On Bookmarks

Various objects used for bookmarks.

Since moving back to Toronto in 2017 I’ve been thinking very carefully about the things that I own and why I own them. I don’t mean in a Marie Kondo sort of way, although space is definitely a driving force, but more in terms of how the things I own help me understand myself. My interest in this way of understanding stems in part from my first reading, as an undergraduate, of Robertson Davies’ What’s Bred in the Bone, the book that introduced me to the concept of “personal mythology.” Our personal mythologies are the stories, symbols, and events that make up our understanding of our lives and selves. Those stories, symbols, and events are often—though not always—real people and objects in our lives, and events that actually happened to us. Our personal myths are what help us making meaning and see structure in our lives. It should be no… Continue Reading

2018: Year in Review

My mother

Normally at the beginning of every year I post a breakdown of all the reading I’d done the previous year. I won’t be doing that this year. I’ll include some recommendations at the end of this post, but I’m having a hard time worrying about how many books I read by certain authors, or books of a certain kind, or whatever categories interest you, or have interested me in the past. Today, I don’t care. 2018 was not a good year. I’ve already written about my cat dying, but my mother also passed away in September, following complications from what is generally routine day surgery. I’ve had great difficulty reading, since then. In the four months since my mother died I’ve read seventeen books, which is roughly the count I normally have for December alone. My concentration is shot, my motivation is shot, and my investment in the world around… Continue Reading

Molly’s Last Day

Molly laying on the grass

My cat Molly died on June 8, 2018. She had been suffering from some minor health issues for several months, but two weeks before she died things got a bit worse, and then dramatically so. On June 6th we thought we had a handle on things; we knew she was diabetic and that she would need special care going forward, but she also hadn’t been eating or drinking very much and was losing weight. I asked the vet to monitor her blood glucose for the first day of her treatment so that we would be guaranteed to get her requirements right. The insulin worked, but the vet was concerned that Molly didn’t appear to be doing well otherwise, and asked to keep her overnight. On the morning of June 7th I got called to the vet’s office. Around noon we were told that Molly’s condition had worsened significantly despite her… Continue Reading

Facebook Is Not the Future of Baseball

Closeup of Facebook reaction icons

The Kansas City Royals are visiting Toronto, and it’s the top of the fifth inning. Danny Duffy’s heavily-pixelated face fills the screen of my 49″ 4K Sony Bravia, but he’s not on the mound tonight. He’s got a headset on, and he’s trading stories back and forth with Scott Braun, Cliff Floyd, and Jeremy Guthrie, sometimes answering questions but mostly just shooting the breeze. I’m a Blue Jays fan, but I’ve never been good at internalizing information about other teams, so I rely pretty heavily on Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler to fill in the blanks for me during a game. What’s this guy usually like at the plate? Is this other guy a strong shortstop, or has he been struggling with injuries? Right now, Danny Duffy is the only one who seems interested in calling the game, commenting on the plays he can see from the dugout. The interview,… Continue Reading

Belated Reading Breakdown for 2017

2017 Reading Breakdown Feature Image

I apologize for the lateness of this reading breakdown; I’d anticipated having time to work on it back in January, but other projects intervened over and over again, and I simply haven’t had the time until today. My reading project for 2017 was significantly smaller in scale than in previous years, and if nothing else, the sharper focus yielded fewer books I didn’t connect with—in fact, I chose not to make a “worst of the year” list at all. For those who haven’t been reading along, for Canada’s 150th birthday I read and wrote about one book every month that was new to me but is considered a Canadian classic by one metric or another. Since I finished early, I also wrote about a “bonus” thirteenth book that was recommended by several people. I read a total of 71 books in 2017, down 22 from 93 in 2016 and down… Continue Reading

Sourdough, by Robin Sloan

Detail of Sourdough cover

Apparently the sourdough bread in San Francisco is unique in the world; it not only has a reputation for being unusually good, with a strangely tangy flavour, the starter in San Francisco sourdough has its own strain of bacteria not found anywhere else. This sounds so much like bullshit that it’s a perfect metaphor for how San Francisco sees itself; the fact that it’s true almost ruins it. I liked Sourdough almost as much as I liked Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which makes sense, because the two books have a lot in common. Sloan’s writing in both is clean and direct; personable, even. He’s not in any danger of developing a reputation as a stylist, but he gets balance and rhythm, knows when and how to be funny, knows when to stop. That’s harder to get right than many imagine; I can direct to you to some books if you… Continue Reading

The Double Hook, by Sheila Watson

Detail from the cover of The Double Hook

When planning this year’s reading project I put out a call for book recommendations; I received several, but the most common one was The Double Hook, by Sheila Watson. It didn’t make the cut for a number of reasons—mostly because my list was already pretty heavy on pre-CanCon material—but I added it as a “just in case” book, because I was having trouble locating copies of some of the other books. But December has rolled around, I’ve finished all twelve of my posts, and it turns out that I have time to do one more: my bonus book, The Double Hook. Sheila Watson’s prose was absolutely glorious. In a great many ways it reminded me of the best of Southern US writing; the same deceptively simple diction, the same idiosyncratic syntax, the same presentation of the mundane as the mythic. The Double Hook was gorgeous from beginning to end, but… Continue Reading

The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King

Detail from the cover of The Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian was one of the first books I chose for my Canada 150 project. I picked it up in the store, read a couple of pages, and was instantly hooked. Had it not been for my decision to read the books in chronological order, this would have been my first selection rather than my last, though perhaps it’s fitting to end the project here. The Inconvenient Indian was compulsively readable from sentence one, full of wit and charisma and righteous anger. It definitely made me want to read more of King’s work. I’m not always comfortable writing about non-fiction; if you aren’t an expert in the subject—or at least have a solid grounding—then there’s not much you can comment on except the quality of the prose. And I’m certainly not a historian, an expert in Native cultures, nor on any of the specific political issues at play between… Continue Reading

The Polished Hoe, by Austin Clarke

Detail of The Polished Hoe cover

The Polished Hoe has been on my to-be-read this for about a decade, but I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that, for a number of reasons, it’s just not for me. This is not to say I thought the book was bad—far from it. Clarke’s account of the abuses of plantation life and the way it warps the people of the island and their relationships is deeply affecting. His characters have tremendous depth, especially Mary-Mathilda, and her narrative is truly heartbreaking. You’re expecting me to say but, and here it comes: there were a number of mechanical issues in The Polished Hoe that I just couldn’t get past. I’ve never been a fan of novels built almost entirely out of dialogue, and it didn’t work for me here either. In some ways The Polished Hoe reminds me of The Recognitions, by William Gaddis. Almost all of the thematic heavy lifting… Continue Reading

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale cover detail

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has known me for very long or who follows me on social media but, despite having read nine of her books, I actually don’t like Margaret Atwood’s work very much. I continue to read her books mostly out of a sense of professional obligation. I am therefore both pleased and surprised to report that I found The Handmaid’s Tale to be absolutely riveting. There are some books—and I usually try to avoid making statements like this, because most of the time they’re bullshit—that have an ineffable quality that separates them from other books; they are in some way the real deal, and The Handmaid’s Tale is one of them. I don’t know that I would have felt that way if I’d read it earlier. Certainly my point of view has changed as I’ve gotten older, but since November the world has… Continue Reading