Notes From The Margins

Online book magazine the Millions has been summing up 2010 with their A Year in Reading series, where various writers of various stripes sum up the best reads of the past year. There have been some great entries so far, including Joshua Cohen sounding about as clever as his novels make him seem, Michael Cunningham bragging about reading Proust, and Dan Kois, who chose Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and doesn’t feel great about it: “Believe me: I’m not proud of myself.”

By the far the best has been Sam Anderson’s entry. The New York magazine critic, instead of writing about his favourite books that he read this year, scanned some of his margin notes, like what you see to above. The result is so entertaining that I hope the Millions consider making this a regular feature.

Dave Margoshes Reels in the Poetry Prize

Our David won the Poetry Prize for Dimensions of an Orchard (Black Moss Press). Dave wasn’t able to be in Regina to receive his prize (I tried to claim it, but no dice). When ever he’s not right in front of me, this is how I picture him:

Dave, wherever you are, congratulations! All the winners — including Regina writers Sandra Birdsell, Dianne Warren, and Jo-Ann Episkenew among many others — are listed at the Saskatchewan Book Awards website.

The awards were great, as always: the salty food, the groaner jokes, the smarmy government speech about Saskatchewan Pride, and how artists have contracts now and don’t we all just love arts (I swear I’ve heard the same speech from three different representatives at other events), the outfits… (the outfits!), the books (the books!) the Centre of the Arts and the rabbits in the parking lot… It’s the total package for a full and inspiring Regina Saturday night.

Revising Rap For The Worst

Slate’s Paul Devlin has just posted what will probably be his strongest piece on The Anthology of Rap, a well-meaning collection by the Yale University Press that has some serious issues. Notably, it gets a lot of lyrics wrong.

That the flubs could happen is understandable – Devlin himself seems sympathetic to the task of trying to transcribe these lyrics – but it’s also clear that YUP messed up and is slow in responding to the issue. Devlin even talked with one of the MC’s who was included in the book, going through one of his songs and noting a slew of mistakes, which is about as damning to the anthology as it sounds.

Some of the advisory board for the anthology, featuring some hip-hop notables, feel burned, too. From an e-mail Devlin received from one among their ranks:

When Ice Cube says “your plan against the ghetto backfired,” and it gets turned into “you’re playing against the ghetto black fly,” more has happened than just a simple error in transcription; you’ve made an important song perplexing and impenetrable—while staking a claim, backed by institutional power and market presence, that your version is canonical.

Upcoming Cinematic Bastard

I’m no doubt late to the party, but I’ve just been checking out the trailers for the film adaptation of Barney’s Version. (See above as well as over at the A.V. Club for a better but non-embedable one.) I have high hopes for this movie. Not just because I love the novel, either, though it stands as one of my favourites from an author I love in addition to being one of my favourite books overall.

It simply looks like it’s been done well. Paul Giamatti seems like a perfect choice for the title role, and an interview with the screenwriter on the Sept. 16 episode of Q left me with a lot of faith in the project.

(Speaking of Giamatti, I stumbled across this gem on his IMDB page. Whoa. For anyone who enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep, that’s pretty exciting, even if Bruce Campbell isn’t involved.)

I don’t know what kind of distribution Barney’s Version is looking at, but I’m sure at the very least this will be one the RPL won’t pass on.

Diane Warren wins Governor-General’s Award for Fiction

Regina writer Diane Warren has won one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes (Toronto Star)for her debut novel, Cool Water. The Governor-General’s award comes with a cheque for $25,000. Cool Water was  also longlisted for the ScotiaBank Giller Prize (NewsTalk 980).

Obligatory Hostility-Filled Screed On George W. Bush’s Memoirs

George W. Bush is a war criminal who ordered the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq — the former wrong, illegal and futile, the latter much worse. The combination of his wars and tax cuts wrecked the American economy.

So now he’s got a book out that I’m not going to read. What do I, as a guy who followed U.S. politics through eight nauseous years of Bush’s vile presidency, think of his memoirs?

I. Hate. Them.

I’m not going to make fun of his grammar skills or crack jokes about his intellect or make fun of his ears. I don’t think Bush is funny. It’s sick to treat the guy like anything other than he is: a fool and a tool who caused terrible harm through stupidity, arrogance, negligence and demagoguery. He’s a spoiled, privileged millionaire turd who swapped his addiction to booze for ego-maniacal religious delusions. He’s a mindlessly malevolent Frank Burns, writ large. He’s a thug who took pride in giving life and death orders  and thinks waterboarding prisoners is okay. He slobbered on about the sanctity of life and the importance of family while he fought to take rights away and reduced opportunity for ordinary Americans with his policies. His regime was responsible for death, torture, poverty, bigotry, zealotry and general awfulness, and the damage he’s done can’t ever be repaired.

George W. Bush should be in jail forever, not chatting genially on talk shows. He should not be seen in public without handcuffs.

But once again everyone’s pretending it’s all okay. Good golly well you know people do disagree on politics sometimes, la la la.

Consensus reality is nuts.

Not a very interesting opinion, definitely not insightful but that’s a snapshot of the way it is. I’m not interested in thinking about George Dubya Feces ever again. I was there at the time and paid enough attention to see how bad it was.

If you want, feel free to talk about the fetus-incident or his torture stance or whatever in the comments below, or not. I’m out.

Everything you wanted to know about Mario*

This fascinating conversation between Nintendo Co. Ltd President Satoru Iwata and Senior Managing Director and creator of the most popular character in videogame history Shigeru Miyamoto pulls back the curtain on the early days of video games and the secret origins of everyone’s favourite dimunitive, mustachioed gentleman of presumed Italian descent.

On the psychology behind the gameplay:

Iwata:  So you wanted to know what it was that made players insert another 100 yen coin once the game was over and have another go?

Miyamoto: Right. And basically, I concluded that this was born of the players being mad at themselves.

On the design choices behind Mario’s look:

Miyamoto: Before you know it, you’ve used up 8X8 pixels. But if you draw a nose then a moustache, you don’t really know if it’s a mouth or a moustache, and it saves pixels.

Incidentally, I found this interview via Toronto writer Sheila Heti’s Twitter feed. Heti’s new book, How Should A Person Be?, comes out today from Anansi Press. You can read the prologue here.

*but were afraid to ask

Fan Mail: “You’re No Arts Mag”

Just found this lovely note in my in-box, courtesy

earth to fucktard – can’t call yourself an arts magazine when you systematically exclude the literary arts. just because good fiction and poetry fly over your head doesn’t mean a very literate city wouldn’t be interested. or aren’t books “hipsterish” enough for you?

Thanks for the letter. A few points:

1.) We have a great interview with Sandra Birdsell in this issue, incidentally the Fall Arts Guide edition.

2.) We just ran a summer reading guide a few issues back.

3.) We have two author features (hopefully interviews) scheduled in the next three issues.

4.) Prairie dog is a business and we can only print as many pages as advertising revenue allows. We aren’t funded by grants or donations and we don’t sell the paper, which is free. Should our advertising revenue increases we would be able to look at expanded book coverage, among other things.

Bottom line: Our four-person staff and a lot of dedicated freelancers and volunteers work very, very hard to cover the arts, including books. We definitely do more than is justified given our revenue. And while we’re happy to accept criticism and suggestions on how to improve our coverage,  we have zero patience for know-nothing, spitball-hurling anonymous cowards with a sense of entitlement who accuse us of not doing things that we’re doing the best possible job on.

Thanks again for the note, and now please enjoy this Lily Allen video in gratitude.

Giller Longlist Includes Regina writer

The longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize (via CBC), Canada’s highest profile literary award (sorry G-G’s), was announced this morning. Alongside CanLit stars like Douglas Coupland and Jane Urquhart is Regina writer Dianne Warren, nominated for her debut novel Cool Water, which came out earlier this year. Warren, not to be confused with power ballad queen Diane Warren, is best known for her short stories. Her short story collections Bad Luck Dog and A Reckless Moon are highly recommended.

Believe This Hype

The National Post put out their 10 Underrated Canadian Authors list today. I’m taking back all the snark I had for their Overrated list which James blogged about yesterday. (For the record, I mightn’t have been so dismissive if that had appeared in any other publication than the N-P.)

So, Lynn Coady is there. Along with a nod to her frickin’ brilliant 2006 novel Mean Boy. Yay.  Also mentioned are Bill Gaston and Diane Schoemperlen. Wow. I concede, that’s a good list. And proof that despite my Grade 12 English teacher’s efforts to convince me of the contrary, Canadian writing doesn’t suck.

Looks like I will be making a trip to the library today.

Hyped Up

The National Post compiled a list of their top 10 overrated Canadian authors. They are: David Adams Richards, Anne Michaels, John Ralston Saul, Douglas Coupland, Erin Moure, Jane Urquhart, Michael Ondaatje, Joseph Boyden, M.G. Vassanji, and Yann Martel.

You can check out their reasoning for yourself, but looking at this list of authors, they’ve knocked out a lot of the big names in Canadian literature, while managing to squeak in a quick slap on the wrist for Vicent Lam.

Additional August Reading: Please Kill Me

Image via punkbookreview.comPLEASE KILL ME
GROVE, 1996

Then they counted off a song – “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!” – and we were hit with this balst of noise, you physically recoiled from the shock of it, like this huge wind, and before I could even get into it, they stopped.

Apparently, they were all playing a different song.

Every band generates a whole bunch of stories, from creation myths to tales of their tales of their tragic demise. And, since a lot of bands are just friends fighting and drinking and fucking and making music, these stories are both dramatic, comic, and wildly contradictory.

Legs McNeil was around for a lot of the early punk movement. Being one of the founders of Punk is enough cred to coast on for a lifetime. So, he could have easily done a memoir and it would’ve been interesting.

Please Kill Me is a serious accomplishment, not just in that McNeil and his coauthor manage to convey a sense of what the scene like, but also because, through the use of the oral history form, they can acknowledge contradicting views. The title of the book, in fact, comes from an anecdote where three different people can’t agree on who came up with a t-shirt with that phrase on it.

The bands covered in Please Kill Me, from the Ramones to Television to the Stooges to MC5 to many more, are important to the history of music, and they couldn’t ask for a more honest and entertaining treatment than this book. By acknowledging the faults and innovations of these acts, while including plenty of hilarious stories, McNeil paints a full picture of these acts.

Take the Stooges, for example: their early albums stand up to this day, but a little something is lost. It’s hard to fully understand the attitude they brought to live shows and their music in general just through isolated accounts. In Please Kill Me, we’re given it all, from Iggy Pop eating his own snot in front of a group of adoring girls, to him flailing around on broken glass, to the band’s internal dynamic. For that reason, I can read this book a million times, find it wildly entertaining, and still take something away from it.

Director Talks Pilgrim

Image via torontoist.comEdgar Wright, director of amazing comedies such as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, did an interview with the Onion A.V. Club where he goes into great detail about Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, the feature film coming out this weekend.

A point of interest is when Wright compares the film to musicals, as he’s done in passing before:

That’s where the idea of making allusions to musicals came in, and playing the fights like production numbers in a MGM musical, where Gene Kelly does a big dance number, and then you’re right back into the story, and nobody comments on the amazing virtuoso tap number they’ve just seen. That was the idea about making the fight scenes dream-like and big production numbers, and also through the ensemble and peanut gallery, show that everybody else had their own preoccupations that stopped them from doing what any real person would do during these fights: “What the fuck was that? He just had this fight, and was flying through the air!”

The series of books by Bryan Lee O’Malley had a strong fan base before the film’s release became imminent, but the movie will surely send casual movie fans to the source material in droves.

If you’ve been on the fence about the books, I’d suggest you check out this post on the Millions, briefly sums up why they’re worth checking out.

Stories to Save the World

Wednesday night saw me at a creative writing workshop run by Calgary’s James Davidge. Davidge has authored several books and graphic novels (you may have heard of The Dutchess Ranch of Old John Ware), concerned with themes of social dilemma. The Driftwood Saga is a series of five novels in which a young girl enlists the power of magic to bring the world out of a state of chaos, and solve world problems such as child labour, the disappearance of forests and war. Davidge’s insight and imagination prove a refreshing and entertaining perusal amid the bewildering social ills we read about in the papers each day. His books can be found (along with many other hidden gems I have just discovered) at Check it out!

In Soviet Russia…

… things were different in such a way that one might interpret them as being the opposite of our North American customs, thus leading to great humorous effect.

Which is to say, look at these swell illustrations from the Russian version of The Hobbit! A friend brought them to my attention. Aren’t they great? So strange, yet so familiar.

Looking at these images made me feel the way I did when I was learning how to read. The pictures seem to take on a greater weight and depth when the meaning of the text is obscured (for those of us who can’t read Russian, anyway).

The textures, the brushstrokes, the shapes, and the composition all contain a richness that is too easy to overlook with the efficient-to-a-fault eyes of an adult.

Also, hairy hobbit legs! You win this round, Russia.

Paperback Review: Columbine

Dave Cullen

So much of the true crime books I see are so lamentable as to actually cause me despair.

The classic example for me is Kill Grandma for Me by Jim DeFelice. It’s a mass-market, schlocky examination of what seems to be a real tragedy, with gruesome crime scene photos in those glossy middle pages. I can deal with bad romance and mystery easily enough. Even the thought of James Patterson’s more violent novels don’t merit a second thought. But that books like Kill Grandma for Me take actual lives for the subjects of their exploitation is really awful.

And so many true crime books seem like that. So, when a book like Dave Cullen’s Columbine is published, I feel a lot better about the world – paradoxically, since it’s about one of the more tragic events in recent American history.

Check out my review of the book after the jump.

Continue reading “Paperback Review: Columbine”