10. April 2014

Blogging and Andrew Keen’s Cult of the Amateur

The Cult of the AmateurWhen cultural commentary turns its gaze to online technologies, it grows dated in the blink of an eye. It’s like watching Joan Rivers and the accelerating pace of her plastic surgeries. The minute one thing gets tacked in place, something else droops. The author of the commentary either has to perform periodic updates to hold up the droopy arguments, or the author has to let go, knowing that their work will end up on a great garbage heap of theorizing and speculation which, if they’re lucky, will one day pique the curiosity of future anthropologists and historians. It’s seven years since Andrew Keen published The Cult of the Amateur and already I feel like such an anthropologist. How fast the world turns. He offered an update in 2008 with a forward and additional chapter, but, so far as I’m aware, there are no more updates; he’s moved on to other books.

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8. April 2014

Narcissism as a Strategy of Resistance

Obama_selfieThis morning, while staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, I had a thought about narcissism. I wanted to take a selfie to capture the moment but was concerned about what people (in this instance, my wife) would think of me. The last thing I want is for people to think I’m narcissistic. It’s important, you know, to, like, manage your public image. I’d hate for the media to get hold of a photo of me taking a photo of me in my skivvies staring at myself in the mirror, or, like, yukking it up at the funeral of a head of state.

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7. April 2014

Vets (animal, not military)

Kari the incontinent wonder dogI had to take my dog to the vet. I haven’t taken my dog to the vet in years. I’m afraid of vets. In the past, every time I took my dog to the vet, I emptied my wallet and went home feeling like an easy mark.

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19. February 2014

Last of the Lumbermen, by Brian Fawcett

Last of the Lumbermen, by Brian FawcettBrian Fawcett’s latest novel is weird for not being weird. I mean, this is Brian Fawcett we’re talking about—experimenter with simultaneous threads of text, genre busting mixer of fiction and non-fiction, railer against professionalizing ossifying literary academics, thorn in the flesh of big media, Cassandra of global capitalism, lamenter of waning local cultures. For ease of reference, we might throw all of this into the basket of public intellectual. So what the hell is he doing writing a hockey novel? More to the point: what the hell is he doing checking his cynicism at the door and writing a feel-good tale of people who are unashamed to be happy? Weird.

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12. February 2014

Robert Elsmere by Mrs. Humphrey Ward

Robert Elsmere by Mrs. Humphrey WardSuppose somebody told you they were reading a novel about a man who joined the ranks of the clergy, married a religious woman, found himself plagued by doubts (in university, he had moved with a crowd of mostly rationalist atheist science types), left the church, found himself in conflict with his wife and worried that the situation might destroy his marriage, poured himself into social justice causes and became a community organizer. You might say: That’s a current-sounding book that captures the mood of the times, and then you might point to The Clergy Project which, with the support of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, helps clergy who find themselves in precisely that position.

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29. January 2014

Stay, by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Stay by Jennifer Michael HechtStay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by Jennifer Michael Hecht (Yale University Press, 2013) is an odd book. It’s odd in that there seems to be a divide between what it claims to be and what it is. Note that I didn’t say it’s a bad book. It’s a good book. But it’s not the book it thinks it is.

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28. January 2014

When Do Writers Peak?

Statue in Notre Dame, ParisA question that people like to ask of the writing life is: at what age do writers produce their best work? What I find remarkable about the question is that people try to answer it. Most answers favour youth. Sam Tanenhaus, for example, suggests that creativity peaks early. He acknowledges late-bloomers like Nabokov and DeLillo and Roth, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule, whatever that means. Personally, I like the answer offered by an economist who finds that the creative peak comes at the 0.618 fraction of the artist’s lifespan. Granted, he was studying the output of painters, but presumably we could come up with a similar fraction for poets and novelists. Then there’s the work of UC-Davis psychologist, Dean Simonton, who says … are you sitting down? … it all depends. Poets and physicists peak young. Novelists often require time to master complexity, to experiment and make mistakes, to work through less clearly defined goals, before they can excel.

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22. January 2014

Read Everything by Brian Fawcett

Renaissance Books, Victoria, BCIs it too late for a new year’s resolution? I didn’t come up with anything until last week. Before then, my mind had been otherwise occupied. Mostly with snot. I had that interminable head cold that’s been going around. Then there was a trip to Victoria, BC to visit a new niece. Whenever I’m in Victoria, I do the rounds to various places of worship. First, there’s Munro’s Books. I didn’t buy anything there but I thought I should pay my respects to a store that bears the name of Canada’s first and (so far) only Nobel laureate for literature. Then there’s Russell Books which is arguably the best used book store in the country. Finally, there’s Renaissance Books in Bastion Square, my personal favourite for rare and used books. It was somewhere between the shelves of Renaissance Books that I came up with my new year’s resolution.

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13. December 2013

10 Reasons Why I’m Quitting Facebook

Facebook suicide is painlessOn Christmas day, I intend to commit an act of love by deleting my Facebook account. My reasons aren’t terribly mysterious. They relate to concerns that have been widely discussed by all sorts of people. You may not find all my reasons relevant to your own Facebook situation, but I’m sure you’ll identify with at least of few of them.

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12. December 2013

Authors Petition for Digital Rights

More than 500 authors from around the globe have signed a petition demanding the creation of an international bill of digital rights. This is a response to the revelations of whistleblower, Edward Snowden, about the extent to which US and UK intelligence organizations engage in online surveillance.

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14. October 2013

10 Toronto Limericks (and a few extras)

The LimerickWhile browsing used titles in Cambridge, / I found an old volume, The Limerick. / Tho not illustrated, / ‘Twas unexpurgated / The famous Paris Edition and you get the idea. It’s a consolidation of various sources dating from 1870 to 1952 and even includes one questionable mention of Toronto from 1941:

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8. October 2013

When The Shit Hits

Triceratops PooAfter a lit degree, a friend of mine went abroad for grad studies and, as it turns out, never came home. I was more timid and stayed close to the nest, opting for law school. After my friend had been away a few years, his parents consulted me in my capacity as a freshly minted lawyer. It was an act of charity on their part. They must have known I was desperate for clients. They needed to update their wills. Now that their son was abroad and unlikely to come home, they couldn’t very well keep him on as their sole executor. They needed someone close at hand in case, God forbid, something should happen. Would I be willing to act jointly with their son? Of course, I said, and that was that.

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5. October 2013

Poem: St. Patrick

St. Patrick, Enlightener of IrelandMore tomb than room, my grandmother fled
to the fields, convinced the house held death,
a mid-life freak, I guess, though to hear her
tell it, planets must have collided
and debris come raining from the skies.
Grandfather had quit his farming, severed
ten acres for himself and sold the rest.
I had just been born, maybe a reminder
that generations stack one on the last
like hay bales in a paint-faded barn.
On the back lane (or so she told me)
she crumpled to the grass and wept
while the spinning world whipped her thoughts
to the far corners of her known universe.
Tears smeared with dirt. An emerald glow
lit the ground below and drew her back
to this place now: four-leafed clovers,
a carpet of thousands bearing her up.
She took this as a sign, like comet tails
or rainbows, snatched them by the fistful
for their luck, their providence; she lacked
a name for the deliverance they’d bring.
She pressed them in the family Bible, there
to mix with the psalmist’s praises and pleas
for just rewards to the righteous.
I, now grown, a cynic and city-bred,
watch the mottled fingers turn the pages.
Gran is bent on her witness: these aren’t myths,
not unicorns or pots of gold, but real.
She turns the page and reveals the proof
of her hard claim: at the centre of the book,
the foundations of her faith.

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3. October 2013

Two More From Bookthug

At this year’s Toronto Word On The Street, I picked up two chapbooks from Bookthug, one titled My Vagina, by André Alexis, and the other titled Deep Too, by Stan Dragland. My Vagina is, obviously, about vaginas. Deep Too is, implicitly (the title is the punchline to a joke), about penises. It occurred to me that these chapbooks complement one another. They ought to hang out together, get to know one another, maybe go out on a date. If things go well, they can use my place.

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1. October 2013

A by André Alexis

A by Andre AlexisSince David Gilmour’s idiotic remarks of last week, there have been many clever responses, but the cleverest by far comes from a source that predates Gilmourgate by a few weeks: the novella, A, by André Alexis, published earlier in September by Bookthug. Part satire, part parable, A will really, really, really appeal to those who care about Toronto’s literary scene.

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