Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pevere's Column

The Star Adds a Non-Fiction Column

In a move that I will support, the Star added a new Geoff Pevere column to its Saturday paper. Pevere, easily the Star's best critic, will write about trends in non-fiction books. His first column looks at addiction narratives:
Addiction has its hooks in deep. There have been dozens of books on the subject published in the past few years, and there are many dozens more to come. Here's a thought, inspired perhaps by the presumption that what's written about the real world always speaks to more than the subject at hand: Does our fascination with the consequences of compulsive behaviour go hand in hand with the collapse of boom times? Is recession merely recovery written in global economic terms? Or is it the agony of withdrawal as we convulse our way back to reality? To take the parallel one logical if unnerving step further, what then are our chances of relapse? If reality is the cure for delusion, non-fiction may be one way of getting sober.
Coincidentally the Star also had a front-page story about the growing abuse of OxyContin in Ontario. This was another solid story from the Star (two in one edition!). 

Last summer when I had my wisdom teeth removed, I was prescribed OxyContin. I had the opposite reaction: I wasn't hooked, I wanted off it. I suffered from the pain killer's side-effect of chemically-induced hiccups, which is like a normal hiccup fit except its much longer and painful. I flushed the rest of the pills after using only a day's dosage.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Awful Movies

Following The Oscar-Oriented Releases

Now that the Oscar nominations have been announced, all that's left are for the votes to be cast, the winners to be named, and the disappointment of who did win to settle in.

What comes after the season of film releases that are pining for Oscar nominations, is the dark part of the year, where film studios release movies that should be seen by no one, never.

This week, there are three such films, none of which I've seen or will ever see. I'll instead rely on Metacritic's review aggregated scores to condemn these movies: New in Town (30%), Taken (49%), and The Uninvited (44%).

Don't go see these movies. They're awful and you don't need visual proof to know it.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Google's Monopoly

Access to Information

From an article about Google's book digitizing efforts:
As an unintended consequence, Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly—a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information. Google has no serious competitors. Microsoft dropped its major program to digitize books several months ago, and other enterprises like the Open Knowledge Commons (formerly the Open Content Alliance) and the Internet Archive are minute and ineffective in comparison with Google. Google alone has the wealth to digitize on a massive scale. And having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier; for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers. No new entrepreneurs will be able to digitize books within that fenced-off territory, even if they could afford it, because they would have to fight the copyright battles all over again. If the settlement is upheld by the court, only Google will be protected from copyright liability...

Perhaps, but the settlement creates a fundamental change in the digital world by consolidating power in the hands of one company. Apart from Wikipedia, Google already controls the means of access to information online for most Americans, whether they want to find out about people, goods, places, or almost anything. In addition to the original "Big Google," we have Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Images, Google Labs, Google Finance, Google Arts, Google Food, Google Sports, Google Health, Google Checkout, Google Alerts, and many more Google enterprises on the way. Now Google Book Search promises to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed.

Sci-Fi's Influence

Is It Still Fiction If It Happens?

From an interview with P. W. Singer, author of Wired for War:
Your book is filled with references to science-fiction writers, many of whom you credit with anticipating not only significant technological innovations, but also the ethical issues that come with them. Is there any writer you would name in particular who foresaw the coming robotic age of warfare and provides some useful guidance?

I love the writings of the cyberpunks, who don’t dream of alien worlds, but instead explore what happens when technology is put in our very own strange world now. “Battlestar Gallactica” today is another example of great work. Their season on insurgency was a better exploration of the issue than about 99% of what came out of all our thinktanks and defense journals on the issue. I don’t know if anyone predicted robotic warfare and where we are exactly headed so well, but its somewhat beside the point of what science fiction can offer. I’ve always been partial to H.G. Wells, who is known as the “Father of Science Fiction.” Wells was born in 1866, but in his various stories he forecast the 20th century with incredible accuracy, predicting such things as computers, video cassette players, televisions, and even super highways, each of which seemed unfathomable at the time. His book often had a theme of conflict running through them and so he also predicted various military developments well before their time. For example, he wrote about tanks, or what he called “Land Ironclads,” in 1903, which inspired Winston Churchill to champion their development a decade later. Similarly, his 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come, predicted a world war that would feature the aerial bombing of cities. Wells was not a fan of such technologies, as he saw them as “unsporting.”

Perhaps Wells’s most important prediction was in his story, “The World Set Free,” written in 1911. In it, he forecast a new type of weapon made of radioactive materials which could destroy cities, which he called “the atomic bomb.” At the time, physicists thought radioactive elements like uranium only released energy in a slow decay over thousands of years. Wells described a way in which the energy might be bundled up to make a powerful explosion. Of course, at the time, most scoffed; the famed scientist Ernest Rutherford even called Wells’s idea “moonshine.” One reader who differed was Leó Szilárd, a Hungarian scientist. Szilárd, who later became a key part of the Manhattan Project, credits the book with giving him the idea for the nuclear “chain reaction.” Indeed, he even mailed a copy of Wells’ book to Hugo Hirst, one of the founders of General Electric, with a cover note that read, “The forecast of the writers may prove to be more accurate than the forecast of the scientists.”


Heroin Addict?

Creating One's Biography

From the Times:

Few writers are more acclaimed right now than the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, who died of an unspecified liver ailment in 2003, at the age of 50. His posthumous novel, “2666,” appeared on many lists of the best books of 2008, and interest in him and his work has been further kindled by his growing reputation as a hard-living literary outlaw.

But his widow, from whom he was separated at the time of his death, and Andrew Wylie, the American agent she recently hired after distancing herself from Mr. Bolaño’s friends, editors and publisher, are now challenging part of that image. They dispute the idea, originally suggested by Mr. Bolaño himself, endorsed by his American translator and mentioned in several of the rapturous recent reviews of “2666” in the United States, that he ever “had a heroin habit,” that his death was “traceable to heroin use” or even that he had “an acquaintance with heroin.”

At the same time, some of Mr. Bolaño’s friends in Mexico, where he lived for nearly a decade before finally settling down near Barcelona, Spain, are questioning another aspect of the life story he constructed for himself.


Friday, January 23, 2009

From Crapstone

Town Names You Don't Want To Say You're From

From the Times:

CRAPSTONE, England — When ordering things by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question “What is your address?”

He lays it out straight, so there is no room for unpleasant confusion. “I say, ‘It’s spelled “crap,” as in crap,’ ” said Mr. Pearce, 61, who has lived in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon, for decades.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Elephant

Good Short Story from Booker Winner

The New Yorker published "The Elephant" by this year's Booker winner, Aravind Adiga. It's good and worth a read.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Wrestler

It's Good

Last night I watched The Wrestler and my expectations were met. The film isn't as depressing as Darren Aronofsky's 2000 film, Requiem for a Dream, but it has its moments.

Mickey Rourke's performance, already awarded, should probably be awarded further. Rourke is good enough reason to see this movie, if you only need one.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

New U2

"Get on Your Boots"



Friday, January 16, 2009

Whitehead / Woods

Colson Whitehead Takes Down James Woods

From the February issue of Harper's:

We each come to literature in our own way. For some, the gift is bestowed by a helpful governess who guides our fingers over the letters in a primer. For others, a private tutor first enlightens us to the majesty of the written word. How you arrive is immaterial. What is important now is that you forget all that and learn to read anew. In my literary criticism, I have become known as a champion of the eternal verities and a scold of the trendy and the fashionable. I have essayed to instruct your writers in how to write correctly. Now I will teach you to read correctly.

When we see a word, we must ask ourselves foremost, What does it mean? This is the first step in comprehension. When we have accomplished this, we can proceed to the next, and so on. In due course, we have read the sentence in toto. By returning to the beginning of the sentence to perform a close reading, we unlock its essence. I learned this skill at university. Although born in the States, I journeyed abroad for my education and underwent my intellectual coming of age at Oxford. I remember when the first dispatches of Dirty Realism made their way across the Atlantic. I pored over each latest issue of Granta as if it contained the Holy Word. And perhaps it did. One of my favorites from that time has always been Raymond Carver, in particular his affecting tale “Leave the Porch Light On, It’ll Be Dark.”


Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Bookforum

Reviews of Yates, Boyle, Heller, Bell and the all-encompassing, Others

Read it here.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sundin's First

For His Sake, I Hope It's Not His Last

Of course, my sub-headline is a bit of an exaggeration: I'm sure Mats Sundin will score again for the Canucks. But it'd be nice if they actually won, so his move to Vancouver mattered.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Ones

What's Coming Up in Books This Year

The Millions has a great roundup of anticipated books due out this year. Read it here.

The ones that caught my eye include books by T.C. Boyle, Wells Tower, Colm Toibin, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Jonathan Lethem and Zadie Smith.


Monday, January 05, 2009

McCabe Who?

Leafs Forget How to Spell His Name

From an email sent by the Maple Leafs:


Historical Fiction

Just Another Genre

Vince Passaro from a review of Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth:

Despite that, however, I found myself, even amid my enjoyment, resisting the novel on moral and aesthetic grounds. Since so much of our serious fiction over the past two decades has been historical rather than contemporary, it will appear strange for me to say that historical fiction strikes me as fundamentally trivial or, at best, less important than fiction confronting the present, no matter how well crafted. Nevertheless, fiction focused on the past has become a kind of refuge for serious writers and readers alike. It has grown prevalent in inverse proportion to the diminishing sense that novels and novelists have any special cultural importance—a conviction now regarded as slightly ridiculous, but one that was unchallenged when Unsworth started his career in the mid-’60s.

Even very good historical fiction is, inevitably, genre writing; and while the best of genre writing—Chandler, say—can and should be regarded as literature, a literary culture that so consistently awards historical fiction over the more difficult and ever rarer novels that make an assault on the present is an anemic literary culture. It is worth noting that Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger, the slave-trade book, split the Booker Prize in 1992 with a more famous and rather gooey historical fiction, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. And since the late ’80s, a slew of such novels have won major awards, including a few with considerably more teeth in them, like Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Pat Barker’s Regeneration.

You might think that a novel set in Iraq in 1914 would be particularly telling today; that we would become somehow better informed about ourselves by seeing played out, at the sensual level of good storytelling, the origins of the disaster in the Middle East. Yet again, I found myself resisting this idea. Every educated person knows that the mercenary and rapacious policies of Europe and the US created monsters all over the colonial world—there is hardly a large-scale tragedy that can’t be traced back to them—but who understands now what happened to this country after 2001, when former radicals hung flags out their windows and almost all our political leadership backed the destructive invasion of Iraq, as did frightening multitudes of sensible Americans; or what British novelist can explain what happened to Britain, where you can’t walk around large cities without being watched and videotaped? Where are the writers who are trying to capture all this in fiction?


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Welcome 2009

Turning the Calendar Page

The end of 2008 came more than 13 hours ago and I can hardly say I'm sorry to see it go...

Coming up: my best of list; a bit late but who makes the rules anyways?