Thursday, January 16, 2014

Just Atwood It!

It really was a dark and stormy night in late November as War Memorial Hall filled with people coming to hear the wily and brilliant Margaret Atwood, a guest of The Bookshelf and Café Philosophique. A whole range of fans, from the gray-haired set to wonderfully inspired students, listened, laughed, and loved their way through the evening.

Atwood was in incredible form, particularly considering her three hour drive from Toronto. She was hysterically funny in her introduction, both serious and comedic in her interview with Catherine Bush, straightforward and honest in the questions and answers, and exceedingly kind and patient to every person who lined up to have their Atwood libraries signed.

But the thing that shocked me was how vast her data base is. She can access the most technical details of almost anything that you want to discuss, from the parts per billion of carbon in the air to the arcana of the bible. Here’s just a personal example. I had thanked her at the end of the evening for her insightful article in the Guardian about Doris Lessing who had just died. She had apparently tossed it off while waiting for a plane. I explained to her that I had wanted the Golden Notebook to be in our 40 Books 40 Years contest until I realized that it had been published a year before we opened. She looked up at me and said, “When did you open?” “1973”, I replied. “No, 1962” she retorted. Damn, I thought. As soon as I got home I looked it up….and guess who was right. Google, move over!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Stephen Fearing Q&A

Multiple Juno Award-winning musician Stephen Fearing (Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and Fearing & White) has been taking photos for years, but this past October was the first time he collected and showed them publicly. On January 20th, starting at 7pm, Stephen brings that show to the eBar, where he'll discuss his work and perform a short solo set. Here's a primer:

The Bookshelf You attribute a wealth of down-time to your interest in photography, and suggest that, initially, taking the photo might’ve been more important than doing anything with it afterward. Could you maybe fill us in on that shift from doing something for the sake of doing it and beginning to explore the life of these things after that moment had passed?

Stephen Fearing It really has a great deal to do with the leap in digital technology and what is possible now because of that. Like most artists these days I spend a lot of time on my computer (both the act of creating and disseminating whatever it is I have created—working on my website and all the other social media channels.) As photography software develops, my ability to take a picture and use it in so many different ways increases dramatically and I am no longer an amateur photographer with a fridge full of undeveloped film, but an artist who uses photography to grace his album covers, web page etc. etc. etc. 
BS Can you conceive of a relationship between your eye for what makes an interesting photo and your ear for what makes an interesting song? And does photography make possible different explorations for you than songwriting has in the past?

SF Yes for sure. Songwriting and photography are both different ways of telling a story, but in many ways, photography is simpler, less analytical, less cerebral… I see it and if I am lucky, I capture it. Trying to capture images with words is harder.

BS What does it mean for you to use a photo of yours for an album cover? What do you hope for an image to say about or add to a collection of your songs?

SF Choosing an album cover “image” is like choosing the album title… one or two words that sums up the vibe of the record (not always an easy task). In the case of my last album, Between Hurricanes, the title came about through a series of chance circumstances (an e-mail to a friend complaining about getting my work completed during hurricane season in Nova Scotia). I was going to call the album 50, as in the age. Once I had the new title, the image leaped right out of my collection as being perfect for the cover. For the new Blackie and The Rodeo Kings release, SOUTH, we had all agreed, well in advance, that we would go with one of my photographs for the cover (my bandmates are all very supportive). I sent out a number of options that worked with the word SOUTH and we settled on the image of the dome car gliding through the boreal forest of Saskatchewan. There is a common theme to this new B&RK record of migration and travel, so that image captured the spirit of the songs, plus we recorded the songs very acoustically and the simple B&W image clicked.

You can find out more about the event here: "Between The Rumble Strips" at the eBar

Be sure to check out Stephen's photos ahead of time:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

February's Non-Fiction Book Club

Lawrence "Larry" Hill's Massey Lecture, Blood: The Stuff of Life, is our next Non-Fiction Book Club pick!

For a sense of what Blood is all about, here is a great quote:

“The problem with equating authenticity to race is that it attempts to quantify a concept that is inherently absurd. To focus on the authenticity of the blood in our veins is to repudiate deeper realities: we construct and negotiate our identities … Blood, I hope, will eventually unite us. Blood fills our imagination just as fully as it fills our veins.”

Each sentence in this paragraph deserves a couple hours of discussion. The book was well reviewed by the big three Canadian newspapers. Here are a few takes on it:

Globe and Mail:
Toronto Star:
National Post:

So far, the club has discussed a wide range of issues and has always been tactful, respectful, and fun. We'll chat about Blood: The Stuff of Life on Thursday, February 20th at 7:00 pm in The Bookshelf Greenroom. 

We hope to see you there!

The Bookshelf Book Club Crew

Report from the Interior

If you are interested in the psyche, child rearing, creativity, parenting, pondering the whole tangled ball of existence, don’t go to our self-help shelves. Go around the bend to the biography section and check out Paul Auster’s Report from the Interior, the fourth of his ruminations about memory, relationship, authenticity, and meaning.

I began my sojourn with Auster in the 80’s when I read The Invention of Solitude, which he wrote after his father died. This was the most honest evocation of a deeply fraught relation that I had ever read and it surely was a game changer for disclosure in familial drama. Since then I have followed him closely. Perhaps it is because we were born in the same era. It also could be that his hunger for meaning through ideas, literature, film, sport, and, most importantly, love, is accompanied by an immense talent for constructing a compelling narrative.

This volume is like a blueprint for his formative years. But it is a blueprint with a door that opens down into many levels. Perhaps Freud might call it Id Land, which is why Auster writes his whole story line detached from his own struggles and miseries. Throughout the book he refers to himself as you, as if talking to the memory of his own young self.

His understanding of narrative arc is most astounding when he recounts two movies which changed his whole gestalt when he was not yet a teenager. I doubt that the actual movie The Incredible Shrinking Man would grab me the way his recounting of it did. I raced through it and still do not understand how he captured the adrenaline of it all. He did the same for I Was a Fugitive of a Chain Gang. In essence his exposition is one of the best condensations of capitalism and all of its evils that you will read.

Reading Report from the Interior, I saw how hands-off parenting—even downright bad parenting— allows kids to wallow in their own boredom and, if they’re lucky, find their true delights in life. Ironically, this was reinforced by none other than Bobby Orr. I had just finished the book and turned on the TV to see Orr being interviewed by Peter Mansbridge. And there was the hockey icon making fun of the super organized professionalism of kids and sports. He thinks it’s crazy. He became who he was on outdoor rinks playing shinny. Auster was a baseball fanatic and spent as many hours as he could finding his bliss with neighbourhood kids on the diamond. It’s lovely that two such different people can experience similar bliss, and it speaks volumes of Auster’s reach that I could see the relevance of his story in something that just happened to be on TV.

- Barb