Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Canada Reads Picks for 2008

I've been suspect of this enterprise since the start. Actually, I find it quite silly, but it's hard to outright hate anything that may bring attention to good books. And that's been one of my problems; the picks. They tend to be either humdrum or predictable, no daring-do, no adventure. What else can you expect from members of a "panel" chosen for reasons that are hard to fathom, their knowledge of books and ability to articulate intelligent opinions, with few exceptions, seeming not to be a major consideration. So ultimately the "debate" ends up being a real yawner.

But this year, I must say, there's much to like about the selections. They're surprising, even inspired. A little of the 'what's good for you' variety together with some fun stuff too.

Here's the link to the list

There's something old (Mavis Gallant) and oldish (Timothy Findley), something new (Nalo Hopkinson will probably be new to most people), something borrowed (Paul Quarrington - you'll have to borrow it from a friend since it's been out of print for a while, although I understand it's being re-printed as we speak for this occasion) and something blue (in this case, the blue icefield of Thomas Wharton.) As I say these are delightfully unexpected selections, a nice mix of stalwarts and younger writers, guys and gals, the famous and the not-so-famous.

I'm partial to Quarrington, not that I know his work well, but he's widely regarded as one of the good guys of Canadian letters and particularly generous to up-and-comers (personal experience here, he didn't know me from a hole in the ground but agreed to blurb my debut novel.) I still don't suppose I'll tune in to the week of chatter, and won't care about the "ultimate survivor." Nonetheless, the choice of the Wharton book has me interested in a writer I had previously never heard of. This Canada Reads nonsense seems to be working.

City poetry at TWA

The Writer's Almanac hosted by Garrison Keillor on public radio in the States has featured two wonderful poems about cities yesterday and today. Tuesday's "New York" by Edward Field was a revelation to me. Never heard of the guy before but will definitely look his work up. I've discovered so many superb poets from south of the border through TWA (Heather McHugh is a favourite.) Keillor has also read plenty of Canadian poetry including works by Robyn Sarah and Eric Ormsby. Here's the web link to Field's poem.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Okay one more thing about the GGs

"It would be the death of the country, wouldn’t it." Ondaaje said this at the GG announcement in Montreal when asked what a Tory majority would mean for arts funding.

I wonder if he was serious, or meant it tongue in cheek.

The GGs

Something should be said about the GGs this year. Michael Ondaaje won for fiction. Domanski for poetry. Nough said.

Just in case it slipped by while you weren't paying attention

Dr. Robert Cade, the "inventor" of Gatorade (apparently a name chosen by combining "alligator" and "lemonade") has died of kidney failure at the age of 80. He will forever be remembered for spawning a multibillion-dollar "sports drink" industry. The University of Florida (fittingly) announced his passing. This was the institution where Dr. Cade and other researchers made the "eureka" discovery in 1965 that the school's football players were sweating out their valuable carbohydrates and electrolytes in the Florida heat. According to Dr. Cade the discovery was made when former Gator Coach Dwayne Douglas, asked him the age-old question, "Doctor, why don't football players wee-wee after a game?" "That question changed our lives," Cade said. Generations of the Cade family now living in gated Florida communities are grateful.

Review of Meir Shalev's latest

Here's a link to my recent review of Meir Shalev's new novel A Pigeon and A Boy (Schocken).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Underappreciated Margoshes

Regina-based writer Dave Margoshes has won two Saskatchewan Book Awards for his short fiction collection Bix's Trumpet and other stories (NeWest Press.) I was happy to hear it. I haven't read this particular volume but if it's anything like his earlier work it's worth reading. As much as one senses that this recognition comes as a nod and a smile for Dave's ability to hang in there (he's been publishing fine poetry and fiction since the mid-eighties) and not really for a best book, it's well deserved. I've always thought Margoshes an underappreciated writer. He's been consistently producing fine fiction and poetry for two decades. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Dave back in the late eighties when he dropped in to the Jewish Public Library in Montreal for a Canada Council sponsored reading. We toured the JPL's collections, which include one of the largest publicly accessible collections of Yiddish books in the world. At which point Dave told me that his grandfather was once the editor of Der Tog (a New York Yiddish daily with a massive circulation in the early part of the 20th century) and he wondered if the library might have a copy of his memoir published in Yiddish in the 1920s. It was quickly found in the stacks. I still have an image of Dave holding the dark, worn volume between his palms, gently flipping through the brittle, off-colour pages, stunned speechless. I suppose some of the reasons Dave's been flying below the radar lo these many years is that he has the misfortune of 1. publishing exclusively with the small presses, 2. writing out of the regions (as opposed to Toronto) and 3. being one of that generation of writers who came into their voices in the post-literate 1980s.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Solway wins A.M. Klein Prize

Congratulations to David Solway, who has won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry for Reaching for Clear: The Poetry of Rhys Savarin. This is a strong collection of poems, as much for what it does not have as for what it does. It's rich in imagery, craft and language and free of the obtuse diction and references that has made some of his past poetry somewhat opaque. Solway's last three books of poetry have been in assumed (approriated) voices, in which he takes on a personnage and imagines a complete biographical, historical, geographical, cultural and linguistic setting. You have to be uniquely skilled to accomplish this as convincingly as Solway does. We seem to be seeing more and more works that use this approach, for example Stephen Marche's latest book, a fictional literary anthology titled Shining at the Bottom of the Sea. I wonder if this is an emerging trend as immigrant writers increasingly gain mainstream prominence and win prizes(particularly writers from warm climes, the Carribean, South Asia.) Post-immigrant writers seem to be searching for an authenticity in more traditional, pre-colonial cultures, or at least they seem to be seeking out a socio-cultural tension that no longer exists for them and their generation. It's a reversal of the typical immigrant desire to conform and gain acceptance in their chosen, adopted home. Now local writers want to seek faraway, foreign cultural terrain to reinvigorate their imaginations.