Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mister & Mr. Smith

Russell Smith makes a worthwhile point in last week’s (October 20) column:

I am surprised, although I suppose I shouldn't be, that there has been so little Canadian media reflection of the whirling literary discussion in the United States right now, as provoked by Ben Marcus's savaging of Jonathan Franzen in this month's Harper's. It's an important piece of writing, published in a mainstream magazine, about the merit of experimental fiction as opposed to what Marcus calls "realist" fiction.

(Harper’s link here . Slate debunking the entire Marcus/Franzen debate here.)

He also rightly points out that ad hominem attacks are stupid. (Although he once called Noah Richler a ninny.) Anyway, the only place where I think Smith’s column lets us down is near the conclusion, where he explains why there has been so little media reflection about the Marcus vs. Franzen:

At any rate, the whole thing is both invigorating and somewhat scary for a Canadian: I don't think we need more personal nastiness of this sort, but we could benefit from robust debate about the role and value of different styles.
The thing is, we don't really have schools of writing here

His argument is that, unlike in the United States, our avant-garde fictioneers make absolutely no ping on the radar, so they will never be in danger of being attacked. They are protected by their invisibility.

A few things about this. First, I think Smith completely overlooks the contribution of Coach House, who has done a good job to maintain debate and attention on avant-garde works. Avant-garde for Thee and Biting the Error come to mind, and there are many others. I think there is more of an avant-garde tradition in Canada then Smith lets on. And Smith knows this, but it makes for a better column to argue that we are culturally impoverished as compared to our US neighbours.

A far more problematic oversight is that Smith, in expressing surprise that no Canadian media reflection has occurred about the Marcus and Mothra battle, fails to tells us: Where exactly might such a reflection occur?

Monthly magazines like the Walrus, Toro, Saturday Night (which is now dead) are planned well in advance. The only outlets able to respond quickly to the Marcus article (which is now off the stands, as I just received my November Harper’s in the mail) are newspapers or websites. And since Harper’s provided only an excerpt on its website, Canadian blogs (Bookninja comes to mind) might not have been able to respond as they might have liked.

The Ideas section of the Sunday Star could have tackled the Marcus article. Or the National Post. An essay in the Globe and Mail books section might have been good, but the books section doesn’t run many essays anymore. But unless I’m overlooking some other print media whose publishing schedule is limber enough to rapidly respond to an interesting literary debate, it really isn’t that much of a shock that an article in Harper’s about two American fiction writers lacks a Canadian vehicle for its debate or dissemination. Dare I say, Russell, that it appears that you are complaining about something that falls squarely into your job description as a cultural columnist for the Globe and Mail?

Instead of expressing disingenuous surprise that no one leapt at the chance to discuss the Marcus article, Smith should focus on writing about the debate at length, full stop. It is probably a far more effective rhetorical technique to attempt to start the debate about a worthwhile article than fling the martyr shawl about one’s shoulders and sigh about the silence. I feel confident that it is not an ad hominem to suggest that Smith appears much smarter than that.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Globe(al) Politics

Two things:

One, I did not misspell “lounges” in the David Rakoff review I sent to the Globe that ran on Saturday. They decided to change it to “longues.”

Secondly, I learnt that “bitch-slap” is a verboten word at the Globe. More precisely, it’s proscribed, which, according to my editor, means that “it is one of several words listed in the Style Book as not ever to appear in the paper except when approved by a committee of senior managers including the publisher.” I’m not complaining about the word being removed since it is, you know, rather offensive. (I plead context, which may or may not be sufficient – there is such a fine line between clever and stupid.) I’m far more interested in discovering what the other proscribed Globe words might be.

Click here for a bitch-slapping lounge version of the review that also includes the original bio I sent to the Globe, which they refused to print.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Pleased to Miso

Toronto Life asked me to investigate that clump of sushi restaurants on Bloor for their October issue. But they had to remove a fair amount of "content" due to space restrictions. I felt that sharing the wealth might be appropriate, given the semi-eternal fascination many folks have with Maki Mile.

(Due to the fact that I am doing a Master’s, blogging will be very rare. Try not to cry.)

Kappa Kappa Hey!
(Alternate titles: Pleased to Miso / Rice Dreams / Tipping the Scales)

Unless tuna, salmon and eel swim wild and free in Annex sewers, there appears no satisfying explanation for why the five short blocks of Bloor between Bathurst and Spadina are home to eight different seaweed palaces. If sushi is an indicator of urban sophistication, than this "Maki Mile" is surely the most hyper-modern stretch of downtown Toronto. Turning a profit off deadbeat students buying $5.99 lunch specials was already tough enough; the increasing density of competition has created a bento boxing match sure to generate casualties. Moving from Best to Bleech, herewith is the raw data on the ocean’s eight.

Name: Sushi on Bloor (515 Bloor)
Date of Birth: December 1998
Distinguishing décor: Simple, unadorned beige walls are enlivened with a smattering of tapestries and ricepaper wall lights. A ceramic Asahi beer mascot (a.k.a. Super Lucky Cat) grins at diners from its perch on a glass shelf on the restaurant’s rear wall.
Sardine Factor: Half-full 20 minutes after opening; completely full, plus line-up by 12:45pm
Chef’s Specialty: Ikayaki (grilled squid with fresh ginger sauce)
McSushi Moment: Honour Roll (salmon, tobiko, green onion, avocado)
Cost of California Roll: $5 for six pieces
Menu Malprop: Superior proofreading makes this menu a gastronomic and grammarian delight

Name: Sushi Time (394 Bloor)
Date of Birth: July 1989
Distinguishing décor: An empty sushi rice bag dangles from the ceiling, Japanese lanterns decorate the bamboo roof that shelters the food prep area. Recessed lighting is embedded within incut ceiling outlines of chopsticks. Also boasts Teppanyaki (Japanese grill house).
Sardine Factor: A dozen folks supped on a rainy lunch hour weekday.
Chef’s Specialty: Flying Saucer (spicy tuna over tempura eggplant
McSushi Moment: Football Sashimi / Basketball Bento Box
Cost of California Roll: $4.75 for six pieces
Menu Malprop: "$1 extra per change," warns the Dadaist menu, "Subject to adjustment over ingredients."

Name: New Generation (493 Bloor)
Date of Birth: August 1999
Distinguishing décor: Accents include frosted glass booth partitions, muted blue light fixtures, Japanese tapestries and Kabuki prints. Sake tchotchkes cluster upon a wall shelf behind sushi prep area. A large inflatable Sapporo bottle guards the entrance to the rear kitchen
Sardine Factor: Never empty, often full.
Chef’s Specialty: Scarlett O’Hara (assorted fish chopped, spiced, green onion, bonito flakes)
McSushi Moment: Sushi Pizza (crispy rice topped spicy kewpie, tobiko, onion, green onion, choice of salmon, tuna, unagi & vegetarian)
Cost of California Roll: $4.95 for eight pieces
Menu Malprop: Lightly fried *beancurb*

Name: Tokyo Sushi (364 Bloor)
Date of Birth: April 1997
Distinguishing décor: Two private rooms, plus a number of intimate wooden booths create a cozy ambiance; servers and sushi chef wear traditional Japanese sashes and robes.
Sardine Factor: It took only 10 people to make this 40 seat restaurant appear busy on a Wednesday afternoon.
Chef’s Specialty: Kanpyo Yomaki (Stewed Melon)
McSushi Moment: Tokyo Love Boat, a dingy filled with 50 pieces of sashimi and sushi
Cost of California Roll: $5.50 for six pieces
Menu Malprop: long *isialn* clam

Name: Japan Sushi (484 Bloor)
Date of Birth: July 2001
Distinguishing décor: The only sushi restaurant of the bunch with a patio. Front window decorated with cascading streamers of tiny paper cranes. Shiny fresh tins of Sapporo balance atop long wooden benches that line both sides of this cozy restaurant.
Sardine Factor: Six-seat patio very popular; 30-seat restaurant was 1/4 full on a balmy Saturday afternoon.
Chef’s Specialty: Green, Red or Black Dragon Maki
McSushi Moment: Skydome Roll (deep fried shrimp)
Cost of California Roll: $5 for six pieces
Menu Malprop: A vegetable roll features seasonal *aspragus*

Name: Takomi Sushi (522 Bloor)
Date of Birth: January 2005
Distinguishing decor: Elegant touches include embossed red leather menus, mood lighting, dark wood tables plus first class bento boxes and ultramodern stainless steel soy sauce receptacles.
Sardine Factor: Four folks warmed the seats at 1pm on a Tuesday.
Chef’s Specialty: Canadian Dream Roll (deep fried shrimp, salmon, avocado, cucumber, fish egg and crab meat).
McSushi Moment: Remarkably authentic, right down to the free watermelon dessert
Cost of California Roll: $4.50 for eight pieces
Menu Malprop: Drink list includes bottles of Cools Light. Tempura special includes deeping sauce. Takeout menu offers *chiken*, *slamon* and *robster* dishes.

Name: Big Sushi (388 Bloor)
Date of Birth: March 2005
Distinguishing décor: A surfeit of deep green vinyl booths and motel carpet give this restaurant a Holiday Inn vibe, although a couple of Japanese dolls and fish-shaped sushi plates valiantly attempt to redeem the vibe.
Sardine Factor: Eight people barely made a dent in this 70-seat restaurant on a weekday noontime
Chef’s Specialty: Caterpillar Roll (spicy tuna or salmon with avocado)
McSushi Moment: Philadelphia Roll (Philadelphia cheese, avocado, crabmeat, cucumber, flying fish egg).
Cost of California Roll: $5 for eight pieces
Menu Malprop: *Pen* fried U-don noodle with mixed chicken and vegetable

Name: Mariko (551 Bloor)
Date of Birth: January 2005
Distinguishing decor: Drab turquoise walls and cherry wood chairs predominate, with a few bamboo mobiles dangling from ceiling. Soy sauce is stored in ceramic spouts, massive water tumblers double as Big Gulp cups.
Sardine Factor: Ten percent of the 60-seat restaurant was occupied during the noonday rush
Chef’s Specialty: All-You-Can-Eat menu ($14.99) has over 65 items but also includes a draconian set of rules and regulations
McSushi Moment: Dessert menu includes cheesecake, an ancient Japanese delicacy
Cost of California Roll: $4.50 for six pieces
Menu Malprop: A lunch special includes three pieces of *carifolnia* roll

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

But, er, is the book any good?

(Emphasis added)

In case you thought that you had enough stock of THE COLLAPSE OF GLOBALISM, by John Ralston Saul (0670063673), this is just some advance notice of The kind of exposure we will be getting for this book!!!

We will kick off the launch with an excerpt in the Focus section of the Globe and Mail on the 21st May, followed by almost complete weekend book section review coverage, and trade, magazine and columnist coverage, the week of the 26th May. All of this will be complemented by a Globe and Mail ad, radio advertising with Jazz FM in Toronto, and a Walrus ad. To round off the mediums, we are targeting fifteen Canadian websites with information about this book, in order to reach our student market.

The following interviews will be pre-taped for airing 26th May, publication day...

CBC The Current, Macleans, Hamilton Spectator, ROB TV, CBC Newsworld, Calgary Herald, TVO-Allan Gregg and Company, Fine Print, Book TV, TVO's Big Ideas, CBC Ideas, Canadian Press, Ottawa Citizen, Embassy, Hill Times.

Combine this with a nine-city tour with media in each city -- Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver and Whitehorse -- and we have a bestseller!!

So sure are we, that the first five people to respond to this email with their thoughts on when this book will appear on the Globe and Mail bestseller list, (staff and freelancers excluded), and are proved accurate, will receive an extra ten free copies to sell in their store!!!

Onwards, upwards!!!!

PenguinGroup Canada

Monday, April 18, 2005

Romenesko Rules!

I could not agree more about the value and importance of the Romenesko newsletter I receive five days a week via email.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Dobozy Doozy

The Globe and Mail
Saturday, April 9, 2005
Page D9

Exiled to Canada

Last Notes: And Other Stories
By Tamas Dobozy
HarperCollins, 179 pages, $24.95

Reviewed by Antanas Sileika

In this remarkable debut collection of short stories

Woah. Stop. Cut. Cut. People, that was horrible. A mistake in the fourth word of the review? That is simply unacceptable for Canada’s newspaper of record. Dobozy is the author of the very excellent collection of short stories When X Equals Marylou that appeared in 2002. He also wrote a novel called Doggone.

As a freelance writer, I cannot entirely blame Sileika, as I know what it is to make mistakes. But surely the editors of the books section would catch this mistake, given that When X Equals Marylou was reviewed in the Globe two years ago. (January 25, 2003, by Vivian Moreau.) The entire books section has been on autopilot for the past year (if not longer), so why I have even a molecule of outrage is beyond me.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Knit One, Perl Two

I'm in ComCult, doing my Master's. The program is sponsoring a conference this weekend. I was left speechless by the following:

The Viral Knitting Project
Kirsty Robertson, Department of Art, Queen's University

Picking up on some of the issues raised in my paper, and using the relation between the embodied experience of the actual protester, and the virtual/viral spread of the issues of protest across a variety of networks, the "The Viral Knitting Project," is an (as yet unfinished) collaborative work that combines the networking potential of the internet with the tactile and embodied act of knitting. Taking the binary code of the Code Red computer virus, and transforming it into the "code" of knitting (0=P; 1=K), this project knits the code of the virus into a series of colour-coded "scarves," each in proportion to the number of days since September 11th that the United States has been on red, orange, yellow, or green terrorism alert. The idea is that on the one hand there is created an actual knitted garment – comforting, yet ultimately dangerous as it can be "read" as the code red virus – on the other that through a series of interventions in the virtual space of the internet, the knitting code can spread virally, allowing the project to unfold through and across a variety of networks. Though the goal of the "Viral Knitting Project" is to make a statement of protest, it is also to explore the juncture of new and old technologies, and to establish the efficacy of internet networks as spaces of potential for protest movements. In this performance, a video is broadcast onto the wall, showing a loop of unending knitting – it is comforting, yet at the same time insufficient – the knitting never actually goes anywhere, nothing is actually created. A slide projector projects the code of the virus on top of the video – contained within the walls of the image, untranslatable into functioning code without human action, it is harmless. In front, any number of knitters sit knitting the virus into scarf-like garments in a silent yet resonant environment – the sound of knitting needles, the soundtrack of the video, the whirr of the slide projector. Performable in any number of venues and sites, the "Viral Knitting Project" undermines the aestheticism of politics in the gallery, it refuses the stillness and two-dimensionality of the image, it offers the potential of a tactile critique.


From the April 2005 issue of Toro -- an interview with Tom Brown, a graphic designer who moved from New York to Vancouver in 1997:

Q: What did you like about living in New York?
A: Living in a country that supported the magazine industry was refreshing. Heck, if you left one job you could even go into another one.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Radio Radio (Radio)

Dear CBC,

Thanks for canceling Radio3. Your inability to appreciate and nurture innovation helps further the brain-drain southward.


What chafes even worse about R3 disappearing is that the new page is so ugly. Hey, CBC arts -- 1995 called, and it wants its html template back. The site looks like a disheveled lungfish who has just managed to heave itself onto land and take its first tentative breath of unmediated oxygen. Cough, hack, cough.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Drake's Progress

This gem comes from "The Drake e_AKE," February Vol.010. It requires no further comment:

It's been kind of wild, hasn't it? It's been a year of, sigh, us laughing together at the bar, or watching crazy black and white films up on the roof sprawled on the mattresses under the sky, or being swept up in a performance as actors came dancing down the stairs, or just glimpsing musicians sitting chatting before their gigs. I guess no one can know me as intimately as you do - you've been inside every part of me. I have so much more I want to show you, so many more things i want to do with you .I want to watch you at the bar, sucking back Jack. I want to watch some poet breathing fire, some sweating guitarist tossing his mad hair, the way we've done all year. I probably didn't understand half the stuff we saw down there, the videos, the performances, the machines that talked and jerked, the musicians, the authors - you probably understood all of it, knowing you - Thanks for helping me be what I am.

XXX DRAKE (ps - thanks to russel smith for penning this piece).

Please visit out happenings page to check out our anniversary programming:

Sunday, January 23, 2005

But Somehow Not Surprised

* From the January 2005 issue of Toronto Life, specifically the David Macfarlane profile of David Miller (which Lynn Crosbie yesterday described as a "hot-oil massage"):

When the teachers and students of Lakefield voted for head boy, the results were by no means as predictable as they might seem to a retrospective observer now….. There were other candidates who appeared to have a more obvious claim to the position. But when the tally was made, Miller had won overwhelmingly."We were all somehow surprised," recalls his friend and former classmate Nick Lewis, now a Toronto investment banker, "but somehow not surprised."

Toronto Life employs many talented editors. How did that unquote slip past every last one of them?

* Remember last year, when Robert Fulford attacked Edward Greenspon’s Saturday ramblings? ("Greenspon’s ‘Letter from the Editor,’ which appears in a prominent position on Page Two, may be the most spectacular example in current Canadian journalism of a bad idea badly executed…. Editorial problems may excite him … but they’re no fun to read about. They’re dreary, even for people in the business.") Well, Greenspon has been MIA from the Globe for the last two Saturdays. I was somehow surprised to see that Greenspon decided to retreat, but somehow not surprised.

* A more serious MIA is the entire Review & Books section of the Saturday Post. I was somehow surprised to learn about the latest cost-cutting measure, but somehow not surprised. I am disappointed, not only because books editor Liza Cooperman was doing a great job, but because this means the Globe now has even less reason to innovate within the dreary little pages of LevinLand.

* Two articles about Bright Eyes in less than a week from Carl Wilson in the Globe. Wilson has a phenomenally sharp mind and an excellent blog. The repurposing seemed strange, since Carl is not someone to fax in his column. Granted, the article in Seven was a preview of the Bright Eyes show, while yesterday’s column was a reconsideration of the indier-than-thou economy of indie rock. So the articles were different but yet fairly similar. Still, I was somehow surprised to see this happen, but somehow not surprised.

* This is good, I mean really good Walrus-bashing. As critical as I am of the magazine, I was somehow surprised to see this happen, but somehow not surprised.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Does This Help?

I’m holding in my hand issue #12 of Trucker magazine (Winter 2003). Flip to page 44 and you’ll find an entire page devoted to the anti-manifesto of the Dark Movement. ("Dark Movement is more than anyone can imagine, it has no definition, rather only questions that can be asked of it…") The highlight of this jumble of napkin prose is "you be cool man-dingo" and "the soup is in the pudding."

I’m telling you all this, however, because on that very same page (44), Steve Adams (a.k.a Ogi), the self-proclaimed leader of Dark Movement, proceeds to explain his fascination with Val Kilmer. And you guessed it, there are four different photos of Val Kilmer graffiti. (Trucker magazine was a Toronto publication that I was involved with, a kinda of Vice-meets-Might that disappeared an issue later with unlucky #13.)

To be honest, Trucker ran plenty of spoofs and satirical articles. This, however, represents the founding document, such that it is, regarding the whole Val Kilmer tagging thing in Toronto. (In other words, it is the closest we might get to the truth of the matter.) In the Trucker article, the movement was so nascent that putting paper photocopies of his head on walls had yet to develop.

Unfortunately, Trucker is no longer online, but I can throw a PDF of the page in question onto if anyone wants proof I’m adding signal, not more noise to l'affair Kilmer. Bored reporters looking for the final word on the Kilmer business might want to give Daniel Borins a ring. Borins was one of the members of Trucker's design team, and the co-conspirator behind the infamous Art System. Ogi/Steve Adams was tightly connected to Art System and Borins championed the Dark Movement, as its empty pomo posturing was sympatico with his particular worldview.

(And yeah, I was busy for the last many weeks with school. I still am. Sorry for the silence. But don’t worry, Russell. You’re up next in the queue.)