The Walrus Blog

Tag Archive: Chapter and Verse

Beyond the Pale

A librarian recalls the War of 1812’s invasion of York, and US soldiers’ looting of the first-ever Toronto Library
Elmsley HouseToronto Public LibraryOriginally built in 1798, Elmsley House served as Upper Canada’s Government House from 1815 to 1841. (Photograph of photo-mechanical reproduction of a drawing by Jane Harris.)

Throughout human history, libraries have been targeted in seemingly personal attacks by invading forces. The immense Library of Alexandria was burned in 48 BCE — whether by accident or on purpose is not entirely clear; the Japanese army destroyed many Chinese university libraries during WWII; the Khmer Rouge burned most of the National Library of Cambodia in the 1970s; and Iraq lost huge portions of its national archives during the 2003 war, perpetrator unclear.

The invasion of York during the War of 1812 contained a touch of “comic opera” quality, as historian and former University of Toronto professor George Glazebrook called it in his 1971 book, The Story of Toronto, that was especially evident in the looting of the first-ever Toronto Library. As a long-time librarian, I often think that libraries are special; this part of the war’s history suggests that they may indeed be considered sacrosanct in the conduct of warfare.

The fifteen-ship American fleet first appeared in the York harbour on April 27, 1813. According to Glazebrook, York was “defended by a few obsolete cannons and 300 regulars, with the shaky support of an equal number of inexperienced militia against an invading army of 1,700 supported by powerful guns on a ship that moved at will.” Despite the weak defensive line, Canadian and British casualties in the invasion were less than half those of the Americans.  (more…)

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Module 6: “The Perfect Title”

How to Write the Next CanLit Bestseller™

Welcome to the final e-learning module of the How to Write the Next CanLit Bestseller™ program. In this module, you will learn how to choose a title for your CanLit Bestseller™.

If you have successfully completed Modules 1 through 5, you should now have a 224-page novel with the following basic elements: a family secret; a harsh and unforgiving landscape (yes, Toronto qualifies) that you describe as “harsh” and “unforgiving” in your back cover copy; and a scene in which your characters, immigrant or otherwise, eat pakoras in Cornerbrook, NL.

Cross-posted from:The Walrus Laughs

For those of you writing women’s fiction, double-check that your female protagonist spends a significant amount of time washing dishes and looking out her kitchen window, wondering how it all might have been different. Bonus points if she is looking at a wheat field!

(If, after reviewing your manuscript, you find that you have inadvertently written a collection of short stories, please note that you are no longer writing a CanLit Bestseller™, and our satisfaction-or-money-back guarantee does not apply.)

We understand that you may already have a unique, intriguing, and plot-appropriate title in mind. If so, forget it. Stick to a variation on an existing bestseller. Recall Module 4: “Piggyback Your Way to Success”; there is pleasure in repetition and familiarity. This is why Robert Ludlum is still writing thrillers, even though he died in 2001.

Continue reading at The Walrus Laughs…

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The Art of Book Design

Episode one of a new podcast series presented by our partners at Quill & Quire
Beautiful LosersMcClelland & StewartCS Richardson’s cover for the cloth reprint of Leonard Cohen’s novels Beautiful Losers and The Favourite Game was acknowledged as a 2009 Q&Q cover of the year

Welcome to Quillcast, a new podcast series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders. In this first episode, CS Richardson, vice-president and creative director of Canadian Publishing for Random House Canada, discusses the changing art of book design.

Over his impressive thirty-year career, Richardson has designed more than 1,500 books. He’s also an accomplished writer, whose first novel, The End of the Alphabet, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in Canada and the Carribean. He is currently at work on a second novel, The Emperor of Paris, to be published in 2012.

Listen to the first episode here, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. And click here to view a related slideshow of Richardson’s work.

Quillcast is produced with media partners The Walrus, Open Book: Ontario, and Open Book: Toronto, with support from Toronto Life. This project has been generously supported by the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Entertainment and Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund.

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Posted in Quillcast  •  2 Comments

Q&A: Joseph Heath

Joseph Heath

A lot of popular theorists sell themselves by making their audience feel smart. Call it the “Platitudes for Dummies” formula: establish your credentials, and then tactfully explain to readers what they already know. Joseph Heath is the opposite, spinning good reads out of very complicated ideas. A professor at the University of Toronto and the author of three meaty, but very engaging popular works—The Efficient Society, The Rebel Sell (co-authored with Andrew Potter), and now Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism—Heath respects his readers’ intellectual curiosity, and shows them a good time without resorting to glorified common sense. He possesses a rare combination of talents: an appreciation for the nitty-gritty, and the ability to translate even the most difficult ideas into an accessible language. On top of that, he has an earnest desire to set the record straight.

This explains why Heath, whose background is in philosophy, has produced one of the finest economic primers to engage the twenty-first-century layperson. Filthy Lucre is substantive, first and foremost: it goes down easy, but not at the expense of solid facts and cogent arguments. Second of all, it’s ideologically sensitive. Heath understands the leftist aversion to economics, but he wants capitalism’s opponents to understand the system they hate, and make better arguments for its improvement (he’s often taken arms against liberal naïveté—for instance, The Rebel Sell, his and Potter’s critique of the counterculture, which would have saved me a lot of time had I read it as a teenager). Though his sympathies edge toward the left of centre, he courts right-wing readers with a similar understanding. As a result, there’s no reason to read it with one eyebrow raised. The book, which addresses right- and left-wing fallacies in sets of six, is refreshingly free of ulterior motives. (more…)

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Posted in The Haulout  •  2 Comments

Twisty Ties

Eastbound, Bloor and Spadina — Toronto, ON

Black woman, early 40s, wearing white sleeveless shirt, grey dress capris, thick-soled black sneakers, and carrying a turquoise leather purse.

The woman beside her wants to talk. Would the man standing with the small child like her seat? Do the cars have air conditioning? What stop to they get off at? Should she have brought a jacket?

She hugs a small rolling suitcase to her knees, a white leather purse with accidental ball point scribbles along one seam stuffed in her lap. Her son sits across from her, a much larger suitcase closing him. He rests his head on top of it, one earphone in, the other dangling, emitting the steady beats of hip hop.

“You forgot to put the twisty ties on the zippers.”

He lifts his head, nods once, and rests his cheek against the luggage’s handle.

“Nodding ain’t gonna keep nobody out of that luggage. I didn’t buy you no new shorts and T-shirts to have somebody steal them.” (more…)

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Shades of You

Southbound, Yonge and College — Toronto

Caucasian male, late 20s, with long dark hair, wearing plain white T-shirt, brown cargo shorts, and black pool slide sandals.

The woman beside him wears crisp white pants and a crisp white jacket. Her shoes are carnation pink, as is her belt, bracelet, and scarf tied neatly around her neck. She slouches in her seat, fatigued, loosely gripping the handles of her carnation pink purse, her nails painted in the same shade. She is defeated in springtime, the sizable mole over her left eyebrow off-shade, tea rose, puce, but not carnation pink, her mother’s favourite flower. At today’s weekly tea she may as well have been wearing amaranth. 52-years-old and she still can’t do anything right.

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 Follow Julie on Twitter @seenreading, and @bookmadam where she runs a monthly contest with McNally Robinson.

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Breaking ties

Eastbound, Bloor and Chester

Caucasian male, mid 30s, with short red hair and beard, wearing blue collared T-shirt, khaki pants, and brown leather shoes. He carries a black, nylon crush-proof laptop case.

The lace on his left shoe has snapped. Manufacture laces are hard to come by. He resents the caution he needs to observe each morning, a crudely tied knot the monkey in the middle of two rug-burned eyelets. What was once an act of physical memory — Really, he thinks, when was the last time I remember putting on my shoes? — has now become as bothersome as a young child’s realization that school won’t end any time soon. He prolongs taking his shoes off at night, stubbornly carting a dried leaf from the curb through his living room and into the bedroom where its dusty skeleton rests beside a shoe rack of scuffed heels.

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 Follow Julie on Twitter @seenreading, and @bookmadam where she runs a monthly contest with McNally Robinson.

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Pivot and Bob

Northbound, Spadina streetcar — Toronto, ON

Black male, mid 50s, with short, grey hair, wearing black glasses, forest-green sweater, brown cords, and carrying a black laptop bag.

The large man sitting beside him takes more than his share of the two seats, his knees jutting into the aisle. He taps his foot and massages his moustache, his baseball cap sitting high on his head, his deep blue eyes magnified through thick frames. His knee bounces in anticipation, and as the streetcar leaves the stop he pulls a pencil from his coat pocket, spinning it like a pendulum between his fingers with surprising grace, slowing it to a halt as we arrive at each stop. He rotates through this series of gestures over and over, the tip of the pencil floating over the belly of the streetcar. The man reading beside him looks away from the page, mesmerized by the motion, reminded of baby showers, his daughter’s traumatic loss, and wondering if Willcocks Street will birth a boy or girl.

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 Follow Julie on Twitter @seenreading, and @bookmadam where she runs a monthly contest with McNally Robinson.

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Higher and harder

Westbound, Bloor and Pape — Toronto, ON

Caucasian male, mid 50s, with scruffy white hair, wearing glasses, tan pants, burgundy sweater, and brown leather boots.

The small bright blue nylon bag sits at his feet without shape, weighted in place like an opaque Ziploc® stuffed with a melange of personal items he’d sooner not carry in his pockets. House keys. Apple. Comb. It’s not something you buy, but take home from a cottage show, conference, or as a token gift for spending too much money at the fairground. He goes back every summer, determined this will be the season he walks out with The Big Five. The trick to winning is to shoot around the star, use the banks, and throw the dart higher and harder. He knows there’s no space in her dorm for a plush Tweetie, but every time his kid looks over he’s chasing a palm-sized basketball toward the soft pretzels, a green and yellow snake squirming out of his back pocket.

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 Follow Julie on Twitter @seenreading, and @bookmadam where she runs a monthly contest with McNally Robinson.

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Sticks and Twigs

Eastbound, Bloor and Bay

Black woman, mid 30s, with long dark hair, wearing floral silk jacket, and grey dress pants.

The man beside her wears a long buckskin jacket with fringes lining the bottom, the back of his arms, and in the shape of a V across his chest and back. He’s in his late 50s, face worn, a shock of spiky bleached-blonde hair growing out at the roots. He hunches over his cupped hand, pinching marijuana sticks and twigs into as fine a powder as possible. He looks up at each stop, squinting at each passerby, then going back to the task at hand. Another man boards and stands over him. His skin is baby smooth, tanned. He wears a pressed shirt under a high collar, half-zipped, Jacquard pullover, a tweed cap cocked to the side. He considers his reflection, bumping the elbow of the seated man who yells, “Hey, Buddy! I don’t got all the room in the world!” The dapper man kneels down to eye level and speaks in a low voice. “Hey, brother. I didn’t mean to get in your space. I’m sorry. We good, friend?” The seated man reverts to a child, pressing his knees together, and turning his weight toward the woman reading beside him. He mumbles back over his shoulder, “Yah, man. We’re good. I just don’t got all the room in the world.”

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 Follow Julie on Twitter @seenreading, and @bookmadam where she runs a monthly contest with McNally Robinson.

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Rut and retrospect

Caucasian woman, mid 20s, with blonde hair, clipped up, wearing red pea coat, white leather purse, and grey UGGs.

A man and woman board at Broadview and stand in front of the reader. He stares at the ads, squinting, flexing his jaw in concentration. The woman looks at him closely, studying the subtle changes in expression. Their faces are deeply tanned, their cheeks and noses a bright red. He can feel her looking and nods a little, puffing up his lips to signal what, he’s not sure; something to suggest it’s only him. Knowing better, he turns to face her, tight-lipped, rolling his eyes. He’s tired. That’s all. He smirks and goes back to looking at the ads, his gaze turning to the cover of the book before him. He grips the woman’s hand, their fingers folding loosely into one another’s. She rests her head on his shoulder. He places his cheek against her hair and closes his eyes. Something had been decided before boarding, perhaps confirmed during their day of ease and sunshine. When friendship turned into something more.

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 Follow Julie on Twitter @seenreading, and @bookmadam where she runs a monthly contest with McNally Robinson.

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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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