Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Bunch of Great Ideas Going Nowhere

Rumour has it the New York Times Magazine is running out of ideas. Or, more accurately, they’re running out of space for ideas. There are significantly fewer pages in the 2006 Year in Ideas issue as compared with 2005. I was completely shut out of this year’s issue. Here are my favourite pitches (asterisk indicates an idea that actually appeared in the 2006 YII):

- End of the Clever Headline, The. Google news and other aggregators that use search bots respond better to literal headlines, rather than those with puns or tricky wordplay. In order to ensure high rankings, some newspapers are altering their headline style.

- Song Title Inflation. This year saw a number of lengthy song and album titles such as Yo La Tengo (I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass) or Panic at the Disco’s (There’s a Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of It Yet.) See also: Sufjan Stevens The Flaming Lips and Fall Out Boy.

* Mood Detectors. Two different inventions this year are designed for those who have trouble detecting emotions. A new mood phone for Asperger’s patients lights up in different colours, depending on the emotion of the person calling the sufferer. Meanwhile, a boring detector has been created for autistics, to let them know whether the person they’re talking is unimpressed by their conversation.

- Blipvert, The. In the futuristic show Max Headroom, blipverts were TV ads that compressed 30 seconds worth of info into 5 seconds. This year, five second TV ads were introduced to combat TiVO fast-forwarding, and Clear-Channel introduced one-second radio ads.

- Betrayed Consumer, The. A recent Journal of Consumer Research featured a study that explored how consumers attempt to gain revenge against corporations that have wronged them. Researchers from Arizona State University discovered strong parallels between consumer complaint websites and other civic protest movements. In other words, rather than speaking in the language of an angry consumer, gripe sites like frame their grievances in the language of citizen injustice.

- Viewer Generated Advertising. This year Ford launched viewer-created advertising online (it flopped). Meanwhile, both Chevy and Doritos are soliciting viewer-generated advertising (the winning entries will be broadcast during the Superbowl in 2007).

- Ringxiety. People are reporting hearing phantom cell phone ring tones with regularity. A host of environmental and psychological factors are believe to cause the condition.

- Death of Quiet Songs, The. This refers to the fact that over the past few years, CDs have been mastered louder and louder (using less and less of the dB spectrum) to make it easier to hear songs in iPod headphones. This has resulted in the death of loud-soft dynamics in most modern songs.

- Best Guess Radio. has created hundreds of internet radio stations/streams based on aggregating user preferences. So even if they play a song you’ve never heard before, chances are you’ll like it.

- Excel For Rogues. GirlFriend X (GFX) allows skirt-chasing bachelors better manage their harem. Various romantic details can be tracked with an, ahem, spreadsheet of sorts. (See also:

- Printable Organs. This sounds like pure sci-fi. Using bioinks and modified ink-jet printers, scientists are learning to spray cells suspended in liquid, allowing them to “print” tissue structures.

- Blogjects. Inanimate objects that can blog (that is, generate data) about the way they interact in their environment. According to Wikipedia, an example would be “your car, gathering data about distance, weather, road conditions, speed, as you travel.”

- Weight-Loss Camera, The. There’s a new “slimming camera.” It has a feature that compresses a photo in such a way to make a person appear to weigh less.

- Empathic Painting, The. Computer scientists have created a digital artwork that changes mood based on the facial features of the spectator. Webcams track eight different facial features. (See also: the Art-O-Meter a device that tracks the amount of time that people spend in front of an artwork compared to the total time of exhibition and then ascribes a qualitative rating to the piece.)

- Universal Password, The. Shibboleth is an open-standard authentication system. Basically, you log in once at the start of the day, and it has a record of all your passwords, no matter where on the web you visit. It also has some interesting privacy elements built into it.

- Viral Marketing Immunity (or VM Paranoia or VM Hypochondria). When the LonelyGirl15 phenomenon first started to unravel, immediate theories/suspicions involved a viral marketing scheme of some type. The hypochondria/immunity refers to the notion that user-submitted videos above a certain caliber or threshold of creativity are now suspected of being created by an advertising agency. There is also something to be said about the online buzz for Snakes on a Plane not translating into ticket sales (which would be viral marketing immunity).

- Tiny Electricity. University of Birmingham microbiologists have found a bacterium that excretes electricity-generating hydrogen when fed sugar. Another set of scientists, in Japan, meanwhile, have created "bacterial-propulsion units," a strain of Mycoplasma that crawl clockwise in a groove underneath a motor's rotor, tugging the motor in a circle.

* Incidental Electricity Generation. A Japanese railway is experimenting with special floor pads in their train stations that can generate electricity from the mechanical pressure of their commuters walking through the station. (

- Words on Water. This is a strange one. It’s a circular tank developed by Mitsui Engineering in Japan called AMOEBA (Advanced Multiple Organized Experimental Basin), that allows users to "write" letters on stationary waves of water.

- Anti-Brand Bonfire, The. In August of this year, Neil Boorman set fire to every last branded item he owned. He’s writing a book about the experience of living brand-free for the rest of his life.

- Tourist Remover, The. A new photo service removes tourists from photographs, leaving behind the landmark or architectural marvel you wanted to preserve on film, without all the rabble ruining your view.

- Anti-Fogey Ringtone, The. A high-frequency cell phone ring-tone was released this year that adults can’t hear, due to the natural deterioration of their hearing. Teenagers, however, can hear the ringtone.

- A Bribe for Watching Commercials. This fall, CBS is launching a contest that requires viewers to watch television ads to find clues. They’re offering over $2 million in prizes.

- Hipster Library, The. A new library in Minneapolis has iTunes and movie downloads and a reading lounge for teens that allows drinks and snacks. Meanwhile, librarians wander the stacks with wireless communication devices.

- Intelligent Egg, The. The British Egg Information Service developed an egg emblazoned with an invisible ink label that turns black when the egg is fully cooked (they have hard and soft-boiled versions, I believe).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What the Big Ikea?

I have a ha-ha-ha piece in the current issue of the Walrus that involves my long-standing bête noire, Ikea. If that isn’t enough semi-disposable humour for you, then you’ll want to also read the following detective noir parody that was supposed to be published in Matrix magazine, for their fan friction issue. Yep, that’s right, I didn’t make the cut at Matrix.


Tear Jerker

The birch blonde’s name was FLÄRKE. A cute little number – 500.817.44 if I recall correctly. She was 171 centimeters tall, with a tidy 59 centimeter waist, yet she weighed only 19.5 kilograms.

She was a model – a floor model, that is. Covered in fingerprints. But that filthy FLÄRKE would wipe clean with a damp cloth and some non-abrasive cleaner, if you get my drift.

But I flirted with so many others in the showroom that I forgot all about her until I stumbled down a dimly lit alley – aisle 17, row 9 to be exact – and spotted her wrapped in cardboard. Kinky, this one was, waiting for a smooth looking guy with a flatbed cart and a credit card to roll past. Me, in other words.

Oh, she was cheap. Twenty-nine dollars cheap. And more importantly, she would fit into the backseat of my Yaris. So I took a chance on her.

Or was it that she took a chance on me?


That night I slowly removed layer after layer of cardboard and read the manual. There were dowels to be inserted, some screwing, and a variety of contortions and awkward positions required to nail her to my satisfaction.

The next morning we went for $1 breakfast.∗ She barely touched her scrambled eggs, home fries, sausage and miniature croissant. I found her reticence charming. A challenge. Some might have found her pretty plain, sure, but I thought she was plain pretty.

There had been others, of course. ANEBODA 1 and ANEBODA 2, a pair of bedside tables that made the nights less lonely. Those Swedish twins were incredible, but … well, ahem. Then there was a wild redhead named TYLÖSAND that my roommate eventually took off my hands.

And who could forget NIVA, with the dark brown highlights. Somehow we drifted apart, until one day she was outside, at the curb, looking for someone new to pick her up.

There were even a few one night stand tables. Impulse purchases I’m not proud of, paid for with my magic yellow credit card. The next day, with bloodshot eyes, I’d be back at the Returns desk, sheepishly waggling the receipt at the clerk, regret etch-a-sketched across my face.

“I thought it would be different,” I said to the clerk, avoiding eye contact.

“You men are all the same,” she replied. And yet, with a quick swipe, the mistake was erased. Every year, my pressboard skeletons growing more populous in the AS-IS area.

The clerk glanced at my receipt before handing it back. “Here you go Allen. Have a good day.”


Those first few years with FLÄRKE were incredible. She filled a space in my apartment – an otherwise dusty corner near the living room window. My place had been missing something. Something called FLÄRKE. She had an effervescent, quirky personality, like a cool glass of lingonberry soda. There was a GLIMMA in her melamine eyes. She was stacked – full of décor porn and books about buildings and food. We had a clear understanding and appreciation for what each of us brought to the relationship.

And then one bright spring day, I flicked the living room light and saw books scattered across the floor. FLÄRKE was face-down. She had toppled forward, despite the safety bracket that mounted her to the wall. The impact had dislocated the joint connecting her top right corner. She was scratched and bruised pretty bad. Already I could imagine what others might say if they saw her like this.

“I’ve come undone. But you can put me back together,” she seemed to say. “Make it like it was in the beginning.”

I recalled our first night together in the apartment. The initial flush of pleasure and satisfaction. The memory made me smile. But now, passed out on my ULDUM hand-tufted rug, like a common drunk, I wasn’t sure about FLÄRKE anymore. Years of sunlight had faded her birch foil finish.

She was looking old.



“I’m not sure I can put the pieces back together again,” I replied.

I swear I heard her sob.

I grabbed my BOOZY hip flask and took a swig of Svedka. The next few hours weren’t pretty.

Dissembling a long-term relationship never is.


Alone again. My apartment empty without FLÄRKE.

But this time, it’s gonna be different. I’m not going to drive to that big blue whorehouse, or call the 1-866 number or talk dirty with Anna, the personal online assistant. And as for that damn catalogue, it’s no longer hidden underneath my mattress. I finally found the strength to throw it away.

Tomorrow, when the hangover lifts, I’m going to EQ3.

* Served daily until 11am

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Halloween Costume Suggestion

Looking for a quick, memorable and very frightening Halloween costume? Dress as you normally do this October 31, but place a large white graph on your chest, with an big red arrow climbing upward. Along the X-axis, list a successive set of months, beginning with October 2006. On the Y-axis, indicate a series of percentage points, from 5 to 12.

When asked what you're dressed up as, you should reply "Rising interest rates."

This will send a chill up the spine of most Torontonians over the age of 28.

Muah ha ha ha ha.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Rare Music Plug

My friend and former bass player Brendan put me onto Soft Copy. I like them because they're exactly the kind of band I'd like to be in at this moment in my life. (If I had the time and the guitar talent.) They sound like the bands I loved in the 1990s and they sound like they're having a lot of fun.

Anyway, their entire album is available for free as a podcast, and it's very, very good.

Update: their album is now available as separate MP3s. I recommend On The Outside which begins with the simple but effective:

we're getting older / so let us win
we're on the outside, the outside / looking in

Or you can sample their songs at this newfangled thing called myspace.

Please have a release party gentlemen of Soft Copy! I will attend and buy your CD.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Nathan Is Super

I'm sorry to hear that Nathan Whitlock didn't like my review of Lanzarote Platform The Possibility of an Island The Continuity Girl.

Since I actually have nothing against Whitlock (see blog posting title) I'll leave it there.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Fearsome Yet Elementary Particles

I’ve been reviewing books for a few years now, but I’d hesitate to call myself an expert. Given my focus on non-fiction and contemporary fiction, it’s not as if I have the breadth and experience to be, oh, say, the review editor of Quill & Quire. I mean, you’d really have to know your stuff to be the review editor of the Canadian book industry trade magazine.

So, like I said, I’m no expert. But it strikes me that if you decide to review a book, you might want to take the time to make sure you spell the title correctly. In today’s Sunday Star, Nathan Whitlock takes a crack at The Fearsome Particles. Only problem is that he calls the book The Elementary Particles. Twice:

Cole attempts something both slightly bigger and slightly smaller with The Elementary Particles, his second novel. Instead of resting all of the story's weight upon the shoulders of a singular figure such as Norman Bray, Cole shares the narrative and the troubles among three main characters — a father, a mother, and a son.


Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life lived and died by its central character, who overshadowed all others. In The Elementary Particles, Cole has expanded his range effectively, though with some loss of narrative vitality and cohesion. Both books suffer from endings that feel more like a sudden loss of authorial will than a conclusion. Yet I finished both novels feeling completely satisfied, even grateful, like a lab rat happy to see food appear every time it presses the lever.

Perhaps Cole's new book is very Houellebecq-ish. I'm not sure. All I know is that we're all human, and we all make mistakes. Even Nathan Whitlock.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Take a Journalism Course With Me

Hello. I have no idea how much traffic this blog receives, let alone who comprises that traffic, demographically speaking.

Regardless, if you happen to be someone who wants to write for a living, or wants some tips on how to improve your chances of writing for a living, might I suggest you take the U of T SCS course The Freelance Writing Business (1711) .

I have somewhat of a bias in making this recommendation, given that I will be teaching the course. It begins Monday, October 16 of this year and runs for eight weeks.

Course Details: Polish your freelance newspaper and magazine writing skills, and learn how to establish your own freelance writing business. Topics include identifying markets, marketing stories, writing query letters, researching, interviewing, writing, editing and polishing articles. Tax implications and incentives, and professional organizations are also discussed.

Also worth keeping in mind for the New Year is Freelancing the Feature (1722) that begins February 6th of 2007. It’s also eight weeks, and it’s also taught by me.

Course Details: Freelancing the Feature is designed to teach students the architecture behind a compelling, well-written feature article, including interview techniques and narrative strategies. Students will learn the process of writing a feature, from initial idea to negotiating payment. Classes will be a mixture of short lecture and group discussion. Students will be expected to complete the appropriate readings before each class and should be prepared to consider, discuss and critique said material.

And if you really want to take The Freelance Writing Business, but can’t do it this fall, I’ll be teaching the course again beginning April 16, 2007.

Classes tend to be small enough so that students receive plenty of feedback, and I tailor courses based on student feedback. Please email me any questions you might have: ryan [dot] bigge [at] utoronto [dot] ca

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Future of Pop Culture Journalism

Well, here is what the future of time-killing but none-the-less enjoyable journalism about old television shows looks like.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New York (University), New York (University)

If you're in New York at the end of September, consider dropping by NYU for a student conference entitled Identity and Identification in a Networked World. The details are here. I'll be presenting a paper on neo-luddites and

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Way to Go, Bert

Bert Archer snuck the phrase "a very up-tempo nooner" past the stodgy guardians at the Globe and Mail. Great work. The entire sentence, for your edification:

And who do you see with the cute round numbers? Perky girls on upright bikes with colourful baskets on the back, looking like they're on their way to a picnic, or possibly a very up-tempo nooner.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

uTOpia and dysTOpia

I'm ashamed to admit this, but it was not until last week that I finally bought and started reading the very, very excellent uTOpia anthology published by Coach House. There is a sequel coming out this fall -- that's how far behind I am.

Heather McLean refers to an article of mine in her uTOpia piece Go west, young hipster: the gentrification of Queen Street West. The problems here are twofold. One, she claims the article appeared in the Toronto Star, instead of the National Post. Secondly (and worsely), the quote she attributes to me (via the Star) doesn't appear in my article. She clearly quoted from a Toronto Star article about the Drake (which was written two years after mine), but attributed it to me.

It's a strong piece otherwise.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

Praise the Scribe, Not the Sinner

I often forget to point out the goodness, so let me draw your attention to the second sentence of Edward Keenan's excellent Rob Ford profile in eye this week.

At the end of last month, maverick City Councillor Rob Ford was attacking the $1.5 million in grants the City of Toronto gives to AIDS awareness programs, since "if you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you won't get AIDS probably -- that's the bottom line." That was just the hum-along hook to an epic operetta dissecting Toronto's $50 million in grant programs.

Putting "hum-along hook" right next to "operetta" is a tidy bit of genius. Nice work. Class dismissed.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Death of the Double Entendre

The Death of the Double Entendre
July 16, 2006 | Toronto Star | Ryan Bigge

It's spring of 1949, and a husband absentmindedly flips through The Saturday Evening Post. He stops at the headline, "We Love to Catch Them on a Springmaid Sheet." It's an ad for a fabric company, which is not something men in this particular era (or our own) care much about. But the woman being rescued is showing a bit of garter as she leaps to safety, her skirt flapping as she lands on a blanket stretched taut by four handsome firefighters.

This is The Tease in action, and believe it or not, there is more here than meets the eye. Elliott White Springs, the president of Spring Mills, was the slightly dirty mind behind a series of incredibly popular ads featuring sly puns and double-entendres that ran from 1947 until his death in 1959. Springs even wrote his own ad copy, and along the way created the rules of advertising innuendo that remain relevant today.

As Charles Goodrum and Helen Dalrymple explain in their book Advertising in America, Springs relied on four principles. First, the reader was considered an intelligent peer, not an easy-to-titillate sucker. Second, a product benefit had to be offered once the reader's attention was gained through pulchritudinous means. Next, racy images should combine humour and respect — Springs' ads objectified men and women, although both retained their dignity. The final principle was the most important: The Tease was the most effective method of leveraging sex in an ad. An inch of stocking top worked far better than a topless woman.

Springs had to fight with illustrators to show less, not more. "What I wanted was a subtle picture of a girl with her skirt agitated by the wind," writes Springs in a 1948 letter reprinted in Advertising in America. "You send me a picture of a girl with her skirts blown over her head like she was standing over an air jet at Coney Island! It's about as subtle as the Can Can."


It's spring of 2005, and you are staring at the back cover of Vice magazine, where Melissa, the winner of an unofficial American Apparel wet T-shirt contest, is apprising us of her skill set. Here is the Spring Mills of the 21st century, a high-profile cotton company that relies on sex to sell its products. But founder Dov Charney, who helps write his own ads, has no use for the wink. Proud to call himself a pervert, chuffed when porn stars wear his clothes, Charney prefers to build his brand around the single entendre, sleaze without Tease.

Jaime Wolf, writing in the New York Times Magazine this April, noted that, "Charney is pushing boundaries, and knowingly so, and he maintains that your response to his boundary-pushing determines whether you count as a young person or an old person in today's society."

Were he still alive, Elliott Springs would be incensed at Charney's Can Can act. And although I side with Springs, I'm not about to unleash my inner young fogy and yearn for a return of the Burma-Shave billboards. What disappoints me as I slip the bounds of the coveted 18 to 34-year old demographic is that advertising is not treating the newest batch of consumers as intelligent peers. Advertising has forgotten how to be subtle. Worst of all, it requires no cultural competencies to decode.

What are cultural competencies? In the spirit of the horn-dog culture that has allowed the single entendre to triumph (what author Ariel Levy calls raunch culture), allow me to make my point through some hot lesbian action. Hot lesbian cultural studies action, that is.

In an anthology called A Queer Romance, Caroline Evans and Lorraine Gamman talk about cultural competencies, that is, how lesbian viewers are able to see and appreciate homosexual allusions in certain films that straight folks cannot.

That might seem obvious. But let's turn this theoretical tryst into a three-way, and introduce another lesbian theorist, Reina Lewis. In her essay "Looking Good," she argues that, "Evans and Gamman emphasize that the pleasure apparently produced by the code under discussion does not reside in the representation, but in the activity of decoding it."

Got that? Cultural competencies (which are not specific to lesbians but vary from subculture to subculture) reward the solving of little visual mysteries, the ability to spot clues that others cannot see.

Conversely, there is very little pleasure of interpretation to be found in an American Apparel ad. In one, a woman named Kelley re-enacts her favourite vintage porn-mag poses. In another, a man drops trou. To quote Gertrude Stein, "There is no there there." The ad requires all the cultural competence of a horny ninth grader.

Which brings me to, a website that often features photos of young women kissing each other, none of whom appear to be tenured professors. A repository of beer and sex jokes, the site is both anthropological curiosity and financial juggernaut. In a profile of the founders in The New Yorker in January of last year, Rebecca Mead writes, "A key to college humor, the four have realized, is that students like to think they belong to a small in-crowd that understands the joke, while the public at large remains clueless." Here is another example of the pleasure of cultural (or subcultural) competencies.

Mead refers to two of the website's biggest money makers: a T-shirt with the phrase "More Cowbell" and another chemise featuring a hand gesture known as The Shocker. I neither recognized nor understood these cultural touchstones. This made me very happy. Being culturally incompetent is a fine thing. It means you're busy doing other things, like standing in line in IKEA, talking real estate at dinner parties, reading The New Yorker instead of Maxim, and other painful but necessary rites of adulthood.

Through an act of journalistic subterfuge (Google), I have since learned that More Cowbell is a slow-burning Saturday Night Live catchphrase from April 2000. As for The Shocker? It's a boudoir technique of which I can say little more, since this is still a family newspaper. Suffice to say, according to Josh Abramson, one of the founders of interviewed by Mead, "No one over the age of 25 knows what it means, but I guarantee you that ninety per cent of college students know what it is." Call it sex ed for the new generation.


In a memo on some rough drafts for his first advertising campaign, Elliott Springs wrote, "I want it to appear as if we were just imitating our competitors, and really trying to sell sheets with cheesecake. A lot of dumb bunnies will then write in and bawl us out for being vulgar and stupid. Then some people will take a second look and catch the burlesque, and be very proud that they're so smart." Springs had identified a version of cultural competencies, and the pleasure of being in the know, almost 70 years ago.

Although there is no burlesque in American Apparel, I take solace in knowing I'm not the only one upset about the lack of hidden pleasures in today's advertising. In June 1999, Vice magazine (whose degenerate content is a spiritual forbearer to the smut of American Apparel) printed a letter to the editor from Noel Islavksy, of Moncton, Ont. "What's the matter with your advertisers? Has none of them ever heard of subtlety?" wrote Islavksy. "I, like many men, would appreciate a good tease a lot more. I'm not a prude or anything, but most ads just come off cheesy, not stylish."

I hear you, Noel. In a new short story in the May Harper's, Steven Millhauser writes of the Age of Concealment: "It was as if, after half a century of reckless exposure, a weariness had overcome women, a yearning for withdrawal, a disenchantment with the obligation to invite a bold male gaze." Amen.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

From The Too Good To Be True Dept.

Chatelaine Switches To Fixed Schedule For Staff Resignations

In order to improve editorial stability and reduce staff turbulence at Chatelaine, a new policy mandates that staff resignations can only occur on alternating Wednesdays.

“We can’t stop staff from leaving their jobs,” explained Chatelaine publisher Kerry Mitchell. “But we can make sure they resign in a more convenient manner.”

Given the long and successful history of the Chatelaine brand, the past two years of staff unrest has spooked some advertisers, along with executives at Rogers Communications. Since 2004, Kim Pittaway, Beth Hitchcock, Bonny Reichert, Kim Zagar, Caren Watkins, Dre Dee and Ruth Hanley, among others, have left the storied women’s magazine. In order to convince the magazine community at large that a measure of stability was at hand, recently hired editor-in-chief Sara Angel instituted the new scheduling policy on Monday July 17.

“The problem is not staff attrition,” explained Angel. “It’s being unable to predict when that attrition might occur. Our new resignation procedure removes the guesswork and will allow our remaining staff to focus on producing the best magazine possible.”

Since implementing the policy, a decorative bowl of zesty basil minestrone soup -- slated to appear on the January 2007 cover of the magazine -- resigned effective 12:01am on Wednesday, July 19.

The publishers of Chatelaine do not expect anticipate further staff fluxations until Wednesday, August 2.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Three Days on the Charts

A few kind people have been emailing me about my death of the double-entendre article that ran in the Sunday Star. And so, inspired by this article in Slate, I went to the most emailed section of the Star. And as of Wednesday, July 19, at 2pm, I was #10 on the the top 10 emailed articles chart.

Regular readers will recognize that I try and not do this sort of thing very often. The only reason I searched for myself in the first place is because of the Slate piece and the fact that I was receiving email from friends and strangers alike.

If I'm still on the charts this Saturday, I'll ask for a raise from my kindly editor.

Update: The article made it onto! I also syndicated the article with, a service I've wanted to try out for a long time...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

From The Film Tristram Shandy

- Why do we want to spend a year of our lives making this film?

- Because it’s funny.

- Is that all?

- Is that not enough?

- If it’s genuinely funny, that is enough.

Friday, July 14, 2006

George Saundersland Blips the Big Screen

There is a scene early on in the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that to me brings to life the sort of commercial you might see in a George Saunders short story. Harmony is describing to Harry the only evidence of her acting career -- a fairly popular beer commercial...

Harmony: You know the one with the bear. And it goes well, I prefer Genaros --

Harry: Genaros! But I’m a bear, what do I know? I suck the heads off fish.

Later we are treated to the actual commercial, with its stilted surrealism and a suitably low-rent CGI bear. In the ad, the bear bursts from a huge cake, two bottles of beer in each hand, which he proceeds to toss to the Bavarian crowd around him. Then the bear crams a fish into his mouth, and yes, sucks its head off. As the commercial ends, Harmony giggles bemusedly and turns to the camera to give us a “what-are-you-gonna-do” shrug.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Best $65 You'll Ever Spend...

Not sure how I missed this. I found it searching for this. At the same time I found this.

Things could be worse, of course. He could be doing this.

Or he could be this:

Stroumboulopoulos said he was on vacation when he got the offer to host the talent search show, less than a week ago.

"I was riding my motorbike outside Chicago and I felt the vibration of the call in my leather jacket, but I didn't answer it," he said.

When he picked up the message, Stroumboulopoulos said he rode back to Chicago and got on the plane to Los Angeles.

And that's that.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Billionaire Leaves $4 Tip

It’s been a long time since the Globe and Mail has managed to nauseate me to the degree it did yesterday morning. In the Toronto section, page one, was an article entitled A Billionaire’s Breakfast.

Let me check my calendar, are we still living in the Gilded Age? What kind of man-of-the-people horseshit are they trying to peddle when they publish an article like this:

For Kenneth Thomson, meals didn't need to come with a side of caviar. A home-style breakfast suited him just fine. His chef of choice? Whoever happened to be whipping up brunch at his local Golden Griddle.

Over the past year and a half, Mr. Thomson, who died on Monday at the age of 82, was a fixture at the modest breakfast joint on Laird Drive, not far from his Rosedale home. Every weekend, he would stroll into the restaurant with his wife, Marilyn, his son Peter and Peter's family and order a brunch buffet for $10.95

I especially like this portion:

Waiters at the franchised restaurant said Mr. Thomson rarely let them lift a finger, insisting on getting his own food at the smorgasbord. And he always greeted them when he walked in the door en route to his usual corner booth.

The entire point of a buffet is THAT YOU SELECT YOUR OWN GOD-DAMNED FOOD. Yes, I’m so angry that I’ve resorted to Caps Lock, which might well be a first for this blog.

And here is the kicker:

The tips were pretty good, too. Though renowned for his careful spending habits, Mr. Thomson was quite generous when it came to gratuity, often leaving in excess of 35 per cent.

He’s a mother-f***king billionaire. Thirty-five percent on a pre-tax meal of $10.95 is $3.83. I did some quick math – a billion dollars, at five percent interest, earns $50 million per year. That’s $136,986 per day. At this point, the math gets a bit rough, but assume that he earns about a buck fifty per second. Per second.

Last week, my girlfriend and I went to the Crooked Star, which is our favourite bar in the city. The CS has done the unthinkable – they treat customers with respect and the drinks are priced reasonably. We left a tip in excess of 40 percent on our last visit, and although it need not be said, I will say it anyway: we are not billionaires. Oh no.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Sign Me Up Right This Instant!

(Needless to say, this is real.)

The Influencers Come Knocking!
Recruitment of Trend Savvy/Cool Hunting/Tastemaking Writers
June 10 2006



Are you the fountain of influence, the keeper of trend-savvy insight and the arbiter of cool things?

If so, then we're looking for you!

In fact, we're looking for a team of Canuck journalists/writers/coolhunters to become our eyes and ears to the leading edge of Canadian culture and marketplace.

The initiative is called The Influencers. It's so new, we are just now putting the finishing details on our website. It will be launching in July nationwide.

The Influencers is totally unique - part word of mouth grapevine, part trend-savvy media, part social media/marketing engine and part non-profit profile raiser.

We are looking for writers and journalists with a broad cross-section of interests and a intellectual curiosity about new and interesting things.

Initially, each one of our 18+ subject areas, needs to be updated monthly. Updates will include a review of breaking trends, a listing of interesting discoveries, profiles of cool or buzzworthy stuff and eyebrow-raising weblinks found across the Canadian universe and beyond. Content will be crafted from a number of sources - including your own personal experience, web/magazine research and our active database of local influencers.

Your opinions will be published online, consumed by a special community of passionate, well-connected and very informed readers.

The perfect contributor? You have the following traits:
• Ahead in adoption, you have na instictive feel for what's next
• Connected to a wide social network
• Travel a lot, attack life
• Informationally curious
• Vocal and aren't shy in sharing your opinion
• Exposed to a lot of interests
• Suasion over your social networks and readers
• Want to participate in a revolutionary type of media/marketing initiative
• perhaps most importantly, write passionately and expertly about subjects you're interested in.

Key FAQs
We can already anticipate some questions you might have, we'll try to be as transparent as we can here in answering them:

What is the basis for launching The Influencers?
The Influencers' core reason for being is to tap into interesting ideas, products and services and seed and spread them through word of mouth. We think it's a better, effective way to learn about stuff - readers and consumers enjoy it, marketers benefit from it and only remarkable, genuine products succeed with it.

Is there anything like The Influencers out there right now?
No, at least we don't think so. We're pretty unique - if you combined Daily Candy, Trendspotting, a well targeted grassroots magazine and a My Space community, you might get pretty close.

Who runs the Influencers?
The parent company is Agent Wildfire, we are a marketing and communications group operating out of Toronto. We have led or worked with some of Canada's most loved products and brands and we're Canada's experts and zealots on the persuasive power of word of mouth.

Is this a paying gig?
You betcha...but if your core reason for interest is to get rich, than I would suggest greener pastures elsewhere. We pay fairly, we'll ratchet it up over time and offer bigger enhanced roles for people that really dig into what we do. Six figure book deals may exist, just not here.

So if I'm not getting rich in the short term, why should I be interested?'ve got free reign to talk about stuff you are passionate and already know a lot about, writing to national group of engaged readers who are highly involved and passionate themselves. We hope you also identify with us as a company/publisher with a worthy cause, a genuinely interested soul and a unique idea with strong growth and exposure prospects.

Is this a full time gig?
No, although over time it may be just that for people that enjoy doing it. Most writers will be responsible for 3-6 articles per month, escalating in frequency over time.

How will you decide which writers to invite to the dance?
We're looking for writers with passion for their subject matter. We want a representative group nationally. We want writers who share a connection with our mission of getting interesting stuff on the hearts and lips of our readers. We want bad egos left at the door. Experience matters but enthusiasm counts for more.

I'd love to participate but do I have to disclose who I am - there may be some messy conflicts?
No - you can either operate as a ghostwriter or public figure - it's more important what you write than who you are. If you'll be writing incognito, just come up with a conversation inspiring pseudonym or interesting alias.

What subject areas do you need to cover off?
Take the survey below to discover the full list of 18 coverage areas

If you don't fit the profile or can't get involved given your current role, we would welcome you forwarding this message onto an interested colleague.

Thanks in advance...we look forward to talking with you.
Spread the word,

Sean Moffitt
Founder and Managing Director, The Influencers

Phone: 647-436-6802

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Dark Horse Humour

Tabatha Southey, nominated four times in the Humour category of the National Magazine Awards, fails to win either silver or gold on Friday night. Granted, there were a total of ten articles up for consideration, but still, she accounted for 40 percent of the nominated articles.

That is simply not funny.

Meanwhile, congrats to the Spacing folks for winning Gold in the Editorial Package category.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Apparently, There is Only One Way to Tell a Story

Here are the first two paragraphs of Lianne George’s feature on club builder Peter Gatien in the May 29 issue of New York magazine:

Peter Gatien has installed himself at the head of an enormous table in a private dining room at a “restrolounge” called 8, and he’s surveying the room like the don of some clandestine party mafia.

Compact and gaunt, he’s dressed neatly in a slim-fitting navy-blue suit, a dotted red tie, and a pair of vaguely ominous blue-tinted glasses, which, like his now-discarded signature eye patch, serve to conceal the left eye he lost in a childhood hockey accident. When a vigilant waitress appears over his shoulder, he instructs her not to bother offering the duck hors d’oeuvre to his wife and consigliere, Alessandra (he calls her Alex), who’s seated at his right. “She won’t like it,” he mumbles, almost inaudibly. Alessandra, Gatien’s third wife, is his dispositional antithesis—an elegant, gregarious film producer fifteen years his junior, outfitted tonight in Paltrow-casual style, with jeans and a black blazer, her dark hair tied loosely back. After seven-plus years of legal skirmishes, financial drain, and public scrutiny, she is clearly impatient for her family to reclaim its prior life. “It was hard,” she says with a bright, incongruous smile. “I’m so glad it’s over.”

Now, here are the first two paragraphs of Olivia Stren’s profile of club builder Peter Gatien in the July issue of Toronto Life that just hit stands this week:

Peter Gatien and his wife, Alessandra, take the corner table. They’re having dinner at Eight, the Brant Street restaurant and nightclub—a plush, moody lounge that Gatien opened early this year. Their table allows for a panoramic view of couples trading soulful glances over balloon glasses or red, and a gregarious table of Bay Streeters chewing on sugar cane shrimp and chortling over office gossip. Through the blue-tinted sunglasses he’s never seen without, Gatien takes in the scene like a monarch surveying his newly conquered kingdom.

He wears a grey cotton sweater the shade of a midday shadow and has the kind of strong, rugged features you could imagine carved on a cliffside. Sitting disarmingly still, he emanates a movie star’s inscrutability. It is not a peaceful stillness, but one that suggests the focused and contained intensity of Brando playing a mob boss. Alessandra, at 37, is 17 years his junior. A former model turned film producer, she’s wearing jeans, a fresh white button-down, no make-up and a ponytail. She nurses a pomegranate margarita and talks with gushing enthusiasm about Toronto, her new home. “New York strives to be what Toronto is,” she says. “You don’t have to look over your shoulder here. It doesn’t have the same edge. Coming here was like finding the oil well or the hot spring. It’s untouched.”

There is no possibility of plagiarism here, because clearly both stories, coming out a week apart from one another, were in production at approximately the same time. (As a side note, Lianne George works for Maclean’s, meaning both stories were written by South Torontonians).

No, my point is that when you read a strong magazine feature, you think to yourself "There is no other way that story could have been told." Which is a lie. There are hundreds of ways to tell a story – some better than others, of course. But it’s the writer’s job to trick you into thinking their way of telling the story of Gatien was the best way. And I mean trick in a positive sense here.

Clearly both features are well-written (although I could not care less about Gatien as a human being). If I had to dig around for a complaint, it’s that both writers gave Gatien a big fat chunk of free advertising for Eight in their respective first paragraphs.

And it should be said that the features go in different directions after their respective intros.

I’m struggling to articulate my overarching unease here. I think my problem is that journalism -- either consciously or unconsciously -- instills certain frameworks of narrative, and that these frameworks become invisibly etched within the brain's circuitboard. The best example I can give is that I wrote a rough draft of a review of the Pixies show in Winnipeg (second night of their tour, April 2004) that I never completed nor published. I read the Saturday Globe’s review of the Pixies that week. The published review and my draft were uncanny -– we had hit upon at least a half-dozen convergences in either opinion or background information on the band.

The point is, it’s strange to think there are circuits in my brain that I’m only dimly aware of. And it’s even more strange to have these circuits made visible through something like the Gatien features here. It’s less a comment about coincidence, and more about the hidden structural limitations of magazine feature storytelling.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Freelancing is Even Worse Than It Used to Be

A depressing summary of a PWAC survey on declining freelance earning power can be found here. I never thought I'd say this, but academia now appears to be a better long term bet than journalism.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My M.A. is Cutting Into My Trend Piece Time

Damn it! Damn it! I had this idea in early March. Although in my case, I was going to use the trend of long song and album titles to demonstrate how to write a trend piece, while at the same time poking fun at the vacuous nature of said beast.

I must admit, the chart conceit is a good one, and not something I would have thought of.

While I'm here, Alec Scott did some very strong metaphor work in his Art School Confidential review. As I may have said before, the CBC Arts website features great writers producing great writing on a site that appears to attract very few readers. A comment board might help matters.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Clive Thompson is a Robot

I have nothing but praise for Clive Thompson.


The man is simply not human. Read this brand new profile of him and try not to curse your useless, non-overclocked brain.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Some C.R.A.Z.Y. Class Analysis

My favourite part of C.R.A.Z.Y. (which I watched Saturday evening) was the fact that a family with five children could own a house, a car, and various other amenities all on a working class salary. There was even a reference to the husband and wife having a savings account.

Now that’s crazy. Perhaps the 70s weren’t so horrible after all. To the barricades, comrade!


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dead (On) Stick Target

This from Dead Things on Sticks, a blog I’ve been enjoying lately:

Anyway, amidst the not-thinking-about- writing, there's the oh- God-you-haven't- started-your-taxes (April 30 is the magic day in Canada.) Then there's little other things like the paper. I had a funny thought reading the Arts Section in the Globe & Mail today. It was very unsatisfying -- it has been the last three weeks running... and it occurred to me why.

Flipping through, every article in the Globe Review is about the Establishment. The Canadian Establishment. There's Atom Egoyan. There's Don McKellar. Another profile on Bonnie Fuller -- Jesus. (Nice language for Easter, I know, but c'mon.) When I read the NY Times Arts & Leisure section on Sunday, there's always a profile of someone interesting who's unknown to me. An up-and-comer. I read The Playlist and learn about musicians I haven't heard. I read a profile of a writer I don't know. I don't know why the Times can do it, but Canada's National Newspaper can't. Maybe because they're too busy taking articles from the New York Times. Sigh.


What I enjoy the most about this blog is that although Denis is a television writer, he often offers nuggets of insight that apply equally well to fiction or non-fiction. In the above post, he talks about churn (read it for yourself), and recently he wrote about the power of finishing a project, regardless of its final outcome. That really resonated with me.

Denis also had some brilliant thoughts on the recent spate of useless CBC comedies. In summary, a well written blog, relevant to non-script writers, and finally, very nice to know that I’m not alone in my frustrations regarding the Saturday Globe. The Toronto section is usually decent (and not because I occasionally write for it), and there are sporadic bright patches elsewhere, but he really nailed the Globe, especially the part about stealing from the NYT. We get the Internet in Canada, you know. The Sunday Styles section is not a hazy mystery to us Toronto types. Reading a well-written faux-trend piece in the NYT is one thing. Reading a mangled photocopy of said trend piece two weeks later in the Globe is not the best way to start the weekend.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Reader's Dickgest

So I'm standing in line at Dominion, and the line never moves quickly at Dominion, so I'm looking at the cover of the new Reader's Digest. And it's the humour issue. And every single person mentioned on the cover is a man.

Which is not that surprising. What is surprising is that the very top cutline of the magazine says:

Why punchlines split the sexes.

Which means issues involving humour and gender were on the magazine's radar, and yet they still managed to create a cocktail wienie cover. That's truly sad.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Good Journalists Borrow Ideas, Great Journalists Steal Them

Jan Wong, please meet Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed. Barbara kinda beat you to the whole maid and minimum wage beat by a few years.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Because You Can’t, You Won’t and You (Do)n’t Gawk

A friend of mine, Jeff MacIntyre, has a sharp story on the CBC Arts, the highlight being quotes from my favourite celebrity chainsaw artist, Cintra Wilson. The CBC Arts site is blessed with strong writing, mediocre design, and a complete dearth of promotional savvy. That said, read Jeff on Gawker’s new Stalk Market .

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Found Photography Book

I am unable to articulate why this kind of thing is so tremendously fascinating, so I'll just provide a snapshot and a link to a new book from the Found crew that is filled with portrait photography from a small studio in LaPorte, Indiana.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Culture 1, Hipsters 0

Two recent articles, one exclusive to print, worth checking out. The first is in n + 1, a New York journal and is called
Radiohead, or the Philosophy of Pop and is by Mark Greif.

I think the discussion of Radiohead is sharp, especially when Greif observes that Radiohead found its voice and purpose when it stopped trying to articulate its frustration with modernity through its lyrics (the Fake Plastic Trees of The Bends), and instead found a way to evoke dread and suspicion with the plastic hassle through aural textures. Still, what delights me so much about this article is not the Radiohead analysis (I’m sure a dozen music-crits have already jabbed cigarette burns throughout his musical conjecturing, but that is a game I find both boring and difficult to play) but Greif’s brave and refreshing decision to describe the limitations of pop as it applies to politics. Check this out:

The more I try to categorize why Radiohead’s music works as it does, and by extension how pop works, the more it seems clear that the effect of pop on our beliefs and actions is not really to create either one. Pop does, though, I think, allow you to retain certain things you’ve already thought, without your necessarily having been able to articulate them, and to preserve certain feelings you have only intermittent access to, in a different form, music with lyrics, in which the cognitive and emotional are less divided. I think songs allow you to steel yourself or loosen yourself into certain kinds of actions, though they don’t start anything. And the particular songs and bands you like dictate the beliefs you can preserve and reactivate, and the actions you can prepare – and which songs and careers will shape your inchoate private experience depends on an alchemy of your experience and the art itself. Pop is neither a mirror nor a Rorschach blot, into which you look and see only yourself; nor is it a lecture, an interpretable poem, or an act of simply determinate speech. It teaches something, but only by stimulating and preserving things that you must have had inaugurated elsewhere. Or it prepares the ground for these discoveries elsewhere – often knowledge you might never otherwise have really “known,” except as it could be rehearsed by you, then repeatedly reactivated for you, in this medium.

This was, for me, an incredible blast of oxygen. I don’t care if he is right or wrong, but unlike so many other cultural critics, he actually has the courage to sketch the political boundaries of his object of study. Summarizing Grief’s 17-page article, is tough, so all I can say is find a copy and read it.

The second article can be found in the March edition of Harper’s. Many folks make snoozing sounds when referring to this magazine, and lately I understand why. That said, there is always something good in Harper’s.


In an attempt to prove my point, I ask you to take a look at the first part of Bill Wasik’s article about flash mobs. Wasik, it turns out, invented the flash mob as an experiment in social psychology. His article mocks the conformity of hipsters, the Strokes, and Wasik hammers away at a number of other worthwhile targets, including the Ford Fusion. His inclusion of Howard Dean didn’t quite work, and I started to sigh when he began to discuss the Milgram experiments, until he did something new with the ol’ shock generator by claiming that:

Stanley Milgram deserves recognition, I believe, as one of the crucial artists of the preceding century.

Here is a good tip for any essayist: if you evoke an overused person or idea from the past, please put a new gloss on it. Otherwise I will stop reading. And so will many others.

Finally, I like Wasik’s attack on McSweeney’s:

Like the Strokes, McSweeney’s promised a cultural watershed for hipsters while making no demands on them. Readers accustomed to a choice between low entertainment and serious literature did not, with this journal, have to make such a choice at all. […] Almost none of the young writers could deploy McSweeney’s style to anywhere near the effect that Eggers, a genuinely affecting writer, could; one suspects that most would have been better (if less well known) writers today if the journal had never existed.

Class dismissed. Be sure to have read both articles for next week.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cleverly Obtuse Title Utilizing Pun Goes Here

Nathan Sellyn’s debut fiction collection Indigenous Beasts comes out next month. I was flipping through the Raincoast Spring 2006 catalogue today and his book caught my eye. The cover looks sharp, and my bet is that the fiction inside is none-too-shabby.

However, I cannot help but notice that the bottom left corner of the cover image printed in the catalogue contains the following text:

“This is an amazing quote saying Nate is the Next Big Thing.”

(Full PDF here.)

I will buy five copies of his book if the final, printed book cover actually says that.

Snakes on a Plane

The amount of debate in the blogoblog about my book review -- in which I suggested what’s-her-name is the worst writer of Generation Why -- took me by surprise.

As someone who doesn’t spend nearly as much time as he should reading local blogs, I have been very impressed by the intelligence and level of debate floating around the internets. I am also very humbled by the dedication many bloggers have, in terms of their publishing schedule.

Habermas would be proud.

What I found most interesting was that by the time a print media response to the book review hit stands on Thursday, February 16 (that would the day I discovered I was Mr. Warren Kinsella's chew toy), the various elements of the issue had already been very thoroughly and thoughtfully debated and digested online. Blogs rule OK!

I did not think for a moment that anyone would waste ink and pulp on the issue. One or two blog postings, maybe. A short paragraph in Frank, perhaps. But not this.

The incident just made its way into Now, in their Upfront section. I feel as though I have been scalded with lukewarm water. This new (and I hope final) wave of commentary appears to be the result of the Star’s clarification on Sunday (February 19), which explained that I was not an unbiased, objective reviewer. This should have been made explicit in the original review, as many people have pointed out. There was a miscommunication between my editor and myself regarding the conflict of interest, which I regret.

To conclude, I have a few corrections and comments I would like to make, before never mentioning the whole mess ever again. None of my bulleted points are designed to provoke further debate, since one of the main goals of the review was to encourage everyone to stop talking about her. (I failed big time on that front.) These are observations, not provocations.

* Kinsella, in his February 16 column, suggests that SaumassigeSchreibmaschiene is not a real word. Let me be clear: I consulted with a native German speaker, and I can assure you that SaumassigeSchreibmaschiene is a compound word that translates, roughly, into exactly what I said it does.

* Kinsella mentions a photo on my website where I am wearing black nail polish. That photo was taken five years ago. I will endeavor to update my website appropriately.

* Alex Good, over at Good Reports, strikes me as someone that I would enjoy having a coffee with and discussing his frustrations with book reviewing in Canada. I realize he is not my biggest fan, but that’s OK. I agree with some of his complaints, as they appear to echo Henighan’s sentiments in When Words Deny the World, a book that I like far more than I dislike.

* I was very pleased to see someone mention Andy Lamey’s debilitating book review of Crossing the Distance, a review which ran in issue #56 (1999) of Canadian Notes & Queries. Lamey’s review should be taught in university lit-crit classes – it is simply that good. Dale Peck could learn things from Lamey. If my recent review was considered one-third as good as Lamey’s, I would be happy. (A few blogs suggested it was not even close on that score.)

* As I get older, I find that anonymous (or non-anonymous) critiques and even cheap shots bother me far less. In fact, I was heartened to learn that some people don’t care about either me or her -- or, even better, have no inkling of who either of us are. That is healthy. That is good. That puts things in the proper perspective. As another person commented, this is a topic interesting only to a select group of Toronto media folk who live within a 10 or 15 block radius of each other. Here here.

I can only imagine what I am in for if I ever manage to publish another book. In lieu of a written critique, I envision a photograph of the assigned reviewer urinating on my tome.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What You Should Have Missed...

Bookninja has a thorough summary of the past two days, although it omits the entry. The Quill and Quire blog has a very funny and balanced entry up right now, but their blogging software does not appear to permit direct links to individual article entries. Their entry concludes:

Do these two know each other? Couldn’t McLaren, who has now written of a childless woman, have had sympathy instead of vitriol for the perpetually single Bigge? One thing seems clear: riffling through the discount tables at Pages the other day, In Other Media found copies of Bigge’s book. We can all be somewhat sure that, someday, in that very same spot, will be McLaren’s. So can’t we all just get along?

I would point out that it took four years for my book to end up in the remainder bin. But Quill's geography is quite accurate. Oh, and I'm no longer single.

By the way, if Oprah (or the Canadian equivalent therein) demands it, I will appear on her show and weep on cue.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The First Draft of History Dept.

The Star had the good sense to edit my review of Leah’s new “book.” I’m not being facetious – good editors are like the senate, a repository of sober, second thought.

But lucky for you, dear reader, I lack the good sense to keep the first draft sequestered away in a lock box, and will thus provide for you at no extra charge the original Leah review in all its knives out glory.

The Continuity Girl by Leah McLaren, HarperCollins, 336 pages, $18.95

Many creative writing instructors employ the Sandwich Method when providing student feedback: a slice of praise, followed by the “meat” (the critical suggestions), followed by a final slab of positive reinforcement.


Well … the typesetting in Leah McLaren’s new novel is certainly praiseworthy. The font selected, Electra, is an eye-pleasing serif. Unfortunately, poor Electra has endured unspeakable molestation courtesy of McLaren’s prose:

He owed her this baby, but that was not the only reason he was here in this phoneless phone booth, cock in hand, pumping away (well, okay, more squeezing and pulling, at this point), trying to draft a few million able-bodied DNA servicemen. No, the truth was, he wanted a child as much as she did, but for entirely different reasons. Not for the cutsy clothes and mashed banana stuff, which was as frightening as it was a turnoff, but for the continuation of the larger narrative.

The Continuity Girl illuminates the limitations of my thesaurus. Uber-lousy? Fifth-rate? Super-bad? None of above. There exists no English word that adequately describes the residuum, offal and drek that slosh through the pages of this novel. Even the German word SaumassigeSchreibmaschiene, which roughly translates into “putrid garbage typewriter prose,” fails to convey the stench of this slushpile.

Lacking the tools to adequately assess this book, I am donating my allotted real estate to the other reviewers sharing this page. This strategy will deprive McLaren of the crucial element that sustains her entire oeuvre – attention. Each week that spoiled brat throws an entitlement tantrum in her Globe column, and each week far too many people eavesdrop. Her fishwrap is ostensibly harmless, but this brand extension disguised as a novel is where it ends: the joke isn’t funny anymore, especially at $18.95 plus tax. McLaren is a provocative pool toy that is kept inflated only by the warm air of the chattering classes. Stop reading her SaumassigeSchreibmaschiene, stop talking about her between sips at the water cooler, and she will soon shrivel into nothingness. It’s that simple.

Before I can take my leave, I must provide a final slice for my book review sandwich, but finding another praise-worthy element of The Continuity Girl is the most difficult task this humble reviewer has ever encountered. I finally discovered that which I required in Stephen King’s book On Writing. “One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose,” he writes, explaining that one novel like Valley of the Dolls or Flowers in the Attic “is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.”

If King is correct, then reading Ms. McLaren’s new novel is equivalent to a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing.

From Oxford.