This is just a quick note to let you know that my review of Globe and Mail columnist Micah Toub's memoir, Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks, appears in the October issue of Quill & Quire (print only), available on newsstands now.
While I'm at it, I should let you know that my review of his latest novel, Zero History, appeared in the September issue of Quill & Quire (print only), which should still be available on select newsstands throughout the country.
Dear Councillor Vaughan,
I am writing you to express my concern that trees may be torn up in the downtown core as part of the security measures for the upcoming G20 Summit taking place here in Toronto. I am writing to you, in particular, because I am a resident of Trinity-Spadina, and because you were quoted in the National Post piece that brought the issue of the trees to my attention. The removal of the trees is an unnecessary and disgraceful addition to what has already become a shameful display of security theatre.
There are police officers in my family, and many close family friends are also officers, some serving as constables on the street, some in higher, supervisory or investigative roles at various police services across this country, including in the RCMP. I understand their professionalism, their commitment to public safety, and it is my most profound wish that everyone—ordinary citizens, visiting officials, protesters, and police and security officers alike—make it through the Summit safely. Unfortunately what I see in the news is not professionalism, but rather a show being put on, perhaps in response to considerable pressure and public scrutiny, not the least of which concerns the Summit's vastly inflated budget.
Professionalism demands balanced, reasonable preparations and responses in order to ensure the safety of citizens, visitors, and property. I and my fellow Torontonians have watched the announced security preparations slide from being professional and measured, to a wasteful farce, and now finally to a dangerous obscenity, a baroque and overblown theatre of the absurd.
The citizens of Toronto do not need a police state to keep us safe. We do not need our public transit infrastructure disrupted, our reporters harassed, our green spaces and other urban flora violated, our neighbourhood communities cordoned off from one another. We do not need checkpoints and credentials to enter or leave our own homes, to be safe. What we need is measured, responsible policing, that understands the city, that respects and works with its citizens. We need a city council that will stand up for these things, even against the Integrated Security Unit and the federal government. It seems that, for the coming Summit, we have too much of what we don't need, and precious little of what we do.
This most recent measure, the tearing down of trees to prevent their use as weapons, seems far more likely to provoke unwanted behaviour than to curtail it. It is, as Mark Calzavara put it, "insane." Your comments to the Post appear to justify this insanity, to give it your and the City Council's tacit approval. To give such approval is craven in the extreme, and does not, in my opinion, represent the best interests of your ward, or the city as a whole. I have seen comments you have made regarding financial compensation for businesses affected by the Summit, but no criticism at all of the security measures themselves. If you and the other councillors lack the fortitude to speak out against this absurdity, then I am ashamed to have you as my representatives, ashamed to live in a city that accepts such things. If the city is this willing to abandon the best interests of its citizens in the name of security—for what has been widely acknowledged as little more than a photo-op—what will happen if a real emergency, a genuine security crisis, ever comes to Toronto? What faith can I have that whoever is in charge will respond to an appropriate degree, now that you have shown us this total submission to paranoia? The answer is none.
I have lived in Toronto nearly four years now, the whole time in Trinity-Spadina. In that time, and in my travels around the city, though I have twice been mugged, I have never once been afraid to live in Toronto, to walk its streets. Until now. When the G20 Summit arrives, I will stay indoors, out of fear. But make no mistake: I am not afraid of any protesters. In the atmosphere of fear and mistrust that has been created, I am afraid that because of the stupidity the Integrated Security Unit has brought down on our city—the stupidity that you have allowed to go largely unchallenged—some poor, work-a-day police officer, infected by the paranoia and under tremendous pressure, will overreact to something innocuous, and I or someone I care about will suffer for it. All of this security has not made me feel safer, Mr Vaughan; it has made me more afraid than I have ever been.
Thank you for your time.
August C. Bourré
Do you remember last year when I complained about the absolutely dismal coverage of Richard Flanagan's speech (among other things), because I thought the Australian and Canadian markets had some things in common and maybe, just maybe, the things Flanagan was worried about might have implications for us here in Canada, and that maybe we should talk about what setting that kind of a precedent meant? You know, before it became so urgent that we might panic and do something stupid. Do you remember that? I remember that.
Well, I fucking told you so. It's still not too late to have the (public, reasoned, analytical) conversation we should have had a year ago, but it's coming down to the wire. Any of you boys and girls in the press want to actually step the fuck up this time?
This is the one post I never wanted to write. People who know me, and regular readers of this site, will already know that I am not a feminist. I am, in fact, quite critical of feminist theory at times. I resist making this a big issue on this site for two reasons: first, emotions can often run high when it comes to identity politics (of which feminism and feminist theory can play a significant part), making it very easy for a poorly-worded sentence to cause a colossal misunderstanding, and second, feminism remains a useful movement, and feminist theory a useful set of tools for a variety of fields; I don't like limiting my tools, and criticizing something too much on the Internet can do that. But this thing, this stupid, stupid, embarrassing disgrace brought to us by the Editorial Board at the National Post has left me no choice but to articulate my position as clearly as I can, because the absolute last thing I want is to be grouped with those ignorant jackasses.
There are legitimate arguments to be made criticizing Women's Studies programmes. Lack of rigor is a complaint I've heard from serious scholars, both male and female, from other disciplines. I've even seen examples of it myself, when a former partner of mine was taking Women's Studies courses and became extremely frustrated by what she felt were academic standards well below what she was used to in her primary field. Most importantly to me, however, is that such programmes, while admirably dealing with an extremely broad set of social and theoretical issues, quite clearly privilege a particular theoretical framework and point of view. This isn't a problem in the hard sciences or certain professional schools, but it's more than a problem in the arts, social sciences, and interdisciplinary studies. Degrees are for fields of study, not points of view. I think folding Women's Studies into something more inclusive, like Gender Studies, would allow for a more diverse and therefore robust programme, a diversity that feminist theory helped bring to my own field, English Literature.
I think the above paragraph constitutes a reasonable critique of some of the problems (or perceived problems) with Women's Studies programmes as they now exist.
This bullshit from the National Post does not:
The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women.
Women's Studies courses have taught that all women — or nearly all — are victims and nearly all men are victimizers.
Divorcing men find they lose their homes and access to their children, and must pay much of their income to their former spouses (then pay tax on the income they no longer have) largely because Women's Studies activists convinced politicians that family law was too forgiving of men. So now a man entering court against a woman finds the deck stacked against him, thanks mostly to the radical feminist jurisprudence that found it roots and nurture in Women's Studies.
Over the years, Women's Studies scholars have argued all heterosexual sex is oppression because its "penetrative nature" amounts to "occupation." They have insisted that no male author had any business writing novels from women's perspectives; although, interestingly, they have not often argued the converse — that female writers must avoid telling men's stories.
I'd be curious to see the Post's research into how judgements in family court have changed with respect to husbands and fathers, or how patterns have shifted with regard to awarding custody in various jurisdictions across Canada. It would be equally interesting to see how—or even if—those number correlate with the growth of Women's Studies programmes in those same jurisdictions. The Post has cited no numbers, no Stats Canada documents, no independent surveys, not even any anecdotal evidence. Surely if there is a clear culture of "radical feminist jurisprudence that found it roots and nurture in Women's Studies," then Canada's most obsessive-compulsive bureaucratic wing must have data on it somewhere, and no doubt the Post's crack Editorial Board has ferreted it out. Perhaps they simply forgot to cite it.
It would also be interesting to find out what educators they spoke to about the pedagogy involved in teaching Women's Studies, and what course materials they perused, and from which courses and institutions, that led them to describe the programmes as courses deliniating women as victimized and men as victimizers. Unfortunately, the Editorial Board doesn't see fit to tell its readers. The course material I have first hand experience with, from Laurentian University, is far from being so cut-and-dried, and though I did not always agree with the approaches or conclusions, offered a highly nuanced set of theories about human interactions that presents ethical and intellectual challenges (in many senses of the word) to both men and women. Perhaps the Post felt their readers would not be interested in this information.
I know I've been hard on the Post in the past for having less than stellar Books coverage, but lately they've improved tremendously with The Afterword, matching and often even surpassing coverage at the Globe & Mail. They seem to have no trouble covering Russell Smith with little apparent controversy, an author who has more than once used female protagonists or written from a woman's point of view (including a pornographic novel, under a female pseudonym). But of course the Editorial Board is talking about the academic world. Well, that's something I happen to know a little bit about. You see, before I ran out of money, I was actually an English Literature student, training to become a university professor. You don't see much of it coming out here in this blog, but I like to wade hip-deep in hardcore theory and academic criticism. Academics love gender reversals in protagonists; there is a tremendous amount of work to be done studying not only the standard literary techniques, cultural and theoretical implications, but also issues of gender identification, authenticity of voice or even appropriation of voice, basically a truckload of the fun things that keep academics writing papers and teaching interesting, though-provoking classes. George Elliott Clarke's libretto Beatrice Chancy focuses on the experiences of a young black woman in 19th Century Nova Scotia, and is a favourite teaching text of feminist and non-feminist professors alike. Not only is it not frowned upon for this acclaimed poet to be writing in the voice of a female protagonist (well, partly, at any rate), the book is among the most lauded on the many curricula that use it.
(And as for the sex as "occupation" bit, let's just say that the women I know, feminists or otherwise, make their own choices based on knowing they have the power and freedom to explore their sexual identities, and have control over their own pleasure, over their own sexual relationships and destinies. The ladies I know are fierce, and I can't help but wonder how the Post's Editorial Board has gotten these notions stuck in their heads. Perhaps they're projecting. The world may never know.)
In short, the Editorial Board of the National Post has apparently done no research into their claims (or none it wishes to share), and frankly doesn't know shit about literature and how it is studied or taught in Canadian classrooms, regardless of the ideological leanings of the professor or the programme. So what are they on about? Here are a few other quotations from the screed—er, editorial—that might shed some light:
Their professors have argued, with some success, that rights should be granted not to individuals alone, but to whole classes of people, too. This has led to employment equity—hiring quotas based on one's gender or race rather than on an objective assessment of individual talents.
Executives, judges and university students must now sit through mandatory diversity training.
They have pushed for universal daycare and mandatory government-run kindergarten, advocated higher taxes to pay for vast new social entitlements and even put forward the notion that the only differences between males and females are "relatively insignificant, external features."
So this, really, is what's got the Post hot under the collar. Most of this seems like pretty good ideas to me. What it looks like is incremental (and in the case of employment quotas—something I actually believe undermines equality—hopefully temporary) steps toward finally enacting the equality promised on paper in the Charter. The Post is pissed off, it seems, that women are being recognized as people. It's no wonder the National Post Editorial Board doesn't sign their names to these pieces. I too would be ashamed if I'd contributed to this poorly conceived mess. There is a difference between disagreeing with aspects of feminism, and outright misogyny. The Post's editors are clearly incapable of recognizing it.
My challenge to the Editorial Board of the National Post: sign your names to this document and face the public shaming that is your due, or shut the fuck up entirely, you smarmy fucking cowards.
I apologize if this post has been a bit rough, unpolished, or emotional; I'm not a professional journalist. But then, judging by this editorial, neither are the members of the Editorial Board at the Post.
It's been quite some time since I posted an entry; no doubt those of you who don't follow me on Twitter will have simply assumed that I've been eaten by dragons, or abducted by aliens, or sequestered in some dungeon by shadowy men in black Ray-Bans. None of these things are true, but they're rather more interesting than the truth, the truth being that I've been struggling with a pretty severe bout of depression for most of the last year and a half (for reasons I have more than once alluded to, but will not go deeper into today), and have done little more than stare glassy-eyed at television and video games. I don't vilifiy these things the way some do, but I've certainly let them take up more of my free time than I should have. Well, to be fair, I've also taken up running, but that's a far more recent development.
Right now I'm seven book reviews behind, and I also owe my man Josh Ellis of Red State Sound System an album review, something I've never done before here on vestige.org. I'm going to do my level best to get caught up on those things, starting this weekend. In the meantime, I'd like to share with you some bits of news, and a couple of sites that have recently captured my attention.
First the news:
As you're all by now aware, Canadian novelist and musician Paul Quarrington passed away Thursday morning after a much-publicized battle with cancer. I was not fortunate enough to meet Mr. Quarrington, nor have I yet read any of his works, though the much-acclaimed Whale Music is lined up for later in the year. I direct you to Mr. Beattie for a better sense of the man and his impact on Canadian letters, and links to the various tributes that are being gathered around the Web.
The Canadian Periodical Fund guidelines have at last been finalized and presented to the public, and the results are grim. There are no exceptions for literary journals or other small arts magazines. I have no doubt this means a great many fine journals will not be able to survive. You can find more of my (rather quickly dashed-off) thoughts on the matter in the comments for this article at the Quill and Quire blog.
Brian Joseph Davis kept things classy over at the Globe and Mail today with this piece on one of the rumored names for the tablet computer that Apple is expected to unveil next week.
Finally, Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This is doing an independent alternative to this year's Canada Reads lineup, called Canada Reads: Independently. It features an exciting list of panelists and, to this blogger anyway, a much more exciting list of books.
And now the sites:
The first is The Dusty Bookcase, "A Very Casual Exploration of the Dominion's Suppressed, Ignored and Forgotten" (no Oxford commas for Mr. Busby, apparently). It's a remarkably fun look at books and writers from Canada's past that have more or less been lost to all but those troubled few who rummage through the scrapheap of literary history. What I thought I knew about the history of Canadian publishing has been completely turned on its head by this blog, and it only makes the outright snobbishness of our literary lights (we don't produce mass market pulp here, no sir, our publishing stars are all Literary writers, with a capital "L") all the more disgraceful. The Dusty Bookcase is a must read for anyone interested in what has come before us—the entries on Harlequin alone make digging through the archives more than worth it. I should point out that this blog was brought to my attention by a post Daniel Wells made on the CNQ blog.
The second blog I discovered by way of The Dusty Bookcase. Caustic Cover Critic is maintained (if I understand things right) by Australian writer/editor/book designer (?) JRS Morrison. The blog not only features book covers from a variety of countries in an astonishing array of styles and genres, but Morrison also provides great, meaty histories and commentary regarding the evolution of cover art and the work of specific designers. He's also managed to get some book designers to speak about their work and process, including David Drummond, who designed Dead Man's Float by Nicholas Maes, a book I wrote about back in January 2008, and originally only picked up because of its cover.
Speaking of book covers, if anyone over at Capuchin Classics wants to send me some review copies of their absolutely gorgeous books, I'd be more than happy to write about them. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Knowhatimean, saynomore, saynomore.
I wanted to write about something else today (maybe finish that Bad Behavior review, eh?), but I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. Or whatever. The truth of the matter is that I saw something that pissed me off, maybe not a huge thing, but big enough, and I'm the kind of dude who likes to stomp around and make a fuss when I'm pissed off. So here's my fuss.
I learned today (and would have learned yesterday, if I hadn't been ill and skipped some reading), that Penguin has struck a deal with W H Smith to be their sole supplier of travel books. This is a Big Deal. (Canadians might recognize the company from their old Canadian operation, called SmithBooks, which was bought by local owners and merged with Coles to become Chapters. So not small potatoes.) First, W H Smith has a significant, often exclusive, presence in UK airports and train stations, 450 Travel stores in all, which means they have a bit of influence on the travel book market in the UK. This isn't quite vertical integration, but it has the same kind of anti-competitive stink to it, and the book industry has a special sensitivity to that particular smell. Second: Travel writers, publishers, and booksellers are rightly up in arms over the whole thing, and there are protests, boycotts, and one of Penguin's own travel writers has ended his relationship with the publisher and contacted the Minister for Culture. Finally, Penguin is the world's second largest publisher, with market-specific branches all over the place, including here in Canada. This whole debacle could be highly relevant to Canadians, as it could set a precedent; if they can pull this off in one market, what's to stop them from trying it in others? W H Smith issued a transparently ridiculous press statement about the deal being "easier for the customer", and Penguin hasn't said a thing. That in itself is telling; Penguin usually gives great press. If they genuinely believed this was a Good Thing, they'd be driving through the streets with a megaphone like Jake and Elwood. There's a follow-up post over at MobyLives if you're like me and are interested in more details.
So that's upsetting. But it's not what pissed me off. What initially did it is that I had to hear it from MobyLives in the first place. This is honest-to-fucking-God book news with possible implications for the entire book publishing industry. Do I hear about it from the Globe & Mail and their spiffy new more-and-better-coverage website? They devote a single link to it, in the form of a mangled, incomplete sentence. A headline with no story. What about the National Post and their new blog? I've teased them in the past for less than adequate coverage, but they've been improving more or less exponentially in the last few months. They devote a whole paragraph to it, essentially rehashing, and even linking to, the MobyLives post. Their analysis amounts to, and I quote: "Seems like a bit of a bone-headed move on the booksellers' part to me." So what about the Books department over at the Ceeb. If there's one thing the Ceeb does well, and God knows it's damned near the only thing sometimes, it's news. Nobody does news like the Ceeb. Ceeb in the hiz-ouse, yo. Survey says: not a goddamn word. Not one. So the professional journalists covering book publishing at three of Canada's best and most important news gathering agencies came back with a combined total of fifty-eight words on the subject. Right.
I'm not a journalist. I don't pretend to be one, and have no particular desire to be one. But presumably when the Post and the Globe launched all this new online hotness, the idea, as advertised anyway, was to give us more and better coverage. More reviews, more interviews, more commentary and so on. In defense of the Post, they're doing a better job than they were, and I had actually planned on linking to something of theirs today, but I'm too upset to be writing nice things, so it will have to wait a day or two. The Globe, I'm sad to say, was long on promise and short on delivery. Now, the guys who run the Books section over at the Globe are great, hard-working folks. No question. But why am I getting a marginally funny humour piece from Brian Joseph Davis when there's real industry news to be discussed? I know Martin Levin is off on assignment somewhere, but give me a break. They just did a feature on romance novel cover art for crying out loud. There was that lovely opportunity to practice some journalism when Richard Flanagan's great speech was published, but no juice there either. Where was the discussion of the underlying issues that led to the speech? Where was the analysis comparing the Australian and Canadian markets (lots to compare, I hear) and the inquiry on what it might mean to Canadians if such a precedent was set in a market like Australia? It wasn't in the Globe, that's for sure. I looked. Hell, I had to go to Google just to find the Flanagan speech once it was off the front page of the Books section, since the Globe's built-in search engine returned the same completely irrelevant results for every single set of search terms. MobyLives is run by a publisher, not a journalist. Somebody who is paid to make lovely books for us to read, not somebody, like our friends at the Post, the Globe, and the Ceeb, who are paid to tell us things about books and the publishing industry that we probably ought to fucking know. I should not have heard it there first.
The other thing, and no doubt you can't wait to hear about it, is something that even MobyLives got wrong. The story here is not the protest. Let's look at the headlines, shall we? First Moby: "Penguin boycott announced as furor erupts over strongarm deal with W. H. Smith" and "Support for Penguin, W.H. Smith boycott grows". Now the Post: "Bookmarks: Scholastic controversy, W.H. Smith boycott, designing an author's work". The Globe: "Brit travel writers angry over Penguin monopoly in airport, railroad bookstores". Now the Ceeb: oh, wait, right. Way to go Ceeb. Notice the similarities? To the book world, the deal itself should have been big, controversial news, and the inevitable protest a follow up. People getting angry over this nonsense is not the part that's newsworthy. Hell, people not getting angry would have almost been more newsworthy, because then at least they could have been asked "what's wrong with you? Don't you know what this means?" This happens time and time again where protests are concerned, but given how much chatter there is about how independent book reviewers have to be, how they can't merely act like publicity departments for publishers, it's disheartening to see the real story being shoved aside because some folks got, justifiably, a little shouty. If they want to be journalists rather than glorified PR men, maybe it's time to go gather some news. Isn't this exactly the sort of thing where grizzled old newspaper men, proper reporters, are supposed to, if not scoop the blogs, then at least give us the experienced, insider perspective that only a real news gathering agency can? Christ on a bike.
So I was walking through the lunch room at work on Wednesday, and sitting on one of the tables was the Living section of the Toronto Star. The entire front page of the section, even below the fold, was taken up by colourful photos and sketches of pretty girls wearing short skirts, and the articles were all about how short skirts are the new big thing this year. The entire front page of a section was taken up by this revelation. No wonder people don't buy the fucking newspaper anymore.
It's not very literary, but I couldn't resist passing this on. These last seven months or so have been extremely hard on me personally, and today was among the harder days. I've had a tough time believing in the existence of genuinely good people. Fred Rogers was a hero of mine when I was a small child (I wrote to him once, and he sent me back a signed photo that I still have somewhere), and I'm glad to see that he was the man we all thought he was. This made my day a little better.