Native Trees and Festus

Native Trees and Festus

(Words and images by Elizabeth Mitchell.)

Last year when designer, illustrator, and author Leanne Shapton walked into Stephen Fowler’s The Monkey’s Paw—the idiosyncratic second-hand bookshop on Dundas West full of rare finds and curiosities—she came across a government issued field guide entitled The Native Trees of Canada. Being the creative sort, Shapton was inspired to create a series of paintings in response to it. On Saturday a celebration of the publication of her very own The Native Trees of Canada (Drawn & Quarterly) took place at—where else—The Monkey’s Paw. To double the fun Shapton, co-founder of J & L Books, had author/artist/illustrator Jason Logan (of If We Ever Break Up, This is My Book fame) on hand for the release of his new book, Festus, a graphic take on the iconic Old West prospector (J & L Books). Both authors were in fine form, with outfits chosen to reflect their books’ aesthetics, as many came out to wish them well.

Author Jason Logan signs for the fans.

Author and publisher Leanne Shapton mingles.

The local literati toast two of their own.

William Gibson and John Mitchell: Worlds of Past and Future

William Gibson and John Mitchell: Worlds of Past and Future

(Words and pictures by Brendan Adam Zwelling; John Mitchell, left, William Gibson, right.)

This week at the Harborfront Centre’s International Festival of Authors two major writers with new novels were featured under the live reading spotlight before a full house at the Fleck Dance Theatre. William Gibson, icon of thinking-man’s sci-fi, was there with Zero History, the third title in a contemporary series about the often-scary new frontiers of culture, consumerism, and technology. David Mitchell, four of whose five books have been either long or short-listed for the Man-Booker Prize, arrived with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, set in a 18th-century western commercial enclave in Japan near the end of the country’s isolationist era.

Gibson was first to read, selecting a zeitgeist-checking passage which he unfurled at a gentle pace reminiscent of Garrison Keillor (if Lake Wobegon were an anxious metropolis), sketching out a tense meeting between an agent of the surveillance state and one of its bewildered targets like a baseball commentator’s dramatization of an interrogation transcript. Mitchell followed, but not from his book; instead he brought to the podium an unfinished short story which he introduced as “science fiction but with a streak of folk tale and social realism—you have to think of Gordon Lightfoot guesting with Rush singing a song by The Smiths.” Occasionally pausing to make spontaneous corrections to his manuscript, Mitchell reeled off a sardonically bleak portrait of a Mad Maxian Britain in 2033 having been reshaped by some kind of limited Third World War. Read with actorly passion and a trace of performance art, it was like a chanced-upon late night radio play.

The discussion afterwards, facilitated by the Space Channel’s Mark Askwith, was wide-ranging. Among the themes were the selection of settings (Gibson: “There are no taggers in Plato’s Republic”), upcoming works (Mitchell: “I’m researching the Apollo project—here’s a nice little techno fact: it’s now impossible to buy a mobile phone that has less computing power than the entire Apollo project”) and current fascinations (Gibson: “I’ve happened upon extraordinarily odd scenes where someone’s up at three in the morning in Vancouver playing Grand Theft Auto [online] with a bunch of Australians”).

Acknowledging the freedom of writing from the speculative end of the chronological spectrum, Gibson described his technique as “a kind of sleight-of-hand in what you present to the reader, what you don’t present and the parameters you allow the reader to project within.” It’s a matter of establishing boundaries—various things you can work with as you attempt to make a place for the reader to have an experience that won’t be jarred by having something out of place.” Mitchell added that those boundaries are basically preset by history in his case, but therein have their own narrative challenges where he finds himself needing to account for endless details both large and small, from what money was worth to how people fastened their clothes. “When you make it up, it’s hard to be wrong,” he pointed out.

The effect of technology, particularly Google, on their careers stood out. “When I wrote Neuromancer,” Gibson recalled, “I used all sorts of what I thought were delightfully obscure references that nobody would ever get, except possibly some crazed grad student in the basement of a university library in the distant year 2010. But now all texts are Google-able.” Every book has essentially become a collection of hyperlinks, in his view. And he finds himself in the surreal position of encountering a functioning Twitter account for the fictional Gabriel Hounds designer clothing line from Zero History.

Mitchell’s experience with writing historical fiction has only been enhanced by the search engine. “Fifteen years ago it would’ve taken me Lord knows how many weeks and boxes of chocolate presented to librarians to discover if shaving cream had been invented in 1779, and if it was, could a lower-middle class clerk have afforded it,” he said. “Whereas now it takes me literally five minutes or so, and I usually get distracted on the way anyhow.”

For ticket information and a full IFoA schedule go here.

IFoA Friday

IFoA Friday

The final weekend of the International Festival of Authors is upon us. Tonight in the Brigantine Room (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.), CBC Radio Garvia Bailey hosts a group reading with Dinaw Mengestu, Ali Smith, Jane Urquhart, and Kathleen Winter, while over at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) Lynda Barry, Nadine Bismuth, Dany Laferrière, and Yann Martel read from their latest works (hosted by yours truly). At the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) Ken Finkleman, Sophie Hannah, Alexander MacLeod, and Priscila Uppal read from their latest books, with Mark Medley hosting, and the Lakeside Terrace (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) is the site of an evening of literary non-fiction. Ian Brown, the 2010 winner of the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, will join fellow non-fiction authors Charles Foran, Charlotte Gray, and Meaghan Strimas, with Larry Gaudet hosting.

Book Thugs Are Your Friend: The Fall BookThug Launch

Book Thugs Are Your Friend: The Fall BookThug Launch

The good folks at BookThug, one of Canada’s most daring and fun publishers, are descending on Kensington Market tonight to launch new books by Victor Coleman, Michael Boughn, Kate Eichhorn, Mark Truscott, Stephen Cain, Meredith Quartermain, Steven Zultanski, with musical guest Bry Webb of the Constantines upping the Wow factor. The free event, which also functions as a launch for the second issue of The Coming Envelope, kicks off at 7:30 p.m at The Supermarket (268 Augusta Avenue).

Managing Editor Jenny Sampirisi was kind enough to provide us with a list of the Top 5 reasons to attend tonight’s event. Enjoy.

Top 5 reasons to attend the BookThug Book Launch

5) You need a last minute Halloween costume. Go as a BookThug! T-shirts and bookbags will be on sale all night long and when people ask what you are, you can punch them in the gut and steal books off their shelves. (Legal aside: BookThug is a non-violent press).

4) You like the Constantines, or you like free music, or you like an eclectic night: Bry Webb of the Constantines will open the evening with song. See him play for free, and stay for the line up of poets who you might call “word musicians”—or not.

3) You like titles with innuendo: The Coming Envelope Issue #2 will be quietly introduced from across the border as a now foreign species to the Canadian environ since it’s creator moved to Chicago. This also means you’ll be exposed to…yes…Americans.

2) You’re a object fetishist: Maybe not the kind that would wed the Eiffel Tower, but one that might pet a very beautiful book object. This season of BookThug books are particularly gorgeous, each one designed by Jay MillAr in collaboration with the authors and artists.

1) Because you’re a Thug: or you can be! Meet all the authors, get your books signed, have a pint ,and ask them “what the hell were you thinking when you became a poet?” A BookThug is a unique creature with a head full of  new ideas about art and culture. Enter the conversation!

Thursday’s IFoA

Thursday’s IFoA

Tonight’s Jonathan Franzen et al reading in the Fleck Dance Theatre has been sold out for weeks so let’s all just move on. There are lots of other fine writers who will no doubt be in fine form tonight at the IFoA, where all of the events will be hosted and/or moderated by staffers and contributers from the Walrus. At the Lakeside Terrace (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.), Jared Bland moderates a round table panel with Patricia Engel, Adam Gopnik, and Andrea Levy, who will discuss the rite of passage for both their characters in their works and themselves. Camilla Gibb, Anchee Min, Matthew Tierney, and Russell Wangersky all read from their latest books in the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.), with Shelley Ambrose hosting. And in the Brigantine Room (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.), Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, Elena Forbes, Len Gasparini, and Thomas Perry participate in a group NOIR reading, with Stacey May Fowles hosting. The event includes a door prize of a library worth $500 donated by Raincoast Books, so hang on to that ticket stub.

For ticket information and a full IFoA schedule go here.

Keys to the Kingdom: The Early Typewriters Exhibit at IFoA

Keys to the Kingdom: The Early Typewriters Exhibit at IFoA

(Words and images by Brendan Adam Zwelling.)

Despite their crucial role in the creative process for generations of authors from Wodehouse to Kerouac, typewriters have not received a lot of press. Perhaps it’s understandable, as they were among the most unglamorous of tools, half of a marriage of convenience with writing and representing fussy obligation where The Beatles’ Rickenbacker guitars projected artistic cool.

However, the Harborfront Centre’s Early Typewriters: Gateway to the Information Age exhibit, curated by collector Martin Howard and presented as part of the International Festival of Authors, approaches the typewriter from a different angle. These aren’t the dull pastel boxes of 1970s newsrooms, nor the quaintly-clacketing generic hallmarks of 20th century literary greats and bedroom obsessives. Instead, visitors can see artifacts from the pioneering days of consumer typewriters (roughly 1880 to 1900)—baroque word forges with the character and faded luster of classic automobiles.

Take for example the Bar-Lock 4, a two-tone Victorian gothic machine with a dominating copper typeshield. If the MacBook adopted its aesthetic, Starbucks would have an entirely different atmosphere. The Oliver 2 is a cross between a cathedral and a Triumph motorcycle engine, and must have made anyone using it think twice about what they were writing. For sheer physical presence though, nothing tops the Hammond 1—an oak and ebony bulwark of wordsmithery designed like a prose altar, which oddly echoes the totally unrelated Hammond Organ.

Less-intimidating are the National, a compact machine from Philadelphia with bristling letter-keys that appear as though they’re competing with one another to be pressed, and the aluminum Blickensderfer 6, a portable model with a skeletal appearance which looks ideal for any turn-of-the-century correspondent. The nickel-plated Odell 2 seems as incomprehensible as it is attractive.

Visitors to the exhibit can try out a circa-1900 Underwood 5 model (and read the often-poetic streams of consciousness typed out by others), admire the limousine smoothness of The Chicago with its proto-art deco styling, and wonder how they would cope with the Sun 1, which only types in capitals (perfect for those angry letters to the editor about the adoption of the gold standard), or the Mignon 2, which resembles a sewing machine. It’s a statement on the mechanics of expression which writers have come to rely on, and a reminder of the process behind carrying our ideas out into the world by pounding them onto paper.

Wednesday IFoA

Wednesday IFoA

Tonight in the Brigantine Room (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) the shortlisted authors for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize will read from their nominated works. On hand will be Trevor Cole, Emma Donoghue, Michael Helm, Michael Winter, and Kathleen Winter, with hosting duties handled by Andrew Pyper. At the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) SPACE channel’s Mark Askwith interviews novelists William Gibson and David Mitchell (Jared Bland hosts), while the Lakeside Terrace (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) has Myla Goldberg, Eshkol Nevo, David Rakoff, and Julie Roorda reading from their latest books. The reading is hosted by Kyle Buckley and includes a door prize of a library valued at $500 donated by Random House of Canada. And over at the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) Eleanor Catton, Adam Gopnik, M.T. Kelly, and Adam Lewis Schroeder all read from their latest works. Jacob McArthur Mooney hosts, and the event includes a $500 door prize donated by Douglas & McIntyre.

For ticket information and a full IFoA schedule go here.

Things That Go Bump on the Shelf: Books of the Dead Press

Things That Go Bump on the Shelf: Books of the Dead Press

—Claire Horsnell

As Halloween approaches, that moaning, rustling sound you hear in the bookstores could well be copies of Best New Zombie Tales, Volume One and Volume Two—a pair of top-notch anthologies of zombie yarns—shuffling off the dark and unholy presses of Toronto’s Books of the Dead Press. The zombie anthologies are sure to cause mayhem on your bookshelf and, more importantly, in your mind.

Books of the Dead is the brrrraaaain-child of writer James Roy Daley, author of The Dead Parade (released in limited edition hardcover this week). “After achieving a modest level of success I began thinking about starting up a little publishing company,” he says. “Nothing major , just something to fool around with. I didn’t follow through with the idea because the temptation to publish myself was too strong. But then I wrote a couple more books and I signed a few more book deals and my thinking began to change. I knew that I didn’t need to publish myself, and that other companies would be willing to do it for me. But I still wanted a little company; you know, for something to fool around with.”

Daley felt a connection with horror from a young age; he describes the genre as “that thing I grew up on, that friend mom says is a bad influence.” He recalls that some of his earliest memories include enjoying Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in the living room while his parents discussed whether he was old enough to be watching it. He also remembers the movie adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot as a formative genre experience. “I remember being absolutely captivated by ‘Salem’s Lot late one evening, alone in my brother’s bedroom, the feeling of terror consuming me as Ben Mears and Mark Petrie made their into the basement of the Marsten house, weapons in hand, danger all around them. I could hear my family in the room below me—safe, secure, acting as if everything was normal in the world. For me, it wasn’t,” he says. “I had a pillow covering half my face, my knees were curled up to my chest, and my heart pounding clean out of my body as the goosebumps on my arms tried to crawl from my skin and hide in the corner; I couldn’t believe the images on television could be so intolerably wrong. And I loved it. Oh boy, did I ever.”

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IFoA Spotlight: Louise Doughty

IFoA Spotlight: Louise Doughty

As mentioned in today’s IFoA update, Stevie Cameron, whose latest non-fiction book, On the Farm, takes readers on a grueling journey through the Robert Pickton trial, will be hosting a round table discussion on the moral issues explored in the various sub-genres of crime fiction. One of those panelists, bestselling author Louise Doughty, spoke to The Excerpt about her latest novel, Whatever You Love, a chilling story of a child’s tragic death and the slow unhinging of the grieving mother left behind.

The Excerpt: Give us your one-sentence pitch for the new book.

LD: Whatever You Love is about a woman whose child is killed in a hit-and-run accident and decides to get revenge on the driver, not by killing him, but by finding out what he loves and taking it away from him.

The Excerpt: How long have you been working on this book?

LD: It took two and a half years to write, although I might have done it a bit more quickly if it wasn’t for a newspaper column, broadcasting, and two children…

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IFoA: The Tuesday Edition

IFoA: The Tuesday Edition

After a relatively quiet evening at the IFoA which saw the five English-language Governor General’s Award for Fiction authors reading from their nominated works, all four Harbourfront Centre venues gear back up tonight. In the Brigantine Room (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) journalist and author Stevie Cameron hosts a Noir round table with Louise Doughty, Peter James, Thomas Perry, and Chevy Stevens, who will discuss, among other topics, the role that morality plays in the crime fiction genre. The Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) features an evening celebrating 75 years of the iconic Penguin Books logo and the authors who have flown its flag with a series of readings by Penguin Group authors William Gibson, Andrea Levy, Miguel Syjuco, and Michael Winter. The event is hosted by bookseller and raconteur Ben McNally and features a $500 door prize of Penguin books. British author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) headlines a group reading at the Lakeside Terrace (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.). Mitchell will read alongside Marc Levy, Michael Lista, and Jess Walter, with Lewis DeSoto hosting and McArthur & Company generously providing a door prize of a library valued at $500. And finally, at the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.), Myla Goldberg, Paul Harding, Dylan Horrocks, and Eshkol Nevo discuss the ins and outs of the novelist’s thankless trade in a round table discussion moderated by Siri Agrell.

For ticket information and a full IFoA schedule go here.