Sunday, December 28, 2014

'Twas the Day Before Christmas

An act of holiday generosity during our busiest days of the year moved Barb to verse:

'Twas the day before Christmas, 

And from noon until night 
Double lines in the bookstore, 
What a wondrous sight!

A curly-haired redhead, 

Of perhaps fifteen or so, 
Took his turn at the counter 
And he seemed not to glow

Looking harried and nervous, 

He reached into his coat
Bringing out crumpled money, 

Scarcely like legal note

Nine dollars in cash 

For a bill of twenty one 
Try the rest on my bank card,
Hoping there was some

I tried once, I tried twice 

In decreasing amounts 
His cupboard was bare,
Nothing in his accounts

I saw his discomfort,

Also the burgeoning line 
My lips formed this thought 
You can get us next time

Then the strangest thing happened, 

The woman behind 
Had a ten in her hand 
And a smile that was kind 
Offered Here please take this!
That moment was fine!  

And so thanks, dear, sweet lady 
On behalf of us all, 
That gesture was huge 
Even if it was small

Monday, December 22, 2014


The risk with reverence and legacy is that something happens to our willingness to engage. The work is transformed from an organic thing into a stolid, matte monolith that so many readers will just monkey up to and cautiously touch before scampering away again. The idea of David Foster Wallace is much more daunting than the work itself, which is loving and curious, and so thoroughly alive.

Six years after his death, The David Foster Wallace Reader arrives as a somewhat complicated tome. At first blush, it feels like a looming, lifeless statue, a memorial, securing DFW's legacy as a giant of literature. But getting inside and jumping around in it, this sampler of a three decade career feels somewhat like crawling through the veins of living whale: though mind-boggling and huge, the work of DFW is a blown up version of our own mechanics. Hopefully, the Reader will prove to the leery or the over-reverent readers just how readable, how accessible DFW is. Hopefully it make those giant veins less intimidating.

For those already comfy with DFW's career, there's not much in the Reader that you won't already have in your library. There is "The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing," DFW's first published story from 1984 - a hard to read story about a young guy struggling with being altered by anti-depressants - as well as a section of Teaching Materials that one might want more of and with more context.

Beyond the obvious loss and tragedy, one selfish lingering bummer regarding the death of DFW was he was becoming more and more readable. Consider The Lobster, DFW's final collection of non-fiction, reads like a complicated person finally starting to learn how to express the enormity of his thoughts and feelings to anyone who'll listen. "Good teachers," writes DFW's mother, Sally Foster Wallace, in the introduction to Teaching Materials, "are those who so love their subject that they try with all their might and main to help students love them, too, forever." And I would use this quote to help calm anyone dreading what they see as the task of engaging with the work of DFW. It's all love, you guys. Love, and the joy and confusion and hurt that results from loving anything so much.

- Andrew

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Stephen A. Royle, Professor of Island Geography at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland has written a number of academic explorations of the historical origins and geographical features of islands. His latest book, Islands: Nature and Culture (Reaktion Books) is a comprehensive excursion to the generally more buoyant destinations of popular science and culture. By no means a lightweight conveyance, this inviting volume covers a lot of water-hemmed ground over its 224 pages. Dr. Royle expertly circumnavigates the topographies, ecosystems, stories, politics, and challenges of a farflung constellation of islands - interspersing brief case studies, personal anecdotes, and colorful photographs to coordinate the Galapagosian variety with a sense of trajectory and coherency. A lifelong admirer of islands and islanders, I doggy-paddled into the great grey ocean of the Internet (to awkwardly refloat a turbid phrase of Harold Bloom’s) for more answers.

- Brad de Roo, who grew up across the river from an island which has alternately been known as: Tecumsh’s headquarters during the War of 1812, an amusement park which delighted many from 1898-1993, a transit point for Americans fleeing the Vietnam War draft into Canada, and the faltering McMansion development once home to one of Tim Allen’s homes

BdR Is there an isolated moment you can remember departing the mainland? In clearer words, when and how did you decide that islands were for you?


It was when we were on holiday to Ireland from our then home in England in 1974, where I was a PhD student in geography. We went to the end of the Beara peninsula and there was Dursey Island connected by a cable car. We went over to find an almost completely deserted village. I climbed into a windowless house and there was a 40 year old newspaper lying amidst the other detritus, this presumably dating its abandonment. On climbing out I vividly recall saying to my wife that I was fascinated by this scene of decline and I wondered if it had anything to do with it being an island. A little later we moved to Ireland when I got a lectureship at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and I found some rare historical documents about the Aran Islands Co Galway, which I wrote up and I was off. 

Do you carry a short working definition of an island along with you in your academic satchel?

An island is a body of land completely surrounded by water; I think that is the OED definition rather than mine. So it’s simple, but then of course we can add complexities. What if it is bridged? Is Manhattan an island? Is PEI now after the Confederation Bridge? You try telling an Islander there (and, yes, tradition uses the upper case ‘I’) that they live on a functional peninsular. What if it is periodic, can you have an island that you can occasionally walk to? What about ‘islands’ connected by more solid but geomorphologically ephemeral features such as a tombolo? Just how many islands can one count for the Iles de la Madeleine in Quebec? And then we come to the use of ‘island’ as a metaphor. Medics, biologists, planners, kitchen designers, sociologists, psychologists all have island metaphors. Remember that ‘no man is an iland’ (the s was later than Donne’s time). 
How many islands have you set foot on? What is the most incredible thing you have seen on these travels? 

I have been to 807 islands. I keep a list of course, what obsessive doesn’t. Highlights have been the quarry on Easter Island where all the moai were carved and the first sight of St Helena breaking the horizon after 4 days at sea (an airport is only now being built). The most incredible experience was to witness a boat launching ceremony carried out amongst the Tau (or Yami) people of Pongso no Tau (Orchid Island) off Taiwan. This was not commodified, but authentic. 

Orchid Island boat launch.

The most despairing?

Despair? Abandoned islands, empty with just the ruins of houses where a once vibrant community lived. I have been to many of these especially off Ireland where scores of islands have lost all their people. The most despairing was probably Great Blasket because of the knowledge we have of that dead society thanks to the three wonderful autobiographies. 

Blasket ruins.

You outline an alarming number of factors threatening vibrant island lives. Globalism, tourism, colonialism, and global warming are some of the oversized issues in action. Is it possible to prioritize one of these? Or is it more a question of addressing the surrounding pressures in a synchronistic yet idiosyncratic manner?
You put it well with your ‘surrounding pressures’. It’s geography (well I would say that, but it is true). On Mallorca a major problem (and yet a great boon) is tourism; on South Tarawa, Kiribati it is sea level rise and other phenomenon such as increased storminess with dangerous storm surges all associated with climate change/global warming.

Colonialism did blight islanders’ lives including death from introduced disease, slavery, destruction of cultures and the environment but look at the places still in a colonial type relationship now and they don’t want to leave it, notwithstanding identity issues. Sub-national jurisdiction is enough for ‘colonies’ like Bermuda and Cayman Islands to become wealthy from financial services. Elsewhere the presence of the metropolitan power provides financial support (St Helena) or military comfort (Falkland Islands). In Scotland on the island of Great Britain in the September independence referendum there was huge play on the ‘Braveheart’ issue and the English are generally heartily disliked; nonetheless there was a 55%-45% vote for no, it is thought largely for financial reasons.

There are charters, declarations, yes. At the 2014 conference of the International Small Islands Studies Association in the Penghu Islands was published the Penghu Declaration; that followed on from others from the organization when we met on Jeju, Maui, Kinmen and Mauritius in earlier years. More significant are associations for mutual support such as the Alliance of Small Island States, which does look at sustainability issues amongst others. 

You mention many representations of islands in various media such as music, photography, radio, television, and film. What about the internet? In what ways has an increasingly connected digital world affected how islanders see themselves and how they are seen? Is connectivity increasing emigration or attracting more immigrants? Are islanders forming archipelagos of solidarity? 

Islands in literature goes back centuries; the other media in your list joined in often for the same reasons as islands featured in literature: a setting, a stage, a device to constrain the cast list, the dramatic possibilities of isolation, etc. The internet, too. One nice site is The Island Review. Connectivity is hugely important, it overcomes the tyranny of distance; as long as you don’t have to make a living from scarce island resources, you can now live on a small island and make your living via distance if you have the skills and the connectivity. That is for incomers; for traditional islanders the internet shows them what they don’t have and might stir up resentment. I think Majuro in the Marshall Islands, which is in the American sphere of influence but which cannot provide its people with an American standard life style is one of the unhappiest places I have been.

As to archipelagos of solidarity, absolutely. The small Irish islands all banded together to press government for their common needs from the 1980s as just one example. There is an edited book by Godfrey Baldacchino imminently appearing, Archipelago Tourism.

As a Canadian, I’d be nationalistically irresponsible if I didn’t ask your opinion on some of our islands. We’ve got a lot of them, no? You discuss aspects of Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. I’ve grown up mostly familiar with the islands of the Great Lakes. But I have recently become fascinated by the big Arctic islands like Baffin, Victoria, and Ellesmere. Are there any surprising features or traits I should know about the Islands of Canada? 

I have written a book on the Hudson Bay Company period on Vancouver Island so I would say that that is fascinating. I developed a respect for the HBC manager and colonial governor James Douglas so many of whose dispatches I read. I have been to PEI numerous times to work with, sometimes for, the university teaching island studies. Cape Breton and Newfoundland are fascinating for their economic stories and for the resilience of some of the islanders. As to the Arctic Islands, I was once involved in an abortive study (we failed to get the grant) and did background work on Qikiqtaq (King William Island). The HBC were there in the 1920s and the post managers were so rude and dismissive about the local people, it was embarrassing to read the post journals. Now climate change is stirring things up, making access easier and the Northwest Passage more navigable and Canada more of an archipelago than a continental country. I would like to think the changes that will inevitably occur will not be to the detriment of the indigenous people there, but I think my hopes will be dashed. The ‘surprise’ I suppose is just how many of these islands there are and how big they are. Three of the ten largest islands are up there; 18 of the top 100; Devon Island is the largest unpopulated island and is in 27th place.

 If you were stranded on a desert island, which also happened to be a spatially flexible utopia for consistency’s sake, what eight islands would you bring (excluding the aforementioned utopia, of course), and why? 

The 8 islands I would take (this is a different version of Desert Island Discs!) are:

St Helena: So remote (pre-airport) thus it is very special to get there. So insular. Because it is the setting of the book I enjoyed writing most, The Company’s Island

East Falkland: I have been to the Falklands 3 times and have seen them develop away from the awful experiences in 1982. The wonderful light and the fabulous bird life, but that dreadful constant westerly wind does detract!

Easter Island: The moai, what else

Great Blasket: A special place given the autobiographies. As a geographer I suppose I am sensitized to place and space and you can see where it all happened and also appreciate why the place was abandoned.

Norfolk Island: A fascinating history and landscape

Sado Island, Japan: An interesting place with its gold mine, the story of the cranes and the fabulous drumming set up, Kodo. When I was there, there was an outer islands music festival; can I take that to my desert island?

Prince Edward Island: I have been to PEI many times to research and teach at the university’s Institute of Island Studies. It is a familiar and comfortable place for me.

Tristan da Cunha: Perhaps the ultimate island; I have always wanted to go but it is really difficult to get there now and I don’t suppose I will ever see it. So I will take it to my desert island and study it at leisure. 

Lastly, at the risk of being a bit of a mainlander, would it be fair to say that the earth is one big island and that all of our water-locked landforms are excellent indicators of our collective health in the grand laboratory of space-enveloped life? 
Absolutely. An island is a body of land surrounded by water, so the Eurasian-African landmass is an island and it is only convention that says this island is actually three continents; or that Australia is not an island but Greenland is. And think back to the famous blue marble pictures from Apollo spacecraft, the earth as an island in space. It’s all we’ve got, would that we looked after it better!


Sunday, December 14, 2014


"Bible dam" by Jacek Yerka

Throughout the year, a cadre of dedicated reviewers wade hip-deep through the ceaseless torrents of upcoming, not-yet-vetted books. Some they love, some they like, and some just aren't for them. But now that the year's coming to a close, the faucet has been somewhat cinched, the torrent's calmed, and a few of our reviewers used the docility of the season to look back at everything they read and hip us to what really stood out.

If you have any interest in the joining the ranks of book-sloggers, get in touch:

Revolutionary Russia: 1891-1991 A History 
By Orlando Figes

For those Russophiles who can’t handle, let alone pick up, Riasanovksy’s 820 page History of Russia, Figes’ Revolutionary Russia is a good place to start. It’s a clear and thoughtful survey of a century of unprecedented change in Russia. Although Figes is too easy on Russia’s current Tsar. A reworking of Orwell’s picture of the future, may apply to Russia: “If you want a vision of the future of Russia, imagine Putin’s boot slamming on a human face – forever.” 
China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa 
By Howard W. French

There isn’t enough land and food on mainland China to feed China’s swelling population. Even with the Chinese government policy of forced abortion for mothers who are about to bear a child beyond the government’s permissible level. In response to a range of restrictions in China, more than a million Chinese are building new lives in Africa. French is an old Africa hand, with a lively writing style. He brings an under the radar story out into the clear light of the dark continent’s sun.

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt 
By Michael Lewis 

If you read Lewis’ Moneyball, or saw the film adaptation, or read his The Big Short you’ll remember how enjoyable and informative he can be. Flash Boys looks at the high frequency trading on Wall Street that almost led to yet another financial collapse. One of the colourful people who helped to prevent that collapse was a modest Canadian, modestly named Brad. Yes, Brad, who worked for RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada. You can’t make this stuff up, because nobody would believe you if you did. I couldn’t put this book down!

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End 
By Atul Gawande 

Have you completed your list of end of life requests? No, eh? That means that your loved ones and caregivers will stand around wondering which of the ever increasing end of life interventions they should plug you in to. That’s not fair for them. And its thoughtless on your part. Read Gawande’s compassionate description of many situations where there were no instructions, and family members were left to wonder what to do, with no knowledge of whether or not their decisions honoured the nearly deceased. Being Mortal is the most important book I read in 2014.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History 
By Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction is an update that follows Kolbert’s 2006 Field Notes From a Catastrophe. The Sixth Extinction is a careful and measured look at the coming end of our world as we will cease to know it. For the latest from Kolbert, see her take on Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, in the New York Review of Books, December 4, 2014. 


Read more from James Reid at

By Michael Crummey

Set on a remote Newfoundland island, Sweetland explores place, memory and familial responsibility. As the island is slowly depopulated, I was moved and haunted by the commitment of the titular character, Moses Sweetland, to stay where, and with whom, he belongs.


The Bone Clocks
By David Mitchell

Without spoiling too much: the book opens with (the hilariously captured 80s British schoolgirl) Holly Sykes as she experiences psychic phenomena and a ruinous encounter with her boyfriend. Spanning seventy-odd years, the novel takes the reader through characters bound to Holly all while exploring what it means to be a person, a person-in-relation-to - what it means to be in time and to be "of" a particular time. Somehow Mitchell manages to convey the beauty of intimate moments that feel inconsequential as you're reading them, only to have these moments reverberate and expand across the sweep of the narrative in a way that broadens the scope of the story from private lives to a sort of ontology of time and ecology.

Us Conductors
By Sean Michaels

You’ve probably heard all about the plot by now (espionage, American in the 20s, successful men and the things they can buy, romance-lust-and-longing, war stories and suffering), but in reading Us Conductors you’ll hear fiction in a whole new way. The novel’s use of language to evoke sound and rhythm is extraordinary, but certainly not the most exquisite thing about this book. Instead, look to the nuance in character and the unique narration. 

When's she not reading, Erin Aspenlieder is teaching, running or eating cookies (sometimes all at once). She prefers fiction and books made of paper. She blogs at

All My Puny Sorrows
By Miriam Toews 

Miriam Toews' novel All My Puny Sorrows (the title taken from a  Coleridge poem which refers to the loss of his siblings) has received many accolades and as far as I’m concerned she deserves them. Toews' trademark dry humour and exquisite writing skills hammer a tale from the real life experience of her own family. Describing the yin and yang of sisters in a tight-knit family is in itself the craft of writing at its taut best, but Toews drives the family dynamic still further with the haunting parallels between a father who died by suicide and his gifted musical daughter Elf. The fact that Towes’s own family trod this very same despairing road creates a tension and a truth to this literary treat that holds you like that other famous Coleridge character the Ancient Mariner. Whether you have experienced directly or at first hand the dementor-like pull of chronic depression, Toews renders brilliantly the inexorable nature of this devastating disease. It seems strange to revere a book with such a dire subject matter but the warmth of the family relations, the sheer humanness of the  sisters Elf and Yoli will bring you to a fresh appreciation for how joy and pain are bedfellows and how a  sunny outlook can easily be overwhelmed. What will thrill and delight you is the humour, the craft and the love that shines through. I always imagine Toews to be somewhat disinterested in what reviewers might say about her writing, she sounds like a truth speaker, holding a brave mirror to the world so we can more accurately see the truth of how we live which in turn makes it more bearable to go on despite tragedy and setbacks. This book is inspiring as only great writing can be, it has a music of its own and an inner truth that would indeed have held its own with the romantic poets ideals: “Beauty is truth and truth beauty / that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know”.

- Rosslyn Bently

The String Diaries
by Stephen Lloyd Jones

You’re in a car. Your husband is bleeding out in the passenger seat, your daughter is being hunted by a murderous shapeshifter, and your only defense is a pile of old, leather-bound books in the trunk. What do you do? So begins The String Diaries, a wonderful contemporary fantasy novel published earlier this year. The book is packed with tension and intrigue, and I particularly love the idea of shape-shifting humans living alongside us. A touch of the mystical grounded in reality, so to speak. The book deals with Hannah, a descendant of a special family, being hunted by one of these shapeshifters, and how she attempts to protect herself and her family. Adventurous, action-packed, and intriguing, definitely a top pick of the year.


The Quick
by Lauren Owen

Vampires have received a lot of attention in recent years; some flattering, some not-so-much. Owen attempts to restore the power and mystique of vampires in a Gothic-style novel that draws on both mystery and legend to create a vivid, powerful story. In this world, vampires operate out of a club in London, hunting down those they believe less than themselves and inviting the more powerful to join their ranks. Into this walks Charlotte, a young girl searching for her brother, whom the vampires took. A gold star is awarded to this book for containing a believable homosexual romance – it makes a refreshing change, and I hope that trend continues. One warning to the reader though – if you get emotional, the ending will wreck you.

Of Bone and Thunder
by Chris Evans

I reviewed this book fairly recently, so I won’t say too much about it other than to give it extremely high praise. War in fantasy is always complicated to deal with, as you can never see it from everybody’s viewpoint. Evans tries to rectify this though, writing from various viewpoints from common soldiers to aeronauts to officers, and everyone in between. The result is a gritty, bloody novel that feels real simply because of the detail and attentiveness that’s poured into it. You know this war isn’t going the way it’s supposed to, you know everything that’s going right or wrong, and that creates a sensation of a real-life event rather than fiction. A hat tip to Evans having several characters die “off-screen” so to speak…having them die meaningless, stupid deaths (as they would in a real war) makes the situation in the novel feel that much more dire and that much more hopeless. Truly a wonderful read.

My Real Children
by Jo Walton

Choice defines us as humans. It defines who we are and who we will become. But what if you could remember what happened to you for either choice you made? In Walton’s novel, this is what happens to Patricia Cowan. It’s 2015, she’s in her 90s, and she fondly remembers raising four children with her husband, Mark. But she also remembers raising three children with Bee. She remembers her friends calling her Trish, and them also calling her Pat… She remembers Kennedy’s death in 1963 and also his re-election in 1964. When she was very young, she was told “now or never.” She remembers choosing “now” and also “never.” This book is a fascinating journey into the realms of choice, time travel, multiverses and self-awareness - all through the eyes of an old woman who doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not. The sensation is carried on through the reader successfully until they don’t know either what’s for certain. It’s a very rare book that can keep you guessing right to the end, and I don’t think anyone’s going to guess correctly. Which is the real world? What really happened to Ms. Cowan? Well, you’ll just have to choose to read the book and find out. Or maybe you won’t….and remember both…

by Jay Kristoff

I love this book. It’s a fantastic conclusion to the amazing Lotus War trilogy that begun with Stormdancer and Kinslayer. It’s a Japanese steampunk novel that details the adventures of Yukiko and her griffin companion Buruu as they attempt to deal with various factions intent on being victorious in wars fought both on battlegrounds and in boardrooms. These factions include everything from would-be sorcerers to technocratic idealists, and the way in which Kristoff shows Yukiko dealing with them is nothing short of masterful. Buruu remains one of my favourite fictional characters…every time his sardonic wit comes into play I cheer a little inside. By combining machines, magic, politics, and blood, Kristoff crafts an amazing novel that has earned the crown of greatest fantasy novel of 2014.

Robert Green is a confirmed bibliophile and aspiring writer whose love of sci-fi has caused him to own many more books than he has physical room for. He is also the owner and creator of the up-and-coming company Verity Books, which can be seen at various cons throughout the year. Any questions or comments can be sent to or

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
by Tom Rachman

by Eric McCormack

The Rook
by Daniel O'Malley
The year just past was an interesting one, reading wise. I rekindled my love of reading just for me; that’s something that has been with me all my life, but waned as I read more and more for work. The books that particularly stood out don’t come from any one genre, but border on the fantastical and speculative. What is common to them all, however, is that they come at their explorations through the eyes of an intriguing (if flawed) protagonist. Their story becomes yours, and they let you inhabit their world, if just for a while.

Mark Mullaly is an avid reader, sometimes writer, enthusiastic motorcyclist and lover of wine (and endeavours to engage in only one of these pursuits at any given time).

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Any Questions Marie-Louise Gay

A gorgeous over-sized picture book that gives kids a glimpse into the engine of imagination. Through collaboration, playful illustrations and many edits, a story comes together. Should be in every primary classroom. (Hannah)

André Alexis

Pastoral is an enriching antidote to our high speed frantic digital world. The beautifully crafted real book is printed by the highly acclaimed Coach House Books and is truly a perfect amalgam of form and function. Alexis could be channeling Jane Austen as this is a unique novel of subtle emotion and not so subtle mores rubbing up against each other. Father Christopher Pennant is assigned to a sleepy town in Eastern Ontario. Liz Denny is one of his young parishioners, and it is through her character that Austen is whispering the wisdom of another time and place. The natural landscape is also a vibrant character. Pastoral was nominated for the Roger's Trust Writer's Prize for Fiction. (Barb)

The Secret Place
Tana French

If you haven't read her and also happen to be looking for a new crime novelist, stop looking - you've found her. French is Irish and holds in her writing the particular lyricism and deep Irish intuition about the psyche. Her Dublin detectives carry a lot of baggage - surly, sarcastic, and outrageously outspoken. An unsolved murder committed a year previously between the grounds of a private girls' and boys' school comes to life again in "Cold Cases." Lead detective Conway, a woman in a macho man's world and a seeming dominatrix, was was part of the initial stymied investigation. As she and her partner spend a day interrogating a cult of teenaged girls from the school, you will probably agree that French may even have surpassed Margaret Atwood in understanding the dark side of young womanhood - but updated for the texting generation! (Barb)

The Burning Room
Michael Connelly

Connelly is a favourite of many writers. That tells you a lot. Again L.A. detective Harry Bosch has a few months before full retirement - kind of a miracle because he breaks all of the rules and basically pisses off the upper echelons while always solving the case. Here Connelly has provided Bosch with a sassy young partner, Lucy Soto. Harry Bosch books are not slam crash bang, but are built carefully on tediously sussed out details and depth of character. This cold case has been revived because a casualty in a shooting in the original crime, committed years before, has died and now it is a full-blown murder - which of course shines a light on corrupt politicians. An interesting read in light of all the procedural issues of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson. (Barb)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening 
Joseph Goldstein

One of my favourite book recommendations for a beginner to meditation is Seeking the Heart of Wisdom. Definitely Buddhist in content, it is written in a way that many people from most worldviews can enjoy and benefit from. Joseph Goldstein, one of the authors (Jack Kornfield is the other) has written a new book called Mindfulness. It is a commentary on the Buddha's Satipatthana sutta, and is wonderful without exception. This is the original mindfulness text, and the interpretation by Goldstein represents 40 years of his practice, study, and teaching. Openhearted. Crystal clear. Insightful. I recommend it to all Buddhists and to any mental/physical health practitioner who wants to take their mindfulness to the next level. (Ken)

Kim Thúy

A beautiful slip of a book, from the cover art to the beautiful tale of belonging to the food - Mãn is an absolute delight to read. The pages turn themselves as we learn about the intricacies of Vietnamese dishes and quiet dreams of hardworking and inspired chef Mãn. (Hannah)

Sweet Affliction 
Anna Leventhal

You don't have to take my word for it anymore, because the Quebec Writer's Federation just gave Leventhal's first collection of stories the award for best first book. They have money, so they know what's what. Intricate, loving, strange, Sweet Affliction is one of the best books - first or otherwise - of this year. Fun fact: Leventhal comes out of the same Montreal writers' group as Giller-winner Sean Michaels. (Andrew)

The Road Narrows As You Go 
Lee Henderson

I like to think that there's an alternate CanLit, where Lee Henderson's a heavy, where his new books are hotly anticipated. Alas, his new novel arrived pretty quietly this year. Following his debut collection, The Broken Record Technique, and first novel, The Man Game (both award-winning, if you're into that) Henderson proves with The Road Narrows As You Go that he's a writer you need to keep tabs on. Set in 1980s San Francisco, the novel explores the relationship between business and art, but never gets tedious or pedantic about it. (Andrew)

Monday, December 1, 2014


Martha Baillie’s fifth novel The Search for Heinrich Schlögel charts the titular character’s dream journey from a small German village to the Canadian Arctic where he seemingly disappears on Baffin Island at the age of 20.Through the obliquely persistent archiving efforts of a unnamed narrator we explore the photos, letters, journals, keepsakes, moods, and Skype-friends of our once romantic traveller. Instead of abrading against the growing collection of recovered objects, Heinrich’s identity gathers the keen sediment of myth.

Who is this archivist? Is this person believable? Is it someone Heinrich knows? Why did he leave the seemingly idyllic hop fields and hedgehogs of his cycling youth? What happened in the river en route to Thor Peak? What has become of his beloved linguistically gifted sister Inge? What is the strange machine Vicky Pitsiulak is typing on? Why does Sarah Ashevak have so many clocks in her home? What did Samuel Hearne say about heroes? Are those giant hares real? Why’s that randomly appearing lady keep getting her fingers chopped into seals? What do the photos tell us? His sister’s letters? Is Nunavut really like this? Do they still make uluit? If everyone is an other, who do we relate to?

Between the unreliable narrator and the story, a whole world of stand alone possibilities begin to overlap like glacial erratics in time-lapse multi-exposure. Somewhere along these questioning lines, I asked Martha, herself, about the presence of erratics, misrepresentation, time, and the Other in her work.

- Brad, who should probably dip into his media archives to mention that The Search for Heinrich Schlögel was just voted one of the Top 100 books of 2014 by the Globe and Mail, and that Martha will be reading in The Bookstore on Wed Dec 3rd with Kate Cayley at 7pm.

BdR: In the "Archivist's note" preceding and framing the narrative, the central subject, Heinrich, is described as a person who is "often mistaken for someone else" and as someone who "notes how gratifying it feels to be enthusiastically recognized, even as someone he isn't". I found myself prone to mistaking the narrator for someone else as well. What is it in us that relishes being so wrongly recognized?

MB: When we are briefly mistaken for someone else we slip into a place of contradiction and surprise, of friction and possibility. This can be pleasurable if the person we are believed to be is someone liked and admired, less so if the person we are taken for is loathed. In either case we enter a lie without having to tell one. We are relieved of responsibility. Inadvertent imposters, suddenly cloaked in someone else’s identity, we are stripped of our flawed usual self. To be seen yet invisible. You ask if the narrator would relish this? Instinct tells me, that the idea of it appeals to her but she’s aware that the experience offers only short-lived delight. The gratification Heinrich feels is quickly replaced by regret, as loneliness and isolation reassert themselves. We want to be appreciated for who we truly are but fantasize that were we to be recognized as more courageous, more intelligent, more beautiful than we know ourselves to be we might become the superior being the other person sees in us. It’s partly about the power of someone else’s gaze.

Certain features of your book resonate with portions of continental philosophy - particularly of the post-structural texture. A quote by Barthes about photography opens the book. Schiller is mentioned. Perennial continental concerns like cultural genealogy, intertextuality (of reference and self), identity in the face of time and death, the Other, etymology, the ambiguity of ethics are considered. Were thinkers like de Beauvoir, Foucault, Derrida, or Heidegger at all on your mind while doing research, reading around this narrative? How does such philosophy fare in the current climate of Canada's actual or imagined attempts at pluralism?

Perennial concerns of continental philosophy, to borrow your term, act as backdrop in Tettnang. If they seep throughout the novel, and I agree that they do, it is because they are part of my mental baggage. No I wasn’t re-reading de Beauvoir, and my knowledge of both Foucault and Heidegger is scant, but I did go back to Barthes’ Camera Lucida, knowing how central photography was going to be to the novel. I did want to look at how siblings carve out territory for each other, when it comes to identity, and to explore how similar dynamics may come into play when a culture is confronted by or fantasizes about the Other. In Canada we like the idea of embracing the Other, and valuing the attempt to do so is central to our sense of national identity, but this certainly doesn’t extract us from an entrenched failure to respect and acquire a more than superficial understanding of First Nations cultures (with emphasis on the plural).

Is this in an essential way a Northern book? The North plays a central geographical and cultural role throughout its entirety. Is there a literary genealogy it follows? Walking around the bookstore, I have noticed more and more writing addressing the concerns of the Arctic. Most of it appears to be travelogue or ecological. Some is sociology. Does fiction's oblique snapshots and characteristic anonymity offer something essentially other to these 'factual' modes? To repurpose a metaphor from your book, does fiction pile up the erratics of the world into markers of direction, of identity?

What a poetic question. I love it. “Does fiction pile up the erratics of the world into markers of direction, of identity?” As a reader, that’s one thing I ardently hope for when I open a work of fiction, the piling up of “erratics of the world into markers of direction.” As for your observation that many of the numerous books being written, now, about the Arctic are non-fiction is very interesting. Why is this? I can only hazard a guess. The North begins as a place of the imagination for southerners; it hangs, unreachable, a vast, sublime canvas. You arrive in the actual north and its scoured immensity overwhelms. To cling to “reality,” to non-fiction, to the rational world of verifiable evidence, seems an understandable, self-protective response to the Arctic’s unreadable hugeness, its surprises, its harsh winds, luminosity, and darkness. But for the Inuit, story is a necessary approach, as central to survival as other acts of close observation and listening. Yes, my novel certainly has a literary genealogy. But it’s the work of contemporary visual artists that most directly inspired the novel – Nadia Myre’s Medicine Project, the works of Brian Jungen, and of Kent Monkman, and of course Inuit understanding of time and death through storytelling.

While you undeniably explore the colonial instinct Westerners have had toward the North were you ever worried about misrepresenting Inuit culture or interests? What measures did you take towards ensuring a respectful mimesis?

How could I not worry about misrepresenting Inuit culture and interests?

Before and while writing, I debated with myself and others regarding my “right” to put words in the mouths of Vicky Pitsiulak and Sarah Ashevak – both crucial characters in the novel, both Inuit, one a teenager the other an elder. I decided I had the “right” to make the attempt, and that what mattered more than my “right” was the integrity of my intention. Mine could only be an outsider’s perspective. Respectful contributions from outsiders are a necessary part of dialogue. I read, I researched on the Internet (the Pirurvik Centre’s site was particularly helpful), I travelled to Iqaluit then to Pangnirtung, and spent two weeks hiking in Auyittuq, I lingered on in Pangnirtung, listening, observing, over the next two years I picked the brains of Connor Goddard, who speaks Inuktitut, works year-round in Kuujjuaq with Inuit youth, and is a seasoned hiking and kayaking guide, I was put in touch with Marcus Wilke, another Inuit speaker, who lives in Pangnirtung where he has been working as a nurse for over twenty years, he read and critiqued my manuscript. I tried to find an Inuit reader, and one young woman from Pangnirtung, now studying nursing in Iqaluit, expressed interest then was swamped with school-work. Someone from the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre said they were willing but didn’t find time, which I understood. I was starting to hear in my voice: “Hi, I’m really interested in your culture, what can you give me? What can you do for me?” I didn’t like what I heard in my voice. I was asking busy Inuit women with whom I had no established relationship to make time to read my manuscript. Why should they do so? I stopped asking. It takes time to grow relationships that are reciprocal and respectful. Is the novel I’ve written respectful in its mimesis? Who do I ask to be its judge? No individual reader can speak for all Inuit readers. That said, I’d be very interested in hearing from any Inuq who does, generously, take the time to read my novel. What I’ve created is a fiction and one that openly declares as its subject the act of imagining, a work that clearly sets out to explore how we respond to each other’s realities, twisted as we are by our fears, desires, impatience, and ambition.

Photography is almost a character in the novel. Heinrich is an avid, yet, reluctant photographer. Are you a photographer? How do you think photography and other digital capturing has effected us? Do we now archive at the expense of experience, of human intimacy? 

I’m not a photographer. I dislike using a camera. Photographs fascinate me. Yes, I’m very curious about how the ease of digital capturing may be altering our experience of reality. Certainly we are producing abundant material to archive.

Just this morning, I read an essay posted by Toronto writer, Heather White, in which she notes that both Edward Hopper and the Impressionists before him were influenced by looking from the windows of moving trains. She remarks, “Of course, the camera had intervened itself between Hopper and the impressionists. Its invention promoted a sacrifice: the total experience of a moment for the privilege of keeping that instant forever, in detail impossible to notice in ‘real time’ — one eye on the device, concerned with the capture. Photographs can facilitate us poring over what we had briefly or never quite had, missing what we missed out on then.”

Can you describe some of the motivation for and process behind the Schlogel Archive online - presuming you have some involvement in it and it is not being webmastered by your tricky narrator? 
The archive is a playful, collaborative exploration. Many of the postcards were donated and I amused myself seeing how I could pair passages of the novel with the pictures on the postcards, hinting at another layer of meaning, historical or psychological. Postcards allowed me to dip into the iconic images sold in souvenir stores. I also created postcards, using photos from the National Archive of Canada, taken in the Arctic in the 1920s and 50s. Travellers’ snapshots of Tettnang, taken from Internet photo sharing sites, a few of my own shots taken in Auyuittuq, and photos of my father, on a cycling trip along the Rhine, in 1937 or 1938 – onto all this photographic material I transcribed the evolving novel over a period of two years, mailing each postcard to someone invited to record themselves reading the text on the card. I wanted to scatter Heinrich, as if I were tossing his ashes, with the Inuit myth of the Fox Wife in mind, a tale that figures in the novel. I wanted to create a non-commercial space where the novel could find readers who would contribute and confirm that a text is never complete until read, and is completed differently by each reader. Postcard receivers could make audio-palpable that fragments of the text now inhabited them; they could do so by reading aloud, and being potentially heard by other readers. All this was figured out along the way. In a bar, I read a postcard out loud, and a friend remarked that hearing it made it easier to connect the words on the back to the image on the front of the postcard. Aha. Heinrich leaves home in 1980. People are still writing postcards and letters. He’s yanked into the digital present. I scanned all the postcards before mailing them. But all this is explained here.

And I’m still transcribing and mailing the last postcards. Care to receive one?

This will also tell you what led to this project. The webmaster is humble but not fictitious. His name is Greg Sharp.

Were you wanting someone to archive your life, what would you leave out? What kind of questions would you wish they asked about you and your work?

Ha!! I’d rather have nobody archive my life. I keep meaning to destroy my old journals and letters. If any of my published novels survive me, that will be trace enough.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Tony Millionaire's Maakies comic strip has been running for 20 years now, chronicling the debauched, depressed, repugnant, bleak, diseased adventures of Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby. Maakies is murky and not for the feint of heart, but it's also hilarious and smart--an equal to Calvin and Hobbes for how lovingly drawn and intelligently written it is. The knife of Tony Millionaire's mind might be rusty and filthy, but it's also scalpel-sharp.

Even if Millionaire's sense of humour and despair isn't your cup of booze, his woodcutting-like pen and ink prowess is impossible to deny. If you're not directly familiar with his work, surely you've encountered his portraiture somewhere or another. He has an antiquated sensibility, is drawn to old Victorian houses and ships in bottles and ornate glass door knobs. This slightly arcane, seemingly proper visual sensibility worked and still works in consistently interesting opposition to the crudity and cruelty of the Maakies reality it depicts.

At first blush a Maakies spin-off, Millionaire introduced Sock Monkey in 2001. Drinky and Gabby ostensibly appear, though rarefied and plush versions of those ne're-do-wells, the "toys" of kind, young Ann-Louise, who lives in a roomy Victorian home based on Millionaire's grandparents'. Though still a grump, Mr. Crow is a far cry from the drunken self-annihilator Drinky, and, aside from the hat and the simianness, Gabby shares little in common with his vile Maakies counterpart. Really, Sock Monkey is worlds apart from Maakies. "Sock Monkey is me trying to rise above all that bullshit," Millionaire has said of his departure, "to be more poetic, looking at the bright side, remembering the things that used to delight me as a child." 

Many of Gabby and Mr. Crow's--with their baby doll friend Inches's--adventures take place indoors, where they interact elaborately with the commonplace details of the old home. The prismatic light cast by the glass door knob, the old grandfather clock in the hallway, the model ships in the study. The discovery of the chandelier in the foyer elicits Gabby's purple wonder: "Zounds! A castle hanging int he clouds!! A succulent starry place!! Crystalline halls, sparkling corridors! Hmm... Dare I traipse through heave's constellated wilderness?" Their world is animated--as they themselves are--as it might be by an imaginative child passing time in a many-roomed, many-detailed house.

The Sock Monkey adventures are sweet, filled to the meniscus with the senses and sensations of being little. The art, the quaintness of detail, and the diction suggests classic children's books, stories of how large the world gets when put under the microscope of idle wonder. Whether of not it's suitable for children depends on whether or not you're willing to accept that your child is smarter and weirder than you maybe give them credit for. Really, the worst that might happen is your squirt begins to say things like Zounds and Gadzooks or take an interest in scrimshaw.

Into the Deep Woods arrives on the heels of a beautiful Treasury of the 11 Sock Monkey books, and is a departure from the past decade of visual storytelling. Millionaire has teamed up with Matt Danner, who chums around with the Disney and Pixar folks, to create a long-form prose adventure. 

This new story is something of an origin story, where we find out how the toys were enlivened and how they found their way to Ann-Louise. Millionaire's art is consistent throughout, but it rides shotgun to the story. This may to a bit of a letdown to readers who come to the book out of an all encompassing, Maakies loving love for Millionaire. But for those who who are thoroughly charmed by Sock Monkey for Sock Monkey's sake, Into the Deep Woods is a worthy addition to the story. Find Ann-Louise gone, worried she's been taken by the beastly Amarok, they set out on an adventure--"Forge ahead!" becomes the toys' motto--through the woods, under the water, into the air, where they encounter sea monsters, bear inventors, and harpies, and always just narrowly duck the Amarok.

Of all the Sock Monkey books, Into the Deep Woods gets the closet to being best suited for kids. Millionaire's eccentricities are still present and sturdy, but the addition of Danner goes a ways to making the story more inclusive, opened it up to younger readers. Maakies loving, older readers can still get into it to, but they'll probably have to go in on their hands and knees.

- Andrew