Colson Whitehead was miserable when he entered the World Series of Poker. But poker is a perfect game for the miserable—and for a writer.
In January 1985, two years before her suicide, Margaret Laurence went on national television to say she was “profoundly angry.” A group of about 600 people had launched a campaign to ban her novels from high school libraries in the Peterborough, Ontario area—the very community in which she lived—branding her work obscene and blasphemous. This was not the first such attempt to suppress her books. One detractor called her writing “dehumanizing filth.”
The ongoing conversation about whether protagonists ought to be likeable reveals how shallow the quality is in the first place.
Let’s talk about incest. I missed the V.C. Andrews train as a kid—I can picture the book nestled in with my vast collection of second-hand Harlequins, but for whatever reason I never picked it up. (As a teen, and even slightly before, I preferred adult protagonists. There were a handful of Christopher Pike novels, and a contemporary eating disorder-themed YA novel or two, but for the most part I liked adults.) Perhaps because of the Lifetime movie that’s airing this weekend, for the past couple months I’ve heard so much more about Flowers in the Attic than I ever did in my pubescence.
One of my favourite elements of the Slate Book Review is the author editor interview. (Having sat in both seats myself, I’m reminded of the comedian Fred Allen, who, when editors would put in their demands for changes, would blurt, “Where were you bastards when the pages were blank?” I first heard about that joke from a Maria Bustillo’s piece celebrating her former editor and colleague at The Awl last year.)
In the suburbs of Calgary, I sat on a sectional sofa in a dark basement, too afraid to move through the blackness of the main floor, up another flight of stairs to my bed, because the only faith I had was that some kind of alien, some kind of monster, would come for me in the night. I eventually talked myself into making the journey, with the electrifying taste of my own heartbeat in my mouth.
But I was right to be paranoid; my brain had already been washed. In 2013, twenty years after the fact, I was given the chance to revisit the mad scientists responsible. The X-Files, in its entirety, is available on Netflix. The conspiracy unravels itself faster these days, with the help of on-demand viewings and Internet forums and countless articles celebrating the show’s 20th anniversary. There’s no shortage of fodder for further conspiracies. Sometimes I watch alone, sometimes with others, and I know how crazy this is going to sound, but I want to believe.
I watched The X-Files growing up, and my boyfriend had never seen them, so we’re watching them now. It’s funny, some of the episodes I remember being in love with, when I watch them now they’re not that good. But … David Duchovny is so attractive that I really don’t care. It’s always the same thing, regardless of what happens, Scully’s always the skeptic. It doesn’t matter what happens to her or what she sees. It’s kind of a ridiculous show, actually. But some of the things they show … they clearly did a lot of research, I can tell. With certain plotlines they know what they’re doing; I’ve read about or have books about some of the same stuff, and I’m like, Okay, that’s true, people do believe that. They put some effort into it, but it’s so flawed at the same time.
Peter Kaplan, the steward of a generation of snappy upstart journalists, has died of cancer. A fixture in New York’s increasingly fluid media world, Kaplan was a rare gem—at the helm of the New York Observer he brought together a cabal of young journalists and editors who went on to do great, weird things all over the field. With the news of his death, the Observer republished Kaplan’s obituary for his mentor, the great Clay Felker, founding editor of New York Magazine, to give us a sense of the man behind the man behind the myth.
As the temperature dips, I find myself thinking mostly about bodies and heat. Something about snow makes me crave spice, and I’m not the only one, not by a long shot. Even here at Hazlitt there’s a renewed interest in getting under the covers—you’ve already listened to the latest (sexiest?) episode of The Arcade podcast, right?
A lot of my books are still in Vancouver. When I went to McGill I moved a lot of my books with me, and I had the painful experience of moving back west with them. So I decided I wouldn’t do that again until I found my forever home. So other than say, 10 books, these are all books I’ve gotten in the last year and a half. I’ve read, I think, 90 percent. So this is actually a really good, condensed look at my reading life over the last year and a bit. Some Julian Barnes, some comedy.
Though I’ll never have the opportunity to feature Mordecai Richler in a Shelf Esteem column, this note on his cottage library—all 5,000 books which were recently acquired by Concordia—comes pretty close. The Richler reading room will not feature a lending library. Fitting, given how the man himself said, “Don’t lend books—you’ll never see them again.”
Perhaps I’m no better than Will Ferrell, because for the past few weeks it seems the first part of this column has been given over to Rob Ford. It’s not because I’m promoting anything, or because I...
I live with my parents, but I do love this space. It’s difficult to reconcile loving this exact room and not wanting to be with my family all the time. But the worst part about it is that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have to pee, and that means going outside to get to the bathroom in the main house. I have to put on a jacket! I’m looking forward to being in a space where I can just walk to the bathroom from my bedroom and back without putting my outdoor clothes on.
Doris Lessing has died. Lessing, who in 2007 greeted the news that she had won the Nobel Prize with a sigh and an exasperated “Oh, Christ,” was not one for hoopla. As David L. Ulin put in it the LA Times, “For Lessing, the act of writing was provoked in equal parts by rage and restlessness. She had no use for orthodoxy, of either the cultural or aesthetic kind.” She even refused to become a Dame, though to many her prose and her politics entitled her to a kingdom all her own. Here‘s an essay in which Hilary Mantel discusses Lessing‘s life and autobiography, in the London Review of Books.
I can’t bring myself to type Rob Ford’s remarks from this morning, and unlike @HulkMayor, I am only now getting to the stage where I deal with my shame and anger and embarrassment with glib links. No caps lock yet, instead I’ll just leave this probably NSFW, unless you have headphones on, song right here. It occurs to me that Mayor Ford himself is pretty NSFW.
This was my grandma’s house. The last of the old people, like the 70 year olds next door, Gino remembers me when I was a little boy. They’re hanging on. My wife was telling me how when we first moved in here, the neighbours weren’t really sure what I do. Because I don’t “go to work.” I think some of the neighbours thought I was on disability or something, and then Gino saw me on TV. He was like, “Oh, okay!” And then his son, who is kind of urbane, explained my work to him. Later, we were having a problem in the front garden, digging up some roots. Gino—he’s a strong old Italian guy—comes over with a pickaxe, and he’s digging the roots out, hacking at them with this pickaxe. And he’s sweating through his undershirt. And he says to me, he says “When you write a book, you kill me. When I do this, I kill you.” We’re killing each other. It’s hilarious.
After today, the flowers will be gone for another year. At 11 this morning, did you think about Vimy Ridge, or Kandahar? Next year, Canada will be a country at peace, but for now we are remembering everything we’ve broken and all we’ve burned. Doug Saunders makes the eloquent point that you should consider our government’s current track record with new vets, including cutting back their pensions. Today at 11, I thought of the people I know who serve in the armed forces, with a near-anguished sense of complicated gratitude in my heart.
Okay, so, the Mayor of Toronto. So many layers to this story. There’s Robyn Doolittle, author of the forthcoming Crazy Town, recounting the beginning of the crack-scandal in the Toronto Star. There’s this sanctimonious Freddie De Boer piece in Jacobin about Gawker’s addiction to this story. (Gawker isn’t really my cup of tea, and Jacobin’s hardly my jug of cat piss either—but that’s the thing with this story, it’s taking us all to places we’d rather not be.)
In our third—and final—dispatch from IFOA, Douglas Coupland remembers quitting smoking, and moderator Rodge Glass asks Craig Davidson, Tamara Daith Berger and others what is the point to all this writing.