Subscribe in a reader

Monday, October 31, 2005

Rockcliffe Book Fair

This week many volunteers are in the final stages of tediously shelving and pricing books for the annual Rockcliffe Book Fair. Like bees, they are busy moving boxes of all sizes, arranging books of all types on the burgeoning shelves. The space dedicated to the sale is no longer recognizable as a elementary school gymnasium. If you look hard enough, however, you can see a basketball hoop and the tempera painted wall murals on craft paper proving a vestige of the room's original purpose.

Last weekend I was asked by a fellow book lover, Nigel Beale, to come on down to lend my passion for books in the shelving effort. Nigel has two daughters attending the school and he volunteers his time sorting and pricing in the literature section. This was my first behind-the-scenes look at the preparations of the popular book fair. "Where do I start?" I asked him. He showed me to the poetry section. At the time, not so much a section than an aisle that looked like a front-end loader dumped a cord of wood to be sorted and stocked.

My legs are killing me. Bending down to pick up a tome, doing a once-over of the book, making a judgment call, write down a price, make room on the shelf, repeat -- a few hundred times. Others have a chair to facilitate the sorting process. There is no room for a chair in the poetry section.

Never have I seen two books of the same genre so unrelated sit beside each other: The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets (1994) is shelved beside Modern Poets and Poets of Spain (1852). The only commonality is the word 'poets' and the price. I marked them both at one dollar. I'll have to go back this week to see if they'll sell.

The people involved in the fair are great. Julie Stephens, the community volunteer coordinator, busy in her trade hardcover section immediately spotted the book of poetry I stashed in her section. "Here's a book for your section", she said. (In fact, I heard that phrase frequently from others throughout the day.)

The go-to-person is really Di Bethune. With close to twenty years as a bookseller, she sorts the special and rare books and she is constantly approached my me and others for her opinion. Someone sorting the Travel Writing section consulted her, "Hey Di, look at this book by James Morris". Di immediately recognizes the name, "Yes, that's an important book." The author now goes by the name, Jan Morris, the popular travel writer. I spotted a first edition of Carol Shields' novel The Stone Diaries in the slush pile and another one popped up later on in the day. Her 1993 Pulitzer Prize winning novel can fetch upwards of $500. These, among the other treasured books, will be listed in their silent auction.

The book fair provides an excellent opportunity to pick up fairly priced books to get signed at upcoming author events: Simon Winchester, Scott Turow, and Diana Gabaldon, for example. It all takes place at Rockcliffe Park Public School, 370 Springfield Road, and starts Friday, November 4th from 10am to 9pm and runs till Sunday. See for details.

Magritte's Apple: a very short halloween story

The young Charles plans to celebrate halloween as Magritte's The Son of Man, you know, the famous art work with the man with the green apple wearing a bowler. His mother suggested at the very least he cut out eye-holes, lest he trip. More importantly, she fears that some maniacal neighbour would stick razor blades into his head. The wanton neighborhood kids teased him brutally and would call him a fruit. Ironically, Charles believed these comments are surreal as he knew he was just a painting. Father lent him a red tie. Mother, a coat.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Storytelling column and notes

Be sure to check out today's Ottawa Citizen, page C4, for my third column about the forthcoming Ottawa's Storytelling Festival.

The 2005 Ottawa Storytelling Festival – Magical Storytelling - will be held November 2-6, 2005.
In other news, I was going to attend Christine Pountney's launch of her latest novel, The Best Way You Know How at the Manx. But... I got sidetracked yesterday. I met up with local writer and fellow booklover, Nigel Beale at the Rockcliffe Bookfair. No, you didn't miss the fair.

It only starts this coming Friday, November 4, 5, and 6th, 2005. I helped out sort books in the afternoon. As usual, from what I spied, there are some awesome buys at low-low prices that this bookfair is famous for. After four hours of sorting through the slush pile of books, I just could not stop. In fact, I am about to venture there again for more book sorting today. Rough life, eh?

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Storm and Taqralik Partridge

The Golden Star Lounge spans From North to South tonight.
Featuring spoken word poetry by The Storm and Taqralik Partridge
And Open Mic Hosted by the nth digri 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM
The East African Restaurant
376 Rideau Street, Ottawa
Admission $7.00

Anthony Bansfield hosted another spectacular show for Ottawa. It's amazing how he can go to Toronto and bring The Storm to Ottawa. It's her first time performing her spoken word poetry in the Capital. When in Toronto be sure to check out her upcoming performances that are listed on her website. It's awesome how he can go to Montreal and bring in Taqralik Partridge back to Ottawa. Taqralik, orginally from Kuujjuaq now lives in Montreal and works at the Avataq Cultural Institute. I originally caught her act at last summer's Westboro Village's Festival of Music, Art & Life. Her WESTFEST bio says,
Taqralik Partridge is a lyric-addicted, melody-smitten artist with an omnivorous appetite for music and poetry. Her body of work often paints a street-level wordscape of the Montreal neighborhoods she so lovingly references. A throat singer as well, Taqralik brings the haunting cadences and northern sensibility of this Inuit form to her spoken word poetry, resulting in a refreshing and fascinating blend of the urban and the tundra.
Even The Storm, stayed up extra-late last evening to pen her own blog entry about last night's performance. I completely agree that it's hard to believe she's just starting the spoken word performances. If you know anything about Taqralik already, it probably her throat singing that you're familiar with.

Yeah, you've probably seen some examples on TV where there's these two young girls in an igloo facing each other, out in the snow with their big parkas doing their throat thing that they do, then giggle their way to a finish. Taqralik performs her poetry in such a very feminine, beguiling way that, I think, blows away these stereotypes especially when she drops the throat singing into her spoken word poetry. I think she has a fine poetic sensability with her poetry and how it's a pleasure to listen to, and more importantly, how it can inform. Her keen lyrical sense is combined with biting satire with a dash of sultriness. Take her poems, "Debbie Does it with the Pow Wow Circuit" for instance, and "Eskimo Vegan". She comments on the stereotypes of southern views of northern natives and their ways of eating (seal) meat. I may come off corny when I say that she's "all that and a bag of cariboo chips" (taken from a line in her poem, "Eskimo Chick"). However, she's a rising star and one to watch for sure.

We are so lucky to have Mr. Bansfield to organize this for us in the The East African Restaurant. You know, I would feel selfish if I didn't share this with the rest of you. I urge you to come out to see what you're missing. Now this is entertainment on so many levels: politics, poetry, music, and food.

The nth digri also thoughtfully reminded us tonight of the late Rosa Parks as he dedicated the evening to her memory. She will be the first woman to lie in honour in the United States Capitol Rotunda - "a tribute formerly reserved for presidents, soldiers and prominent politicians", according to one news source. It's the fiftieth anniversary this December of her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Storm on stage

Taqralik Partridge with Anthony Bansfield

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Lori Lansens - "The Girls"

Just to be fair - if I can say that Anthony Bidulka is a very handsome man, then I can equally say that Lori Lansens is gorgeous! But it's all about the book, right? You may remember the name 'Lori Lansens' from the 1991 Canadian film, South of Wawa, which she wrote. It starred one of my favourite Canadian actresses, Rebecca Jenkins. More recently, in 2002, Lori came out with her first novel, Rush Home Road. Not normally big news, in and of itself, but I believe it was propelled in the media especially by the fact that Whoopi Goldberg's production company optioned the film rights to this first novel. After that stunning debut, Lori devoted much of her time to motherhood and began work on her current novel, The Girls:
"...the story of Rose and Ruby, twenty-nine-year-old conjoined twins. Born during a tornado to a shocked teenaged mother in the hospital at Leaford, Ontario, they are raised by the nurse who helped usher them into the world. Joined to Ruby at the head, Rose's face is pulled to one side, but she has full use of her limbs. Ruby has a beautiful face, but her body is tiny and she is unable to walk. She rests her legs on her sister's hip, rather like a small child or a doll. In spite of their situation, the girls lead surprisingly separate lives. Rose is bookish and a baseball fan. Ruby is fond of trash TV and has a passion for local history. Rose has always wanted to be a writer, and as the novel opens, she begins to pen her autobiography."
Lori is off to Montreal to round off the week and many other locations near you in the coming months. Be sure to see her in person and you won't disappointed if you pick up a book or two (which comes in two colours of dust jackets, representing each of the conjoined twins.)

25 Years of Tree

from rob mclennan's email:
Buschek Books invites you to celebrate the launch of "25 Years of Tree", the 25th-anniversary anthology celebrating the Tree Reading Series, edited by Jennifer Mulligan and James Moran. We will have readings by contributors, whose names we will draw from a hat, and we will also draw prizes.
Free event.
Sunday, 6 November, at 2 p.m.
Royal Oak II Pub (basement) 161 Laurier Ave. East



Featuring spoken word poetry by STORM (Windsor/Toronto)
& TAQRALIK (Nunavik/Montreal)
Open Mic hosted by the nth digri
8:30 PM to 11:30 PM The East African Restaurant (formerly the African Palace)
376 Rideau Street, Ottawa
Admission $7.00

Collected Works Bookstore has a double-header reading tonight:
1. Thursday, October 27, Lori Lansens reads at The Table - 7:30 p.m.
The Table Restaurant is located at 1230 Wellington St. (at Holland).
2. Authors Howard Akler and Adrian Michael Kelly read at Collected Works - 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

i'm a blurb!

Just wanted to let you know that I became a 'blurb' online at Derek Yaple-Schobert's website. I thought that this was kind of cool so I thought I would pass it along.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Anthony Bidulka Ottawa Reading

Saskatoon novelist Anthony Bidulka reads tonight at the Tree Reading Series...Royal Oak II Pub - Laurier East 8pm. He will be reading from Tapas on the Ramblas: A Russell Quant Mystery (2005).

"My books are unapologetically gay, unapologetically Canadian and unapologetically from the Prairies."
- Anthony Bidulka interview in Xtra (.pdf)

Outgoing Tree Reading Series Coordinator, James Moran [left] poses with Anthony Bidulka after the reading. Fans lucky enough to answer skill testing questions about Bidulka's books were presented bottles of 'appreciation'. This was a first of this kind in my experience. It was a very enjoyable evening. Bidulka's charm was enough to entice me to purchase his latest book, Tapas on the Ramblas: A Russell Quant Mystery. If mystery writing is a genre relegated to a relatively specialized audience, Bidulka's books are a sub-sub genre clearly labled as such. Honestly, it's my first encounter of a book by a gay mystery writer. He definitely has a talent for writing -period- and winning over an audience.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jacques & Gillian: a very short coming of age story

Jacques and Gillian planned a ski holiday weekend in the Laurentians for their first getaway date. As they ventured northward, Jacques took a snow-covered side road near the ski hill to get a bottle of Evian for his lover. The police report read (in French): the vehicle skidded on black ice, caromed off the weakened guardrail, then rolled down the embankment. Jacques suffered a concussion and Gillian was ejected from the rented SUV and succumbed to her injuries. Jacques was quickly released after a brief observation. His thoughts soured as he was utterly alone.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Blog About Town
by John W. MacDonald
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the spider to the fly;
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you may spy.
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

My brother and I encountered the world of stories at our mother’s side.
There was always a bedtime story. One that stands out is The Spider and
the Fly by Mary Howitt. Remember that poem? It seems the stories of my
youth were lessons meant to scare the bejeezus out of us. What was Mom
trying to teach us?

When I was seven or eight, I’d make up stories and tell them to my
brother. The tales really never had any middle or ending. They did,
however, have a super beginning for some reason, though I had no idea
when to stop. Usually I got the hint when my brother left the room. We
heard more classic tales retold at school and especially at summer
camp. Mother Goose and assorted ghost stories were new and exciting
and, I soon realized, intended either to instruct or to frighten. They
had a magical power.

Neil Wilson, director of the Ottawa International Writers Festival,
recently shared with the audience a brief conversation he had with
journalist Patrick Langston after Michel Faber’s extraordinary reading.
To sum what Langston said, “We all love being read to because we are,
in some ways, still children at heart, and kids love being read to.”

Ask storytellers to reflect on their art and you’ll often hear a
similar response. I recently attended my first event with the Ottawa
Storytellers, which on that evening was lead by Leah Stinson.

“I always loved reading and being read to,” said Stinson when I asked
how she got interested in the form. Her involvement with the Ottawa
Storytellers began with a New Year’s resolution. She checked out the
group’s website, found an affordable beginner’s workshop with lunch
included and now she’s very involved as a member.

The Ottawa Storytellers has been a not-for-profit organization since
1983. It’s mandate is threefold: "to promote the art of storytelling in
our community, nurture and inspire both beginning and experienced
storytellers, provide tellers and listeners of all ages with
opportunities to come together to share and enjoy stories." Story swaps
are held on the first Thursday of every month. Admission is free and
everyone is invited to tell a story or simply to listen.

At the recent writers festival, Stinson attended a lecture by Dan
Yashinsky, a professional storyteller for almost 30 years and the
founder of the Toronto Festival of Storytelling. “Listening to Dan
reconfirmed what I already thought about storytelling being a very
important way of passing on information, history, culture and lessons
to people including children and combating the unhealthy messages that
people are constantly bombarded with via television and other media,”
said Stinson, a grandmother. “Dan said, ‘Storytelling is a sanctuary
from every day life. I hadn't thought about that but I totally agree
with him.’

Stinson says Yashinsky reminded her of the importance of listening. “We
listen because we find ourselves in the story at some level,” she said.
“The story is for the unregarded part of everyone — the part that no
one thinks will amount to anything.”

As Yashinksy told his Ottawa audience, “the true hero is one who is
open to listening to new voices.”

If you’re open to “new voices” take in the Ottawa Storytelling
Festival, which features the best tellers from Ottawa and across Canada
from Nov. 2 to 6. The festival kicks off at the Fourth Stage of the
National Arts Centre then moves to the Library and Archives of Canada.
The latest information can be found online at
(originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen 23 October 2005)

Blog About Town column #3

Yours Truly:
Autograph Hound or saviour of Canadian Literature? You be the judge

You can usually tell much about an author by the way he or she signs books to fans. Sometimes it's with a plain and straight-forward signature. Sometimes it's something more quirky. Mostly the inscription is just illegible.

Book buyers often use signings to pick up an autographed book they will later give as a birthday or Christmas gift.

When circumstances allow, I seize the opportunity and collect signatures from people associated with a title. For example, at one book launch at Library and Archives Canada, I asked a number or people to sign Gordon Sheppard's HA! A Self-Murder Mystery. Ottawa author Brian Nolan autographed my copy - his blurb appears on the dust jacket of HA! So did Mikhail Alantchev, the book's designer. But the most precious inscription was provided by Sheppard's daughter, who appears in the novel in various forms. Genuinely surprised to be asked for an autograph, she signed: "The Post-It Notes rival my Dad's!" and added a smiley-face. I guess went overboard on the sticky-notes in my copy.

I would love to own a signed copy of Peter C. Newman's The Secret Mulroney Tapes: The Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister. Not just any copy, but the one Newman personalized and sent to Mulroney: "For Brian - At last Canadians will see you for the warm, funny and human person that you are."Newman insists the inscription was not intended to soften the blow, but rather written out of genuine conviction that Canadians never got to know the real man. Then there's the special edition of Michel Basiliere's 2003 novel, Black Bird, available at a Montreal bookstore. Not only is it signed, it comes with a locket of his hair. Not for me, but I am similarly intrigued with a poetry book by Ottawa writer jwcurry. The 1999 book - more of an Orgami-like work of art - is an intricately sewn and folded collection of concrete poems by the late bp Nichol titled, Holiday. During the production of the book, which involved binding tediously folded pages, jwcurry accidentally poked his fingers with a needle, leaving a drop or two of blood on the cover. I can imagine the dialogue:
"Dude, did ya get the book signed?"
"Yeah! I also got his DNA!"
Ask him about it at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair on Oct. 15 at the Jack Purcell Community Centre.

In most cases, a signing is a simple affair requiring little more than a pen.
In the case of Margaret Atwood, however, it may involve the Unotouchit, an invention that is not to be confused with the autopen, a machine that spits out the same mechanically reproduced identical autograph over and over till it's turned off or runs out of things to sign. Atwood's invention allows an author to personalize a book from anywhere in the world - the book and the author never have to be in the same room. I think it is more like a fax than anything else. The publisher's website reports, cryptically, that Atwood will be in Ottawa "Reading at the Unotouchit at Chapters" on Nov. 23 from her new book, The Penelopiad. I have no idea what this means or even if she'll be there in person.
Unotouchit? Menobuyit - though, in all likelihood, I probably will attend to see what the fuss is about.

Last week at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, I bought two copies of Susan Musgrave's You're in Canada Now (insert expletive). I bought the copy she used during her reading, which she inscribed as such. The second copy is what collectors call a "brag." Musgrave inscribed the book to me, mentioning that the copy was, "the Bowdlerized edition. The first one ever! A practise run for my mother." Bowdlerize is a term derived from Thomas Bowdler, an editor who in 1818 published a notorious expurgated Shakespeare, "in which those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." Musgrave creatively placed stickers of the Canadian flag atop the offending words on the jacket cover and on the title pages. How thoughtful.

When Toronto author Stuart Ross was in Ottawa this summer, I was impressed with the way he inscribed my copy of his Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer: "This one to John - The Saviour of Canadian Literature! Best, Stu." After some reflection of this immodest inscription, I realized I am not a "saviour" just because I read and buy Canadian-authored books. In fact, I don't know why Stuart signed the book this way. Perhaps it's how he signs all his books. In the end, it doesn't really matter: It is the best thing any author could say to a reader.

John W. MacDonald works in Ottawa and can usually be seen, but not heard, where authors congregate. Read his weblog at

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Paul Glennon - The Dodecahedron

Paul Glennon launches The Dodecahedron at The Lieutentant's Pump at 261 Elgin at 8PM on Saturday October 22nd. The Dodecahedron is the follow-up to the Ottawa Book Prize shortlisted How Did You Sleep?

Paul Reads from The Dodecahedron

Tracy & Paul Glennon

Friday, October 21, 2005

Poets Allan Briesmaster and Colin Morton read at Collected Works

Allan Briesmaster with Colin Morton

From Collected Works Bookstore blurb:

Allan Briesmaster is a poet, editor, micro publisher, book packager, and literary consultant who lives in Thornhill, ON. He has published seven books of poetry, and his work has been widely anthologized. From 1991 to 2002 he was one of the chief organizers of the weekly Art Bar Poetry Reading Series in Toronto, and since 2000 has been the main editor for Seraphim Editions, a literary press based in Hamilton. Allan has given readings of his poetry from Halifax to Victoria. His two most recent books are Pomona Summer, from Hidden Brook Press, and Galactic Music, from Lyricalmyrical, both published earlier this year.

Colin Morton was born in Toronto, grew up in Calgary, and lives in Ottawa, where he is a freelance writer and editor. His poetry and fiction have appeared in diverse literary journals including Descant, The Fiddlehead, Arc, Grain, The Malahat Review, Ascent, and The North American Review. He has performed his work with the word-music intermedia group First Draft and the jazz ensembles SugarBeat and Sonic Circle, and in the award-winning animated poetry film Primiti Too Taa. Colin has received numerous awards for his writing including the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Blogs @ Concordia

My weblog has been linked online at one of my Montreal alma maters, Concordia University. The link is in the alumni section and accompanied with the description " none other than John W. MacDonald, an alumnus in History." Wow - "none other" I feel famous, or rather infamous.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Charles Hodgson was spotted at the Ottawa International Writers Festival a few weeks ago. He was handing out business cards promoting his online podcast, "podictionary". Charles writes and records his audio word of the day podcast and makes them available on his website Today's word? Lesbian. Other words discussed this past week included: petard, Greek, hobbit, walrus, and ostracize. Something to add to your daily browsing perhaps. And it certainly is a nice complement to

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Peter F. Yacht Club Regatta

Regatta: [noun] a meeting for boat races
Peter F. Yacht Club Regatta: [noun] a meeting for readings of poetry & prose

When? Thursday, November 3, 2005. Doors open at 7:30pm / readings start at 8pm
Where? The Carleton Tavern (upstairs), Parkdale Market (at Armstrong)

Monday, October 17, 2005

I *heart* JAZZ: a very short love story

I once worked with this odd fellow, Charles. He wanted to be called 'Jazz'. Since he told her he disliked his name, his wife called him Jazz, too. Before they met she, coincidentally, had a bumper sticker on her Ford Taurus that read . But one day, during a shopping trip, a vandal lurking in the parking lot placed a sticker of a screw on top of the heart. Charles liked the double entendre and asked her to marry him.

gga on cca

a few thousand science fiction covers

Saw this amazing post on BoingBoing, where technology meets literture. It is a interface where you can mouse scroll over a mosaic image to enlarge covers of vintage science fiction books taken from 'The Visual Index of Science Fiction Cover art'. You have to see it to believe it. Jim Bumgardner also developed the interesting Flickr Colr Pickr.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dusty Owl Amazes

I was introduced to Jennifer Whiteford tonight thanks to the Dusty Owl Reading Series. From what I heard at her reading I am really looking forward to the release of her forthcoming novel, Grrrl (Gorsky Press of Los Angeles - coming Spring 2006). I am a sucker for coming of age novels of this sort. According to the publisher's website, Jennifer Whiteford won the Fourth Annual Literary Sashimi Contest with her novel, Grrrl. No surprise. Whiteford's Grrrl also made me think of Wallace Graves' first novel, Trixie (1969), also a novel from a girl's point of view in a diary format - albeit (according to the novel's rear dust jacket) "the author of Trixie's 'Diry' [sic] is a middle-aged white man."

The novel is full of pain, sexual confusion, laughter, music, and life. There's also plenty of "accidental introspection" via the main character's diary entries. (Jennifer told me that, so I put it in quotes. I wish I could take credit for it.) Just hearing her read tonight I am actually looking forward to reading her second novel too. And she tells me that this is also in the works. Okay, if you are reading this and think I am just boasting without actually possessing her book, you actually have another chance in the very near future to hear her read again, this time at the Plan 99 Reading Series at the Manx Pub. She is slated to read Saturday, 3 December 2005. Don't miss it. It won't be your usual reading either. I believe it is a relay-reading of sorts. One hour only, and there will be batons passing between other participating readers with set time limits. Sound like fun. Oh, and there's beer at the pub which can't hurt.

What the heck is a "Grrrl" / "Grrl" anyway you may ask? Wikipedia (I am so unhip) to the rescue! A search of Wikipedia brings one up to snuff quickly. It does help explain the term, however. I assume that the chapbook, two stories by Jennifer Whiteford entitled "Typical Girls" takes its name from the all-women band, The Slits single of the same name (Island, 1979). Correct me if I am mistaken.

Today was also another good day to listen to poetry and some great music (thanks to Jesse Ferguson) at the Bywords Fall reading at Chapters on Rideau. Jamie Bradley, who read his poems for the first time, particularly caught my attention. I enjoyed his brief poem called "Simply". Amanda even commented at the end of his reading, "Sounds like a pro to me." Another couple of poems I liked hearing were by Anne Le Dressay. She read "About that cobweb" which you can also view online on "Bending" was also a favourite. Even though Daniel Boland read this past summer, he made me laugh at his poem, oddly entitled, "The Cremation of Snoopy". It is a nostalgic look at his favourite comic series, Peanuts/Charlie Brown. He isn't sure if it's supposed to be sad or funny. One line (of many) that made the audience chuckle was, "A toothless Charlie Brown is wailing in pain..." (over the death of his beloved pooch.) Great images. Check it out.

You know, it's great to be in the audience and have the readers perform their very first recital in front of an audience of strangers. There is something in everyone that wills us to cheer them on. It takes guts. However, if I hear the following phrase coming from a poets lips, "This is the first time that I have read this aloud before..." I am going to scream! Not really, but it's not just the young poets who often say this but the older ones are guilty as well. I heard this a few times at the recently held writers festival. It is similar to a novel starting out with, "Once upon a time..." Stop doing it - now!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Busy Book Weekend

There were many, many literary events to keep any booklover busy this weekend: Mother Tongue Books hosted three talented poets from around the country this past Friday. It was a "teaser reading" prior to the Small Press Book Fair hosted by Ottawa's rob mclennan. Saturday was a triple feature day as well with the 25th Ottawa Book Fair (which continues Sunday), the aforementioned Small Press Book Fair, and the David Helwig reading at the Manx Pub, part of the Plan 99 Reading Series. This Sunday also features two of Ottawa's popular reading events, Bywords (Happy Birthday Amanda) and the Dusty Owl Reading Series.

Liam McGahern of Patrick McGahern and Liam McGahern Books on Bank Street in Ottawa.

Mr. Munroe Scott with John Flood, publisher of Penumbra Press of Manotick, Ontario. Mr. Scott poses with his new book Always and Updraft: A Writer Remembers. Mr. Flood produces books of exceptional production value and artistic merit and this book is no different. I look forward to reading my copy of Mr. Scott's memoir.

Now, I really don't have to introduce the couple below, do I? If you have ever been through the city of Montreal and bought a used book, you have probably heard of or been to "The Word Bookstore" on 469 Milton Street. If, for some reason, you've never been to this part of the McGill ghetto, the couple pictured are Adrian & Lucille King-Edwards. Truly one of the best bookstores in Montreal (in Canada, really, now that I think about it) and a couple of the nicest people on the planet.

Just a side note, Ottawa online bookseller Neil Cournoyer is back in Ottawa from a year in Brockville. Neil is the one who really opened up my eyes to collecting Can Lit a few years ago. He always has a nice selection of books and great book-buying advice. Like Adrian of The Word Bookstore, he'll steer you in the right direction of which books to purchase.

Ottawa poet and publisher, jwcurry, and Jon Paul Fiorentino of Matrix Magazine and the pope of comedic fiction, browse Jay MillAr's (BookThug / Apollinaire's Bookshoppe) well-stocked table at the Small Press Book Fair Saturday afternoon. Jay MillAr produces some of the most elegant small press publications in Canada today. They are very much works of literary art. See more of his publications available online.

Today, I received an amazing book from jwcurry. It is an ultra-limited edition (four copies) book edition of his mesmorizing Messagio Galore concrete sound performance last month. I am practically speechless at this generous gift. It features all the pieces that curry, Middle and Books performed that evening. Wow! The copies were compiled by curry to his usual exacting standards, exclusively for Max Middle, Jennifer Books and myself. You have to see it to believe it. Freakin' amazing... There is also good news that Mr. curry is planning more of the hit and run series of events with some very special guest readers. Stay tuned my little concrete poetry friends.

P.S. Be sure to check out the photo and brief interview of bicycle courier, Jennifer Books in the October 2005 edition of Ottawa Magazine. "Wheelers of fortune: Ottawa's bicycle couriers tell it like it is" (page 32) Photography by Marc Fowler, Text by Fateema Sayani.

David O'Meara introduces poet David Helwig to the mic at the Plan 99 Reading Series at the Manx Pub on Elgin Street.

Poetic Penance

I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.
I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.
I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.
I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.
I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.

I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.
I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.
I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.
I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.
I will not stay out late and drink with pernicious poets again.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2005

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2005 is awarded to the English writer Harold Pinter "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms".

You can listen to the first brief interview with Pinter on the Nobel Prize website. He actually doesn't say much in the minute and 20 second interview. The prize was as much as a surprise to him as anybody. He is "deeply moved and no words at the moment". More to come from Stockholm certainly.

Speaking of Nobel Prize winners... Okay, not really, but be sure to check out the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair at the Jack Purcell Community Centre on Elgin Street, right beside the Gilmour Public School (on Jack Purcell Lane). Free to the public, the fair will be happening Saturday, October 15th from noon to 5pm. We all have to start somewhere, eh?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Gekoski on Banville

Man Booker judge Rick Gekoski, whose own book I loved, offers his post-ceremony comments on the recent award-winning novel by John Banville:

"Might I offer a single piece of advice to those who read The Sea and find it difficult, or uncongenial? Read it again, slowly and carefully. If you still don’t like it, fine, that’s a matter of taste. But it seems to me impossible that you could deny its distinction.

The experience of being a judge has been immensely enjoyable, utterly memorable, and we have been lucky enough to come up with a terrific winner. It’s rather restored my faith in the Man Booker Prize."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Second time lucky for John Banville

John Banville was tonight (Monday 10 October) named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction with The Sea, published by Picador.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Saviour of Canadian Literature

You can usually tell much about the author on how they sign books to their fans. Sometimes it is a plain and straight-forward signature. Sometimes it is more quirky. Many times people use the occasion to get the author to sign it for a birthday or Christmas gift for the buyer's relative. Most times, however, the inscription is just illegible. In rare circumstances, I seize the opportunity to obtain other people's signatures who are, in some way, associated with the book.

For example, I asked a number or people to sign Gordon Sheppard's HA! A Self-Murder Mystery. I obtained Brian Nolan's signature at the book launch at the Library and Archives Canada. Nolan, who lives in Ottawa, is an author and former European producer of ABC Network News, and his book blurb appears on HA!'s dust jacket. I even have a signature of the book's designer, Mikhail Alantchev. But the most precious is an inscription from Sheppard's daughter.

She actually appears in the novel in various forms. A picture of her face was super-imposed to represent an actress (when copyright reasons prevented the original movie still from being used) and other time where she drew a one page comic drawing to illustrate a conversation that appeared in the book. Genuinely surprised that I asked her for a signature, she wrote more than her signature. She gave her thanks and ended her inscription with, "The Post-It Notes rival my dads!" with a smiley-face. Well, I guess went over-board on the sticky-notes in this book.

The book I won't buy but would love to own is one particular copy of Peter C. Newman's The Secret Mulroney Tapes: The Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister. The book is purported to be inscribed by Newman, "For Brian - At last Canadians will see you for the warm, funny and human person that you are." Newman claims, "Much has been made of the way I inscribed the copy of Secret Tapes that I couriered to Mulroney on publication day. This was no attempt to soften the blow, but was written out of my genuine conviction that he lost power partly because Canadians never got to know the real man. " (source) Now that is a collector's item!

However, for those more adventurous and like a little extra with their novels, from a Montreal bookstore you can purchase Michel Basiliere's 2003 novel, Black Bird. Not only is it signed, it comes with a locket of his hair included. Interested? Sorry, this is not my specialty of collecting. But I was almost similarly interested in buying a book of poetry from a local Ottawa poet, jwcurry. The 1999 book, - if you can call it that - is an intricately sewn and folded collection of concrete poems by the late bp Nichol titled, Holiday. It's more of a Origami-like work of art.

Given it was very difficult to produce due to the binding of the tediously folded pages, jwcurry had accidentally poked his fingers with the sewing needle leaving a tiny drop or two of blood on the cover. Now that's putting that little extra into one's book. I can imagine the dialogue:
"Dude, did 'ya get the book signed?"
"Yeah! I also got his DNA!"
However, I admit I bought a 'clean' copy. I can do without the DNA thank you very much. Ask him about it at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair this Saturday, October 15, 2005 in room 203 of the Jack Purcell Community Centre.

Perhaps the most utterly ridiculous idea, in my opinion, that has surfaced has come from the person who brought us the dystopian novel, Oryx and Crake. Margaret Atwood has recently 'invented' the concept of the unotouchit. This invention allows that author to sign a book from anywhere in the world, but the book and the author never have to be in the same room. It's not quite the same concept as the autopen. An autopen is a machine that spits out the same mechcanically reproduced identical autograph over and over till it's turned off or runs out of things to sign.

The difference is that Atwood's contraption provides a personalized signature, in a sense, to each reader at the signing event. I think it is more like a fax more than anything else. The publisher's website reports, cryptically, that Atwood will be in Ottawa "Reading at the Unotouchit at Chapters" this November 23rd from her new book, The Penelopiad. I have no idea what this really means, nor where to show up, nor even if she'll be there in person. Unotouchit? Menobuyit -- though, in all likelihood, I probably will attend to see what the fuss is about.

The recent memoir of sorts by Susan Musgrave, You're In Canada Now...[insert explitive] is a book I am interested in reading in that the scandalous title tends to grab your attention. In fact, I bought two copies at the Ottawa International Writers Festival last week. One copy was purchased by the mere fact that it was her personal reading copy during her reading at the festival. She had inscribed it as such. A desireable copy in its own right. But the second copy is what book collectors refer to a 'brag'. You know, something that is quite a treasure and extra-special and deserves bragging rights.

She had inscribed the book to myself, mentioning that this copy was, "The Bowdlerized edition. The first one ever! A practise run for my mother." Bowdlerize is a term derived from Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), English editor who in 1818 published a notorious expurgated Shakespeare, "in which those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." Musgrave creatively placed stickers of the Canadian flag atop the offending words on the jacket cover and on the title pages. How thoughtful.

When the Toronto Author, Stuart Ross, was in Ottawa this summer I was pretty impressed with the way inscribed my copy of his Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer: "This one to John - The Saviour of Canadian Literature! Best, Stu." But after some reflection of this immodest inscription, I realized that I am not a 'saviour' just because I read and buy Canadian-authored books. I believe everyone who buys a book, a broadsheet, a chapbook, and even a used book is just as much a saviour. I don't know why Stuart signed the book this way. Perhaps he did so in a similar manner to others. In the end it doesn't really matter. It is the best thing any author could say to a reader.

A book lover's guide to the Ottawa International Writers Festival

For those who missed my first Ottawa Citizen column two weeks ago here it is. October 9th's installment appears today on page C9.

By John W. MacDonald
(Appeared originally in The Ottawa Citizen September 25, 2005)

A book lover's guide to the Ottawa International Writers Festival

There is no better season than Fall. Yes, the weather's fine, the leaves are pretty, but to a book lover, Fall means one thing: Book Festival Season. True, it can be said there is also a spring season for books and the summer for beach reading, but neither match the size or scope of autumn's gamut of literary events. Just as spring brings bears out of hibernation, likewise, authors and poets come out of seclusion in the Fall. How does a reader prepare for the literary experience? This is a question I have thought about for some time. Every year I promise to exercise more and every year I fail. But do as I say and not as I do, the saying goes. I do try to get out every (other) day for brisk walks to build stamina. Anyone can enjoy the first or second night of readings, it's the last few evenings of an eight-day festival that test your metal. Of course mental alertness is equally as important.

Yawning during a reading is generally frowned upon, especially if you get caught. I always have a glass or bottle on hand to raise to my mouth - it need not be full - to feina big gulp. Thus concealed, I can yawn at leisure. As for diet, for the past month or so I've been eating a lot of homemade soup with rice noodles. Is it good for my health? I guess so. I don't really know. In reality, I've been doing so to save money for the books I am about to buy. My version of the Ramen Book Diet. I've lost 10 pounds.

I have also learned to dress appropriately. Comfort is key. It isn't a fashion show - you're a member of an audience in a darkened room. Bring a jacket, even it it's 30 degrees outside. It's not to wear, it's to hang on your chair: a generally agreed upon convention that signals that this seat is your turf. At some popular events, it may be necessary to mark your spot early and overtly. Arrive early. This way you'll have your choice of seating.

Prepare. Stamina is only achieved by training. Find a back pack. Beg, borrow or steal from the kids, if necessary. Fill it with your heaviest books: fiction, non-fiction or self-help, it does not matter. Avoid coffee-table books, which are bulky. Encyclopedias or large dictionaries will suffice. I recommend the recently published two-volume set of An Irish History of Civilization by Don Akenson and Gordon Sheppard's HA!: A Self Murder Mystery. Both are published by McGill-Queen's University Press. For good measure, include the hardcover edition of Ann-Marie MacDonald's The Way The Crow Flies or any Rohinton Mistry novel. You get my drift. Bricks would work, of course, but books are more intellectual.

Once fully loaded, practice slinging the bag without damaging your shoulder or the person near you. It's a skill, develop it. Walk the neighbourhood to get a feel for the weight and soon enough you'll develop stamina. Before the event, ensure there is ample space in your bag. By all means, take as many books you already own to get get signed. But leave some room because there'll always be more you want to purchase at the event. Besides, if you forget your jacket, a backpack will serve to save your seat while you are on a beverage or book run.

The 9th Annual Fall Edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival runs Sept. 29 to Oct. 6 at the Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St. Tonight is also a time to celebrate the 25th annniversary of the Sasquatch Literary and Arts Performance Series at Royal Oak II Pub. I hear Black Forest Cake will be served at intermission. Will the temptations never cease?

John W. MacDonald works in Ottawa and can usually be seen, but not heard, where authors congregate. Read his weblog at

Friday, October 07, 2005

Stephen Cain

It's not often where the light is just right for a snap photo. I asked Stephen Cain, Assistant Professor in the School of Arts and Letters, at the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies, York University, for an impromptu pose in the Ottawa International Writers Festival hospitality suite on the last day. The late afternoon sun was streaming through the hotel's balcony window and cast a half shadow on the subject. I chose to post a smiling Dr. Cain to another, more serious looking, three-quarter profile shot.

Stephen Cain read from his 2005 Coach House Press book, American Standard/Canada Dry.

For those interested I uploaded the other portrait of Cain which you can view here.

2005 John Newlove Award

This year’s judge for the 2005 John Newlove Award was Toronto fiction writer, poet, editor, and creative-writing instructor, Stuart Ross. The selection committee chose 20 poems, from which Mr. Ross selected four honourable mentions and one winning poem. Melissa Upfold, read from her poem, 'Coy'.

The festival's writer in residence, rob mclennan, gives Melissa a lesson on posing like a poet.

The annual John Newlove Poetry award, launched in the fall of 2004, commemorates the honest, poignant and well-written poetry of John Newlove, an Ottawa resident for almost twenty years and poet who died in 2003.

The 4 poems receiving honourable mention in 2005 are

alligator pear by Caleb J W Brasset;
When I doubt the gospels by Rhonda Douglas;
Monday morning by Chris Pitre;
Fence Posts by Andrew Stacey

Each year the winner will receive a certificate, a poetry book by John Newlove and the opportunity to publish a chapbook through Bywords. This year’s award winner received Black Night Window, 1st Edition.

Poems published on from September 2005 to August 2006 will be eligible for consideration for next year’s Newlove award.

last year's award winner Norma Elliot was absent from the night's proceedings due to illness. Her step-daughter Tarryn, read in her place. Norma, inspired by Alden Nowlan, Gwendolyn McEwan, and John Newlove, selected poems from these authors for Tarryn to read.

Kinsella a Punk?

Warren Kinsella (writer and punk?) played to a mixed audience and discussed his book Fury's Hour with host, Ken Rockburn. Midway through the show, two of Kinsella's biggest (political) fans, Jim Watson and John Baird (MPP Nepean-Carleton) showed up but made an early departure.

Seventeen year old Canterbury High School student, David Howden, looks on with a critical eye during the evening's performance and Rockburn-Kinsella interview. Howden, amongst other young persons, was spotted in this and other reading events throughout the festival.

Derek Yaple-Schobert

Although the writers festival formally commenced the night of September 29th with an appearance by Paul Celluci, I felt that, artistically speaking, it really started the next night. The audience was entertained on Friday evening with a very interesting lecture by Dr. Hans Möller, and also with a brilliant piano and poetry performance by Dr. Derek Yaple-Schobert. This event really added a touch of class to the festival - especially right at the beginning.

This year I noticed that there were was a greater sense of cohesion, thematically speaking, of panelists than in previous years. I can honestly say that there was no one event where I was left thinking, that this person did not 'fit in' to the group on stage. Each guest speaker and performance not only brought a sense of their literary works to life, but also an enthusiasm which entertained the audience thoroughly from start to finish.

In previous years of the festival, I have been invited up to the hospitality suite as a kind gesture by the organizers. But each time I politely refused in the belief that I was a 'just an audience member'. I asked myself, 'How could I fit in amongst the invited authors?' This year, however, I decided to accept the invitation should I receive it again. And I did. Gratefully.

I told my wife long in advance that this writers festival would be taking some time out of the norm. I lifted the veil, as it were, and stepped across the threshold of room 817 on the first evening and never looked back. It was everything I imagined it to be and more. I did, on occasion, stay late into the wee hours to snap some candid photos, partake in the available party snacks, and chat with some of the authors. One memorable night early on, Max Middle and jwcurry coaxed Carmel, the stockmistress, to join in on a sound poetry performance that Middle and Curry and Jen Books performed the week before. I believe it sent the other authors present in the room reeling. It was an awesome moment, among others, to be in the suite and behind the scenes.

And this is only year nine of the event. Just wait till next year's decade anniversary of the Ottawa International Writers Festival! The plans are already underway, if you can believe it, and I cannot wait to see what the Wilsons have in store for us next year.

Derek poses momentarily before his recital on Glenn Gould's piano at the Library and Archives Canada auditorium. Yaple-Schobert is billed as "Canada's Ambassador of Scandinavian Music".

OWIF Director, Neil Wilson (middle) joins Derek and Hans prior to the Hans Christian Andersen Bicentenial illustrated lecture and recital.