Monday, April 21, 2014


Greetings supporters and gardening lovers!

April 20-26 marks a very important time for the Julien Project; it is Earth Week and Horticultural Therapy Awareness Week. We are celebrating  the integral role these concepts have in the organization with a week of  fundraising and awareness about what we do. The Julien Project is a  community-based, charitable organization that provides social and therapeutic gardening opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds  and abilities enabling personal growth, community membership, and environmental well-being.

For the week of April 20-27,many Guelph businesses are displaying information about the Julien Project and providing opportunities for  patrons to donate to the Julien Project. The Bookshelf and eBar are generously hosting a book review by one of our team, some blog posts for people to learn more about the impact of our programs, and at the end of the exciting week, a fundraising open stage event at the eBar hosted by Greg Denton, with feature performances by Ambre McLean, Scott Merritt,  Richard Laviolette, and Nathan Coles! Bring some cash to purchase Julien Project goods and a chance to win some great door prizes donated by generous partners and supporters in the community.

Thanks so all for your continued support. Please pass this message of
what we do on far and wide.

The Julien Project Team

Sunday, April 20, 2014


In July of last year, Márquez’s brother, Jaime García Márquez reported that Gabo had dementia. “He has problems with his memory. Sometimes I cry because I feel like I’m losing him.” Márquez had stopped writing and would not publish another book. Now that Gabriel García Márquez has exchanged one solitude for another, a great voice has been stilled. It is difficult to accept this news about a writer who has been such a part of our lives for over four decades.

On the soft cover edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967),[1] two lovers embrace, heated by the ball of the tropical sun. This image seemed to be everywhere in the 1970s. Poking out of knapsacks. Intently read on buses, trains and airplanes. The book engaged deeply with the hopes of that time. Was the title a premonition of the onset of increasingly untrustworthy histories we now face? Or the start of understanding and rejecting them? In retrospect, yes. 

I started the book a number of times, and gave up repeatedly. There were just too many Aurelianos and Buendías. But eventually, as I recovered from a fever, while my mind cooled, I began to read it again, barely pausing to put it down.

I picked the book up again recently, wondering how it would unfold, after a few decades. Long forgotten scenes returned, the most disturbing and repressed of which was the massacre of the banana plantation workers who were planning to unionize. Those desaparecidos of the past had prefigured new terror in countries like Chile and Argentina. I emerged once again “from this marvellous novel as if from a dream, the mind on fire,” as John Leonard, in the New York Times Book Review, said of the book when it was first published. At that time, Márquez said that he was stunned when the publisher of the first edition printed so many copies—8,000 of them. By 2011, over 50 million copies had been sold worldwide.

Márquez’s writing continued to permeate our lives. In 1978, decades after Franco’s planes strafed women and children on the Almería road, La Mala Hora (1961) surfaced in this quiet little town in southern Spain. Franco had died three years earlier, and the country was exhaling a sigh of relief. But it was still a country where, in every city and town, the Guardia Civil carried loaded submachine guns in the streets. I was there, hitchhiking to Morocco, with Susanna, the love of my life, and had to hitchhike alone back up the coast to Cullera. While I was away, she met a Korean man who was hitchhiking through Spain, sleeping at night in abandoned castle ruins and signal towers. She invited him up to our room, so that he could bathe, do his laundry, and hang it with ours on the roof of the pension. A terrible mistake in such a conservative town. Una mala hora!

When I returned to the pension, Susanna and Kim were having lunch in the pension dining room. As I appeared in the doorway of the room, the waiters glanced at me, and fled in fear and silent trepidation to the kitchen. In the sudden descent of quiet, I heard the theme music from Fistful of Dollars, filmed in the arid sierra I had just crossed twice. A mysterious and resonant story, something like a Márquez narrative was unfolding. The regulars stared away, or looked down at their food, hoping against hope. When I reached her table, she hugged me, and then introduced Kim. I shook his hand warmly. We became friends and talked about writers we loved, such as Márquez. Before Kim left Almería to pick fruit in France, he gave us a Spanish copy of La Mala Hora. Márquez’s preferred title for this taut little book, which looks at the conspiracy of silence that haunts a small place, was This Shit-Eating Town. He had to be convinced by his publisher to change it to In Evil Hour.

In a Paris Review interview in 1981 Márquez was asked if he would be interested in the Nobel Prize for Literature. He replied, “I think that for me it would be an absolute catastrophe . . . it would be terrible.” Receiving the Nobel the next year was not a catastrophe. In his Nobel acceptance speech, he took the opportunity to present the distant and incredible nature of Latin America’s solitude. “Our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.” He went on to argue that it was “the very scale of our solitude” that “did not put us beyond the reach of madness.” The Nobel gave him no pause. After receiving it, he published Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), The General in His Labyrinth (1989), Strange Pilgrims (1992), and Living to Tell the Tale (2002). Is there more of his work to be translated?

Some time in the early 1990s I arrived early for a flight from Toronto to western Canada. At the terminal, I purchased a copy of The General in His Labyrinth, to read while waiting for my boarding call. Sitting down next to the departure gate for my flight, I opened the book to its first sentence: “José Palacios, his oldest servant, found him floating naked with his eyes open in the purifying waters of his bath and thought he had drowned.” Much time passed after Simon Bolívar rose from his bath and took flight over the continent of madness he loved so deeply that he dreamt of uniting it. So much time, that I missed every flight boarding call broadcast by the speaker above my head. I travelled on the next available plane, accompanied by the loneliness and immense dream of General Bolívar.

Sixteen years after his report of The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1970), Márquez published another piece of non-fiction, Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littín (1986). The timing was perfect: Pinochet in Chile, Reagan in America, Thatcher in Britain, Videla’s genocidal dictatorship in Argentina, and that little PM in Canada had all been attacking or rending the social contract in their countries, under the baleful gaze of the neoconservative economics of the Chicago school. Littín was an exiled Chilean film maker who returned surreptitiously to Chile to film the fear and psychological devastation wrought by Pinochet’s dictatorship. Initially disappointed to hear that the book contained an edited version of an interview with Littín, I soon warmed to Márquez-Littín hybrid sentences such as, “I suppressed my innermost feelings and assumed the strange condition of an exile in my own country, the most bitter experience imaginable for me.”

A decade later, his reporting in News of a Kidnapping (1996) was difficult reading. Although he sometimes disparaged his work as a journalist, this book was journalism of the highest order. It was deeply disturbing, and true. At one point, Columbian drug barons had bombed the offices of El Espectador, the newspaper where Márquez began his writing career decades ago. Why did he risk writing this look at the heartrending atrocities of the drug trade that poisoned and ended so many lives in Colombia? His Acknowledgments provided an answer, “Their pain, their patience, and their rage gave me the courage to persist in this autumnal task, the saddest and most difficult of my life.”

Over the years Márquez personally, as well as in his writing, has been buffeted by the collisions of the now becalmed storm fronts of communism and capitalism. It is becoming more difficult to remember the tensions between conservatives and liberals, and the climate of the Cold War, now that they are being swept away by the current rise of ignorance and enraged zealotry. Some of the hope and complexity of the politics of that time are revealed in One Hundred Years of Solitude, in the dream of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, late in life: “Later it would be learned that the idea that was working on him at the time was the unification of the federalist forces of Central America in order to wipe out conservative regimes from Alaska to Patagonia.” And “the possibility of coordinating the popular elements of both parties, doing away with the influence of military men and professional politicians, and setting up a humanitarian regime that would take the best from each doctrine.” Such an inspired, retreating, necessary and impossible dream.

The first volume of Márquez’ autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale (2002), revealed that his childhood realities were often inspirations for his “magic realism”. But was it magical? Colombia before the drug cartels was a place where ghosts were seen and accepted as real presences. Where gun duels were fought in the streets. Where, for many years, his mother was able to conceal from her children the truth of their abject poverty. Where his grandfather took three year old Márquez to look at the Pacific for the first time, and in response to the child’s innocent question about what was on the other shore, he answered with certainty, “There is no shore on the other side.” Where, at the age of four, Márquez spoke “only to recount absurdities,” but no one is too concerned—in fact his grandmother regarded it as a gift of prophecy. Where the future Nobel laureate and author of dozens of books never learned to spell, and still can’t. To the end of his career, his copy editors have assumed that he could not type, and have been silently correcting his appalling manuscripts.

Living to Tell the Tale concluded at the beginning of his fiction writing career. It was also the moment in the 1950s when the love of his life replies to his letter to her. Those who awaited the second volume of this projected trilogy were saddened by the rumour that Márquez had become too ill to complete further installments. Then relieved in April 2009 when he responded to a question from El Tiempo about this rumour, “Not only is it not true, but the only thing I do is write.” In Gabriel García Márquez: A Life, his persistent biographer, Gerald Martin, describes Living to Tell the Tale as “brilliant but not always accurate.” Adapted accounts sometimes trump the impossibility of accuracy through time. Accurate or not, how many unshakeable truths are revealed about the earliest years of his past in the certitude of, “There is no shore on the other side”? The past is not a foreign country—it is a lost continent, as far away and present as that nonexistent shore.

In 2005 Márquez tossed a grenade, both loaded and disarming, into the hierarchical arenas of literary reviewing. Fragments also landed in the less modulated stadiums of political correctness. After reading the first sentence of Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2004), I wanted to discard the book: “The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.” No wonder the book appeared to widespread grim and judgmental condemnation—it was easy to miss the book’s melancholy, sly humour, and deliberate provocation, especially in that opening sentence. There was some praise by those who understood its wintry tenderness, but generally it received the worst reviews of any of his books. For praising the book in a review, I was denounced angrily at a party by a woman for my obtuse sexism. My question to her,  “Did you read the book?” ended the contretemps. A question some other reviewers may not have been able to answer affirmatively either.

I am now re-reading The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), the book he called “my most difficult and adventurous work.” It is perhaps his greatest and most demanding work. Punctuation free sentences proliferate across many pages in twisting profusion like coiling liana vines, as each one culminates in a leaf storm of absurd, majestic, and sometimes startling finality just as the next one begins to unfurl its tendrils toward you with their inextricable and multiple unfoldings of despair and humour.

Miguel de Unamumo spoke of the choice in Spain between the approaches to life of Christ and Cervantes. Christ who wept for the world, and Cervantes who laughed at our faith in the absurdity of our repeatedly broken dreams. Now, with the passing of our patriarch, Gabriel García Márquez, what does he choose?  In the Prologue to Strange Pilgrims (1992), he provided a chronicle of his own death foretold, with the answer waiting unexpectedly for him in the last solitude:

“I dreamed I was attending my own funeral, walking with a group of friends dressed in solemn mourning but in a festive mood. We all seemed happy to be together. And I more than anyone else, because of the wonderful opportunity that death afforded me to be with my friends from Latin America, my oldest and dearest friends, the ones I had not seen for so long. At the end of the service, when they began to disperse, I attempted to leave too, but one of them made me see with decisive finality that as far as I was concerned, the party was over. “’You’re the only one who can’t go,’ he said. Only then did I understand that dying means never being with friends again.” 

Read more from James Reid at

[1] Dates in parentheses indicate publication in Spanish. Other dates refer to the publication date in English. Both sets of publication dates appear at the Nobel website.

Monday, April 14, 2014


The Bookshelf has put on hundreds of different speaking events over the years that have spanned a multitude of different topics, but one subject that has been underrepresented is business. We are excited to announce the launch of our new speaker series Get Down to Business on April 29th at 7:00 pm in the eBar. The proceeds from the series will go to the Guelph Chamber of Commerce Millennium Scholarship fund, a scholarship for students entering Conestoga College who require financial assistance. The series will feature a business author who will be discussing their book for half an hour, followed by an audience-led conversation. The evening will conclude with a book signing, tasty food courtesy of the Greenroom Kitchen and great tunes by DJ Steph.

Reva Seth will kick off the series with her new book The Momshift: Women Share Their Stories of Career Success. Seth’s book explores how skills acquired through motherhood helped her tremendously in the world of business. Seth’s research includes hundreds of interviews of mothers who have careers in business.

Come on out, listen to an inspiring speaker, and have some interesting chats in a fun and inviting atmosphere! The $10.00 door fee will be donated to The Guelph Chamber of Commerce Millennium Scholarship Fund. 

Tickets are available at The Bookshelf or

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Community-wise, the release of Jessy Bell Smith's first album, The Town, is a bit of a big deal. For a few years now, Jessy's voice has been an important and staggering presence in the sound of Guelph. When not on it's own, Jessy has lent her decimating parlor-ish vocals to a slew of local musicians, most recently backing The Skydiggers. In a town with a strong DIY ethic where albums get released almost compulsively, it seems initially odd that it's taken Jessy until now to release a full-fledged thing you can have and hold, but the proof of patience is strong through the ten tracks. The Town is confident and realized in a way first volleys rarely are.

Jessy did us the solid of answering a few questions:

You've said that The Town was 10 years coming, but how long have you been plugging away at music? When did it become something that you, you know, "took seriously?"

I can't say that I remember a time when I didn't take music seriously. I come from a musical family and singing and playing was a big part of my growing up. Listening to music was also very important to me from my earliest memories. I think it was in high school, at around 17 years old, when I was first recognized for having a talent in music. Although I was not much of a participant in high school, mostly hanging out downtown when I should have been in class, I was pushed into auditioning for a the school Christmas assembly by a close friend. Forced, actually. The reaction from the audience, about 500 people, crammed into the school cafeteria, has still yet to be topped in any musical experience I have had to date. There was absolute silence while I sang and at the end the audience erupted in cheering, everyone cried, my teachers, my tough smoking-pit friends. I had spent the day in meditation, to steady my nerves and also because I wanted to give a gift. I was just starting to learn that the world may not be as nice a place as I had thought it was, and I felt that I might have something hopeful to offer. It seemed to work. That's really what I have been doing with music since. 

I feel as though I have something to give, that doesn't really belong to me, and when I encounter someone who feels moved by something I have written or by the way I sing, I feel a great sense of completion. As far as a music career goes, that happened very gradually, and many aspects of it I struggle with. There seems to be a preconception that if you have talent, the business side just happens naturally and fame and riches are automatic. Self promotion is not a strong point of mine. The only reason I have have any recognition as a musician is really because of being invited to play and sing. Actually the first gig I have booked at my own initiation, that is without being asked, was the release for this record. I feel very lucky for all of the support and encouragement I've found among my musical friends.

Is this the album you'd imagined your first album would be? What sort of album would Jessy Bell Smith have put out, say, 9 years ago?

When I write music it comes to me like a premonition of a song that is already finished, and exists out there in the aether. I actually hear it, like picking up a feint radio station, with the lyrics structure, progression, style already there for the most part. This is a truly magical phenomena for me. I am very excited when it happens and usually race to find something to write it down on before it disappears. My efforts in recording can be summed up as really an attempt to recreate exactly what I heard when I heard it the first time. I like to imagine that it is one of my special tasks or duties in this life, and despite being a bit shy and overly agreeable at times, I will do what it takes to get the songs there, even if it means starting over, and even starting over again. 

Until I started working with J.J. Ipsen and Andy Magoffin (House of Miracles), who co-produced the album, I hadn't met anyone yet that really understood what I was trying to do. They were somehow able to intuit what the songs needed and give them the treatment and Instrumentation I had imagined, and sometimes struggled to articulate. It was still a long road getting there, but I finally feel satisfied that we've given the songs everything we could. In actual fact, this album was recorded 9 years ago as an EP that I recorded myself on a 4 track. I played all of the instruments except the drums. It wasn't until now that I have developed the important relationships needed to flesh the songs out entirely and I think I can let them go now and truly consider them finished.

How'd you get hooked up with these Choose My Music people in the UK?

My good friend Jesse Ruddock  (Koko Bonaparte) connected me with Dom Pascko, with a glowing endorsement. She told me that her friend Dom was looking for more music to promote on his small homegrown record label, and assured me that he was a sweet guy and really cared about music. It was slightly nerve wracking at first, working with someone I'd never met, but Dom has already done so much to introduce my music to people on his side of the pond and I believe that Jesse was right in her assessment. Dom has an interest specifically in music from Guelph, which I think is very smart, because we are all undiscovered where he is from. He's tapped into our little scene here and is creating a channel for it to the UK. My first dealing with him involved a compilation album he released on his label comprised entirely of  music from Guelph called These Arms Are Too Wide. The Album has songs from Jenny Omnichord, Alanna Gurr, Gregory Pepper, Esther Grey, and other musical pals. It's opened some great opportunities for me, including being featured on BBC 6, on Cerys Mathew's show, Catatonia, and possibly in the fall, a trip over there to play. We'll see!

Maybe on account of the old shot of Guelph on the cover the urge is there to think that this town is the titular town. Is that fair, or is there a grander idea of The Town that you were aiming for?

I named it The Town because it couldn't exist without the contribution of my peers in Guelph. I've learned that although this music comes to me in a very private and personal way, it can only be recreated with the help of others. I can only take them so far within my own limitations, something akin to a barn raising perhaps. Human beings are meant to be interdependent, to celebrate each others success, and assist and comfort in times of loss. This, for all the bad that people are capable of, is in my opinion the truest expression of what is good in humanity, and somewhat sadly, one of the things we do best. Guelph is unique in that, as it grows on the outskirts, there is a village that exists in the downtown that has really kept it's small town-ness in tact. The beauty of the small town is that things are allowed to be a bit strange, a bit forgotten, mysterious and overgrown, but full of love and story. My hope is that this album captures and reflects this. I think we were successful.

The Town is available in the bookstore, you guys. Do yourself a favour.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Are you a book nerd? A culture vulture? Do you have a strong work ethic? You may want to read this!

The Bookshelf is Seeking an Amazing Individual to Join Our Great Team!

The Bookshelf is seeking a part- to full-time employee, with flexible availability: days, evenings and weekends.  The ideal candidate will possess excellent customer service skills, and a kind, task-oriented approach. This position requires competence with computers and online media, and a creative, curious mind is a must.

Bookseller tasks include, but are not limited to, receiving and shelving new stock, responding to customer inquiries, creating displays, blogging (both written and video), organizing book launches and readings, being awesome.

If you are a book nerd and an all-round culture vulture, we want to hear from you. Please drop a resume off at The Bookshelf or email

Monday, March 24, 2014


Back in December, The Globe published a review of The Edge of the Precipice: Why Read Literature in the Digital Age and From Literature to Biterature that caught our eye. Seeing that the reviewer, Adam Hammond, both had a book forthcoming and was currently at the UofG, we got in touch about doing an event. Hammond's book, Literature in the Digital Age: A Critical Introduction isn't due until 2015, so we put a pin it. Some time later, Hammond got back in touch about a roundtable discussion he was moderating about the health of literature in the digital age, with The Edge of the Precipice at its centre. The--take a breath--Michael Ridley Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities, Hammond commutes between Guelph and Toronto and we were able to squeeze in a bit of chat about digital humanities and the upsides of a digital climate that's so often accused of being literature's antagonist.

Explain Digital Humanities.

The old term for Digital Humanities was Humanities Computing, which was unsexy, which is why it's been replaced. But it does give you a better sense of what it was originally about. How you can use computers to analyze literature, or how you use computers to analyze history. The term was coined in 2004. Someone was editing a book and were like, "Ugh. Humanities Computing. This is not gonna sell. Let's do Digital Humanities." Because it's a broad term that doesn't mean just one thing, I think it's opened a lot of doors.

I just came from this talk by an historian, Ian Milligan from Waterloo. His argument is historians don't like using computers, and they don't like programming. But you can't do a history of, say, the 90's without being able to work with internet material, because there's so much of it. He works on GeoCities. Literally. Those GeoCities websites for him are a really important historical resource. And you can't just read every GeoCities website, so you need to come up with ways to crunch the numbers to find out what they're interested in, and searching through them to find some particular thing. For me it's an obvious thing. Of course people who are interested in the humanities will increasingly need to use computers.

A lot of the stuff I work on is modernist literature. Roughly 1880 to 1950, so that's not stuff that's being produced digitally. But once you have it digitized you can do more interesting stuff with it. For instance, I co-wrote this academic book called Modernism: Keywords. There we were looking at the words these writers were most interested in debating. We started out this project by sitting down and talking about what words these writers like to use the most, like maybe "avant garde," maybe "manifesto." And then we would try to find those words in the books, but we couldn't find them anywhere. Where are we going to find usages? So we went on different electronic archives. That's the nice thing about digitizing. You can easily search for words. And we would find that we couldn't find any text that used "avant garde," or "manifesto." One of the discoveries we made is that people in English didn't use those words in that period. We would have just thought we weren't looking hard enough, but we managed to show, in a definitive way, that those words weren't used. Or we were looking to find usages of the word "modernist," which we had a hunch wasn't used a lot in the period, that it was something scholars came up with retrospectively. And sure enough we didn't find many. But we did find an advertisement for towels in Cosmopolitan that was like, "Get these as a wedding gift. They're a sign of modernism and true refinement." That was amazing. We would never have found that if we didn't have this digitized archive. It was a good example to show that at that time the word don't mean what it means today. It's weird that I had this very word-based project, but it was a good digital humanities project in that we couldn't have done it right if we didn't have access to all these archives. 

We have an idea for a second volume, and what I'd like to do for that is get this huge number of modernist texts, like a couple of terabits worth, and there's an algorithm that can go through that and tell you what are the clusters of interest. So instead of us coming up with the terms, it will be interesting to have them come up automatically, and see if we're looking for the right terms.

So is it fair to say that maybe literature isn't being killed by the digital age, but being recalibrated by it?

In Digital Humanities you have to already like and accept literature as an important thing before you can invest all this time. But will this kind of approach get people interested in literature?

I made an online edition of The Waste Land that broke it into voices, and for me that's something that could help someone understand that poem. You could read that poem and just be like, "I have no idea." But the key to enjoying it is understanding that it's a series of monologues that are pieced together. So maybe the website will make it more accessible.

Traditionally scholars have published in print journals and no one reads them. With digital, it's easier to get access to scholarly journals--doesn't mean a lot of everyday people are reading scholarly journals--but the fact that maybe scholars can reach a bigger audience of enthusiasts online... You might not have known that anyone out there actually liked the thing you're interested in, but then you find out that there are thousands of people, this weird niche. So I think it's helping to connect people who love literature.

Also, the tone of academic writing is starting to come down a little bit, I think. People are more interested in reaching an audience because they're starting to understand that the audience isn't just other scholars. I really like writing about literary subjects for a non-academic audience. And I think that's becoming a lot easier.

In hosting this discussion do you actually hope to get to the bottom of whether or not literature is dying?

I personally don't think that literature's dying. But who I am to say? I like the idea that people feel like maybe books, the carriers of literature, are somehow threatened now. That they're being replaced, that there's this other thing, these eReaders coming along. I just think that people appreciate them more, and are paying attention to books in ways that they have not. They're no longer something that's taken for granted. It's like, "They could be gone, so I'm really gonna focus on it."

When I started teaching this class called "The Digital Text" at U of T, I really thought all my undergraduate students were gonna be super into video games and new forms of interactive literature and do all their readings on iPads. As it turns out, you've never met a more conservative, book-loving group of people, who are vocally anti-digitial. I don't know if that was an anomaly, but for me it was an eye-opener. And for me, I really like books, kind of curmudgeonly. I knew wasn't going to like eReaders, for instance. But I got some anyway, just to do a little test, and I just don't like them. For me it reinforced how much I like books. I think it's had that effect on a lot of people.

Something I'm interested in talking about is whether literature's becoming more important. Is it more exciting to people these days, is it more cherished? Its become more of a special experience.

It's hard to imagine a seventeen year old kid who can barely grow a beard walking around with On the Road on an e-reader. Why read On the Road if you can't shove it into your back pocket and be seen reading it in your school cafeteria?

Yeah, it's a book that you need to be seen reading, in that slacker-y way. It's part of a whole complex.

I think it's easy to say that young people today don't like X, Y, and Z, but I'm constantly surprised, staring at the books people read. People are still reading, and they're reading cool books.

I wanted give the session that title to draw people out, but personally I don't think literature is dying. Of course, a lot of people would disagree with me. But even if the numbers of so-called serious readers are declining, I think something's more interesting, or self-conscious about what it means to read. Maybe since it's harder to concentrate, which I do think is happening--my own attention span is shortening and I'm finding it harder to focus on literature--something about that is still instructive. It might tell you about all the way that everyday life is trying to keep you distracted. If it's that hard, there must be something going on.

And this strife is so new, too. It's only been within the last twenty years that life has become such a gauntlet of distractions. Everyone's still acclimating to it, deciding whether or not this is how they want to live their lives.

I think so. And I think literature has become this go-to litmus test. If you're writing an article about how the internet is making people stupid, you always go to reading, how it's harder to read, how you can't concentrate for long times. Whether we're transitioning to this new way of thinking, I don't know. But there's something about literature where it's the activity that seems like you get the changes that are happening in the culture the most.

Check out, for free, "Is Literature Dying in the Digital Age" Thursday, March 27th, from 3 til 5 at the Library Academic Town Square. Panelists  include Andrew Hood, Drew Nelles, Dorothy Odartey-Wellington, Michael Ridley, Paul Socken, and Alana Wilcox. And get this: Light refreshments provided. To prepare yourself, do swing by the store and pick up a copy of the Socken edited The Edge of the Precipice.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


"How Eunice Got Her baby" was included in the The Journey Prize Stories 19. What did it mean for you have your work included in that national showcase?

Inclusion was important to me, as I recall it now, for several reasons. It bound me tightly and forever to one of the magazines I most admired, since my youth, The Fiddlehead, who had chosen to submit it for consideration. It was favourably reviewed by David Bezmogis (Natasha), who I respect as a short-story writer. The director Ana Valine read the story only because it was there and chose to film it (well, a version of it) for the Canadian Film Centre. It served as a reminder to stick with previously-rejected stories (the same "Eunice"), that there would be a kindred spirit somewhere else who would understand or smile. Also it was a pat on the back. And a puzzle too because several other stories had been forwarded for consideration by other magazines, yet did not make the cut.

What's the earliest story in the collection? Was there a moment that you began thinking about these stories as a collection? From the background you provided for "Eunice" in the anthology, I get the idea that these characters have been gestating for some time.

The earliest story I wrote at all was "Mistaken Point" but I've sat on it all these years (about 10). The earliest stories that were published were "Squid", "Sculpin", and "Telescope", also "Burin", which won prizes in poetry contests despite being written as stories. The first traditional story of some length to be published was "Fog", in the Dalhousie Review, acceptance of which was actually more important than the Journey Prize story because it was the first sign that anyone outside of my family cared. My wife Cheryl and I have thought of the stories as a collection for some time, but this grouping was put together by Cheryl and fits well as a unit and has not been together before. As for gestation, one story just moved into the next without much thinking, so I guess "gestating", being thoughtless and natural, is a good term.

Though there is a cast of characters, the East Coast is arguably the main character in How Loveta Got Her Baby. Could you talk a little bit about your time spent out East? When did you begin to set stories there? Is there any pressure on you to accurately portray the place and the people?

The East Coast: I graduated from U of T medical school in 1969 when I was 23. I then took a year off to write but found nothing to write about. (Now I know this would make a good slacker novel...partly done already in The Parabolist). I worked in a button factory for $. Then I went back into the medical fold and as everyone else was headed west, I applied to St John's and was accepted. The plane landed and there was a stormy sea and that was it for me. I stayed in St John's for 2 years to intern and begin a specialty but then changed my mind and went into general practice. I was sent by the Gov't of Nfld to Belleoram, in one of the most isolated areas of the province. No road access then. The towns: Rencontre East, Pool's Cove, Belleoram, English Harbour West, St Jacques, Mose Ambrose, Coomb's Cove, Boxey, Wreck Cove. I was unable to care for myself in any reasonable way so a local family more or less adopted me. We were together all the time. The father was the singer in the local band so I spent most of the next two years being soaked in the outport culture, which in that area was closely associated with traditional music. Also with 40 straight days of fog; it would be hard to be more immersed. Eventually I bought a house on a barasway on a shingled beach but stayed on with the family. After my wife and I moved to the Yukon (1976) we had to sell the house (phone call) to a family whose house had burned down. It has since collapsed. We're in Newfoundland every year since for the hiking and the berries and the music and the people.

I began to set my stories there as soon as I started writing anything of significance. It's an overwhelming place (as you probably know).

As for accurate portrayal, yes there's pressure but if you look at The Parabolist, set in Toronto, my tendency there was to exaggerate just enough to make the eventual humanity touching. There's a similar bent to some of these stories.

All the critics said that Toronto was the main character in the novel, so it looks like I'm hung up on place. Yet it's not done in highly decorative prose, just the odd simple sentence here and there, for the most part.

There are narrative threads running throughout these stories. Why tell these stories in collected stories instead of a novel?

These stories are told as stories rather than a novel because it never occurred to me to do otherwise when I was writing them. It did occur to me later that they could be "novelized", but by then I was well into a new complete novel set in St John's (finished!) and the stories had such integrity and sweetness and sorrow that they demanded not to be touched. We took them directly to Breakwater Books, where they were accepted for publication by James Langer (poet, Anansi). We couldn't be happier.