frequently.
His reference to the “might of the German army” lost him marks because the computer assumed that Churchill had intended to say “might have”, instead of using “might” as a noun.
Graham Herbert, deputy head of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, said: “The computer was limited in its scope. It couldn’t cope with metaphor and didn’t understand the purpose of the speech.
In regards to that last: isn’t it lovely that the computer isn’t any better than the students?
We open the real posts today with a guest piece, more an Op-Ed, really, from poet and professor Adam Sol on a controversy around Toronto’s Poet Laureate. Last month, a ludicrous column came and went, like the steaming pile of shite it was, through the colon of the National Post’s print edition. In it, frothing staff writer Marni Soupcoff flails about, attacking both the position of Poet Laureate and the fantastic choice of world-class poet Dionne Brand to fill the post. I don’t remember seeing the article, in part because, as Sol notes below, no one really reads the Post anymore (I do, however, read their online coverage at The Afterword and The Ampersand, both of which are surprisingly good, especially when compared to the rest of the sinking paper), but what a nutbar. Read the entire piece for yourself here. Sol is obviously incensed, but responds below in a much more elegant way than I would.* It was originally sent to the Post as a response letter, but was rejected because “The public zeitgeist has moved on” (a week later). Hm.
Recently, the National Post printed an opinion piece by staff writer Marni Soupcoff on the subject of the new Toronto Poet Laureate, Dionne Brand. Entitled “A Job No Outspoken Poet Would Want,” the article essentially claims that the $10,000/year that the city will spend on the Laureate position would be better used elsewhere, that having a poet Laureate is gratuitous, and that Brand herself is a poor choice for the position, because of her “Marxist feminism,” which Soupcoff suggests will lead her to the type of unfortunate public comments that were made by Amiri Baraka during his tenure as the New Jersey Poet Laureate, when he suggested that the attacks on September 11, 2001 were part of a Jewish conspiracy.
There are so many things wrong with Soupcoff’s article that it’s difficult to know where to start, but to me it’s just as disturbing that there wasn’t a major uproar at her silliness. Perhaps it’s because no one reads the National Post any more. But I wonder if it’s also a symptom of a malaise in the artistic community that opinions like Soupcoff’s are not worth challenging, that the public mood is so opposed to serious art forms like poetry that we should just keep our heads down and hope it all goes away.
But normalizing opinions like these will only serve to legitimize them, especially in a forum that claims – successfully or not – to represent a critical high ground in public debate.
So first, on the post of poet laureate. Soupcoff makes the absurd suggestion that granting a whopping $10,000 per year is the equivalent to “a guy with a mountain of credit card debt […] splurg[ing] on a collectors edition of World of Warcraft.” She even laughably suggests that this princely sum be converted “into a tiny credit on the next property tax bills”.
Let’s be clear. The Post has reported the operating budget of the city to be approximately $8.7 billion. $10,000 makes up approximately .000115% of it. To suggest that this cost is a wasteful piece of fat in the city’s budget is more akin to suggesting that an elephant needs to trim an eyelash. (How much did we spend on worthy arts projects like the renovation of the AGO, the ROM, and the Royal Conservatory…?)
But even for such a minute amount of cash, it’s reasonable to evaluate the relative worth of this eyelash.
This city has had two Poets Laureate since 2001, when the post was inaugurated. The first, Dennis Lee, was instrumental in the formation of the Cultural Legacy Program to name major landmarks in the city after famous artists: if you are proud of the fact that Toronto has finally given a public space to honour Oscar Peterson, you can thank Dennis Lee. He spearheaded the complex political, financial, and municipal negotiations behind this important civic moment. Granted, naming a public space after a great artist doesn’t create many new jobs, or save anyone on taxes, or pay off a city’s financial deficit. But it is the type of gesture that every city needs in order to assert its pride and to remind itself that not all of the things that make a city great can be quantified in a budget line.
The second Poet Laureate, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, has attempted to take an artistic sensibility to the city’s work. With dozens of speaking engagements across the province, he has attempted to include aesthetic concerns into the larger issues facing Toronto. He has had a tangible impact on the way city planners engage in debate, and has been a tremendous ambassador for the city and its arts community. I myself have met a city worker who was gape-mouthedly inspired by a speech Di Cicco gave on the subject of civic engagement, and who is approaching his work with a different sense of ambition and responsibility because of Di Cicco’s words. Again, it’s hard to quantify how many tax dollars an “engaged civic aesthetic” is worth, but I imagine there have been scads of high-priced consultants who are still on the city payroll trying to accomplish much less.
It’s worth mentioning that, notwithstanding the outstanding achievements of Di Cicco and Lee, both poets are – it must be admitted – white men of a certain age. It’s right that the next Laureate come from an under-represented constituency, not just for the sake of political correctness, but in order to accurately represent the diverse artistic and cultural makeup of our city.
But is Dionne Brand the right sort of poet to do this? It’s a worthwhile question, but Soupcoff’s ignorant analysis of Brand herself crosses the line from pedestrian blundering to outright wrong-headed insult.
Soupcoff suggests that Toronto take a lesson from New Jersey, which was justifiably embarrassed when firebrand poet Amiri Baraka made some misguided and inflammatory remarks regarding the attacks on September 11, 2001, while he was serving as Poet Laureate there.
It’s clear that Soupcoff has read very little of Dionne Brand’s work, because while Brand may consider herself a Marxist feminist, and her book-length novel-in-poetry thirsty does circle around the shooting of a black immigrant father by Toronto police, comparing her artistic temperament to Amiri Baraka’s is like equating John Manley to Rush Limbaugh because they’re both conservative.
Brand’s work is circumspect, subtle, lyrical, politically engaged and engaging, and ultimately about the desire to find a linguistic, cultural and psychological home in a place that often denies some of its members the right to do so.
I do not know what Dionne Brand hopes to accomplish as Poet Laureate of our city, nor can I anticipate whether she will be successful in these endeavours. But I know her to be an outstanding poet with a profound political engagement who deserves to be heard in our public sphere. Her willingness to accept the post, when most poets would rather run for the hills, is indicative of her willingness to take on risks for the sake of improving our public dialogue. It’s not the $10,000 per year, I can assure you of that.
Why, I wonder, would Soupcoff single out the Baraka episode to compare to Brand’s potential as a Laureate, rather than the years of honorable (if often symbolic) achievements of other Poets Laureate in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada?
Soupcoff caps off her tirade by suggesting that “people don’t look to government for clues about what entertainment to consume” and that “the only people who will pay attention to a poet laureate will be the already-engaged arts establishment types”. The philistine attitude that sees poetry as just another form of “entertainment” that the public “consumes” is just the kind of mountain of ignorance that Brand will be asked to confront with her massive $10,000/year paycheck.
At its best, poetry can change the way we understand our world, our culture, and our language. New York sees itself as a place open to “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free” because of poetry. It’s because of poetry that the poppy is recognized across this nation as an expression of our respect for the sacrifices of soldiers. We turn to poetry to give language to our deepest human confusion and yearning. We don’t read newspaper articles at funerals, at weddings, or major public ceremonies – we read poetry.
The role of the Poet Laureate – in any city, province or country – is a symbolic one, and the salaries are correspondingly symbolic. But cities, nations, and peoples are built on symbols. And it speaks to the best cultural ambitions of this city that it would commit the whopping sum of $10,000 per year to an individual whose job it is to spur us to think about our language in a challenging, artful, and public way. Whatever Dionne Brand achieves during her tenure, I am certain it will be well worth the money our city spends. I wish her good luck, because if Marni Soupcoff is any indicator of the obstacles standing in her way, she’s going to need it.
Adam Sol is a professor of English at Laurentian University’s partnership program at Georgian College. His most recent book, Jeremiah, Ohio, was shortlisted for the Trillium Award for Poetry.
*For the record, my response would be to speak the only language retarded chimps like this understand and fling her feces right back at her and then pound my chest, rip down a few saplings, and shriek for a bit.
As those of you who’ve been hanging around a while know, I sit as a member of the board for One Little Goat Theatre Company in Toronto, Canada’s only professional company dedicated to exploring the boundaries between poetry and theatre. Our performances of the last few years have not only brought some incredible foreign theatre to Toronto, but have been almost universally well-received. From Austrian Thomas Bernhard’s “Ritter, Dene, Voss” to Norwegian Jon Fosse’s “Someone is Going to Come” with Israel’s Yehuda Amichai and a radical poetic rewrite of “Antigone” in between, One Little Goat has proven itself time and time again to be driving outwards from the borders of contemporary theatre in Canada.
This weekend we’re launching the first original play we’ve done in a while, “Talking Masks”, by our own artistic director, poet, Beckett scholar, and playwright Adam Seelig. There are even some free copies of the printed play floating around for early viewers. Check it all out here, and get your tickets before they’re gone.
That rusty tube of the rural landscape where leaves and trash clog Mankind’s best drainage intentions.
- File under “Think of the Alternate Universe”: The inventor of the worlds most reliable weapon of war had wanted to be a poet
- UK publishers see marginal rise
- Schools steer clear of Kindle because they’re useless for the blind
- Why the WWI is a war remembered through high literature
- What’s next for Giller winner Linden MacIntyre? Note: not Disneyland
- On ecobooks or something
- New feel-good, mum-to-riches Rowling story out of Oz?
I’m home with the kids today and I really should be thinking about relatives who have died in wars, but right now I’m just wondering how Ninja Boy thought it was a good idea to jump on me while I sat in my favourite armchair with a coffee in my hands… Hmm, I wonder whether the skin peeling from my lap will leave me with that fresh-from-the-spa exfoliated look or more a fresh-from-Abu-Ghraib hiddeous scars of torture appearance. Time will tell!
- Palin aide loses co-authors for tell-all memwah of his involvement in “Troopergate” (pleasepleaseplease let this actually be about Trooper this time…!)
- Aussie authors and booksellers win! Huge news!
- Jessa points to an interesting piece on profanity filters and how they’re fucking up Philip K Dick
- Stephen King fans play gigantic “hide and seek” game as part of book publicity… Here’s hoping this story will flesh out with the words “hardcover”, “rectum”, and “sideways”
- Best illustrated kids books of aught nine
- SF god Kim Stanley Robinson profiled in the Guardian
- Bets on who this happened to last night at the Gillers?
Mr. MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man chronicles the emerging crisis of conscience in a worldly priest who has been assigned to keep a lid on church-related sex scandals that are destroying the lives of the faithful in rural Cape Breton. Super topical but not even slightly sensational, it is “a brave novel, conceived and written with impressive delicacy and understanding,” according to the Giller jury.
Perhaps the best known of all the finalists, Mr. MacIntyre, 66, is a veteran journalist who first came to national prominence for his work with The Journal , CBC’s groundbreaking newsmagazine, and currently co-hosts The Fifth Estate , the network’s investigative journalism program. He is the winner of nine Gemini Awards for broadcast journalism and two national non-fiction prizes for his most recent book, a boyhood memoir called Causeway: A Passage from Innocence . The Bishop’s Man is his second novel.
Robert McCrum has some harsh words for the Depends and liver spot set: you may not know it, but you’re done. Good art, says he, like short term memory and genital engorgement, is difficult to sustain into one’s 70s and 80s.
Ageing great writers recognise the inevitable no more than the over-optimistic late starter. Leo Tolstoy wrote “I Cannot Be Silent” at the age of 79. Resurrection, his last novel of any consequence, appeared in 1900 when he was 72. Three score years and 10 still seems to retain its biblical magic, though not, strangely, in art: Picasso, and Matisse painted memorably deep into their 80s.
But now that 80 is the new 70, you might think that literary endeavour would flourish among octogenarians. The evidence is not encouraging. Yes, Goethe completed Faust at 81, but here in Britain, both Graham Greene and William Golding published new, and inferior, books in their 80s.
Doris Lessing won the Nobel prize for literature in 2007, aged 87, and published The Cleft in 2008. But even her most ardent fans would agree that she’ll be remembered for The Grass Is Singing, and The Golden Notebook, published in 1962, when she was 43.
It’s a measure of the desperate condition of the British book trade that no publisher is going to tell a big-name writer that he or she would be better off leaving their latest typescript in the bottom drawer.
Moby looks at a dust up over a review in which it’s become apparent that teh reviewer’s political agenda and personal disagreement with the reviewed author was driving the substance of the piece. Luckily, Moby turns this from a simple “FIGHT! FIGHT!” piece into a thoughtful bit about the nature of how reviews are, and should be, assigned and executed.
In an age where more and more readers are writing subjective reviews on their blogs, on Amazon and elsewhere, we must be able to look to professional reviewers and expect an objective opinion. That said, all reviews are at some level a matter of taste and preference. But that doesn’t excuse Packer’s review, which seemed to me to be a review of Danner himself rather than the book Packer was supposed to evaluate. After reading his piece, I now know more about the man behind the book than I do about the book itself.
UK megastore Waterstone’s gets a rough, coldfingered, butterless rectal exam from The Guardian under the headline “How Waterstone’s killed bookselling“. You know, I bet today’s a bad day to be in Waterstone’s PR department. But then again, they probably looked at their paycheques and thought, ah, fuck ‘em.
So the argument goes: in going big, Waterstone’s lost its soul. It gains credence if you consider what is happening in the US. There, Amazon and Wal-Mart are fighting a discounting war. If you really must buy Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, you can get it from Wal-Mart or Amazon.com for 60% less than list prices, which means the two competitors are probably selling the titles at a loss.
How can they afford that? For Wal-Mart and Amazon, books can be loss leaders, luring customers in so that they might then buy other merchandise which does make a profit. The only sure-fire losers in this war are the booksellers who have no other merchandise. Bigger US booksellers such as Borders and Barnes & Noble have suffered alarming drops in share prices recently. Smaller ones face oblivion.
“Waterstone’s has really already done to British bookselling just the kind of things that we’re seeing in the US,” says Spice. “By competing with supermarkets, they can’t afford to care about the quality of what they’re selling.”
In trying to downplay it’s image as the Large Hadron Collider of publishing, Amazon skips authors and publishers and goes straight to the fine folks who connect them (when the cut is profitable enough to bother).
The online retailing giant flew out a dozen of New York’s top literary agents last week for a day of meetings at its Seattle headquarters. Steven Kessel, senior vice president of worldwide digital media, led the all-day presentations and discussions, which centered on Amazon’s wildly successful Kindle e-reader and the future of the e-books business.
According to one participant, the aim of the meetings, which culminated in a dinner Thursday evening, was for Amazon to “explain itself” to the agent community, whose members fear that e-books could undermine the book-publishing business much the way that digital file-sharing and iTunes upended the music industry.
“They’re not entirely used to their role as the evil empire,” said the agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In particular, the agent added, Amazon wanted to be clear that “they are not trying to destroy publishing as we know it.”
Nabokov’s The Original of Laura (Dying Is Fun) is far from being a grocery list, but it is just as far from being a novel. The master began it in 1975 and was working on it in 1977 when he fell ill and died, leaving instructions that the manuscript be destroyed. A few decades later, the would-be novel has been resurrected by a crafty agent-publisher alliance that has orchestrated a high drama around it, complete with an unusual half-embargo on advance reading copies: Critics interested in a pre-publication look could flip through the manuscript only in the publisher’s offices.
At a mere 9,000 or so words, The Original of Laura is at best a short-story sketch, at worst a collection of 138 notecards (which Nabokov preferred to use to compose, leaving it to his wife, Vera, to type the manuscript), slapped together in just enough of a semblance of order to afford the reader a peek at a possible structure and a hint of the underlying ideas.
- B&N can’t keep up with demand for the Nook
- Anansi Girls—get one of these hot babes at your book club… Browr! Browr! Enter now! (Hmmm…. Bookninja is a kind of book club, no? I mean, it would only be me, and it would be over candlelight dinner, and I’d be playing Luther Vandross in the background, and we might at some point talk books, I suppose… Man, I’m even creeping myself out.)
- The NYPL gets an updated logo
- Jewel, Russell Crowe or Wm Butler Yeats? Take the celebrity poet test that will leave you feeling like you need to bathe your eyes in acid to remove the stain of some of the lines leave behind (warning: cannot be unseen)
- Bronx teacher suspended after assigning Palahniuk story (someone pounce on this film script now, before Matt Damon gets it)
- TS Eliot wrote part of The Wasteland in a… wasteland… a powannabe investigates
- Goog settlement legal battle gets another delay
- Ah, the joy of picking apart an old encyclopedia (with an outdated volume it’s fun, with a current volume it’s called “conspiracy theory”)
- Walk with Yann next April
- “Former Editor Can’t Believe Shit College Newspaper is Printing“