Kudos to Austin Clarke!

October 16, 2009

Last night was my final public appearance as a member of the Toronto Book Award jury. Set in the sprawling new Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library, it was a great night to celebrate the great community of writers working in our city.

If you haven’t checked the Toronto Star today, you might not know that Austin Clarke was the winner this year for More, his Faulkner-esque tale of a Regent Park resident reflecting on her life in the city while searching for her lost son. His acceptance speech was full of good humour and bonhomie. He is a deserving winner and will be a great ambassador for both the city and the Toronto One Book program.

For two other angles on the evening, check out the City of Toronto and CBC web sites.

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Toronto Book Awards Finale This Week!

October 13, 2009

This week, I’ll be attending the official announcement of the winner of the City of Toronto Book Award. Click here for the full run-down on the award, the authours and the jury’s assessment of the work.

It’s been a great three years for me on the jury. Unlike most book award juries, our main qualification for membership is our residence in the city and our mutual love of reading. Theoretically, none of us has any scores to settle with literary or publishing rivals. We just look for the “most evocative” account of the many stories unfolding in the city every day.


My 2008-09 Faves

September 16, 2009

Okay, so I keep a log of everything I read each year. For 2008-2009, I read exactly 113 books. Here are some of my favourites from the past year:

  • Howard Zinn – A People’s History of the American Empire – graphic non-fiction – He doesn’t “blow my mind” like Good Will Hunting suggested, but he does find new ways to present history in two ways: graphically, of course, and “from below.”
  • Jim Thompson – The Alcoholics, South of Heaven, The Killer Inside Me, etc – crime fiction – he’s gotten more popular over the years, especially after a series of movie adaptations starting with the Grifters. All in all, his first-person voice is note-perfect whether he writing the psychopath, the thief or the alcoholic.
  • Michael Lewis – Moneyball – sport journalism – I’m a tad jealous of this writer because he’s so darn successful, but you can’t deny his wonderful style. Even if you dislike baseball and all corporate cultures, you will find this story of a perpetual underdog competing cleverly with bigger opponents to be an engaging read.
  • Joan Didion – Miami – I don’t always follow her tangents, dut Didion’s clear writing is a joy and wonder to follow from page to page. Her sketches of the Cuban community provide more insight than you might find otherwise on television or in print.
  • Cory Doctorow – Content – internet journalism – this guy is on the cutting edge of the creative commons, etc. His dissection of the futility of digital rights management and “ownership” in the digital age is food for thought.
  • Howard Brenton/David Hare – Pravda – play – I love British drama and I love satire, especially when it turns its attention to the modern media. Great read for a gloomy afternoon!
  • The Bill McKibben Reader – environmental journalism – I was pleasantly surprised with McKibben’s mix of environmental activism and sincere spirituality. It’s a great introduction to his work and far more enjoyable than, say, clunky Paul Hawken.
  • John Steinbeck – The Long Valley and The Grapes of Wrath – fiction – I came back to Steinbeck after a long break and his work holds up over time. In the short story collection, “The Red Pony” will tug at your heart as strongly as “Old Yeller.” The novel will probably make you want to join the communist party.
  • Jock and Andy Diggle – The Losers – graphic novels – this re-vamp of the WWII team is updated for the post-9/11 age. I disliked the conclusion, but the story is a welcome break from the general stupidity of mainstream superhero comics. Note: a film version of this series should be completed next year, directed by Peter Berg and co-starring Idris Elba. It’s going to be great!

Whew! Now, I’m going to have to read through my backlog for 2009-2010. I’ll try to be more regular in my reviews. Smaller is easier than bigger to manage.


Geek Effusion after Sunday Brunch!

August 16, 2009

Susie and I went out to the Bedford Academy for brunch last Sunday and whom do we see there but Robert Wisdom (aka Major Howard “Bunny” Colvin of HBO’s The Wire.) At first, we let him enjoy his shrimp and pad thai in peace. As he went to leave, I guess that he decided to acknowledge my bashful smirking and girlish giggling. Mr. Wisdom came on over and just said, “Yeah, it’s me.”

He’s in town for the upcoming ABC series, “Happy Town.” He shook our hands (twice!) and thanked us for our effusive praise of his work in the most Dickensian of TV series. Another bystander told him that she fully supported his work in the Western District (look it up.) If you see him around town, here’s a tip – he does photos but demurs at autographs.

Anyway, that’s how we spend our Sunday afternoons…with the greatest actors of contemporary television.

P.S. Please also go see “District 9.” Truly, it’s one of the better sci-fi films I’ve seen in recent memory. Like the best of the genre, it provides sharp commentary on human failings and current issues (in this case, racism, militarism and treatment of refugees.) If you’re not cheering for Christopher Johnson and son by the end, then you’re on the wrong side. Here’s hoping that “District 10” is already in pre-production!


Customer Request – Bachelorette Analysis

July 28, 2009

My comments on the Bachelorette finale are filtered through the prism of Class by Paul Fussell, a great book that should be read by all.

Essentially, Jillian made the best choice, really the only choice for her. To have a successful relationship, Ed was her only hope.

First, they are from the same high proletarian social backgrounds. Jillian’s Dad wears trucker hats and talks like a real Canadian. Ed’s Dad thinks that he is nuts to risk his job to go on a big TV vacation and sounds like a charter member of Bill Swerkski’s Super Fans. You can see them bonding over monster truck matches, rodeos and football.

Second there’s the ethnic thing. Jillian’s Ukrainian. Ed’s Polish. They can have their 80,000 wedding guests gorge themselves on borscht, perogies, cabbage rolls and goulash. Kiptyn would have demanded cucumber sandwiches and vanilla ice cream.

Third, there are the Moms to consider. Kiptyn’s Mom was a typical snooty upper-middle-class ice queen, casting withering looks at the poor little Cinderella who presumed herself adequate to serve as her son’s bride. Ed’s Mom just wanted to know if Jillian would be their fourth in a round of cards. Relieved that Jillian is a true player, she gave her blessing. Aloha!

There were only three things missing from the finale, in my opinion:

  1. Juan should have had the chance to redeem his honour in a duel with Dave. After customarily slapping Dave in the face with a leather glove, the two should have taken up swords and battled in the halls and stairwells of the Bachelor house until one victor stood above the corpse of the other. Blood feuds are the ultimate arbiter of “man code.”
  2. Jake should have offered Wes a free, one-way ticket to Chihuahua, Mexico. As his plane nears the city, Jake could parachute out, offering Wes a chance to cement his fame the Buddy Holly way.
  3. Chris Harrison should have announced a new reality show starring Tanner P on a desert island with thirty gorgeous foot models. Instead of roses, each episode would climax (literally?) with Tanner putting glass slippers on the lucky contestants. Working Title: The Bachelor – If the Shoe Fits.

Thank God it’s over!