Oct, 2017

Little ducks and tadpoles render large life lessons in Richard Greene’s Governor-General’s Award-winning book of poetry Boxing the Compass. Ducks because of how, with Beckett, unbothered, “They paddle crazily among remnants Of winter, the mud and the rotted leaves, Casually insisting on what comes next” It’s the same casual, unbothered insistence found in Samuel Beckett’s […]

Literary tourism is nothing new. Socrates, who trekking out to Delphi a millennia or two ago looking for truth, could be called a literary tourist; the beardless young Greeks who went to book discussion circles to hear him denigrate the Gods could also be called literary tourists. As could those who attended gigs by Homer, […]

Jburlinson Charles Foran, Mordecai Richler was a person of notable contradictions: a Jew accused of being anti-Semitic; an ‘un-Canadian’ Canadian; a dutiful son who hated his mother. How do you think this kind of ‘definition by opposition’ played out in relation to Montreal, the city in which he grew up? His ardor for Montreal was, […]

When an accomplished poet tells you that he also builds boats, makes guitars, and catalogues micro-organisms it’s pretty hard not to want to connect the dots. But what if the poet tells you there are no lines to be drawn? Bruce Taylor lives with his wife and two teenaged children in a many-roomed wooden house […]

Too many academics have abandoned clarity and enthusiasm for cliquey obscurity Most readers of lit crit would doubtless agree that clear, persuasive, interesting writing is key. Why then are academics so intent on obfuscation? I recently found myself browsing and brooding over some early works by the literary critics Frank Kermode and Harold Bloom (Sense […]

Helvetica’s clear, transparent appearance would seem to make it ideal for books. So why is it used so infrequently? I watched the documentary film ‘Helvetica‘ last night. It illustrates how ubiquitously this typeface lives in our visual culture, and argues that typography plays a crucial role in conveying and influencing meaning. Wrong, I’d say, on […]

Whatever else it is, the Communist Party Manifesto is the world’s greatest ad copy Several weeks ago in this blog post, Ben Myers suggested that copywriting is as valid a literary discipline as any, citing many writers who “have churned out lines to help companies sell their wares, especially since consumerism went into overdrive in […]

Writing about sex is never easy, but if authors pay attention to the darker side of desire they’re in with a chance Freud called the human tendency to inflict and receive pain during sex “the most common and important of all perversions”. We all harbour conflicting urges, he argued, both passive and aggressive drives – […]

The Booker prize should employ more critical rigour if it wants to avoid becoming the literary equivalent of American Idol If critic John Sutherland laments the wobbly status of newspaper-hosted lit-crit, Victoria Glendinning has just taken a club to the last legs it stands on. “Why should five people sit there and decide the best […]

I stopped, the other morning, at Cunningham Books in Portland, Maine, wanting to meet the proprietor Nancy Grayson, whom someone had told me was a person “not to be missed”. I’m glad I caught her. After commenting on the calm orderliness of the shop – in which every book on every shelf was jacketed in […]