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.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Alice B. Toklas Reads Her Recipe for Hashish Fudge

Alice Babette Toklas met Gertrude Stein in 1907, the day she arrived in Paris. They remained together for 39 years until Stein’s death in 1946. While Stein became the center of the avant-garde art world, hosting an exclusive salon that welcomed the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toklas largely preferred to stay in Stein’s shadow, serving as her secretary, editor and assistant.

Read more: Open Culture

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Girl on Film

Cecil Castellucci is a polymath artist: YA novelist, comics writer, librettist, rock star; her latest book, Girl on Film, is an extraordinary memoir of her life in the arts, attending New York's School for the Performing Arts and being raised by her parents, who are accomplished scientists. 

Read more: Boing Boing

Excerpt from Reproduction

Ian Williams has been named the winner of the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Reproduction, published by Random House Canada. Here's an excerpt:






Both of their mothers were dying in the background.



Both of their mothers were still alive in the background.



Before she died her mother was prickly. Before her mother died she was. One more time. Before her mother died she, her mother, was prickly. One more time. Before her mother died she, her mother, prickled her, Felicia.

In the days before she died, her mother flew into unpredictable rages over the littlest things. Felicia said sardines instead of tuna when passing the tin and her mother blasted her.

Why you working yourself up so? Felicia asked.

Because a tuna is a big fish and a sardines is a small fish. A sardines—you hear the nonsense you have me saying?

Her hands vibrated so badly she couldn’t open the tin, the can, the tin.

At the next meal, Felicia didn’t pour tomato sauce quickly enough into a pot, a sauce pan, thereby essentially, judging from her mother’s reaction, assassinating the Archduke.

All the nutrients done gone already, her mother said. We might as well eat hair. You happy with yourself?

Later that evening, up in the room they rented from a Christian lady, a retired British-trained nurse, who stored her medical equipment in two trunks under the window, Felicia took her mother’s blood pressure. It was 190 over 110.

See. You provoking me. You provoking me, man.

Two days later it was 205 over 115. Her mother said it was because she had climbed the stairs. Or it was because because because the machine was broken. But when Felicia measured her own pressure, it was 110 over 60, which, instead of confirming the sphygmomanometer’s reliability, caused her mother to worry and divert the conversation to Felicia’s iron levels. She demanded menstruation details, when, how long, how heavy, what colour. Where could she get good beef ? West Indian beef, not from these anemic snow-eating cows. The cast iron pot—the soap Felicia used had wrecked it. Nutrients, her mother said that a lot before she turned into a seahorse and drifted off.

And then over the weekend, her pressure went down to 146 over 90. They both laughed.

I telling you I know what I doing. Don’t feel I don’t know.

Her mother had taken to eating two cloves of garlic at each meal.

Sunday night, after the women wrapped their hair for bed, they leaned against the headboard in their rented room in the Christian woman’s house and excoriated the choir director for favouring the tenors. When her mother fell asleep, Felicia read a little Great Expectations for school. Three pages and she was out.

Her mother woke up and took the bus from Brampton to work in Toronto before she died. Obviously. When else would she take it?


Point taken. Yes, and then the office buzzed Felicia during period 4, Home Economics, and told her to bring her things with her, there had been an emergency.

But her mother was not in Emergency at St. Xavier hospital. In fact, Emergency was taped closed. Felicia imagined the worst, that her mother wasn’t simply dead but that a grenade had gone off in her chest and destroyed a section of the hospital. A police officer directed Felicia and a couple with a baby to an alternate entrance.

Felicia found her mother in Palliative, sharing a room with an elderly woman. It was strange to see her mother sleeping in public. She was normally a vigilant woman with chameleon eyes that seemed to move independently from one point of suspicion to another. Now, although they were both closed, she seemed uneasy, perhaps with the fact that her bra had been removed by strangers and her breasts splayed unflatteringly sideways.

Between the two beds, a man stood holding his wrists like the Escher print of hands drawing themselves. It would become his characteristic position. From forehead to jaw, his head was the same width as his neck. From shoulders to feet, he seemed constrained in a tight magic box, ready to be sawed in two. Put together, he comprised two rectangles stacked on each other—a tall, abstract snowman. His pants were wet from the knee down. Despite that, Felicia presumed he was the doctor because he was a man, a white man, a middle-aged white man, wearing a pinstriped shirt, but it turned out he was only a man, a white man, a middle-aged white man, wearing stripes and grip­ping his wrists.

Unconscious, Edgar said.

Unconscious or sleeping? Felicia asked.

Unconscious, he repeated. He presented the woman in the other bed as proof of his medical expertise. My mother. She’s sleeping.

His mother’s mouth was open. There was brown industrial paper towel on her chest to catch the leaking saliva. She gave the impression of needing to be laced up—as if by pulling the strings of a corset one could restore her mouth, her skin, her posture, to their former attentiveness.

She’s not going to make it, Edgar said. He flicked the bag of intravenous solution with his middle finger, then looked for some change to register in his mother. Seconds later, she began coughing. Her cheeks filled with thick liquid as Edgar searched for a cup, her spittoon. Felicia happened to swallow at the same time as his mother and while looking at the lump go down the woman’s throat, she felt the phlegm go down her own. She pulled the collar of her coat tight around her neck.

Felicia turned back to her mother. Her mother was so careful about applying makeup and now there was no trace of it on her. Where were her earrings? Her nail polish looked more crimson than red. Felicia knocked on her knuckles.

You hearing me? Felicia leaned in. You hearing me?

She thought she saw her mother frown. She frowned. Or perhaps it was a deception of light, the passing accident of light reflected from someone’s watch face.

Felicia heard the jaunty jingle of keys behind her.

So what brings your mother here on this fine autumn afternoon?

Without moving the rest of her body, Felicia twisted her cervical vertebrae to see if he was serious.

Mutter, here, couldn’t breathe, he offered. It’s her pneumonia. He put an odd stress on the her as if he were settling a dispute between feuding children: it’s her doll, let her have it. They think the cancer might have spread to her other lung. We’re waiting. It’s not easy. The waiting. Not easy at all. Come on, get in there.

Felicia turned around fully. She hadn’t seen snow since arriving in Canada.

Edgar was slouching in one of the chairs in the middle of the room, organizing his keychain. His hair was the colour of the dried oak leaves around her school.

What do you know? she said.

I’m just telling you how it goes. I’ve been through this once, twice, be—

No, I mean what do you know about my situation?

Copyright © 2019 by Ian Williams


Vintage Canada

Monday, November 18, 2019


Milkman by Anna Burns won the 2018 Man Booker Prize for fiction and I looked forward to reading it. This is the story of a young girl coming of age in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, a political situation that was often discussed in my home when I was growing up in an Irish-Canadian family. It was a difficult read, impossible in fact. I struggled with it for weeks and managed to get halfway through it before throwing in the towel. The protagonist is "Middle Sister" who is a bit of a weird duck with a "maybe-boyfriend". She hangs out with him, runs, reads and studies French. There are numerous relatives who I could not keep straight, brothers, sisters, brothers in law, all assigned numbers or descriptions rather than names. There is a man, known as Milkman, who is a member of the paramilitary and tries to engage Middle Sister in an affair. He stalks her and appears mysteriously when she least expects it. He threatens to kill maybe-boyfriend. The rumour mill goes into overdrive and the community believes that she is in a relationship with this much older married man although she fears him and does her level best to avoid him. An air of vague menace hangs over the book like a dark, suffocating fog. I reached a point where I couldn't read another page. I am kicking myself for not ceding defeat earlier.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

How did John M. Ford fall into obscurity?

John M. Ford in 1987.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.

"Three years ago, over breakfast, my friend Helen handed me a novel about a quest that, unknown to both of us, would set me off on a quest of my own. The book was called The Dragon Waiting, and it was written by the late science fiction and fantasy author John M. Ford. Helen placed the mass-market paperback with its garish cover in my hands, her eyes aglow with evangelical fervor, telling me I would love it. I would soon learn that, owing to Ford’s obscurity, his fans do things like this all the time. Soon, I would become one of them."
Read more

Friday, November 15, 2019

From Here to There

From Here to There  is a lovely book from Princeton Architectural Press featuring the work of the Hand Drawn Map Association (HDMA).

“Childhood Fort,” Kelly Thorn Kelly created this detailed map of the woods
surrounding her grandmother’s cabin in New Jersey.
It includes various features around a fort she built as a child, including a neighboring fort
made by Annie, her childhood nemesis.

“Front Row, Sometimes Further,” Tony Gonzalez A big live music fan,
Tony created this map to show his proximity to the stage at the many concerts he has attended.

More: The Morning News

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Very Nice Man - A very short story Paul Bassett Davies

Paul Bassett Davies is a very clever guy and is one of my favourite follows on Twitter. If you pre-order his forthcoming novel Please Do Not Ask for Mercy as a Refusal Often Offends (out next summer) Eye Books will send you a free ebook copy of The Glade And Other Stories, worth £2.99. Click here to order.  Here's a story to help you make up your mind: 

 The woman opposite me was crying. I’d been engrossed in my book since the train had left Bristol but when I heard her snuffling I glanced up. She looked about forty and her face was pretty, even though her eyes were red and swollen. She was on the large side, and the sober business suit she was wearing seemed a little small for her. I noticed that her shoes had very high heels.

‘Are you all right?’ I said.

She nodded and blew her nose on the handkerchief she’d been dabbing her eyes with. ‘I’m all right, thanks, love. Just been to a funeral, that’s all.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘Was it someone close?’

‘Not exactly. But he was such a nice man. Probably my best client.’

She must have seen the momentary calculation in my eyes as I glanced at her shoes again and took in the curves beneath her tight clothes. ‘Oh, I don’t care,’ she said, ‘I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘No, of course not,’ I said, feeling ashamed myself now. To cover my awkwardness I blurted out, ‘So… you liked him, then?’

She gave me a little smile and blew her nose again. ‘Most of my clients aren’t really any trouble, to be honest,’ she said. ‘You give them a bit of a massage, because that's what it says in the advert, but after a few minutes with the baby oil and a bit of chat, you get on with what they’ve really come for.’

She smiled again, and I smiled back. She had a soft, pleasant voice with a slight Midlands accent. ‘I don't get many perverts,’ she said, ‘because I don't do much kinky stuff. But this client, he was a very nice man, and he wanted domination. You know, from a mistress. Not spanking or whipping, thank God, because that really makes your arms tired; no, he wanted me to make him scrub the kitchen floor. I had to pretend to be really cross with him and call him all kinds of names. Then I'd order him to scrub the floor. So, he'd start scrubbing, and I'd take the opportunity to nip out to the shops for half an hour. Trouble was, sometimes when I got back, I'd forget about the domination, and I'd go in the kitchen and he'd be there on his hands and knees, and I'd say, Ooh, that's lovely, that is, you've done a really thorough job, right into the corners, too! And then he'd look at me with a face like a robber's dog, and I'd have to say, No! Actually, your mistress is most displeased! You miserable worm, do it all again! And then he'd start all over again, happy as Larry.’ She gave a little laugh and shook her head. ‘That went on for ten years. Then he moved to Trowbridge to be the customer service manager in a big electrical store, dealing with all the complaints. I expect that kept him happy.’

‘You must miss him,’ I said.

‘I do. He gave that floor a lovely clean every week, and paid me forty quid for the privilege. But most of all…’ she turned and gazed out of the window for a moment, then said quietly, ‘He was a very nice man.’ She sighed, and then stood up. The train was pulling in to Swindon. ‘This is my stop,’ she said.

I ignored my book for the rest of the journey. I wished I’d spoken to her at the funeral service. She must have been at the back, and we hadn’t seen each other. But I was grateful to her. I’d learned something I hadn’t known about my late father. And she was right: he was a very nice man.

Friday, November 08, 2019

25 Modern Love Essays to Read

Credit...Image: Brian Rea

New to Modern Love? These 25 essays should provide a good introduction. You’ll find some of the most read and most shared of all time, and others that really got readers talking (and tweeting, and sharing).

  Read the stories: The New York Times

"House Of The Dead" to be turned into a 56-room hostel.

There are plans afoot for the Georgian house where James Joyce’s aunts ran a music school and hosted Christmas parties, and which Joyce used as the setting for his short story “The Dead”  to be turned into a hostel.

A letter calling on the Minister for Culture and Dublin City Council to protect the landmark.was signed by 99 writers, artists, and academics, Irish and otherwise, including Sally Rooney, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Edmund White, Anne Enright, Michael Ondaatje, Claire Messud, Eavan Boland, Edna O’Brien, John Banville, Tessa Hadley, Salman Rushdie, Paul Muldoon, André Aciman, Rachel Kushner, Kevin Barry, Colm Tóibín, Tobias Wolff, Fintan O’Toole, and Alice McDermott.

Read the letter: Literary Hub

Thursday, November 07, 2019

A Feminist Library On Wheels

"F.L.O.W. was founded in 2014 by Dawn Finley and Jenn Witte. In addition to their main branch, the library travels via bicycle to farmers’ markets, CicLAvia, zine fests, and other sites around Los Angeles, making feminist literature, media, and ephemera available to audiences that may not visit the library. F.L.O.W. library cards are free and card holders can check out as many books as they want on the honor system." 
Read more here 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The Colonel’s Wife

In the final twilit moments of her life, an elderly woman looks back on her years in the thrall of fascism and Nazism. Both her authoritarian tendencies and her ecstatic engagement with the natural world are vividly and terrifyingly evoked in The Colonel’s Wife, an astonishing and brave novel that resonates painfully with our own strained political moment.
Today is the official release of the translation of The Colonel’s Wife by Rosa Liksom. See some reviews at The Chawed Rosin who happens to be the translator of the book.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Children's book about food banks is a sad reflection of UK society

Austerity choices by the Conservatives in the UK have created new and complicated welfare system, and the vilification of single families and disabled people, millions of children have been forced into poverty. Kate Milner (My Name Is Not Refugee), has written a book to help encourage empathy in children, and help normalise the use of food banks for the sake of the child’s self esteem.
Read more here

Buy the book

How Helsinki Built ‘Book Heaven’

Helsinki's central library is built to serve as a kind of citizenship factory, a space for old and new residents to learn about the world, the city, and each other. It’s pointedly sited across from (and at the same level as) the Finnish Parliament House that it shares a public square with.

Read more: CityLab