Sunday, February 28, 2010
My Q&Q review of The Amazing Absorbing Boy, by Rabindranath Maharaj
Friday, February 26, 2010
Event: Draft Reading Series – April 18, 2010
At any rate, I hope you all can make it for what will most likely be an afternoon of literary merriment. Here are the particulars:
When: Sunday, April 18th at 3pm.
Where: The Merchants of Green Coffee, 2 Matilda Street, Toronto.
Ellen S. Jaffe
Admission : $5 (includes a copy of Draft’s publication.)
"But in the present climate ... " a salon des refusés
Rejection ain't what it used to be. For one thing, there's a lot more of it going around. And editors often refer to "the present climate" as their reason for saying no. For our April 18th reading, Draft celebrates rejection, as we take a sounding of our notorious "climate" in work, art and -- oh yes! -- love.
Hope to see you there.
Update: "We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and The League of Canadian Poets."
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Review: The Night Is a Mouth, by Lisa Foad
And speaking of great author interviews...
Notice how Jake keeps his questions focussed almost exclusively on the literature in question: in this case, Paul's new poetry collection, The Reinvention of the Human Hand, due out next month. There isn't a canned query ("Are you a morning writer or an evening writer?", "What advice would you give someone wanting to be a poet?", "How has your childhood informed your work?") anywhere to be found. Each and every question is tailored to the interviewee, and confirms that Jake has read the poetry at hand closely and given it a great deal of thought. His questions help to centre Paul's work both within the context of other poets (Hughes, Boorson, Lilburn) and within the cultural events that helped inform the poems (Koko the gorilla; Laika, the dog that the Russians sent into space). He also keeps trivialities and canned emotion out of the discussion. It isn't until the very end of the interview that he ventures to ask Paul something resembling a "personal" question, and it's a thoughtful one at that. Perfect.
Jake definitely gets my Worthy of Wachtel Award of the Day. Looking forward to more of his literary interviews in The Torontoist.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Review: The Waves, by Virginia Woolf
Friday, February 19, 2010
Take the Retro Reading Challenge
Monday, February 15, 2010
Acceptance: The Prince Edward Island Poet Laureate website
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Review: A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking, by matt robinson
Review: Badlands, by Robert Kroetsch
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Blaming Frank McKenna
I think Crowley (and by extension Sawler) are bang on in describing McKenna as what the Libs need but will never have. Unlike Ignatieff, (and Dion before him) McKenna is the one Liberal fully equipped to challenge and stop Stephen Harper and the changes he's bringing to our country. McKenna could not only defeat Harper; he could probably crush him, reunify the Liberals and restore them to their (some would say rightful) place as Canada's governing party - and with a majority government. Only, McKenna doesn't want to run. He has never really wanted to run; he probably will never want to run. He is not prepared make the personal and reputational sacrifices that come with angling for the PMO.
Crowley casts McKenna's story as something almost out of Shakespeare (or at least a season of The West Wing): a man so fully suited, so perfectly qualified to be a nation's leader, and yet with so many obstacles standing in the way. Chief among them, of course, are McKenna's own convictions not to drag himself and his family into the tactless, no-holds-barred arena of federal politics, to sacrifice himself for the betterment (some would say salvation) of our nation at large. It makes for some pretty compelling stuff.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Learning to read
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Review: Nothing Like the Sun, by Anthony Burgess
Friday, February 5, 2010
And speaking of good journalism...
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Questioning the Email Interview
It was one of the first things I ever learned in journalism school: When preparing for an interview, you should never come with more than three or four core questions to ask as your baseline. All other questions you raise over the course of the interview should arise naturally from the discussion, responding to whatever it is that your subject has said. This advice made instant sense to me. Maybe it was because I had already been practicing some journalism on my hometown newspaper before I arrived on campus as a wet-eared undergrad, but I already had a sense that the best interviews were ones conducted like a conversation of discovery, with the journalist letting the discussion steer the interview, diving in with reactive follow-ups whenever possible and lots of thinking on his or her feet.
So I guess something in me bristles a bit whenever I see the increasingly prevalent “this interview was conducted by email” that prefaces so many author interviews. I have never conducted an interview by email, and have only ever participated in one, and with much reluctance. (I held my nose and did it anyway; my novel and I needed the publicity.) But my instinctive reaction to email-based interviews is to see them as lazy journalism. After all, how much thought or skill does it take to cobble together four or five (or 10, or 12, or 20) questions and fire them off to an author via email, have the author write his or her answers out for you and email them back? E-mail interviews are an easy way for literary journalists to get copy fast, but that doesn’t make them good interviews.
I do understand the arguments in favour of (or, at least, tolerance of) email interviews, especially for online articles. The journalist and the author, for example, may not live in the same city and email is just the most efficient way for the two to communicate. But even this doesn’t really hold water for me. There are plenty of electronic devices out there that allow you to record telephone interviews; and even if you can’t afford those devices or long-distance charges to another city, there’s still Skype (free to download off the web) and various add-ons that allow you to record the conversation.
Then there’s all that pesky transcription. It’s true: depending on how fast you type, transcribing an interview might take as much as one hour for every minute of tape. It’s incredibly boring and repetitive and no journalist enjoys doing it. But careful transcription is the price you pay for conducting a thoughtful, nuanced interview in person; it’s part of how you earn your byline.
There are other drawbacks to the email interview. It provides the author time to “spin” his or her responses to your questions, to mull them over, polish them up and make them reflect the image he or she wants to present to your audience. This may make for cleaner copy to read, but it certainly isn’t an honest act of journalism. Interviewing a writer shouldn’t be any different than interviewing a police chief, a lawyer or a PR flak. You don’t necessarily want them to have time to practice their responses, and by sending them the questions in advance you essentially allow them to do just that. Impromptu questions – and a real discussion – will do a much better job of capturing insights about the author and his or her work, which is what you owe to your audience.
An interview via email should only be a last resort for the journalist – i.e. when there are positively no other means to conduct the interview. And even then there is a way to do it properly. The journalist should act as if it were an actual in-person interview – sending only one or two questions at a time and responding to the answers that come back with deeper, more thoughtful questions. Jacob MacArthur Mooney did this to great effect when he recently interviewed fellow poet Susan Holbrook for The Torontoist’s books section . This is an example of an email interview done very well.
Of course, the biggest beef I have with email author interviews is this prevailing trend of what I’d call the “series interview” – i.e. online interviews that ask the exact same group of questions to a variety of authors. These types of smash-and-grab interviews are not only grossly offensive in the way they fail to engage with each individual writer’s work, but they also tend to focus on a writer’s creative process and personal history, and not much else. I’m a huge fan of Eleanor Wachtel’s radio show Writers and Company for the simple reason that every question she asks proves conclusively that she has read the author’s actual work closely, spent a serious amount of time thinking about that work, and has tailored her questions accordingly. The canned-question interview is the antithesis of this: homogenous, thoughtless, and infinitely repeatable - rather like a sausage factory. Wachtel really does set the benchmark for all author interviews. Any literary interviewer – no matter which medium he or she chooses to use – could learn a lot from her.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Review: Bang Crunch, by Neil Smith
You know, some books just come with really high expectations. When I began compiling an end-of-year list (started here and here on Facebook and continued here on this blog), I deliberately avoided including a “worst-five books I read this year” list; instead, I called the more negative side of my summary the “top-five disappointments of the year”, i.e. books that arrived on my nightstand with a high level of expectation and, while not necessarily bad (although some definitely were), for whatever reason came up short or left me wanting.
Neil Smith’s short story collection Bang Crunch had the potential of ending up on this year’s list. I had heard and read so much about this book before cracking its covers, knew its short stories had been widely anthologized and won prizes even before they were collected together, and that everyone who read the book had, as the saying goes, loved it loved it. Could it possibly live up to so much hype?
Rest assured that it absolutely does. Bang Crunch is a tour-de-force and Smith is the real friggin’ deal.
The collection opens with the story “Isolettes”, a hilarious and heart-wrenching story of a young woman and her gay male friend who have a child together that ends up being born prematurely. The account of the baby’s time in intensive care reminded me a lot of Lorrie Moore’s “People Like That Are the Only People Here” for all the right reasons: that feeling of helplessness that a parent feels when an unwarranted illness inflicts itself on a defenseless child, counterbalanced with strong, fully realized characters and insightful writing.
Smith tackles a number of other heady subject matters, including cancer, alcoholism, a school shooting, and a young man discovering his own unwelcome homosexuality. (Did anyone else find that Ruby-Doo in “Green Florescent Protein” had a certain Owen Meany quality to him?) The final piece, a novella called “Jaybird”, is a wonderfully polished and honest look at the Montreal acting scene. Even the weakest piece, the title story, still gave me lots to chew on and admire.
With Bang Crunch, Smith stakes out his territory as one of the freshest and most original voices to come along in a long while. I’ll be waiting with breathy anticipation – like so many other people, I ‘m sure – for his next book, whatever it may be. I have a feeling I’ll be following this writer wherever he goes.