Looking back and ahead

January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

In 2012 I had one clear favourite out of all the books I’d read: Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods. This year I had no single best book. Here are my top ten books from 2013, plus a bonus one, in no particular order.

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (which I reviewed for the Globe and Mail)
  • The Canvas by Benjamin Stein, translated from the German by Brian Zumhagen
  • Idiopathy by Sam Byers
  • For Sure by France Daigle, translated from the French by Robert Majzels (which I reviewed in last week’s TLS [paywall])
  • The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan (which I reviewed for the National Post)
  • First Novel by Nicholas Royle
  • Not Anyone’s Anything  by Ian Williams
  • Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic
  • Permission by SD Chrostowska

And now some recommendations for 2014. Two of my friends are bringing out books: Jonathan Bennett’s excellent The Colonial Hotel and Michelle Berry’s Interference, which I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading. I’m also looking forward to Carrie Snyder’s Girl Runner, Eliza Robertson’s Wallflowers and Padma Viswanathan’s The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. On the translation front I recommend Quebec author Raymond Bock’s Atavismes (translated by Pablo Strauss), from which two very good stories were excerpted in the Review of Contemporary Fiction last year and Julia Deck’s Viviane: A Novel, which I suspect Kerry Clare (whose forthcoming non-fiction anthology The M Word looks absolutely fascinating) would like.

Six Canadian writers I wish would hurry up and publish another book

January 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m not including people who published a book in 2013, nor people who have one coming out in 2014 (post to follow…probably), but here’s a very short list of some of the Anglophone Canadians I want to read more of, and soon. Maybe some of them have been quietly beavering away and do in fact have a book coming out this year. So much the better. Whenever their books are launched, I’ll be first in the queue. I wish I could have included images but WordPress was not cooperating.

Pasha Malla

The Withdrawal Method, Malla’s debut short-story collection, is fantastic. Its stellar nature may have led me to be overly harsh when reviewing People Park, and I could well be in a minority of one in thinking it wasn’t his best work even though it was fascinating, ambitious and clever. Nonetheless, I look forward eagerly to a new Pasha Malla book. For a little taste, check out Malla’s fantastic review of Robert Walser in the Globe and Mail last year.

Ian Williams

Another great short story writer. Williams’ Not Anyone’s Anything is, like The Withdrawal Method, the perfect blend of realism and grounded fantastic. Williams is also a poet and was shortlisted last year for the Griffin Prize.

Jessica Grant

Everyone seems to love Jessica Grant’s Come, Thou Tortoise, and I think its success is partly down to the fact that it can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I liked her short stories in Making Light of Tragedy even better. What will be next?

Anakana Schofield

Malarkey was one of the big seriously literary novels of 2012 for me, with its strange but brilliant mixture of exuberance of tone and the grief and darkness it deals with. Since Malarkey took ten years, we might be waiting a while for the next book, but we know it will be excellent.

Heather Birrell

Heather Birrell’s second short-story collection, Mad Hope, was another great 2012 book. I didn’t intend this post to be about so many short-story writers, but it is a genre that Canada as a whole excels in. A bit more to the realist end of things than some of the others, Birrell can write stories that feel as though they actually thump you in the chest.

Madeleine Thien

Simple Recipes came out when I was living in Vancouver and Thien was quite possibly the first young Canadian writer I had read. She’s written three books since then, the latter of which, Dogs at the Perimeter, was a powerful and lyrical novel about the aftermath of the Cambodian genocide. On top of her fiction writing, Thien is also a smart thinker.



Something Rhymed

January 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

My friend Emily Midorikawa has been working on a new website, Something Rhymed, about the literary friendships of famous female authors. Each month they’ll profile a different pair and post a challenge based on some feature of their relationship. This month the focus is on Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf. Go and have a look!

The Three Rs: Sumia Sukkar

December 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sumia Sukkar is a 21-year-old Muslim British writer, raised in London, of  Syrian-Algerian ancestry. She studied creative writing at Kingston University. The Boy From Aleppo Who Painted The War is her debut book, and was launched at Foyles in London at the beginning of  November. The Times, in a recent review, noted the authenticity of her  research, and how moving her novel of autism, love, art and war is. Sumia  is currently working and writing in the Middle East.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I’ve been writing ever since I could remember. I used to write short stories when I was young and show them to my teacher. My parents then bought me a lovely notebook for my birthday when I was 7 and I started writing my first ‘novel’ . So probably ever since I was 7.

How does writing fit into your typical day?

I’m a traveller so it varies really. Day, evening, night. I can just say it happens everyday in my red notebook.

the boy from Aleppo who painted the war

Do you type or write by hand?

First draft by hand then I type it onto my laptop. I then edit again by hand on the printed pages.

What have you read recently that you loved?

Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami. Such an enigmatic book!

What are your all-time favourites?

The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, The Time Travellers Wife and everything by Haruki Murakami.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

How brutal a question! I can’t possibly pick. Writing… no, Reading… No… I can’t do this!

What’s your third R, and why?

Ramen. Got to love my noodles.

Le Quartanier’s Tenth Anniversary

December 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Le Quartanier is one of Quebec’s most interesting publishers. It has just celebrated its tenth anniversary by putting out a collection of ten novellas by its authors. I reviewed Rosemont de profil by Raymond Bock, whose short-story collection Atavismes is coming out in translation (by Pablo Strauss) next year with Dalkey Archive. You can read the reviews of all ten books over at ambos.

Rosemont de profil

Diaspora Dialogues: TOK 7

December 3, 2013 § 1 Comment

During one of my frequent reorganisations of the TBR bookcase pile I recently discovered a slim volume that had slipped off the shelf and got hidden in another book. Given that this is absolutely the neatest, cleanest and tidiest part of my house, it’s hard for me to believe that a book could have disappeared for almost a year, but there it is. The volume in question is Diaspora Dialogues’ TOK 7 (the final number in this anthology’s series), published last autumn. When it turned up this time I immediately started reading and was drawn in by Andrew Pyper’s story about a sleep clinic. Since I am a lifelong insomniac the subtext of my reading was clearly a search for answers, but Pyper’s excellent and subtly sinister story thwarted my expectations. I like my novels to have two feet on the ground, but with short stories I’m happy, perhaps even happier, for them to hop a little, which this one does. It’s clever and well done.

There were intriguing similarities of theme between James Papoutsis’ “Centennial Year” and Vania Selvaggi’s “Pack Your Temper” as Mediterranean ways of dealing with problems lead to problems with the law in Canada. It’s curious that fathers, or men of a certain age, are always the people most resistant to change. I loved Catriona Wright’s “The Copyeditors” and Moez Surani’s concrete poems. The most moving piece of all, though, was Jungyeon Jennie Heo’s “Dear Professor L.” Fiction or memoir or both together, this is the story of a young immigrant girl struggling with her mother’s ill health, with writing university papers in her second language and, above all, with the burden of knowing her parents’ hard life, even their move to Canada, was to give her a better future.

The Three Rs: Elisabeth de Mariaffi

December 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Elisabeth de Mariaffi is the author of the short-story collection How to Get Along with Women, which was longlisted for the Giller Prize earlier this year.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I don’t know. When I was eleven I thought I wanted to be an actress, and then when I was seventeen I wanted to be a diplomat and speak seven languages. I wrote (bad) poems in high school and was encouraged in this by a drama teacher. Then I decided to be a journalist, but turned down offers from journalism schools and instead attempted to do a degree in French Language and Semantics with a minor in Botany. This kind of cross-college activity is not encouraged by the university system.

When I was three, I made books constantly and sold them on my front lawn for 5 cents a piece.

How does writing fit into your typical day?

Right now I have a day job as a marketer in publishing, so: not much. I’m more of a binge writer, anyway. So I’ll have some days where I don’t write, but when I’m working on something I’m very focused. I did a five-week stint this summer where I wrote close to 200 pages. I don’t know what that translates to on a per-day basis. I’d rather not do the math.

Do you type or write by hand?

I type. When I’m writing-writing, like for real, I type. I make notes by hand. I keep a very very sporadic journal. I’d like to go back to that. I did an MFA where my thesis was in poetry and I wrote everything by hand first, but with fiction, I like typing. My advisor for that poetry thesis was Dionne Brand, and she said this incredibly smart thing about not typing drafts of poetry — because on a computer, that first draft is all laid out and typeset and looks lovely and more dangerous than that, it looks finished. So scrawly drafts are important.

How to Get Along with Women by Elisabeth de Mariaffi (Invisible Publishing)

What have you read recently that you loved?

I loved Lisa Moore’s Caught. Loved it. I think it’s the smartest book I read this year. I’m reading We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo right now and I’m completely taken with it, as well.

What are your all-time favourites?

I find this question very stressful, as I’m sure to forget something really important. Short stories by Alice Munro, Mark Anthony Jarman, Stephen O’Connor, Aimee Bender, James Salter, Flannery O’Connor; Michael Winter’s One Last Good Look; novels, I guess Emma, Madame Bovary, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Tender is the Night, Love in a Time of Cholera, George Orwell’s  Down and Out in Paris and London, although that’s really a memoirI have a real affinity for genre mystery and that’s what I read when I have the flu. Hercule Poirot to Precious Ramotswe.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Read. No question. The writing can happen in your head; but without reading, I do not think I would write.

What’s your third R, and why?

Running. I’ve been running since I was 15 and it’s completely essential, meditative, and an energy-burner. I have a lot of energy to burn, in order to be able to sit down for four or five hours and focus on writing again.


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