The ironic thing is that this promo video is infinitely more entertaining than the movie itself.
Chad Pelley is the Newfoundland-based author of Away from Everywhere, a book that has been on yr. humble correspondent’s to-read list for several months now. He’s also the brains behind Salty Ink, a literary site devoted to Atlantic Canadian writers and writing. In the latter capacity, he’s inaugurated a program called Atlantic Canada Reads, modelled on the CBC’s annual literary smackdown, Canada Reads, and the National Post‘s upstart alternative, Canada Also Reads. Pelley’s asking people to e-mail him with suggestions for an Atlantic Canadian book of fiction they’d like to defend. He’ll narrow the submissions down to a longlist that will be revealed on June 1, followed by a “well-rounded” shortlist with accompanying essays from the selected books’ defenders beginning June 14. The winner by popular vote will be announced on Canada Day (July 1 for all you non-Canuks out there).
TSR caught up with Pelley to discuss the impetus behind this newest variation on the Canada Reads template.
TSR: Why an Atlantic Canadian version of Canada (Also) Reads?
Chad Pelley: The simple answer: Salty Ink’s niche, or mandate, is to promote Atlantic Canadian fiction and poetry. Hence Atlantic Canada reads. The goal here is simply to have fun promoting books. As for why I played off the popular Canada Reads competition, especially since The Afterword recently played off the same competition with Canada Also Reads … I thought the title was catchy. I could be accused of ripping off two great competitions, but I really see it as a nod to CBC and The Afterword. Salty Ink is young, having only been launched in November, and given its esoteric niche, doesn’t have the readership those other places have. Atlantic Canada Reads will grab more attention than a similar but differently titled competition.
TSR: How have you been influenced by Atlantic Canadian writers?
CP: I’m a writer myself, who wasn’t entirely aware of this this influence until my debut novel came out in 2009. I did quite a few radio shows and interviews, and every time I was asked about influences, I realized it was consistently a Newfoundland author, if not an Atlantic Canadian. There is such a diversity of style, delivery, and subject matter coming out of here. I consider myself a ”best of collection” of my favourite books (but by no means as “good” as these authors). I like the sentence-level evocative elegance of Lisa Moore’s writing, I like Michael and Kathleen Winter’s attention to detail, I admire Kenneth J. Harvey’s versatility in style and story and his trademark graceful grittiness, I like Jessica Grant’s fresh, unique stories and how she delivers them, I like how Michael Crummey constructs a novel, I’m floored at what Amy Jones does with narrative structure … and I could keep going and going. I like how David Adams Richards’ Mercy Among the Children was like getting your heart stomped on, it was that engaging.
TSR: Do you think these kinds of competitions/lists (e.g. Stephen Patrick Clare and Trevor J. Adams’ book Atlantic Canada’s 100 Greatest Books) have literary legitimacy? Should literature be considered a contest, or is the merit of these endeavours simply in bringing attention to work that might otherwise get overlooked?
CP: I think the notion of competitions and awards is fundamentally absurd – how can you really compare two works of fiction? On what grounds? And every judge, no matter how objective, has a bias. But competitions are a good form of promotion nonetheless. And recognition. I can’t speak for others, but in my case, everything Salty Ink does is intended to be all for fun in the name of book promotion. As an “emerging” writer, I am well aware how important promotion and word of mouth are in this industry. The stat is that someone needs to hear about a book seven to 11 times before they’ll buy it. Salty Ink is just trying to be one or two of those influential mentions.
I’ve never been much of a self-promoter. I’ve always felt a bit dirty crowing about my (admittedly rather dubious) achievements, and remain suspicious of Norman Mailer–type advertisements for myself. People often ask why I don’t write more personal posts on the blog and my answer is that the activity of blogging is narcissistic enough without my going into boring details about my personal life. (Anyone who really wants to hear about the petty aggravations of my day or what I had for breakfast is more than welcome to follow me on Twitter.)
Still, the good folks over at Open Book: Toronto asked me to fill out their “Proust Questionnaire,” which was a personality survey popular with the French society of Proust’s time. According to Open Book, “The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent’s ‘true’ personality.”
Here’s a sample:
Who are your favourite prose authors?
Philip Roth, Flannery O’Connor, Mary Gaitskill, Haruki Murakami
Who are your favourite poets?
T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Anne Sexton, Ken Babstock
Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Hazel Motes, Raskolnikov, John Self (None of whom is particularly heroic, but what are you going to do?)
Who are your heroes in real life?
Steve Earle, Martin Luther King, my brother.
Who is your favourite painter?
Who is your favourite musician?
What is your favourite food?
Nothing beats a hot dog from a roadside cart.
What is your favourite drink?
Lagavulin 16-year-old single malt scotch.
For the rest, hop on over to Open Book. Once you’ve read the whole thing, you’ll know more about me than you ever wanted to. And I swear that all of my answers are 100% true. Trust me.
April 1, 2010 is the deadline for Kobo, the digital books company spun off from Indigo Books & Music, to complete its agreements with publishing companies moving from the wholesale model of pricing to the agency model, which effectively means that publishers will be responsible for setting prices on their e-book titles, and Kobo will not be allowed to offer discounts, 2-for-1 promotions, or specials. Writing on the Kobo blog, Michael Tamblyn, vice-president of content, sales, and marketing comments, “When the dust settles, it’s going to be a different world, whether you’re an e-book reader, industry watcher, publisher, or retailer.”
“A different world” may turn out to be an understatement. TSR has learned, through a source close to Kobo who spoke on the condition of anonymity, that the company is preparing for a world in which life itself is digital. “This is no longer the realm of science fiction,” the source said. “It’s quickly becoming science fact.”
In the same way that Indigo decided it couldn’t survive by selling only books, and began to stock its stores with everything from scented candles to Pilates balls and yoga mats, the digital side of the business is looking to expand its suite of offerings in preparation for a world lived 100% online. “We’re thinking totally outside the box,” said the source. “This ain’t your grandma’s Second Life.”
Recognizing that the development of e-ink was essential for electronic readers to catch on, the source said that Kobo’s R&D department is currently studying other revolutionary advancements, such as e-food, which would be downloaded directly into a user’s stomach. “No longer will users have to stand in line at the grocery store or go out to a restaurant to consume actual food. Digital food is faster, healthier, and much less hassle.”
Another intriguing advancement is the e-booze feature, which will apparently be customizable for individual user experience. “E-booze comes with a range of compatibilities,” the source told TSR. “Users can download an e-scotch, which will provide a pleasant, warming sensation, while e-tequila and e-Jägermeister will actually induce vomiting.” Downloaded in the morning, e-Jägermeister can also simulate morning sickness or provide an excuse to call in sick to work.
Won’t this cannibalize the company’s e-baby feature? Absolutely not, says the source. “If you’re faking morning sickness, you’re either doing it out of revenge or in an attempt to hang on to a failing relationship. E-baby is intended for people who actually want the physical experience of raising children, without the bother of having to undergo pregnancy or birth.” The e-baby feature also includes e-poop and e-urine, which set the product apart from earlier-generation devices such as the Tamagotchi digital pets created in Japan in the mid-1990s. “The e-urine feature is still under development,” says the source. “We’re trying to modify it so that it hits the user in the eye every time, but we can’t seem to replicate this peculiarity of actual babies. Still, it’s only a matter of time.”
Early estimates indicate that the world will be 100% digital in 20 years. Although a 2030 deadline seems tight, the anonymous source TSR spoke with has every confidence that technological development will keep up with incessant demand. “Users are sick of the physical world,” the source said. “We’re committed to giving them what they want: a completely digital life. No longer will people have to deal with the messiness of reality. The future isn’t virtual; it’s digital. Get ready.”
Guess which one yr. humble correspondent subscribes to.
Once people begin to buy their first adult permanent furniture, that’s when they’ve locked into their final personality. – Douglas Coupland
The process of maturation never ceases in interesting persons so long as they remain interesting. – John Berryman
What I find most problematic about the people who are publicly rushing to condemn filmmaker Roman Polanski – who was arrested last week in Switzerland on an outstanding U.S. warrant dating back 30 years, when Polanski fled the States to avoid sentencing after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor – is how many of them are writers.
Polanski pleaded guilty to engaging in unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in the hot tub at Jack Nicholson’s California home in 1977. Although he had entered a plea to a reduced charge in the hopes of receiving a lighter sentence, he fled the country because he had reason to believe that the judge in the case, now deceased, wanted to make a name for himself by throwing the book at the filmmaker. He has not entered the States or Britain since.
Now, let’s get this out of the way right up front: unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old is wrong. Polanski, who admitted to this act (although he denies that he knew she was 13 at the time), is criminally, if not morally culpable. Having said that, the overheated rhetoric of Kate Harding’s recent Salon article is somewhat suspect. “Roman Polanski raped a child,” Harding screeches in peals of full-blown righteous indignation. Well, no, he didn’t. Although his victim (and that is the appropriate word to describe her) was underage, she was not a child. Childhood and adolescence are not the same thing.
Polanski has said that he didn’t know that his victim was 13. Although it will likely win me no friends, I’m inclined to believe him. It is doubtless anathema to admit to it, but there are many 13-year-olds wandering the halls of any given city high school who could easily pass for 18 or older. And in terms of sensibility, some young teens are as calculating and as morally unkempt as many adults. Polanski’s victim repeatedly told him to stop his sexual advances; it’s this fact, not the girl’s age, that is most damning to the filmmaker. It is not possible to take the moral high ground when you admit to plying someone with drugs and alcohol then committing acts of unlawful sexual intercourse, regardless of the age of your victim. However, it should be reiterated: Polanski’s victim was not a child.
The foregoing is in no way meant as a defence of the filmmaker’s actions. However, his impulse to flee the country following a trial that may have involved judicial and prosecutorial misconduct seems like the understandably panicked reaction of a man whose experience with the forces of state authority has not been stellar. Polanski’s mother died in a Nazi death camp and his father was a Holocaust survivor. Polanski himself spent much of his childhood in the Krakow ghetto in Poland, a country from which he later emigrated to escape the communist government. His wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family, a crime for which he was initially suspected.
Again, none of this exculpates Polanski’s guilt for the crime of rape. However, when writers rush to condemn the man – in the most overblown and indignant prose imaginable – it appears from where I sit to amount to a failure of one of the artist’s most significant attributes: empathy. Not forgiveness, not acceptance of another’s actions, but empathetic understanding. Polanski’s crime – and all its attendant issues of patriarchy, entitlement, and the like – is clearly a flashpoint for a great deal of emotion. But it is incumbent upon writers especially to take a step back from their emotional reactions to a situation and try to come to grips with the personages involved, in all their muddiness and humanity. Perhaps then, they would be able to see Polanski for what he is: a flawed, scarred, imperfect human being. A man who committed an unquestionably bad act. But the writer’s impulse, rather than jumping on a condemnatory emotional bandwagon, should be an attempt to understand that bad act. If artists abdicate this responsibility, who will be left to take it up?
UPDATE: This piece has engendered a great many intense responses, both here, and on Maisonneuve.org, where it was reprinted. A sufficient number of people whose opinions I respect have approached me to question the wisdom of what I wrote, and having reread the piece I realize that the final paragraph perhaps did not adequately convey my intended message. With that in mind, let me clarify: I do not now, nor have I ever believed that Polanski should not be held accountable for his crime. Nor do I agree with the apologists who suggest that he should be given a free pass because a) his victim has forgiven him or b) he’s a great artist. Being a great artist does not put one above the law, nor does it morally exculpate one for what is an inexcusable crime.
My feeling, however, is that understanding (and here I use the term “empathy” interchangeably: perhaps an error on my part) is helpful, and is especially helpful on the part of artists and writers, in thinking about this case. By understanding, I do not mean condoning Polanski’s crime; I refer to the other meaning of the word, “the ability to reason and comprehend.” Nor should this be mistaken for a case of tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner. I make a rigid distinction between attempting to understand a criminal act and reserving judgment for it. In my conception, the deeper our understanding (i.e. comprehension) of human nature – both for good and for ill – the better we can arm ourselves against the evils of the world. This in no way implies that the perpetrators of criminal acts should not be required to face justice; merely that it behooves us all to try to comprehend the tangled motivations that lead people – even otherwise good people – to commit some very evil acts. As a writer, I am invested in making that attempt at understanding.
UPDATE: From The Underground Book Club:
Justice can be mean, cruel, and over-simplified. Or even just plain wrong (setting free O.J., for example). But within its boundaries, its systems of signs and laws, it imposes meaning. Art is a constantly shifting conflict of floating, destabilizing signifiers.
Art is about complicating meaning; the law is about clarifying it.
It didn’t take long for the grousing to begin. The Scotiabank Giller longlist had barely been announced before critics started crying foul. Where are the men? asks The Globe and Mail. (Same place the women were last year.) Where are the non-European writers, tweets The Walrus. (Was there a major novel by a Canadian writer of non-European descent published this year?) Indeed, last year, out of 15 longlisted authors, only three (Emma Donoghue, Marina Endicott, and Mary Swan) were women (Endicott and Swan went on to place in the shortlist). And seeing as Giller has in the past honoured Rohinton Mistry, M.G. Vassanji (twice), Vincent Lam, Austin Clarke, and Michael Ondaatje, the argument that there’s a white, European bias to the award seems like a non-starter (Giller is guilty of many sins, but that isn’t one of them).
There were surprises on this year’s longlist, beginning with the exclusion of Lisa Moore, whose second novel, February, was widely considered to be a strong contender to take the prize. Also absent from the longlist were Douglas Coupland (dodged a bullet there, hm, Panic?), Michael Crummey, Lori Lansens, Bonnie Burnard, John Bemrose, and Shinan Govani. (Just making sure you were paying attention.) In their place, first-time novelists Claire Holden Rothman and Jeanette Lynes nabbed spots, as did Martha Baillie, for a book published with the small Ontario press Pedlar. These could not have been considered safe bets by anyone trying to outguess this year’s jury, which is composed of author Alistair MacLeod, U.S. novelist Russell Banks, and U.K. author and journalist Victoria Glendinning.
Atwood and Michaels are, of course, represented. It’s likely Munro would have been too had she not taken her collection, Too Much Happiness, out of the running. But a number of the names on this year’s longlist are by no means intuitive. The dirty dozen, in full:
- Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood (McClelland & Stewart)
- Martha Baillie, The Incident Report (Pedlar Press)
- Kim Echlin, The Disappeared (Penguin Canada)
- Claire Holden Rothman, The Heart Specialist (Cormorant Books)
- Paulette Jiles, The Colour of Lightning (HarperCollins Canada)
- Jeanette Lynes, The Factory Voice (Coteau Books)
- Annabel Lyon, The Golden Mean (Random House Canada)
- Linden MacIntyre, The Bishop’s Man (Random House Canada)
- Colin McAdam, Fall (Penguin Canada)
- Anne Michaels, The Winter Vault (McClelland & Stewart)
- Shani Mootoo, Valmiki’s Daughter (House of Anansi Press)
- Kate Pullinger, The Mistress of Nothing (McArthur & Company)
What is distressing, notwithstanding the jury’s assertion that the books “vary stylistically and structurally and connect with and extend a range of novelistic traditions,” is the preponderance of stories told in the same, blandly naturalistic style of most Giller-bait fiction. Really, the only stylistically adventurous title in the bunch is The Incident Report. Even Atwood’s futuristic dystopia employs the same flashback style that she’s been using at least since Cat’s Eye, if not well before. And if we had to have a novel about a freed slave on the list, I’d much rather it was Ray Robertson’s lively David than Jiles’s The Colour of Lightning.
Still, an interesting list. I’ll be watching for the shortlist, when it’s unveiled on October 6.
It’s stormy out, and yr. humble correspondent is taking the day off. But, fear not, short story fans: the 31 days will continue, with stories by Lisa Moore, Jorge Luis Borges, and Leonard Michaels, among others, still to come. Stay tuned.
The opening paragraph from Sam Anderson’s New York magazine review of William T. Vollmann’s latest tome, Imperial:
I was sitting on the train one day chipping away at William T. Vollmann’s latest slab of obsessional nonfiction when my friend Tsia, who incidentally is not an underage Thai street whore, offered to save me time with a blurby one-sentence review based entirely on the book’s cover and my synopsis of its first 50 pages. “Just write that it’s like Robert Caro’s The Power Broker,” she said, “but with the attitude of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz.” This struck me as good advice, and I was all set to take it, but as I worked my way through the book’s final 1,250 pages, I found I had to modify it, slightly, to read as follows: Imperial is like Robert Caro’s The Power Broker with the attitude of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz, if Robert Caro had been raised in an abandoned grain silo by a band of feral raccoons, and if Mike Davis were the communications director of a heavily armed libertarian survivalist cult, and if the two of them had somehow managed to stitch John McPhee’s cortex onto the brain of a Gila monster, which they then sent to the Mexican border to conduct ten years of immersive research, and also if they wrote the entire manuscript on dried banana leaves with a toucan beak dipped in hobo blood, and then the book was line-edited during a 36-hour peyote séance by the ghosts of John Steinbeck, Jack London, and Sinclair Lewis, with 200 pages of endnotes faxed over by Henry David Thoreau’s great-great-great-great grandson from a concrete bunker under a toxic pond behind a maquiladora, and if at the last minute Herman Melville threw up all over the manuscript, rendering it illegible, so it had to be re-created from memory by a community-theater actor doing his best impression of Jack Kerouac. With photographs by Dorothea Lange. (Viking has my full blessing to use that as a blurb.)
You know what? They probably will.
(Thanks to Sean Cranbury for pointing this one out.)