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Canadian literary event roundup: June 1-7

  • Deux Voiliers Publishing open house featuring Brendan Ray, Stephen Lorne Bennett, Chris Turner, and Con Cu, Collected Works Bookstore, Ottawa (June 1, 7 p.m., free)
  • Niagara Literary Arts Festival kicks off with readings by Erno Rossi and Marsha Barber, Patrick Sheehan’s Irish Pub, St. Catharines, Ont. (June 1, 7:30 p.m., free)
  • Ridgeway Reads all-day book fair, Legion Branch 230, Ridgeway ON (June 2, 9 a.m., $20 per table)
  • Writing for Children and Young Adults workshop with Brian Henrey and Kelley Armstrong, Oakville Central Library, Oakville Ont. (June 2, 10 a.m., $48; $44 in advance)
  • Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia Annual General Meeting, Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, Halifax (June 2, 12 p.m., free)
  • Kathryn Ellis launches her new YA book, Home in Time for Dinner, Chapters Richmond Hill, Ont. (June 2, 1 p.m., free).
  • “Out of the Shadows,” a panel on the art of translation featuring Hugh Hazelton, Susan Ouriou, and Gisèle Villeneuve, Shelf Life Books, Calgary (June 2, 3 p.m, free.)
  • Authors and Angels at the Astor, a tribute to Joyce Barkhouse featuring Alex Hickey, Vernon Oickle, Marcia Pierce Harding, E. Alex Pierce, and Janet Barkhouse, Astor Theatre, Liverpool, N.S. (June 2, 7 p.m., $10, $10 for reception)
  • Jay Ingram reads from Fatal Flaws, Plaza Theatre, Calgary (June 3, 11 a.m., $10; $20 includes lunch)
  • Esther Paul launches Mending Fences, McNally Robinson, Winnipeg (June 3, 2 p.m., free)
  • Battle of the Sexes Poetry with Dwayne Morgan, Elle Seon, Ritallin, Tammy Soulful, Dahveed Delisca, Dianne Robinson, Denyce, and Tomy Buick, Lamabadina Lounge, Toronto (June 3, 6 p.m., $20 $15 in advance)
  • Toronto Jewish Book Festival kicks off with Michael Wex interviewing Auslander, Toronto Reference Library (June 4, 8 p.m., $25)
  • 8th House Publishing launches The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover by Charles Talkoff, Jump the Devil by Richard Rathwell, and The Midas Touch by James Cummins and Cameron W. Reed, Paragraphe Bookstore, Montreal (June 6, 6 p.m., free)
  • Readings with Angie Abdou, Mark Lavorato and Teri Vlassopoulos, Librarie Drawn & Quarterly, Montreal (June 6, 7 p.m., free)
  • Book signing with Treena Wynes, McNally Robinson, Saskatoon (June 7, 7:30 p.m., free)
  • Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist readings featuring Ken Babstock, Phil Hall, David Harsent, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sean O’Brien, Joanna Trzeciak/Tadeusz Różewicz and Jan Zwicky, Koerner Hall, Toronto (June 6, 7:30, from $12.50)
  • Shree Gatage launches her novel Thirst, Pages on Kensington, Calgary (June 7, 7:30 p.m., free)
  • The Heroines of The Sexual Gothic fundraiser, featuring Susan Swan, the Billie Hollies and Martha Chaves, Toronto Women’s Bookstore (June 7, 6:30 p.m., $30 $25 in advance)
  • Dan Rather discusses his memoir Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Indigo Manulife, Toronto (June 7, 7 p.m., free)

Quillblog is looking for photos from literary events across Canada. Send your photos to

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BookNet bestsellers: Canadian fiction

Esi Edugyan’s Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning novel, Half-Blood Blues, remains on top of this week’s Canadian fiction bestsellers’ list. For the two weeks ending Jan. 22:

1. Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
(Thomas Allen Publishers, $24.95 pa, 9780887627415)

2. The Winter Palace, Eva Stachniak
(Doubleday Canada, $24.95 pa, 9780385666565)

3. The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
(House of Anansi Press, $22.95 pa, 9781770890329)

4. The Virgin Cure, Ami McKay
(Knopf Canada, $32 cl, 9780676979565)

5. The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
(McClelland & Stewart, $32 cl, 9780771068645)

6. Bride of New France, Suzanne Desrochers
(Penguin Canada, $16 pa, 9780143173397)

7. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 pa, 9780061974304)

8. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443408981)

9. Room, Emma Donoghue
(HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 pa, 9781554688326)

10. An Irish Country Village, Patrick Taylor
(Forge Books/Raincoast, $9.99 mm, 9780765368256)

11. The Midwife of Venice, Roberta Rich
(Doubleday Canada, $22.95 pa, 9780385668279)

12. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
(HarperCollins Canada, $16.50 pa, 9780006391555)

13. The Best Laid Plans, Terry Fallis
(McClelland & Stewart, $19.99 pa, 9780771047589)

14. Ru, Kim Thuy; Sheila Fischman, trans.
(Random House Canada, $25 cl, 9780307359704)

15. Bad Boy, Peter Robinson
(McClelland & Stewart, $9.99 mm, 9780771076336)

16. Annabel, Kathleen Winter
(Anansi, $19.95 pa, 9780887842900)

17. The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, Ian Hamilton
(Spiderline/Anansi, $19.95 pa, 9780887842535)

18. The Illustrated Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 cl, 9781443412193)

19. Hark! A Vagrant, Kate Beaton
(Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 cl, 9781770460607)

20. The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway
(Random House of Canada, $21 pa, 9780307397041)

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15 TIFF films for the literary-minded

You’re not going to get close to Brad Pitt, in town this weekend for the premiere of Moneyball, the adaptation of Michael Lewis’s baseball book of the same name, but if you’re attending the Toronto International Film Festival this week, here are 15 more book-to-screen adaptations or literary-minded films to keep in mind.

Albert Nobbs: Glenn Close stars in the adaptation of George Moore’s 19th-century short story about an Irish woman who disguises herself as a man to work as a butler.

Almayer’s Folly: In 2000, director Chantal Akerman adapted the fifth volume of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu for the big screen; this time it’s Joseph Conrad’s debut novel.

Anonymous: Director Roland Emmerich travels back to the court of Queen Elizabeth I in this drama, which suggests Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have written Shakespeare’s greatest plays.

Chicken with Plums: Marjane Satrapi reunites with her Persepolis co-director Vincent Paronnaud to adapt the second graphic novel in the trilogy.

A Dangerous Method: David Cronenberg’s period piece is adapted from screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s play, which was based on John Kerr’s non-fiction work A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein.

The Eye of the Storm: Charlotte Rampling plays an aging matriarch to Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis in this adaptation of Australian author Patrick White’s novel of the same name.

The First Man: A French film by Italian director Gianni Amelio, based on Albert Camus’ unfinished autobiographical novel Le premier homme, which the author was working on when he was killed in a car accident.

Habibi: A modern retelling of the ninth-century classical poem Majnun Layla (Mad for Layla), set in the Gaza Strip.

Hard Core Logo II: The sequel (or companion film) to the Canadian cult classic, based on the novel by Michael Turner, stars director Bruce McDonald.

Killer Elite: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, and Robert De Niro pull out the action for this film, adapted from Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ 1991 bestseller.

The Moth Diaries: Mary Harron takes on the complexities of female adolescence in this horror film, based on Rachel Klein’s vampire novel.

Monsieur Lazar: Set in a Montreal elementary school, Philippe Falardeau’s new film is expanded from a one-character play by Evelyne de la Chenelière.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Ewan McGregor stars as a scientist in Lasse Hallström’s adaptation of Paul Torday’s best-selling novel.

Trishna: It’s not the first time Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles has been made into a film, but this one is directed by Michael Winterbottom and set in India.

UFO in Her Eyes: Contemporary Chinese culture is explored in this adaptation of a novel by Xiaolu Guo, who also directed the film.


Books of the Year 2010: Fiction and Poetry

There’s no formula for choosing the books of the year. Some break ground, some tackle familiar themes with new energy. Some represent the best work from established authors, some introduce us to important new voices. And some are simply in-house favourites we feel deserve a little more attention. Here are the Fiction and Poetry books that made the most impact in 2010.

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My year of writing a trendy book for the masses

If you were planning to write a My Year of Doing Something Singularly Weird or Stupid or Virtuous memoir, you better get those pitches in soon. The LA Times claims the trend is soon to be played out:

They’re not professional pranksters, exactly, but the authors of what might be called gimmick books — memoirs with premises so high-concept they could come from Hollywood pitch meetings: This year, I will take all of my instruction from self-help gurus. Or, this month, I will be radically honest with everyone I meet. Or, today I will try to behave exactly like George Washington, genteel bow, Dudley Do-Right walk and all.

The last few years have also seen many green-themed gimmick books, including Colin Beavan’s new No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. Gimmicky or not, some have been fabulously successful, and as it gets harder to break into print, the category remains one that publishers invest in.

The article goes on to explore the king of the gimmick genre, A.J. Jacobs. The title of his next book is The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment. He spent 2004 on a quest to become the smartest man, and 2007 taking the Bible literally.

Scott Timberg posits that these stunt books may be the result of the industry’s earlier slew of poor-me suckfest memoirs, the more harrowing the childhood the better. Timberg quotes industry observer Sara Nelson:

“Poor Frank McCourt wouldn’t get published today, I’d bet.” says Nelson, “The dreary Irish childhood recounted in Angela’s Ashes, from 1996, “was pretty horrific, but in an old-fashioned way. Readers have been desensitized to that.”

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Those bloody, author-thievin’ Irish

In response to the recent spat between Ukrainians and Russians over the true citizenship of Nikolai Gogol, The Guardian books blogger John Mullan questions the whole notion of countries laying claims of ownership on writers. He also takes the opportunity to poke some fun at Ireland, for what he sees as its penchant for stealing authors away from Britain.

Look at the Irish, who have proved particularly skilful at this. They have effortlessly reclaimed all the great authors who fled the country of their birth – Goldsmith, Joyce, Beckett – even though the latter wrote some of his greatest work in French, the language of his adopted country. They have managed to persuade many that Laurence Sterne (born in Ireland because his father was a British soldier stationed there) and William Congreve (born in Yorkshire, but educated partly in Ireland because his father was another British officer) were really Irish. (The fact that both these writers were witty somehow confirms their essential Irishness.) And, their biggest triumph, they have taken possession of Jonathan Swift, perhaps the greatest of all satirists. In fact Swift called himself “English”, spoke of his residence in Dublin as an “exile” in “a land I hate”, and did not even have an Irish accent. But he has long become a great Irish patriot, adorning banknotes and tourist brochures.

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James Reaney, 1926-2008

Ontario playwright James Reaney died last week at the age of 81. Reaney, who was a poet and a professor as well as a playwright, lived in London, Ontario, and Southwestern Ontario was the backdrop for much of his work. He is best known for his trilogy of plays about “the Black Donnellys,” a family of Irish immigrants in Lucan, Ontario (just outside London) who were massacred by a mob of their neighbours in 1880. The three Donnelly plays – Sticks and Stones, The St. Nicholas Hotel, and Handcuffs – were just reissued in a single volume by Dundurn Press.


A little continuity

Leah McLarenRyan Bigge wasted no time in demonstrating his disdain for Leah McLaren’s debut novel, The Continuity Girl, in his review for the Toronto Star on Sunday. After praising the typesetting as the novel’s only virtue, Bigge struggles for adjectives to describe the prose: “Uber-lousy? Fifth-rate? Super-bad? None of the above. There exists no English word that adequately describes the not-so-goodness herein.” Bigge then goes on to trash the novel and dismiss McLaren as a “provocative pool toy that is kept inflated only by the warm air of the chattering classes.”

What Bigge leaves out of his review is that McLaren trashed his debut book, a memoirish examination of the lives of single men called A Very Lonely Planet, in her column. In Other Media can’t remember McLaren’s exact wording, but we suspect that Bigge has been waiting for some time to even the score.

Related links:
Read Ryan Bigge’s article in the Toronto Star

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Speculation begins over Lapham’s replacement at Harper’s

Last week, Lewis Lapham announced his decision to step down from his 24-year-long post as editor-in-chief of Harper’s, saying to The New York Times, “I have a certain number of years left and a number of things I’ve left undone.”

Creator of popular sections in the magazine that include the ever-imitated Harper’s Index — and largely responsible for the magazine’s current mix of essays, fiction, and snippets, as well as its left-leaning stance — Lapham’s presence at the helm of one of America’s oldest magazines will be missed.

But the fun part — speculation on successors — has only really begun, and Jim Hanas of the blog Encyclopedia Hanasiana conjectures that Harper’s and Saturday Night alum and This American Life senior editor Paul Tough is likely a candidate, as well as other Harper’s alums Jack Hitt and Michael Pollan. In response to Hanas’s call for “some irresponsible conjecture, dammit,” Bookslut’s Michael Schaub throws in a pick of his own: “Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis. He turned the Fighting Irish from also-rans to BCS contenders. Can he do the same for one of America’s most beloved magazines?”

Related links:
Click here for the official word from Harper’s
Click here for The New York Times‘ take on the news
Click here for Jim Hanas’s speculations on Encyclopedia Hanasiana
Click here for the posting by Bookslut’s Michael Schaub

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Literary history as an excuse for drinking

With heritage locales dedicated to the likes of Joyce and Wilde and guided literature-themed tours brimming with more foreign visitors than ever finished Ulysses, the Irish tourism industry makes a mint from its literary heritage. In a recent article on the Book Standard website, Jessa Crispin gets inside the world of literary pub crawls in Ireland by — how else? — joining in on one.

Between lectures and explanations given by tour guides drinking as heavily as their charges, Crispin learns one thing: literary pub crawls are more about the pub than the literary. Making her rounds, Crispin talks to her fellow crawlers: people who joined on the recommendations of tourist information booth staffers. There are Americans who have yet to attempt a Joycean doorstop, a tour guide who provides an explanation for the extreme popularity of pub crawls — “[the fact that] Dublin is so boring” — and even a mother-son team. “I ask Londoner John what made him come down tonight. He points at a woman. ‘That’s my mom. She wanted to go on the musical pub crawl, but I didn’t think I would be able to take it. I suggested this as a compromise.’”

Related links:
Click here for Crispin’s piece on the Book Standard website

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Chris Jennings

Kaie Kellough


Hall of Honourers

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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