Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Somehow, I have this vision of Dale Peck removing his belt and putting another notch on it every time he discovers he's been mentioned in another journalistic treatment describing his essentially snarky ways. I'm beginning to loathe this word, snark. In the beginning, by which I mean last year, when Heidi Julavits made the word popular in her Believer magazine manifesto [a word that is completely inappropriate here, yet nevertheless the noun that has been applied to the journalistic treatment that got the ball rolling on the whole snark brouhaha, presumably because her own book got a bad review], snark was perceived to be the antithesis of puff, the latter being the type of nonsense found on dust jackets and back covers, something akin to: "a compulsively gripping page-turner... you won't want it to end!" As an endlessly naive individual, my first reaction is to believe this tripe when I read it. Hence, a trip to the cash register, dropping at least twenty dollars in the process. I'm a prime example of how the book publisher's marketing strategy is supposed to work. Bottom line is this: puff is plentiful, people tend to believe it, and it sells books. So why lament its demise when it fluorishes, indeed, when it thrives?

[Note to self: determine whether there is a difference between puff and polite literary criticism]

It's a shame that snark has come to represent any brand of literary criticism that is less than glowing. Really, did we need another word to replace the more meaningful and descriptive word, criticism?

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Ep = mhg

Apparently, a person who loves books and a person who questions what they read are two entirely different breeds. That is to say, people who read voraciously do so to compensate for their own inherent emptyheadedness, whereas other people who read selectively do not unquestioningly forge through the prose they are reading willy-nilly, not accepting everything they confront at face value. This mutual exclusivity doesn't really make sense to me. One problem is that Nehring makes no differentiation between a physical object and a mental process, namely books and reading, respectively. Further, she doesn't elaborate on the type of books that these so-called "book lovers" are reading, only making reference to a Hemingway novella, and current non-fiction relating to extreme behaviour and neo-conservatism [perhaps one and the same?]. Granted, there is nothing edifying about any of these, but it is also not fair to suggest that "book lovers" read anything and everything. And who are these "book lovers" anyway? Are they the middle-aged woman riding on the subway reading the dog-eared, mass-market paperback, or are they the dishevelled twentysomething at the local pub trying to finish Ulysses by Bloomsday? And while I'm asking unanswerable questions, is the "book lover" and the bibliophile one and the same?

While it may seem like a foregone conclusion that the book's sole purpose is that it be read, it is arguably the book's physicality that renders the bibliophile weak in the knees when in the vicinity of a bookstore or library. As a person who practices book idolatry on a regular basis, the potential that any given volume on a shelf holds is often more valuable than what is eventually found within when the book is finally relieved from its verticality. But this is of no consequence to the book lover. Sometimes it is just enough to sit in a comfortable chair next to a coveted, filled-to-capacity bookcase, and simply take in the view: books of different heights, different widths, different colours, different genres, all with different sentimental attachments...

Perhaps I am missing the point. Nehring's bottom line seems to be that it is better to read with a critical mind than to substitute the content of a book for one's own sorely lacking grey matter. But what hope is there for those of us who don't have the capacity to form an opinion and just salivate like a Pavlovian dog whenever the new bestseller lists are released? Indeed, what hope is there for those other few of us who find the potential energy of a book more enticing than its kinetic energy? I'm struck dumb just thinking about it.

Saturday, June 19, 2004


I've noticed a sharp increase in the general public consumption of olanzapine of late. Indeed, just last week, I could be heard saying this while filling prescriptions at work:

What's up with all the Zyprexa scripts?

Actually, it might have been more along the lines of this:

Everyone and their dog is getting Zyprexa these days.

Well, it would seem I am not alone in my wonderment at this phenomenon [I just hope my wonderment won't be misinterpreted as psychosis]. An article in the British Medical Journal is addressing this very problem, and don't doubt that it is a problem. The manufacturer of said molecule, Eli Lilly, seems to have cornered the market on antipsychotics [or if that is too jarring a word, mood stabilizers] with its costly mind-numbing product, ostensibly a direct result of the Texas Medication Algorithm Project, which puts Zyprexa as first-line therapy in the treatment of mental illness. What about all of the other similarly classed drugs that are available as cheaper generics? The answer to that is they don't contribute as heavily to the Bush administration as does Lilly. As a result of all this heavy financial backing, the establishment of Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health ensured that the above-named algorithm placed Zyprexa as the clear prescribing choice for mental illness. The scary commission also recommends increased screening for mental illness, which has the plastic Lilly reps pushing their wares on physicians not just in Texas, but all over the country, even north of the border, and indeed, all over the planet. The bottom line is this: people who don't need this drug are being told that they do. Alas, I suspect that this is just the beginning of the dumbing-down agenda... once it is in full swing, most everyone will be too [legally] stoned to worry about anything.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Ever since learning that The Magic Mountain was a favourite book of both Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, I have been intent on picking up a copy. Today I did just that. Delving into the weighty tome while sitting on a bench by the lake, I imagined Hannah and Martin sitting on a similar bench somewhere in Marburg, reading passages to one another, trying hard to concentrate on the words and not the voice uttering the words. Terribly seductive, that.

I didn't have to read many passages before becoming thoroughly enthralled. While the translation is admittedly a far cry from Mann's original [a position that is based purely on presumption, and somewhat coloured by my own background], there are truths therein that make me close the book in haste, in case they should escape, by which I mean, in case I should forget them by hurrying on to subsequent passages. To wit:

Space, like time, gives birth to forgetfulness, but does so by removing an individual from all relationships and placing him in a free and pristine state--indeed, in but a moment it can turn a pedant and philistine into something like a vagabond. Time, they say, is water from the river Lethe, but alien air is a similar drink; and if its effects are less profound, it works all the more quickly.

I have felt this, usually while travelling, but lately also in a professional capacity. Being away from one's regular space, then travelling through more space, only to arrive at an altogether different space, is something that we do every day, and may seem like nothing out of the ordinary, but it affords one the opportunity to leave things behind, become baggage-free, maybe even live a double life. I suspect that Mann is referring more plainly to his main character, Hans Castorp, in his journey from a staid and predictable life in Hamburg to a liberating and eye-opening experience at a sanatorium in the Alps. The question arises, for Hans and for anyone else that cares to ponder the issue, do we know ourselves more when we are in our accustomed environments, or do we know ourselves more when we are alone and in a foreign place, forced to re-assess our mindsets, attitudes, beliefs, while at the same time realizing there is a great likelihood that these bear no relevance to the new situation? The next logical question, then, is this: which is the preferred situation?

Sunday, June 13, 2004


Stephen Spender's biographer: "Snark bounces off of me, right back onto you!" [link first seen at A&L daily]

Even sickly miserablists have a shot at literary greatness: This brings the number of biographical works on Kafka up to eighty-two [statistic based on UTL catalogue search using "biography" and "Kafka" as subject headings].

Just in time for Bloomsday: a new biography of James Joyce, which, when combined with the 1000+ pages of Ulysses, results in 1200 or so pages that will remain unread during my lifetime. However, reading one page every day may be more my speed.

A right swindler the Great Brain was... but all swindling aside, his many schemes and adventures kept me captivated as a serial fan of the series. In fact, I think my formative years were heavily influenced by the whole Great Brain ethos [can any Great Brain aficionado honestly say they didn't wish they were as cunning and crafty as John D. Fitzgerald's über-child?] On the whole, my appreciation of these books is not as profound as that of the family who decided to go on a Great Brain camping pilgimage in Utah [link first seen at boing boing].

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


When I first started reading Elzbieta Ettinger's account of the Martin Heidegger/Hannah Arendt affair, I couldn't have been more enthralled by it all. What's not intriguing about an illicit and enduring tryst between Germany's foremost modern philosopher/Nazi ideologue and his adoring, much younger Jewish student, herself an emerging and important mind of the times? There's something about forbidden love that is infinitely spellbinding, especially when it deals with intellectual intercourse as much as it deals with physical need. Ettinger does a good job of portraying both of these aspects of the legendary love affair, but she also makes melodrama out of it in a quick and tiring fashion. Too, she portrays each 'character' [an appropriate term here, as it becomes clear that she deems herself a knowing narrator with insights into the raison d'etre of both parties, in addition to that of a few other key players, including Elfride Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Heinrich Bleucher] in an unfavourable light: Heidegger as a lying, conniving, selfish type, and Arendt as an obsessed, self-doubting hanger-on who just can't get over him already. Whether this is an accurate portrayal, I am not sure, as I have no deeper knowledge of Arendt, Heidegger, or of the Arendt/Heidegger complex, but I suspect that the more telling version of the story may be elucidated by the recently published volume of translated correspondence between the two. At least in epistolary format a reader can take away things in context [depending upon the quality of the translation, of course], as opposed to misinterpreting selectively parsed quotes that meet the intentions and specifications of the author's raison d'écrire.

Still, it could be worse, like an attempt to fictionalize the whole affair and turn it into a romance novel. Oh, wait, that's been done...

Sunday, June 06, 2004


First there was Foster Wallace. Then it was Sedaris. Subsequently, Eggers. Briefly, it was Rakoff. Of course, the order presented here is entirely arbitrary. Don't feel offended if I didn't mention your favourite Dave first. I drop these names merely to make the point that The Four Daves have morphed into Five. It's David Bezmozgis who has most recently made the cut and is destined for literary greatness, or so we are supposed to believe. This belief is shallowly affirmed by the author's stunning photograph, as shown in the Quill & Quire profile on Bezmozgis [which reminds me of the Franzen author shot that left so many of us drooling when The Corrections hit the scene].

His first offering is a collection of stories, titled Natasha and Other Stories, three of which have appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, and Zoetrope. [An aside: after reading this sampling of Bezmozgis' work, I am reminded of my friend Susan M.'s writing, which focuses on the perspective of Serbian and Croatian immigrants and their families, with Hamilton, Ontario as the backdrop. No online content, but a sampling of her work can be found here in print format].

Moral of the story: struggling Canadian writers need only to get an agent in New York and they'll be on their way to relative literary stardom. Oh, and I suppose some talent might help on that front too. Now, can anyone tell me whatever happened to David Rakoff?


That's what Stan Bevington, founder of Coach House Press, has to say about the possibility of levelling the lovely coach house on bpNichol lane, only to make way for another residence for U of T students [albeit a more affordable co-op residence]. These weeks are crucial ones for the publishing house, the outcome of which may be the first-time-ever signing of a lease which puts CHP at the mercy of landlord Campus Co-operative Residence Inc. Then, only a matter of time before the handing over of the key takes place [plus the handing over of the padlock, as the case may be]. This will a lamentable loss, should this come to pass. Having been inside the charmingly rickety yet abundantly productive publishing house only once, it left with me the impression that the art and history of bookmaking was in full force and appreciation here. A true hidden gem in the heart of downtown Toronto. I'm sure I'm not the only one who, when given the option, chose to walk along bpNichol lane in the effort to eventually reach Bloor Street, albeit in a roundabout fashion, if only to pause and read the engraved poem on the street, if only to peek through the dusty windows to catch a glimpse of the presses in motion, feeling the ground beneath your feet tremble with the vibration, if only to marvel at the fresh piles of books leaning precariously in whatever available space left, the fruit of some local author's literary toiling. Alas, all of that might become a fleeting memory, replaced with fresh architecture whose windows display a line of empty beer bottles. [Source: The Globe and Mail]

Saturday, June 05, 2004


Can there be any swifter way to ruin the relaxing ambience of a Saturday morning outing revolving around a large steaming cup of coffee and a really good book, similarly steamy and altogether absorbing. Answer: No, there couldn't, especially after said woman deposits (n+1) plastic bags with assorted merchandise and aforementioned ironing board right next to me, only to seize my table as I prepare to suddenly leave, but not before blocking me in with her body and her bags both. Humph. When I finally cleared her barrier-laden presence, what stood before me but one of those itinerant mothers with her ridiculous SUV stroller, shockingly replete with shocks and P185/60 R14 tires. Queen Street East should follow the example of Queen Street West establishments and ban such sizable strollers from crossing the thresholds of their businesses [in addition to ironing boards]. Alas, this will never be the case in bobo land. I live among bobos [or is that boboes?]. Surely that doesn't make me one? Replace that humph with a sigh.


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