Archive for May, 2010

Tongue twisters and wooden type

The results of this week’s letterpress class. This is just a proof, to see how our type sits. Next week we’ll be able to do an edition of twenty or so in our preferred colours, likely black with a second pass in red for a couple of punctuation marks. I think we may want to add some space to separate the three parts of the bottom text. And that T in Tongue is a bit of a beater, but I guess T’s do get a lot of use. The definite article being so popular and all.

Heather Reisman

I have absolutely no idea how I missed this last week, but here it is now:

Start here: Mount Allison profs protest Reisman degree (CBC)

then check this: Open letter to the university from part-time instructor Amanda Jernigan (Book Ninja)

The Antigonish Review

The spring issue of The Antigonish Review is out now, and includes a poem of mine. The cover photo is by Mount Allison professor and Anchorage Press founder Thaddeus Holownia.

In other news, my family’s summer book club has decided to reconvene after a hiatus last summer when there seemed to be some uncertainty about whether everyone had had a good time the year before. Although I won’t be home I have been granted a selection. I’ve been considering Nicholson Baker’s latest novel, The Anthologist, which is about the plight of an occasionally published poet trying to write the introduction to a poetry anthology. Why would that interest me? No idea.

The theme of this year’s club is “books you’ve been meaning to read,” though, and the Baker book just came out last year, so perhaps I haven’t been meaning for long enough yet. I have always meant to read Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm. The film adaptation is one of my faves, but it’s quite possible someone else at home has already read it, which ruins the fun a bit. I’ll keep thinking, but not just yet. It’s the May long weekend, it’s up around 20 degrees. Gin, tonic, where are you?

Raymond Chandler, local haunts

Over the past few months at my newish day job I’ve been editing a mystery novel. This particular manuscript isn’t a strict member of the genre, but it spurred my interest. With the exception of a few John Le Carrés in recent years and a couple of Mrs. Pollifax mysteries when I was nine or ten (which I know, I know, are also both departures from the main), it remains an unread corner of the library I suspect might be a real gold mine. The Pollifaxes were actually located in the large-print section of our library, which I originally mistook as being the obvious segue from Y.A. to adult fiction.

Last weekend I spent a happy hour or so perusing in a secondhand bookstore I’d been meaning to visit in my neighbourhood. A little jazz was playing on the stereo inside the store, and there was a pair of older gentlemen in armchairs in the middle of the store discussing bicycles. Can I reserve my spot now? The back corner was dedicated to detective/mystery/crime/espionage and I found a recent edition of the first of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, The Big Sleep. I was going to attempt a definition of Chandler’s place in the world of detective literature, but coming from me it would only be a paraphrasing of various Wikipedia entries, so I’ll leave you to consult amongst yourselves. He just about had me at hello, though. Here’s a sample from page 1:

The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.

I was cackling and the older gentlemen were now staring at me, so I decided to shove off. They approved of my purchase and pointed out that there were lots of lady mystery writers too. I look forward to it.

I want to get back to this business of genres sometime, though. I take real issue with the whole notion. If we can label a well-crafted piece of fiction that happens to centre on, say, a murder/disappearance/heist (aliens/androids/mermen), then can we please also declare the angst-ridden Canadian family saga its own genre rather than simply calling it Literary? Certainly there is less ambitious work being written to a bungled understanding of the example set by the best in this vein. I feel an unwieldy rant coming on that I want to save for another time. Besides, I have to price an order of What Would Marlowe Do? bracelets. Takers?

Night School

After years of talk and no action, this week I finally jumped into letterpress printing, at an evening class offered at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, here in Halifax. I’d been surrounded by the necessary equipment & expertise at my old job, but had never actually gone so far as to line up ink and page on my own. Trying new things isn’t really my gig, but occasionally I want something badly enough to push through the awkward, woodsy stage that has to come first.

Luckily I am in very good company in this particular class. Lots of poetic talk about the importance of printed material and the dissemination of ideas, but visible trepidation in the presence of a machine that will actually allow us to participate in the making of said material. “This pedal? And do I keep my foot on it? Oh. Okay, so no. This handle? Now?” These are my people.

Above is the result of the first evening. The image itself is of course not mine but one of the gems housed in the college basement, along with many drawers of type (wooden and metal) and various cuts, lots of them nautically themed, this being a nautical sort of province. These teeth came from a drawer labelled “Health.” My project partner and I now have to decide if we want to incorporate this into our poster assignment or if we’ll strike out on a new path. I’m inclined to stick with the teeth, myself, if we can find a bit of text (a toothy quote or short poem) to accompany it. Ideas?

Singing Wind Bookshop, Benson, AZ

This past November my partner kindly donated some of his hard-won aeroplan points to me so that I could travel with him to a conference he was attending in Phoenix and celebrate my thirtieth birthday in the desert. Mostly I celebrated in airports and on airplanes, but by sunset I was parked on the patio of our hotel room, shoes off, beer in hand, and a couple of monster cacti within reach.

On the last day of our trip, we drove an hour or so east of Tucson to the town of Benson, and then down a long dirt road, over a cattle guard, and past a fierce Dalmatian to visit Singing Wind Bookshop, “Headquarters for Books about the Southwest.” The shop had been recommended by a family friend, and I doubt we would have found it otherwise.

I have several favourite bookstores, some dead, some still living: J. W. Doull here in Halifax, Duthies in Vancouver, Pages in Toronto, Elliott Bay Books in Seattle, and the monument that is Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. Singing Wind is of a different ilk, but may be my new number one. And it might well be the only bookstore situated in the middle of a cattle ranch. Its owner, Winifred Bundy, welcomed us with a tour of the store that I wish I could quote more of here. I do remember that it included mention of short and tall Californians – referring to the height of the books, not the authors (cue pause for acknowledgement of the joke – we were happy to provide).

Bundy doesn’t have an online store, and she only accepts cash or cheque. We were the only customers in the store, but there was a sense that things were thriving. We were invited to a fiesta in celebration of a local author, taking place the following afternoon (refreshments and valet parking provided). There are a handful of times in my life when I’ve seriously considered skipping a return flight, and this is one of them. I wanted to buy the closest property for sale and spend the next ten years reading whatever Bundy told me to. Or working my way through the store shelves, which I think would amount to more or less the same thing.

What did we buy? I’ll preface this short list by reminding you of the cash-only situation. Many a volume was carted around the store and then reluctantly returned to its shelf. However: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, Islands of Books by Lawrence Clark Powell (for a good, though now slightly dated, introduction to Southwest literature, check out his Books: South Southwest) and a trio of lectures given by Powell, recorded by members of the band Calexico, and released by Singing Wind itself. Dear reader, three words: Benson. Go. Now.

“Grounded” by Seth Stevenson

Without really meaning to, I’ve wound up reading a lot of travel literature in the last few years. It’s good fuel for travel plans, and makes long winters seem less so. With the right book, I’m not slogging through another February, but just putting my feet up at the Royal Geographical Society headquarters while the funding for my next expedition comes through. Paul Theroux is one of my favourites. His The Old Patagonian Express was the book that spurred my interest in South America, and I’ve since read most of his other books. Mainly I find his crankiness refreshing.

Last week I was given a copy of Seth Stevenson’s new (and first) book, Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World. It muscled its way to the front of the queue and I wolfed it down in a couple of evenings, finishing it off Friday morning before heading to work. If you’ve read it to the end, you’ll know it pained me to go to work after all that.

As the title suggests, Stevenson’s goal was to circumnavigate the Earth without taking to the skies, a goal I heartily support. He and his girlfriend leave their jobs and their apartment in Washington, DC, take Amtrak to Philadelphia, and from there a commuter train to a deserted station near a port on the Delaware River, where they board a container ship to Antwerp. The book recounts the travel itself, the logistical acrobatics sometimes involved, and provides some interesting background on their chosen modes of transport–the invention of the shipping container, the history of the bullet train in Japan, and the failure of high-speed rail in North America.

I made a pledge about ten years ago to stay grounded, and although I have done quite a bit of long-distance train travel, I’ve also broken my pledge for several quick Christmas trips home, and some further afield. Perhaps it’s time to re-commit. Stevenson’s account is both an inspiration and a deterrent to try. He reminded me about the sort of zen that sets in on a long train trip with the right surrounding passengers, the deadening frustration in the company of the other sort, and that appearances can be completely deceiving when it comes to determining which category any passenger will fall into. The high-school dropouts with the ten-month-old baby: excellent distraction through North Dakota. Affable-looking backpacker: annoying braggart who talked the whole way from Chicago to Boston. That said, I remember the leering drunk I once had to sit next to on an overnight flight from Vancouver to Montreal as being significantly more horrific, despite the experience having occupied only four hours versus full days. I think maybe we approach slower modes of transportation in a more forgiving mindset. The presence of actual scenery also factors in.

Although I initially found Stevenson’s tone a little too chatty for my tastes, I settled into it within a chapter or two. He is less the sage, jaded surveyor of humanity and more the funny friend over beer, and his journey seems remarkably accessible as a result. In the end my only real complaint was that he had condensed six months of boat, bike, train, and car into just 272 pages.