About Me

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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

The Road To Derry


Sunday, February 05, 2023

Early Sunday Morning

 Early Sunday Morning


I used to mock my father and his chums

for getting up early on Sunday morning

and drinking coffee at a local spot

but now I’m one of those chumps.

No one cares about my old humiliations

but they go on dragging through my sleep

like a string of empty tin cans rattling

behind an abandoned car.

It’s like this: just when you think

you have forgotten that red-haired girl

who left you stranded in a parking lot

forty years ago, you wake up

early enough to see her disappearing

around the corner of your dream

on someone else’s motorcycle

roaring onto the highway at sunrise.

And so now I’m sitting in a dimly lit

café full of early morning risers

where the windows are covered with soot

and the coffee is warm and bitter.

Poem copyright ©2009 by Edward Hirsch

Monday, January 30, 2023

Altered Books

Isobelle Ouzman is a Slovakia-based mixed media artist with a love for books. Here are some of the altered books she created last year:

Tuesday, January 24, 2023


The Anne of Green Gables Manuscript site includes both Montgomery's additions to the manuscript as well as Text, Video, Audio, and Photo Annotations that explain unique aspects of the story or of Montgomery's life on Prince Edward Island.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Young Mungo

Young Mungo
is the second novel by Scottish-American writer, Douglas Stuart. It tells the story of a poor Protestant family living in a tenement in Glasgow in the 1990s. It alternates between two time periods several months apart. In the earlier sections, we're introduced to the notorious Hamilton family. Mo-Maw is the alcoholic mother of three who neglects her family as she searches for true love. Daughter Jodie who is still in high school is forced to pick up the slack and tries her level best to keep the household running. Hamish, the eldest sibling, is a brutal gang leader who already has a child of his own. Mungo is the youngest child and dearly loves his mother despite her horrific flaws. He is fifteen years old and immature in many ways but is beginning to explore his sexuality and falls into a relationship with James, a young Catholic boy, who raises pigeons. Both boys are lonely and yearn for a place they can go where they will be accepted for who they are but in their world homosexuality is abhorred and the boys are forced to keep the nature of their relationship secret. Nonetheless there is talk and disapproval. His mother and his brother decide it is time to "make a man" of him. Hamish forces Mungo to participate in a street fight with the Catholics and, although he avoids assaulting other boys, he is viciously attacked. In an egregious exhibition of poor judgment his mother sends him on a camping trip with two seedy members of her AA chapter to learn the manly art of fishing. I found the story of that expedition so disturbing that I had to put the book away for a few days.
 Stuart is a master of character, atmosphere and dialogue and there are some heartbreakingly tender moments that almost made me weep. Young Mungo is a powerful work of fiction but it is a brutal read and won't appeal to all readers. 
(Stuart's first novel, Shuggie Bain, was awarded the 2020 Booker Prize and I will read it once I've had a chance to digest this one.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The thrill of performing (and a strapless bra) was all we needed at 14

My friend Sally Basmajian wrote this new piece in the Globe. She also has a contemporary romance novel (So Hard To Do) launching this month.

In the late 1960s, San Francisco teemed with flower-wearing hippies – and Kingston, Ont., resonated with mouldering music from 1907. The comic opera Tom Jones, presented by the Rotary Club, was about to open for a three-night run at the Grand Theatre, and somehow I had finagled a bit part in the chorus, along with my two 14-year-old friends.

During rehearsals, we hefted our imaginary serving trays and, together with the adult vocalists, bellowed out the opening number, which sprinted along like this: “Hurry, bustle, hurry, bustle, sarving men and wenches.” “Sarving” was a silly, archaic word that made us giggle, and in our schoolgirl skirts and turtlenecks, we didn’t look very wench-like.

We felt much more grown-up when we were eventually assigned our costumes. As support cast members, we wore the plainest outfits, but to Sheryl, Leigh and me they were pretty darn glam. Mine consisted of a baby-blue, off-the-shoulder blouse and a bright pink cotton skirt, cinched at the waist with a black corset. I also wore a white mobcap bonnet festooned with lace, which I tugged over my mousy hair, to which I attached a long synthetic extension. The fake locks dangled provocatively over my collarbone. I was such a picaresque babe.

But the best was still to come. Our director insisted no “sarving wench” could pass muster without a strapless bra. Our bras had straps, and exposing those would be deplorable.

At home, I negotiated an advance on my next four allowances in order to get one. Before we went shopping, I looped my mom’s sewing tape around myself to count the inches. No way – that couldn’t be accurate.

I met Sheryl and Leigh downtown. The lingerie store was close to the bowling alley where I used to celebrate my birthdays. Bowling, I scoffed at my younger self. As if that would ever happen again, now that I was so womanly.

The formidable matron who ran the shop was buttressed like a castle – her hips were curtain walls, her breasts horizontal turrets. She creaked as she approached.

Tongue-tied, we peered up at her. Finally, Sheryl, who was the boldest of us wenches, piped up: “We need strapless bras.” After a tick or two of silence, she added, “Please.”

The woman stared down her nose at Sheryl. She turned to Leigh, who was our cutest member, used to getting the attention of adults and, more recently, the 10th-grade boys.

“We’re in a play.” Leigh’s freckles were darkening under stress, like usual.

I had to save her. “We’re in an opera.” To me, it was imperative to cite one’s credentials correctly. Having done so, I continued to babble. “And our costumes show our shoulders. We need proper underwear. I mean, we need …ˮ

“Strapless bras.” Sheryl nudged us aside, as if Leigh and I weren’t mature enough to execute this mission without her help.

The proprietor yanked a measuring tape off the counter. “Remove your coat. Raise your arms.”

I followed her orders. Then I inhaled my deepest breath.

“Stop that.” She thrust a dangerously manicured index finger under my rib cage. Immediately, I wheezed out air and lost two inches in circumference.

“32,” she said. Her eyes narrowed. “Double A.”

My cheeks flamed. I grabbed my coat and held it like armour over my chest.

Leigh’s turn. Same result. I lowered my coat.

Things went even worse for Sheryl. The measuring tape snaked around her torso. I stole a peek. Where the tape pinched between the woman’s finger and thumb, the number was a shade above 30.

“Can’t help you,” she told Sheryl. “Get your mother to adjust one of your training bras.”

Poor Sheryl, for once speechless, shuffled backward through the store, her eyes downcast. Leigh and I glanced at each other. Suddenly, 32AA seemed acceptable.

Our new bras were white and lacked lacy come-hitherness. They looked like something a Betsy McCall Doll might wear under a party dress – wholesome, virginal and almost entirely flat.

Still, Leigh and I had strapless bras! On the bus home, we snuck glimpses at the boxed illustration of the well-endowed model clad in our lingerie. Sheryl stared out the window.

Nothing had ever exceeded opening night’s excitement of putting on our costumes and cosmetics and taking our spots on stage. We sarved and sang our hearts out. People actually clapped.

After the first intermission, our big moment arrived. I jammed my thumbs under the elastic of my bra and wriggled it higher. Even though I’d hooked it to its tightest notch, it felt precarious. I studied Leigh, whose freckles glowed under her pancake makeup, and Sheryl, who seemed more self-possessed. Her mom must have saved the day because no ghastly white straps poked out from under her blouse.

Our cue sounded and we began to stamp and click our heels. During rehearsals, we’d been so carefree. Now, in front of an audience, I was aware of my fake hair trying to detach itself and my bra threatening to become a waistband. My 32AA assets bobbled a fraction behind the beat, fighting gravity.

Somehow we completed our routine without incident. The crowd applauded with gratifying enthusiasm. We curtsied, exhilarated and relieved – fake hair and clothing intact.

The next day in The Kingston Whig-Standard, a staff reporter wrote, “One of the most enjoyable moments came with a spontaneous, high-spirited jig by the dancing members of the chorus in the second act.”

My big sister tried to give me a reality check by telling me we weren’t so hot – as if she were a staff reporter! Besides, even though she was a whole year older, she didn’t even own a strapless bra, so who was she to judge?

As for Sheryl and Leigh, they remained my steadfast friends. Our measurements may have been paltry, but there was nothing lacking with our brains and we excelled in school. Later, although we never became Broadway stars, we succeeded more often than we failed, supporting each other like practical, sturdy cotton straps through good times and bad.

At 14, it was all about bra size. Who knew that, eventually, there’d be so much more?

Sally Basmajian lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Letter Written by Kurt Vonnegut

Book lover Benedict Cumberbatch reads Vonnegut’s 1973 response to a North Dakota school board chairman who ordered a school janitor to burn all copies of Slaughterhouse-Five assigned by Bruce Severy, a recently hired, young English teacher.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Bloodbath Nation

Century 16 movie theater. Aurora, Colorado. 20 July 2012. 12 people killed; 70 injured (58 from gunfire, four from tear gas, eight in the ensuing chaos). Image: Spencer Ostrander,

In this extract from his new book with photographs by his son-in-law,  Spencer Ostrander, Paul Auster details the chilling murder his family hid for five decades – and why fixing the US’s deadly relationship with firearms will take gut-wrenching honesty:

I have never owned a gun. Not a real gun, in any case, but for two or three years after emerging from diapers, I walked around with a six-shooter dangling from my hip. I was a Texan, even though I lived in the suburbs outside Newark, New Jersey, for back in the early 50s the wild west was everywhere, and numberless legions of small American boys were proud owners of a cowboy hat and a cheap toy pistol tucked into an imitation leather holster. Occasionally, a roll of percussion caps would be inserted in front of the pistol’s hammer to imitate the sound of a real bullet going off whenever we aimed, fired, and eliminated one more bad guy from the world. Most of the time, however, it was sufficient merely to pull the trigger and shout: “Bang, bang, you’re dead!”

The source of these fantasies was television, a new phenomenon that began reaching large numbers of people precisely at the time of my birth (1947), and because my father happened to own an appliance store that peddled several brands of TVs, I have the distinction of being one of the first people anywhere in the world to have lived with a television set from the day I was born. Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger were the two shows I remember best, but the afternoon programming during my preschool years also featured a daily onslaught of B-westerns from the 30s and early 40s.

Everyone carried a gun in those stories, both heroes and villains alike, but only the hero’s gun was an instrument of righteousness and justice, and because I did not imagine myself to be a villain but a hero, the toy six-shooter strapped to my waist was a sign of my own goodness and virtue, tangible proof of my idealistic, make-believe manhood. Without the gun, I wouldn’t have been a hero but a no one, a mere kid.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Eating and Reading with Katherine Mansfield


Katherine Mansfield at her work table, Villa Isola (Image Credit)

Like fast food and snacks, the short story has been derided as minor cuisine, ephemeral and insubstantial, light fare compared to the novel’s sustenance. For Katherine Mansfield, a great master of the form, eating offered a model for the sensuous consumption of her fiction — stories, in turn, that are filled with scenes of alimentary pleasure. On the centenary of the New Zealand writer’s death, Aimée Gasston samples her appetites.

Read more: Public Domain Review

Sunday, January 08, 2023

More than 100 writers sign letter in solidarity with jailed UK climate activists

Full list of signatories:

Saleh Addonia

Patience Agbabi

Amir Amirani

Josh Appignanesi

Chloe Aridjis

Ros Barber

Devorah Baum

Ned Beauman

Ian Bostridge

Frankie Boyle

Susie Boyt

Valerie Brown

Julie Christie

Noam Chomsky

Joe Corré

Lindsey Coulson

Jill Dawson

Jeremy Deller

Tishani Doshi

Cath Drake

Stella Duffy

Joe Dunthorne

Sharon Eckman

Rachel Edwards

Inua Ellams

Brian Eno

Paul Ewen

Jane Feaver

James Flint

Bella Freud

Uri Fruchtmann

Romola Garai

Maggie Gee

Zoe Gilbert

David Gilmour

Linda Grant

Neil Griffiths

Anouchka Grose

Xiaolu Guo

Mark Haddon

Chris Hedges

Peter Hobbs

Stewart Home

Nick Hornby

Philip Horne

Tansy Hoskins

Andrew Hurley

Bianca Jagger

Carsten Jensen

Liz Jensen

Alice Jolly

Sadakat Kadri

AL Kennedy

Roman Krznaric

Olivia Laing

Nick Laird

Deborah Levy

Daniel Lismore

Toby Litt

Alex Lockwood

Dara McAnulty

Adam McKay

Tom McCarthy

Robert Macfarlane

Diana McCaulay

Jarred McGinnis

Jean McNeil

Tessa McWatt

Adam Marek

James Miller

Blake Morrison

Timothy Morton

Tom Mustill

Julie Myerson

Courttia Newland

Gregory Norminton

Andrew O’Hagan

Ben Okri

Susie Orbach

Chris Packham

Ruth Padel

Cindy Palmano

Helen Pankhurst

Laline Paull

Marie Phillips

Joanna Pocock

Max Porter

Chris Power

Irwin Rappaport

Kate Raworth

Miranda Richardson

Adam Roberts

Monique Roffey

Meg Rosoff

Minoli Salgado

Polly Samson

Roc Sandford

Sir Simon Schama

Anakana Schofield

Kamila Shamsie

Shelley Silas

Lemn Sissay

Ali Smith

Simon Stephens

Juliet Stevenson

Clover Stroud

Peter Tatchell

Nick Taussig

Adam Thirlwell

Rupert Thomson

Dame Emma Thompson

Matt Thorne

Jeremy Till

Matthew Todd

Jessica Townsend

Dale Vince

Ed Vulliamy

Dame Harriet Walter

Natasha Walter

Dame Marina Warner

Alex Wheatle

Sarah Winman

Karen McCarthy Woolf

Naomi Wood

Louisa Young

Read more: The Guardian

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Monday, January 02, 2023

Fria Folket's Library House, a Place for Books in a Swedish Forest

Four gabled buildings join to form a square around the central courtyard, with bookshelves facing inwards towards the contemplative outside space along each aspect, with each row of shelving housing thematically arranged categories of book.