This past summer a friend of mine went to Ireland on vacation, so I asked him to bring me back a novel or story collection by some up-and-coming Irish writer I might not have heard of here in Canada. What he returned with was Donal Ryan’s 2012 debut novel, The Spinning Heart. For a long time I put off reading it for one reason alone: the title; I feared sentimentality. But this past week I gave it a go, and I’m glad that I did.
Please join me Wednesday, August 8th, at Another Story Bookshop. I'll be reading from my collection of stories and discussing the value of writing groups alongside Mary Lou Dickinson, Ele Pawelski, and Heather J. Wood, all members of Moosemeat, the writing group I belong to. Another Story is located at 315 Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto, and the event starts at 7. For more information, click here. Hope to see you there!
For a brief period, my story "Stunts" is up online on the TNQ website and available to be read for free. (Subscribers to the magazine can access the story online anytime.) So check it out, though I should tell you it's a bit of a lengthy piece. Oh, and I love the graphic they've chosen to go with the story. It's the perfect image! Enjoy!
Just a reminder that I'll be reading this coming Monday, May 7th, at 8 pm at the Words at the Wise reading series. I'm especially excited because I'll be reading alongside Dan Perry (who has a brand new book out called Nobody Looks that Young Here), plus Alice Pelot, as well as our host, Andrew J. Simpson. Wise Bar is located at 1007 Bloor St. West, and for more details click here. Hope to see you there!
Super excited to see my story "Stunts" out now in the latest issue (#146) of The New Quarterly. Thanks to the people at Moosemeat, my writing group, for their thoughtful feedback when the story was first workshopped, and to Pamela Mulloy, Editor of TNQ, for accepting the story. Check it out!
Please join me Monday evening, May 7th, at Wise Bar at 1007 Bloor St. West in Toronto. I've been invited back to read at the Words at the Wise Reading Series. At the moment, I'm not sure who else will be reading that evening, but I'll post again when I do. In the meantime, for more information about the host, Andrew Simpson, and the reading series, please click here. The event starts at 8 pm. Hope to see you there!
It goes without saying that something can’t be all that funny if you need to have the humour pointed out to you. I am faced with this argument every semester when I teach The Death of Ivan Ilych and I need to point out to my students (blank-faced with scepticism) that the first chapter of Tolstoy’s novella is actually quite funny. But maybe their failure to see the humour is more indicative of where we stand as a reading culture (or lack thereof) and our preoccupation with our devices and the never-ending distraction they provide the instant we are bored. Or maybe the failure to see the humour is indicative of one’s own maturity as a reader. I mulled over these ideas as I read the first two books of Anthony Powell’s twelve-part novel, A Dance to the Music of Time. On one hand, I recognized on an intellectual level that much of what he was writing about was humorous, yet at the same time I felt that his novel was marred by stretches of longueur, and I started to think that Powell and the world he depicts is an anachronism, belonging to a world not only long gone and forgotten but also irrelevant (in a way that Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is not). Or maybe Powell is simply an acquired taste. Whatever it is, all my former ambivalence about Anthony Powell suddenly went out the window this time as I reluctantly returned to his novel and cracked open the third book in the series, The Acceptance World. It was a book, I discovered, that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.
Having spent nearly a decade living in South Korea, I naturally became quite interested in its next-door neighbour, that darkly mysterious, forbidden country: North Korea. I became fascinated by the contrast between all that grossly monumental architecture dedicated to its leadership and the reality of a population so utterly deprived—of food, of freedom of expression, freedom of movement, access to basic healthcare, electricity, the Internet; you name it. And whenever the country’s current leader, Kim Jong-un, feels like rattling his sabres and putting on a massive display of military might, I am similarly both awed and disturbed by those images of thousands of goose-stepping soldiers marching through Pyongyang’s central square, a sight made all the more sinister by the regiments of robotic-looking onlookers, all cheering and shouting en masse. And in 2011, when Kim Jong Il died, I was transfixed by the images of the nearly competitive outpouring of public grief broadcast on the news. How very frightening it all seemed, for here was an entire population turned into puppets: made to cry, march, dance, or assemble upon command. To not do so, of course, would not only risk one’s own life, but it would have grave consequences for one’s entire family and generations to come. So when I heard of a forthcoming collection of short stories written by a North Korean dissident still living in that country—something that would shed light on the true reality of the lives of these people—I knew I needed to snatch it up as soon as it came out in English.
I’ve never really understood the notion of “guilty pleasure” when it comes to individual reading preferences. If one occasionally likes to indulge in horror or sci-fi, what’s wrong with that? (And given that we live in a society in which the majority of people’s reading habits extend little further than reading texts and Tweets, it’s a marvel that people are even reading at all.) Yet I felt something akin to guilty pleasure while reading Matthew Kneale’s collection of short stories, Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance. Part of me felt I shouldn’t be enjoying these stories as much as I did. I say this because, for one thing, Kneale’s prose style is decidedly flat and not especially interesting. There is none of the usual beautiful and poetic turns of phrase or unexpected word choices that often characterize more literary fiction. (Ben Fountain’s Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, for example—another collection I recently read—explodes with his brilliant use of language.) There was also none of the usual “challenge” that sometimes accompanies more literary works: stories in which next to nothing happens and are so nuanced and subtle that you wonder at the end of it: “Did I miss something?” Or novels and stories that we secretly admit are slightly boring, but we force ourselves to read anyway because of the salutary benefits we believe we’ll reap in the long run. No, Kneale’s collection is a very quick and easy read, and there is nothing subtle about these stories either: we in the West are bad, the things we complain about are petty, and we’re guilty of not being particularly interested in the sufferings of those in developing countries.
On my end table, beside the couch, is a stack of “to-read” books. It’s an ever-growing pile, and a situation not ameliorated by the intermittent arrival of yet another book that always manages to sneak its way to the front of the queue. But there are times when I face the dilemma of not knowing what to read next. Of course I want to read all of these books—and I do—only not all them suit whatever I might be craving at the moment. Recently, after ferreting through this pile, I settled on an almost unexpected choice, Colm Toibin’s 1997 novel, The Story of the Night, and I realized what it was I’d been hankering after without even knowing it: some good writing told from the perspective of a gay male protagonist—something, I realized, I don’t get enough of.