Books

Recent Tweets

You learn a few things when you take the tour of Vimy Ridge, as we approach the centenary of those two days in April 1917 that did so much to give Canadians a sense of themselves as a nation. You learn that these trenches through which the tour guide takes you were actually dug by the Brits, who were here a year or so earlier, when they tried and failed to win the ridge. You learn that, for the French who live around here, the memorial is a place to walk your dog—that the paths among the craters created by the thousands of shells both sides rained down on the men here, pounding them into the soil that to this day sits pockmarked, infused with bones and blood of hundreds of Canadians and Germans, are a pretty place to go for a jog. You also learn that the Germans were not in fact the enemy but, rather, the opponent. That’s the word my guide used, a few times, when talking about what happened here.

I asked her, a student from Ottawa on a plum four-month work term, about the word. Was the choice intentional? Yes. I asked her what term she used in French. She had to fast-forward through the script in her head—funded, approved, and presumably mandated by the Canadian government: “L’opposition.” Just two sides, each with a point.

Paula Daly is an author (and freelance physiotherapist) living in Cumbria, England. She is the author of Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and Keep Your Friends Close, about a happy marriage that is threatened by a suspicious outsider.

1. What...

When the historians of Punjab next gather to write the history of that proud people, they will have to include a new warrior king in the annals: Anthony Bourdain. After all, when Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series kicked off its newest season with a visit to the North Indian state, it united the Punjabi diaspora like few things before it.

I may be exaggerating, but by less than you might imagine. Bourdain’s show created an unmistakable buzz amongst Punjabis in North America. Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp conversations lit up in pre-show anticipation and post-show analysis. And could you blame us? Instead of the usual generic vision of India, here, finally, was Punjab itself: its rural roads, its Golden Temple, its boisterous sounds, its dhaba roadside restaurants.

I met García Márquez in 1969, in Barcelona, when he kindly granted me an interview for an Argentinian magazine in order to allow me to make some money to live on. García Márquez knew what it was like to be a young penniless writer. When, after finishing One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1966, and being rejected by the publisher Carlos Barral in Spain, who said to him “I don’t think this novel would sell,” García Márquez decided to offer it to Editorial Sudamericana in Buenos Aires, but had to send the manuscript in two parcels because he had not enough money to pay for the postage at all once.

“He wishes he could embrace his eclectic C.V. with the brio with which Shaquille O’Neal has embraced his, ‘from the Reebok pumps to the Shaq Fu video game to the awful movies and rap albums. I appreciate people who are happy.’” ...

In 1922, the second of three successive British expeditions to summit Everest was stuck. Though they had managed to get higher up the mountain than anyone previous—well, higher than anyone who had bothered to keep track, but at this point climbing the mountain was almost exclusively a British obsession, so it was a safe assumption—after two attempts, one of which got them to a new record of 8,230 metres, they still sat frustratingly below the peak. For George Mallory, one of the bravest and most elegant climbers on the team, if not necessarily the wisest, this would not stand: this was the second time he had gotten most of the way to the top, and that simply wasn’t good enough for him.

He led a small group on the expedition’s third attempt. Aiming for expediency, he tried to force his way up as quickly as possible, avoiding the softer climbs the group had tried before. This urgency proved disastrous; unable to hold the weight of the climbers, the steep ice collapsed into an avalanche, killing seven and ending the 1922 expedition’s attempts for good. Displaying the plucky dauntlessness that was so crucial to the British character in the latter days of empire, the avalanche was announced to the rest of the world with the relieved words, “All whites are safe!” As with last week’s disaster, their Nepalese porters took the entirety of the mountain’s wrath, including one whose body was never recovered.

The expedition wound up giving the world a much more famous phrase about Everest. On a hero-making North American tour organized after the disaster, Mallory was asked why anyone would even want to climb Everest. His response—which almost certainly doesn’t need to be repeated, but will be, endlessly—is the molecular version of man’s indomitable will to explore: “Because it’s there.”

In early May 2011 I found myself drinking heavily and late into the evening at Hart House at that year’s Toronto the Good party. The party was distinguished from other parties of the type largely by scale, not composition—after all, plenty of shindigs in this town mix politicians, architects, planners, civic-minded reporters, and assorted other local loudmouths.

Speaking with City Councillor Adam Vaughan that evening, just days after Michael Ignatieff had led the Liberal Party into a smoking crater, I made conversation by repeating what seemed the common wisdom of the time: the Liberals were doomed, doomed I said, and it wasn’t clear how the party could get out of the electoral cul-de-sac it had found itself in.

But the councillor, in what was either extraordinary prescience or extraordinary planning, said to me: “The Liberals have been in bad spots before. The people who stuck with the party the last time around had names like Trudeau. And Vaughan.”

Alistair MacLeod has died at the age of 77. In the National PostMark Medley remembers the author. Here’s MacLeodreading from No Great Mischief. And, if you haven’t read it yet, last year we published “Remembrance,” MacLeod’s first new short story in more than a decade.

In publishing, diversity is not enough.

“Never open a book from the wind’s point of view.” Visiting Elmore Leonard’s Detroit.

13. It feels somehow improper to eat Easter-branded candy corn, but the wrongness of candy corn is innate and fundamental.

12. “Simnel cake is a light fruit cake with two layers of almond paste or marzipan, one in the middle and one on top, that is toasted and eaten during the Easter period in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and some other countries.” It’s that time of year again, thought the thin-lipped British pervert. I get to eat double the marzipan!

11. The existence of chocolate-covered marshmallow eggs must be delayed compensation on the part of that kid who always wanted to make s’mores at camp.

Beyond a certain level of empyrean Beyoncé-scaled fame, pop stars are often obliged to field dumb questions from some media institution or another—especially in a music market like this one, where the #2 American album last week sold a record-low 30,000 copies, or 0.0001% of the U.S. population. So it was that Kelis had the opportunity to politely shade a New York Times Magazine reporter with responses like, “I’ve been doing music since 1998, so obviously longevity is not an issue for me,” or, “I don’t know what Paul Newman’s situation is, but I make sauce” (she started producing a whole line).

When LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to the Miami Heat in 2010, the expectation was clear. They would win championships, plural—not one, not two, not three, not four, but some other, embarrassingly high number they would surely regret ever mentioning in their premature victory parade.

The assumption was that James—and, to a lesser extent, power forward Bosh—would provide value to the team not just through their own productivity, but through the effect they would have on those around them. A good player, after all, makes his teammates better—the rare sportswriter cliché often backed up by the numbers. In the NBA, where superstars are rare, the surest way to improve an organization tends not to be patiently gathering valuable, mid-tier employees; it’s luring a star to your city and letting him transform the organization from the inside.

The belief in the transformative power of stars goes well beyond the NBA; it’s reflected in the outrageous salaries for CEOs and the scramble for talent in Silicon Valley. “Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good,” Mark Zuckerberg told The New York Times in 2011. “They are 100 times better.”

In which The Beer Store, a “foreign-owned corporate monopoly,” tries to brand convenience store clerks as the type of sleazy middle-aged men you do not want your kids to be around. Um, gross?

The New York...

A press release arrived in my inbox yesterday, heralding the opening of a new pair of rental towers in Toronto. For the neighbourhood in question, the development is the first new dedicated rental project in 40 years. For the large majority of neighbourhoods in Toronto, the next rental tower will be the first one in 40 years, if not longer—a result of a massive political turn away from encouraging rental construction in the postwar decades.

But anyone hoping the return of rental construction will bring about a return of affordability on its own has a while to wait yet. First of all, the subsidies and policies that existed in the 1970s to keep prices low either don’t exist anymore or are on their way out. (We should all be paying more attention to the expiry of co-op housing funds from Ottawa.) Secondly, the world has changed, and the wealthy aren’t fleeing our cities the way they once did. The hottest real estate markets are in city cores, and the rentals that are being built—like the towers I got that release for—aren’t aiming for the middle of the market.

Which leads a number of perfectly reasonable people to conclude that the problem is that cities are building too much luxury housing and not enough affordable units, like reporters for the New York Times in their look at the worsening affordability for renters in the US, and the gap between renters and owners. (Spoiler: it’s a pretty bleak picture.)

Have you heard? Jenny McCarthy says she’s not against vaccinations after all. This, of course, comes as a relief, because otherwise a reasonable person could conclude she’s spent years peddling nonsense at a real human cost, as children die from easily preventable infections that medical science gave us the tools to beat decades ago.

Oh, wait—McCarthy actually does have a long record of peddling nonsense, and there has been a terrible human cost, it’s just that she’s now just being deeply dishonest about her easily verifiable record. If McCarthy hasn’t ever literally said, “Mothers, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t get your kids vaccinated,” she’s done everything but, telling parents the choice is between measles and autism. Sure, the science may not even remotely support that assertion, but who cares?

The forces of reaction—of which McCarthy is a prominent but mercifully dim example—don’t simply come out and oppose something these days. If it were just McCarthy, we might still have a public health problem, but it would be a manageable one. Unfortunately, it’s not just her.

Who was tougher on corporate America as president, George W. Bush or Barack Obama? The answer may surprise you! Unless you watched this Matt Taibbi interview, in which case you would know it was (at least in his opinion) George W. Bush. Then you might be less surprised.

Shoe truthers.

Claire Battershill is a Canadian-born author now living in London, England. In 2008, she won the CBC Literary Award for Short Fiction for her story “Circus,” which is also the title of her recently published collection of short stories;...

To hear movie stars speak of one another is usually boring—until they inadvertently let something interesting slip. So a while ago, when Bollywood’s Ranveer Singh suggested co-star Anushka Sharma had the industry’s best body—and it was because she worked for it—it caught my attention.

In part, it’s because he had something resembling a point. To be clear, I have definitely never watched this bikini scenefeaturing Sharma more than once and then felt wretched for being the world’s worst feminist ally. I’m just saying that, if you are going to lay down an arbitrary, misogynistic standard of beauty, Sharma happens to live up to the current one.

Why, though, was the effort expended to realize the ideal so important? Singh’s comments, after all, seem to praise the process as much the “result”—that the noble triumvirate of being fit is to “eat right, sleep right, and train hard.” Recently, an answer came in the form of a study about stomach surgeries as a treatment for obesity. Scientists have found that, rather than simply reducing the size of the stomach, getting laproscopic surgery actually changes the composition of both gut bacteria and bile, and it is actually that which is responsible for sustained weight loss and fighting diabetes.

Not to downplay the hole that the loss of hockey is leaving in the ranks of CBC employees, nor the significant programming gap it will have to fill when Rogers fully takes over Hockey Night in Canada in a few years, but the biggest lack that no pucks will leave on our national broadcaster is probably in its ethos. For better or worse, hockey is one of the few national myths that almost everyone—or at least enough people to drown out any complaints—can agree on. If it is a significant role of any national broadcaster to help in some way define its country, the CBC’s task gets infinitely harder when it can’t just turn its entire Saturday night and most of the spring to the Maple Leafs, Sidney Crosby, and the Stanley Cup.

It’s definitely not made any easier by the fact that, even with hockey, its English-language television programming—which is, again, for better or worse, effectively what a lot of people think of when they think of the CBC, or certainly at least complain about it—is in something of a doldrums.

A new Jason Molina tribute album is streaming at NPR, and it is a lovely thing.

“An earlier version of this story said that the methane emissions associated with livestock come from their farts. In fact, most of those methane emissions come from belches.”

In the summer of 2013, one of the wunderkind companies of the 2008 green energy euphoria went belly-up. Better Place, formerly Project Better Place, was an effort by Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi to revolutionize the concept of electric cars by, essentially, taking the part of the consumer experience everyone hates about the mobile phone provider (selling people a barely subsidized piece of consumer electronics for the dubious privilege of being locked into a multi-year contract) and combining it with the second-largest purchase most households make.

To his credit, Agassi was legitimately trying to think about the problem of accelerating the adoption of electric cars in a new way. To his discredit, that seems to be about the only nice thing anyone has left to say about him. Fast Company has a pretty clinical post-mortem of Better Place, and it’s kind of a buffet of vignettes of what happens when a firehose of money gets pointed at people who don’t have the skills to know what to do with it, or even the skill to recognize what they don’t know. (The point where Agassi divorces his wife and starts bringing his new girlfriend to meetings is a particular nice touch.)

Pages