The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: April 2009


Spadina streetcar

Asian male, early 30s, wearing pressed beige dress pants, black t-shirt, and spotless black sneakers, carrying a black computer bag with pink ribbon pinned to the pocket.

The edges of the ribbon are frayed, its colour faded from the blush of spring rose petals to chalky candy hearts. His fatigue peaks out from pressure points: the throbbing vein in his temple, the rapid rise and fall of his T-shirt, his wrists unable to hold the book high and tight. He could replace the ribbon, get something permanent, shiny, something that won’t tear or thread, something precious and delicate that will only expire if dented or shattered, that can’t be punctured, that can’t absorb filth or accidents, something unlike illness, or real living.

What was he reading? Click here.

Julie Wilson is a literary voyeur, the Gossip Girl of the Book World. She tracks readers in the wild at @seenreading

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Posted in Re: Reading  •  No Comments

There’s a moment relatively early on in David Grann’s spectacular new book, The Lost City of Z, where the author is imagining his subject, Percy Fawcett, during Fawcett’s early years in Ceylon. Fawcett, who would go on to become the world’s most famous explorer and the inspiration for countless fanatical quests to resolve the mystery of his fate, was at the time encamped in a military fort. Grann, recounting a strained moment between Fawcett and his eventual wife Nina, tells us that “For years, they had no more contact. Fawcett remained at the fort, where, high on the cliffs, he could see a pillar dedicated to a Dutch maiden who, in 1687, had leaped to her death after her fiancé deserted her. Nina, meanwhile, returned to Great Britain.”

I offer this as a simple example of what makes this book so exceptional. In Grann’s meticulous endnotes there is no account of his having recovered this information from Fawcett’s papers, which means that instead it was gleaned by his doing what truly great biographers do: imagine their subjects fully, so fully as to meaningfully reconstruct their behaviour within a verifiable environment. Grann the researcher uncovered this pillar, and he can be certain that Fawcett would have seen it; knowing Fawcett’s obsessive streak, he can be relatively certain that his explorer would be aware of the local history. Even if Fawcett didn’t know the pillar’s history, Grann does, and the latter’s research, in this moment and countless others throughout the book, opens history to these small moments of insight, of knowing, and—as in his subtle juxtaposition here of the very practical Nina with her more melodramatic husband—quiet, wise wit.

David Grann is a staff writer at the New Yorker, where he contributes some of the most intriguing, bizarre, and gripping stories the magazine runs—investigating the mysterious death of the world’s leading Sherlock Holmes expert; reporting on Frédéric Bourdin, a French con-artist whose impersonations of children were so successful, he was taken in by a Texas family as their long-missing teenage son; considering Mark Halperin, one of the most influential—and sometimes controversial—players in American political media. We met a few weeks ago, on a cold Toronto Monday morning. (more…)

Posted in The Shelf  •  2 Comments

How To Fake It

I wish I was a scientist
But I never did well in school
I’d like to talk for hours about
The problems with time travel


LONDON, ONTARIO—Right now I’m pretending to be a scientist. Sadly, I don’t even have the excuse of never having been good in school. Top of the class, baby. Nonetheless, I plummeted headlong into the humanities. I cowered there, too insecure to rub brains with fellow geniuses. I’ve squandered my intellect: I’m a godforsaken Twitter Historian sitting in a math department posing.

I can hardly keep track of all my fellow fakers. Here is my list of favourite fakers for summer 2009: (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  No Comments

Glengarry Glen Ross in Toronto

A man that’s in it for the money is a bad, bad man – right? The value we attach to capital, and the beliefs of those who seek to do nothing other than accumulate it are issues that have always been hotly debated, perhaps now more than ever.

It would seem, then, an appropriate moment to bring back to the stage David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, a scorching play about the clawing desperation of a group of 1980s real estate salesmen walking the thin line between modest wealth and unemployment. It’s a mile-a-minute cacophony of swearing and lies, at once funny and despicable in its illumination of the turncoat tactics these examples of hyper-masculinity will adopt to save their jobs and turn a profit. (more…)

Posted in The Haulout  •  No Comments

This new X-Files comic stinks

If you’re any sort of normal person, you’re probably one of the zillions who stayed the hell away from last summer’s X-Files movie, I Want to Believe. It featured a very angry Xzibit in a prominent role, and hinged on the magical psychic connection created when a Scottish comedian priest shares a very, um, special relationship with a little immigrant boy who grows up to become a black market organ harvester. So, yeah, it’s garbage. Which is to say, even if you did see it, its overwhelming rubbishness probably didn’t incline you to pick up the comic book spin-off series that was released to coincide with the film. Likewise, publisher Wildstorm is probably wondering why they ever secured the X-Files comic book licence, though the seventh issue of the series dutifully came out last week. (more…)

Posted in Four-Colour Words  •  6 Comments


Southbound, Spadina streetcar

Caucasian male, early 40s, with short grey hair and beard, wearing glasses, blue collared shirt under black fleece, and carrying a leather book bag.

The young woman beside him is falling asleep. He shifts to accommodate her bobbing head, the worn faux fur of her second hand coat brushing against his chin. He lifts the cord of her headphones away from his bag’s buckle and pivots to face a new wave of passengers crowding the back of the streetcar. He comes nose to waist of a pair of jeans that bear the deep, rumpled creases of one who only had enough change for the washer. He squeaks his book between himself and the stranger, the type too close to read. Staring out from the edges, he braces for the long haul.

What was he reading? Click here.

Julie Wilson is a literary voyeur, the Gossip Girl of the Book World. She tracks readers in the wild at @seenreading

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The Vegethusian

You may be familiar with the recent advertising campaign in which a man refuses a bite of his female friend’s salad on the grounds that he’s a “Meatatarian.” “Beef, bacon – you know, a Meatatarian? It’s a personal choice,” he says, thoughtfully jamming a Wendy’s burger with six strips of scar-pink bacon and two glistening brown patties into his mouth.

Putting aside just how ugly the word “Meatatarian” looks in print, the campaign gives us the latest interpretation of an interesting quirk in North American culture: the privileged status of meat. The central joke relies on the basic assumption that being a vegetarian is ridiculous and/or fey and/or heretical, and that any reasonable person knows meat is the best food you can eat.

This assumption – widely held by pit jockeys, CEOs and the few dozen cranky old men who had dinner at Fran’s Diner in Toronto before the Willie Nelson show earlier this month, one of whom I sat beside long enough to hear him give a long sermon to his mute wife about how vegetarians are all skinny, pale and sick-looking – is based in a few ideas about meat that ostensibly go all the way back to our caveman beginnings, but that, upon reflection, seem a bit out of touch with current realities. (more…)

Posted in Ingest  •  No Comments

Tin Can

Westbound, Bloor and Broadview

Caucasian woman, early 60s, with short blonde hair, wearing glasses, tan coat, white collared shirt, and pale green silk scarf.

We’ve been in the tunnel for five minutes. A young mother has let her child go to the front, where he presses his face inside cupped hands, eyes adjusting to the dark, bobbing headlamps crossing in the distance like the fireflies of his summers at the cottage. The woman is reading. The woman beside her watches a telenovela on a portable player — Malhação or Patito Feo, she wouldn’t know. The passengers are getting tense. Five minutes and the train shows no signs of moving. The banter from the soap opera is rapid fire, the audio hollow and far away, like tiny people yelling inside a tin can. We are in a tin can. What would our voices sound like from the next station? How much longer before they’d talk to one another? She looks over the forearm of the woman, then out past the child. He’s jumping on one foot, hands stuffed into his back pockets.

What was she reading? Click here.

Julie Wilson is a literary voyeur, the Gossip Girl of the Book World. She tracks readers in the wild at @seenreading

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The Only Future of Canadian Identity

Definition of nation: it is an imagined political community…imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, even meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.
-Benedict Anderson*

Right now the only thing I know I share with other Canadians is perpetual anxiety over what it means to be Canadian.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commision (CRTC) was concocted to regulate and supervise Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications thereby fomenting a Canadian culture and thus identity.

The CRTC has never been very good at making me feel Canadian. They sure did help sustain myriad mediocre bands and television shows. Where would I be without having heard Kim Mitchell and Blue Rodeo ad nauseam? What would I have done on Sundays without the franchised version Bowling for Dollars and the sinister host on Big Top Talent? I guess I would have been entirely Americanized by the music and television that I actually enjoyed most of the rest of the time. (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  4 Comments

PARIS—The Italian slalom whiz Alberto Tomba, who won five Olympic medals between 1988 and 1994, had a particular pre-race tradition: downing a shot of espresso right before skiing out of the starting gates.

Even disregarding the recent scholarship that argues that caffeine is one of the last totally legal performance-enhancing drugs (WADA chief Dick Pound is giving an angry press conference outside of a Tim Horton’s in Ottawa as we speak), Tomba’s behaviour continues to baffle such laymen as myself who would surely rather down a shot of Pepto Bismol in such a high-stakes setting. I guess that’s what distinguishes the great athletes from the pretenders – the ability to overcome the pressure of the moment and rise to the occasion. I know that, if I were in the starting gates behind Tomba, I’d be twitchy and jittery enough without coffee.

Which is all a roundabout way of introducing my most recent heroic sporting achievement: navigating the ten-lane traffic circle at Paris’s Place de l’Etoile. (more…)

Posted in Sportstrotter  •  No Comments


Westbound, Bloor and Christie

South Asian male, with short brown hair and labret piercing, wearing glasses, grey hoodie under black fleece, low black jeans, and black Converse sneakers.

He removes his glasses and rubs his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose and sighing. He lets his head fall, chin to his chest, book falling open limp on his knee. He shifts a bit and rights himself, squinting at an ad across the aisle. He nods, not because he agrees, but because he’s talking to someone, some past conversation, maybe from this morning, more likely from late the night before. He shakes his head now. His point wasn’t taken. He puts his glasses back on, and cocks his head to the side, taking in the contents under the seat adjacent to him: a Fairlee bottle emptied of its 100% Pure/Pur orange juice from concentrate. He reads everything. Posters. Logos. He swivels to look overhead. Call us at XXX-XXX-XXX. His lips never stop moving.

What was he reading? Click here.

Julie Wilson is a literary voyeur, the Gossip Girl of the Book World. She tracks readers in the wild at @seenreading

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Posted in Re: Reading  •  No Comments

Twitter Buys Google!

I have the gift. I am not talking psychic Sylvia Browne phoney-baloneyness here. And please don’t compare me with these weak-kneed pundit soothsayers like Micahel Arrington or Ray Kurweil who make predictions that everyone already knows, or worse, nobody cares about. Automatic house-cleaning robots will be common in the near future. Really? I’ve seen the Jetson’s too! Myspace is going to come out with an email competitor to Gmail and Hotmail? Big deal. Did you know you can get an email right now? Equally boring and uninspired.

There’s no soothsayer like me. I’m a boss psychic. I make predictions that obliterate all doubts and even reason.

Here we go! (more…)

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Posted in Web 2.0 Museum  •  No Comments
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