The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Holy disaster: Pope alienates indigenous peoples : ICT [2007/05/17]

In a speech at the Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, the pope characterized pre-contact Indians as ”silently longing” for Christianity and stated that ”the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.”

I’m not sure how to express my opinion on this matter without using anymore expletives. Maybe he should take a break from stirring anti-gay sentiment and read some history books.

The latest ripple going through book blogs at the moment is the NBCC’s campaign to save the book review spaces in newspapers. I’ve read about the demise of all the newspaper book reviews, except the NYTBR so seems the general consensus, accompanied with sour predictions on what this will mean for everyone who loves and profits from books.

I’m a very bad reader. I can never muster any significant sympathy for this decline. I don’t read any of the newspaper book reviews except for The Guardian. I’ve never tried the Globe & Mail’s, except for one lame mystery round-up. Literary journals I can get behind, sob over, picket at corporate towers, you name it, I would probably do it. Newspaper coverage? Not so much. The sort of reviewing they offer doesn’t interest me. Bloggers pretty much have me covered with the synopsis + concise commentary reviews, the book round-ups, even the casual mention of what’s on their bedside table. With the diversity of books covered among them all, and the wide taste of some readers, I can read their thoughts on romances, fantasies, mystery and literary fiction, all in one place.

What’s left? Author profiles and gossip. Hmm. I could live without those.

The point can be made that litbloggers point me to newspaper articles and this is true, in many cases, but why is it that I’m more willing to get it second hand than directly from the source? It’s not that I’m an unwilling free loader: bloggers have piqued my interest in a number of print periodicals, all of which I regularly post about here. They offer me something I can’t get on blogs. I got into The Guardian because the links I came across were consistently good or at least interesting, and it wasn’t simply the centre of another ruckus. (If I could I’d read the print version, because I always prefer the tangible version of anything if it’s available.)

Umm…what do I need the others for again? I know how much they mean to writers, publishers and other readers but I cannot muster much if any personal despair.

This link round-up starts with this increasingly relevant LA Times article by Sarah Miller on all you noisy people who choose the public library as your meeting ground! (Via Ed Rants.) Yes, you people doing your ESL lesson right by the study carrel, yes you old person who should know better answering your cell phone, and yes YOU the librarian who apparently needs to TALK AT THE TOP OF HER VOICE to show someone where some government publications are. For heaven’s sake. Is there no sacred quiet space left? (No, I’m not taking my backpack and laptop into a church, even if it does have wireless.)

Although I think Miller’s friend has it worse–they keep drum lessons at his library. Wtf. (Coffee shops?? Huh??) Don’t even get me started about the ones on-campus. I swear they make the frosh dumber every year. (Entrance English exams bear this out, I’m not being mean. Ok, maybe I am.)

Here’s something you’re allowed to shout about (in an appropriate venue) an interview with everyone’s favourite Paris Review fiction contributor: Mohsin Hamid. His latest book The Reluctant Fundamentalist is out and if the NYT Besteller’s list rank doesn’t sway you (it shouldn’t), an enthusiastic recommendation from David Treuer should. He wrote the ridiculously, I mean ridiculously good The Translation of Dr. Apelles. And if that’s still not enough (it should be) just check it out at the local book store (I’m sure it will be there if it was at my local chain, it’s getting a big push it seems) and read the first page. That’s what made me buy it. (Despite the loud, hot pink book jacket on the Canadian edition.)

The London Review of Books proves again and again the importance of literary journals as newspapers serve information in smaller, over-simplified bite-sizes. Mahmood Mamdani wrote The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency for the March 8th issue. The dangers of de-politicising Darfur, the contradictory positions of those who wish to pull out of Iraq but march in to “rescue” those in Sudan, and the culturally and politically important ambiguities in the terms’ “African” and “Arab”as they are used in Sudan, are written with a clarity that never betrays the complexity of the issues being addressed. The LRB has been doing the best coverage of Sudan of all the periodicals that I’ve read, save perhaps The Economist which covered the situation long before it became a Western cause. I’ll be doing a post on the LRB but the article was so good I had to link to it now.

The Valve is holding another book event this time on The Novel of Purpose by Amanda Claybaugh. If you’re interested in authors like George Eliot, Charles Dickens and Henry James the posts are worth a look. Considering that Claybaugh is “historicizing” the selected 19th century Anglo-American fiction it isn’t exactly my cup of tea, it’s an interesting one and The Valve typically has good writing.

Then finish it all with Geoffrey Philp’s insightful reading of Olive Senior’s popular poem Colonial Girls School, one of my favourite poems. (It’s listed along with others on my Assortments page.) She’s an alma mater, former head girl too, I’m sure, of my high school in Montego Bay.

Watch as I suck blood from blogs and other sites. Don’t show this to your children, pets or spouse!

Geoffrey Philp had been accepting submissions for the Top Caribbean Novel and now has twelve works up for voting. If you’re interested in fiction from the English-speaking Caribbean it’s a great list to choose from, including authors like Earl Lovelace, George Lamming and Nalo Hopkinson. The only book from the list that I’ve read is Brother Man by Roger Mais, of course. Check here for the complete list of submissions.

Sylvia at Classical Bookworm is endeavouring to get the word out on the reprehensible closing of the B.C. Legislature library and encourages everyone, in and out of B.C. to e-mail the province Premier Gordon Campbell to prevent the government from turning this important historical and educational institution into a ceremony room for 2010 Winter Olympic VIPs…or an office.

Though the surface excuse for the closure is “seismic upgrades,” the fact that half of the librarians have already been laid off and the irreplaceable collection is on its way to a warehouse in the hinterlands reveals the government’s true intentions. There is talk of turning the space into office and/or ceremonial space. Just the thought of turning that magnificent structure into offices is repulsive. And anyone living in B.C. should be able to interpret the supposed need for ceremonial space as code for “we want a fancy place, away from the rabble, where we can show off for all the foreign dignitaires who will be visiting B.C. during the 2010 Winter Olympics, at taxpayers expense of course.” The 2010 Olympics are the big prestige project for this government and they are ramming it through against vigorous community opposition while ignoring alarming social issues such as rising poverty and homelessness and overflowing hospitals.

After you’ve helped to deal a blow to governmental idiocy, reward yourself with an artistic rendering of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening at Japonisme.

All the fuss about the precious children reading about scrotums–such eeeevil, dirty, dangerous things–reminded me of a catchy Layton poem.


Mr. P.–I have heard it rumoured
That you, humanist, librarian with a license,
In the shady privacy of your glassed room
Tore up my book of poems.

Sir, a word in your ear. Others
Have tried that game: burned Mann
And my immortal kinsman Heine.
Idiots! What act could be vainer?

For this act of yours, the ligatures
Pest-corroded, your eyes shall fall
From their sockets; drop on your lacquered desk
With the dull weight of pinballs.

And brighter than the sapless vine
Your hands shall flare;
To the murkiest kimbos of the library
Flashing my name like a neon sign.

And the candid great
Of whom not one was ever an Australian
Cry dustily from their shelves,
“Imposter! False custodian!”

Till a stunned derelict
You fall down blind, ear-beleaguered,
While Rabelais pipes you to a wished-for death
On a kazoo quaint and silvered.

Irving Layton

Suspicious devices part of marketing plan – U.S. Security –

It’s good to know that these days in the USA a prank is automatically labelled a hoax if the police are stupid enough to fall for it. (Nine other cities survived this attempted assault although I’m sure this  can be explained as a lack of vigilance.) This reminds me of that COPS episode where the border police guy was convinced that terrorists were trying to get into his country from the Mexican border. That’s right, Al Qaeda units are scrambling over wire fences to get into the USA with their bombs and stuff.

Really now? Blinky lights in the shape of cartoon characters flipping the bird are suspicious? Oh that’s right it was attached to some cardboard (black! the colour of eeeeeeevil) and a set of triple D batteries.

The British arrest suspected terrorists. The Americans? They boost the profile of a late night adult cartoon. You guys are fucked.

Oh no!

Posted on: January 30, 2007

I read on Sophinette that Sidney Sheldon died today. His books provided hours of reading pleasures when I was young, from the age of 11 to 15. All the ones I read were once my mother’s. I must have re-read Rage of Angels a million times. The mafia intrigue, the sex, the violence, every page Sheldon wrote was meant to excite our most basic senses. I loved it. My pre-teen heart broke as the heroine bowed out from fighting the good fight even as I understood that circumstances dictated no other probable outcome.

I still remember that last scene in Book one: Jennifer Parker stands in the room with Michael Moretti after he saved her only son from certain death. Her acquitted client, an infamous murderer, had kidnapped her child and taken him to a motel room (had it been a motel room?), piercing the young boys hands in a mock crucifixion. The police, the good guys, were handicapped by their rules (somehow, I don’t remember what, specifically) and would not find the killer in time. Parker knew only one person with the means to save her child’s life.

That man was Michael Moretti: a bad ass, sexy mafia head honcho…thing.

Why could she expect his help? He wanted her. In his bed and on his side, defending his goons in court. Jennifer Parker was one of the top criminal defense lawyers in the country.

So there they are at her home (I think it was her home). Her son is safe in his bed, hands treated by the doctor Moretti brought (I think he did anyway). Her relief and gratitude is as palpable as the knowledge that at this point her life that everything is about to change, has already changed.

I could never pick a book that crappy now but back then, man, it was the good stuff, right up there with Nicholas Nickelby. I’m sorry to see Sheldon go but he had a long life and it seems to have been a good one.

Michael Specter’s New Yorker articles on Russia are ever informative and compelling. His latest on why Putin’s enemies are dying is no different. A necessary read for anyone who wants an overview of the political changes in Russia over the last decade.

Putin…has called the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,”…Sick of the lines, the empty shops, and the false promises of Soviet life, Russians looked first to the West—and particularly to the United States—to provide an economic model. What followed was an epic disaster: the sell-off of the state’s most valuable assets made a few dozen people obscenely rich, but the lives of millions of others became far worse. The health-care system fell apart, and so did many of the social-service networks. Russia became the first industrial country ever to experience a sustained fall in life expectancy. Russian males born today can, on average, expect to live to the age of fifty-nine, dying younger than if they were born in Pakistan or Bangladesh. It is not surprising, then, that by the time Putin became President most Russians were only too happy to exchange the metaphysical ideas of free speech and intellectual freedom for the concrete desires of owning a home and a car and possessing a bank account. They also wanted to feel that somebody was in control of their country.

In today’s Russia, as Politkovskaya wrote, stability is everything and damn the cost. Gorbachev and Yeltsin are seen by an overwhelming majority as historical disasters who provoked decline, collapse, chaos, and humiliation before the triumphal West. The opportunities created in those years, the liberation from totalitarianism, have been forgotten. “Yes, stability has come to Russia,” Politkovskaya wrote. “It is a monstrous stability under which nobody seeks justice in courts that flaunt their subservience and partisanship. Nobody in his or her right mind seeks protection from the institutions entrusted with maintaining law and order, because they are totally corrupt. Lynch law is the order of the day, both in people’s minds and in their actions. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’’

Here’s an amusing piece on what it’s like to work in a used book shop by George Orwell. (via Booksquare)

In a lending library you see people’s real tastes, not their pretended ones, and one thing that strikes you is how completely the ‘classical’ English novelists have dropped out of favour. It is simply useless to put Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Trollope, etc. into the ordinary lending library; nobody takes them out. At the mere sight of a nineteenth-century novel people say, ‘Oh, but that’s old!’ and shy away immediately. Yet it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are ‘always meaning to’ read, and, like the Bible, he is widely known at second hand. People know by hearsay that Bill Sikes was a burglar and that Mr Micawber had a bald head, just as they know by hearsay that Moses was found in a basket of bulrushes and saw the ‘back parts’ of the Lord. Another thing that is very noticeable is the growing unpopularity of American books. And another – the publishers get into a stew about this every two or three years – is the unpopularity of short stories. The kind of person who asks the librarian to choose a book for him nearly always starts by saying ‘I don’t want short stories’, or ‘I do not desire little stories’, as a German customer of ours used to put it. If you ask them why, they sometimes explain that it is too much fag to get used to a new set of characters with every story; they like to ‘get into’ a novel which demands no further thought after the first chapter. I believe, though, that the writers are more to blame here than the readers. Most modern short stories, English and American, are utterly lifeless and worthless, far more so than most novels. The short stories which are stories are popular enough, vide D. H. Lawrence, whose short stories are as popular as his novels.

Chris Abani has a new novel out!! The Virgin of Flames, published by Penguin, is already out in Canada and will be released on January 30th in the USA. Laila Lalami points to two recent reviews printed in the L.A. Times and the New York Times Book Review. I’ll read neither until I savour the book myself. (Yippee! This is a wonderful surprise as I had no idea he had a new one in the offing.)

If this deal goes through as is I will no longer buy books from Chapters.

A pilot marketing project would give the bulk of its budget to the Chapters/Indigo chain, independent bookstores complain

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

Representatives of a consortium of six medium-sized Canadian-owned publishers are scheduled to meet today in Toronto with members of the Canadian Booksellers Association to try to resolve a dispute over a controversial book-marketing “pilot project” scheduled to start next month and largely targeting Chapters/Indigo stores.

The $120,000 scheme by the consortium — whose members are McArthur & Co., McClelland & Stewart, Raincoast Books, House of Anansi Press, Cormorant Books and Thomas Allen Publishers — would put themed displays of the publishers’ books in high-traffic areas in Chapter/Indigo outlets on four separate occasions throughout the year.

Five or six backlist titles from each of the publishers would be featured at any one time, for a duration of at least four weeks, with Chapters/Indigo ordering as many as 3,000 copies of each title. Chapters/Indigo representatives will choose the books to be presented from lists supplied by the publishers.

Almost 70 per cent of the $120,000 would be used to purchase ads in various Chapters/Indigo publications and on its website, while the balance would be used for advertisements in Canadian newspapers.

The plan by the newly formed More Canada Marketing consortium has raised the ire of some of Canada’s independent booksellers not only because of its focus, for 2007 at least, on 90 large-format Chapters and Indigo outlets — the independents’ biggest competitors — but because the consortium is hoping to get money from the federal and Ontario governments to make it happen.

One of the key figures in the consortium, McArthur and Co. founder and president Kim McArthur of Toronto, is unapologetic about the scheme, or at least its goal.

Canadian-owned publishers have drastically declined in number in the past 10 years, she said last week, and those remaining lack the resources of foreign-owned firms such as Random House of Canada and Penguin Canada.

Hence, the need for government support “for Canadian titles from Canadian-owned firms.” As for the emphasis on the Chapters/Indigo stores owned by Indigo Books & Music, “we can’t help it that Indigo is such a big part of our market.” Indeed, McArthur estimated the company, with its 230-plus stores nationwide, “accounts for 70 per cent of our business.” A pilot project “has to start somewhere, and why shouldn’t it be with a national retailer?”

This “collaborative effort,” as Sorya Gaulin, Indigo’s vice-president of public relations, calls it, is the result of a meeting McArthur had last January with Indigo founder and CEO Heather Reisman and Joel Silver, the chain’s head of print procurement. McArthur told Reisman that she was worried about the “ghastly” number of returns Canadian publishers were taking from Indigo and how these publishers needed some sort of compensatory regime because “we don’t have the balancing effect of something like The Da Vinci Code to keep up our revenue stream.”


Here is the rest of the article. I don’t pay taxes (yet) but the idea that these publishers want taxpayers money to channel their books into a single retail store in Canada seems rather ludicrous. Seriously? Seriously.



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