Stripmalling – Jon Paul Fiorentino: God, this book is funny. It kind of has everything: a mix of personal essays, dispatches, reminisces, jokes and comics. Jonny once worked at a Shill Station in Winnipeg, fooled around with his drug dealer, dated, moved in and had a baby with a fellow stripmaller, moved to Montreal, had an early-thirties life crisis, etc. And there’s more! You should read this.

See You Later – Christopher Pike: Shut up. Yes, that is the Christopher Pike you may remember from your youth. In the spirit of documenting everything I am reading in 2009, I couldn’t not mention a book I read while in Toronto a few weeks ago, visiting my parents and, therefore my childhood book collection. Usually when I’m home I like to flip through my old things, and this trip I chose “See You Later”. This was my favourite back then and I wanted to see if it stood the test of time. IT TOTALLY DID. Christopher Pike wrote some fucked up shit (Um, “Whisper of Death”? Or “Scavenger Hunt” where it turns out that two of the students were LIZARDS?, and then he started doing weird sequels of books, which I never got into), but “See You Later” was sort of sweet compared to the rest, and more sci-fi than horror. When these characters go on dates they eat ice cream and ride oil rigs. And there are characters from the future and telepathic aliens and most of all there is a love story. So yeah. A good one.

Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons: While on that same trip to Toronto, we caught a screening of “Watchmen”. I wasn’t expecting to love it so much, but I did. The characters fascinated me (I can’t decide who I liked more: the serene yet disconcerting blue-glowy Dr. Manhattan or Rorschach, with his shape-shifting mask and unwavering conviction). I bought the comic soon after and tore through it. I think the movie was an excellent adaptation of the comic – there were some panels that were recreated perfectly in the movie. Surprisingly, I preferred the movie ending to the book – the movie was just more powerful to me – but they are both equally excellent.

So, thumbs up all around! Maybe next I will finally write about “The Savage Detectives”, which I am absolutely loving, but for some reason taking forever to get through.

Zine history

I was in Toronto over the weekend visiting my parents. Whenever I’m there, I like flipping through my zine collection, most of which I left behind. I normally read other people’s zines, but since I was looking for something in particular, I started going through my own. There’s no way in hell I will ever reprint any of these zines, but I’m glad I still have reminders of them. I don’t have copies of every single issue, but I do have the flats, at least. Anyway, I snapped a few photos of them.

Various issues of Melt the Snow
Here’s Melt the Snow #4,5,6,7,8, 10, 11, 12, 13. Issues 1,2 and 3 are old and I made very few copies of them. Issue #9 is a mystery to me – I don’t remember what it looks like or what I wrote about. I was pretty good at keeping up the bare-branch tree motif (except for 13, but that was the last issue of mts and I was starting to get bored of the trees, I guess). My personal favourites are #11 (the repeating tree lino print) and #12, the two toned lino print.

A page from mts #8, I think
Here’s a page from #8, I think. This is the kind of design I liked most, but only sporadically achieved – I like the nostalgic photcopied old photos, the smudgy hand drawn lines, that particular computer font. That photo is of my grandparents.

The Second Part #1
After mts, I started “The Second Part”. This is the first issue, with fancy Print Gocco covers. Yes, that’s David Byrne. He became the coverboy when his print turned out to be the most successful of the ones I was testing out at the time. I should credit the photographer, but I photocopied it from a book and I don’t know his name. Either way, I like the way it turned out.

I ended up bringing back most of my zines with me to Montreal, and over time will pick out some of the less embarassing pages to scan. In the meantime, you can peak through my personal archive over here.

Matrix, Spring 2009, Issue 82 – It’s only natural that I start with Montreal-based Matrix when writing about the Canadian lit magazines I read. It really represents the stuff I love in these types of publications: a healthy mix of emerging and established writers, a variety of styles, a good undercurrent of energy infusing the whole thing and an overall respect for the literary community. Plus it has comics. The Spring 2009 issue is the anxiety issue, edited by Mikhail Iossel and John Goldbach and has short stories and poems based around the theme of anxiety. For instance, Josip Novakovich writes about a character buying beta blockers in Saint Petersburg and Jeff Parker’s main character in “Calmth” is trying to figure out how to feed a bald, screaming baby. In addition to the anxiety stuff, I particularly liked the featured poetry of Nick Thran (who summarizes the book I’m currently reading perfectly in his poem “Letter to L From Spencer Ave”: “…I’ve been reading Bolano’s The Savage Detectives / and L. you would love it; desperate young poets/ too frail for this world, barreling through Mexico and Europe toward/ an awareness, I think, that they’ll have to make some other life.” ) There are also featured interviews with Catherine Hunter and Jacob Wren, who are asked questions like “when was the last time you ate a pear?” and “are public readings part of or counter to your creative progress?”, i.e. questions I’m sincerely interested in knowing the answers to.

Oh, and speaking of Canadian magazines, there’s a great post on the Descant blog about the importance of these publications. Kerry Clare writes, “Behind every rejection I’ve ever received is someone who folded a piece of paper into three and licked the envelope shut. Considering the number of rejections I’ve received, that licking and folding has required an enormous amount of manpower, and I am just one ordinary Canadian. From this you may begin to understand the amount of resources necessary to produce a magazine. And that there is really nothing small about these literary magazines after all, except their readership. If you consider 5000 small, that is, and I’m not sure that I actually do.”

Yeah.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table – Molly Wizenberg: Orangette is my favourite food blog. I have always loved Molly’s writing and delicate, clean photos and, most importantly, her recipes are consistently killer. Her braised brussel sprouts are a standard in my winter dinner meals, and I’ve made her lemon yogurt cake countless times. I was excited when I found out she got a book deal, and bought the book almost immediately after it was released. As I thumbed through it in the bookstore, a girl approached, leaned forward and pulled another copy off the shelf. “We have the same book,” I said, pointing to mine. We laughed and talked about the blog. “She’s just lovely,” the girl said. The book has a format similar to the Orangette blog – a story followed by a recipe – but, unlike other books I’ve read by bloggers, it doesn’t have that annoying “bloggy” feel. It’s more cohesive than that. She writes a lot about her family, especially her father, who died of cancer when she was in her mid-twenties. She also writes a lot about her husband, who she met through her blog. Some people have been throwing around the MFK Fisher comparison, and she is entirely deserving of it. So yes, like the girl in the bookstore said, Molly is lovely, and so is the book.

More on Canadian magazines

With all of this brouhaha around Canadian magazines, I thought it would be a good idea if I actually started writing about them. I read many Canadian literary magazines. I enjoy them, obviously, because I like new short fiction and I like poetry and I like reading reviews of books. I also read them because I’m a writer, and I would like to get published, and in order to get published I need to know what kind of stuff specific journals are looking for. I don’t want to submit a coming of age story about a girl in the suburbs to a magazine that focuses on experimental poetry. That would be embarrassing. And a waste of an editor’s time.

I get some magazines delivered right to my mailbox – stuff like The Malahat Review, Room Magazine, Geist, This Magazine, Matrix – and others I pick up along the way at bookstores (i.e. Book City or Pages in Toronto, Paragraphe in Montreal, but in a pinch Chapters or Indigo generally has a copy or two of certain lit mags in their shelves) or events like Expozine or The Blue Met.

Many of my subscriptions stem from the fact that at a point in time I entered one of those literary magazine contests. The subscription fee doubles as the entrance fee for the contest and I know, I know, people get whiny about this. Sometimes I do too. But, then I got over it. If you don’t want to pay to enter the contest, you don’t have to. These magazines accept submissions on a regular basis anyway and all you have to pay for is the stamp to mail the manuscript (most magazines archaically do not accept electronic submissions, although my guess is that it also has to do with weeding out email happy burgeoning writers who would bombard their inboxes with multiple submissions if given the chance). But with these contests you get the advantage of getting a subscription and finding out in a timely fashion if you’re going to be published. And working with a deadline in mind is usually good motivation to get that story done and mailed off.

I’ve also read articles about people complaining about the whole “contest” thing in Canadian literary magazines, how they tend to be biased, how judging is not done blind, etc. My first cynical reaction is, well, duh. Unfortunately, like most arts, writing depends heavily on who you know. Sometimes it’s slimy, and sometimes it just makes sense: no one gets paid very much (or anything) for reading submissions. If a writer comes approved by another writer, chances are their writing is readable and maybe, hopefully, good. It saves time. That doesn’t mean that it’s pointless to enter a contest or to slog through the submission process. I’ve know many people who have gotten published without having any connections.

Here’s my track record: I’ve entered many contests. I haven’t won any. I’ve been shortlisted for This Magazine’s Great Literary Hunt twice, which I’m proud of (and I don’t know anyone who works at This). Stories that I’ve entered in contests have subsequently been published in other magazines where I have never met the editorial board (i.e. “Baby Teeth”). And, as a result, I’ve got the chance to read and support a lot of magazines. Not so bad. (Here’s a good article about assessing the validity of contests: http://www.sfwa.org/Beware/contests.html)

Up until March 15, 2009, Magazines Canada is having a Buy 2 Get 1 Free deal for Canadian magazines (not just literary ones): http://secure.magazinescanada.ca/

You can also read about the Canadian magazine industry here: http://canadianmags.blogspot.com/

Ok, so now that I’ve talked about how easy it is to acquire magazines, I’ll start actually writing about what I’m reading in them.

I don't mean maybe.

Fool the World: The oral history of a band called Pixies by Josh Frank and Caryn Ganz: A few days ago I was looking at our bookshelf and found this book, which Andrew had purchased a while back. I didn’t care much for it at the time, but like I mentioned earlier, I’ve suddenly become a huge Pixies fan. I took it off the shelf thinking I would flip through it idly, pick out a few pages, whatever. In general I don’t read many books about music. First of all, unless you’re a big fan of the band or musician, it’s easy to feel like you’re filling your head with worthless facts. Or, often the writing in music books is just so-so. It’s a hard balance. Anyway, so this book? I got really into it. It’s an oral history, so it just jumps back and forth between various people speaking, and as someone who only recently got the Pixies switch flipped in their head, there’s satisfaction in reading this book while listening to their albums. It also does away with the bad writing problem in music books because it’s so chatty. It’s the ultimate in liner notes. Plus, it helps that they were charming or at least interesting, especially Kim Deal. I like knowing that Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields auditioned to be their drummer, and I like reading Kim Deal describe her adolescence (“I’m like 15, 16, 17, talking about why “Dominance and Submission” is a better Blue Oyster Cult song than “Godzilla” ever was. Just doing shit like that, just pouring over the record collection. Smoking pot. Snowing, constantly snowing, and doing drugs.”” Also, she was a cheerleader.) And I like reading about how everyone thought Charles Thompson/Black Francis/Frank Black was really “feminine” at first. I didn’t even know his real name wasn’t Frank Black. And he broke up the band via fax (kind of) and that U2 only paid the band $750 per gig when they toured with them?! Etc. Useless facts, yes, but I had a lot of fun reading the book.

The Pale King

There’s a powerful and heartbreaking article about David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker that gives frank details about his last few days and discusses the unpublished novel that will be coming out next year. I hadn’t heard anything about “The Pale King” prior to this article and was surprised to read that it’s about a group of employees working for the I.R.S (funny, considering that I pointed out that accounting-related footnote when I read “Brief Interviews”.) From the article:

As Michael Pietsch points out, in choosing the I.R.S. as a subject Wallace had “posed himself the task that is almost the opposite of how fiction works,” which is “leaving out the things that are not of much interest.” Wallace’s solution was to overwhelm his seemingly inert subject with the full movement of his thought. His characters might be low-level bureaucrats, but the robust sincerity of his writing—his willingness to die for the reader—would keep you from condescending to them.

and

Wallace began the research for “The Pale King” shortly after the publication of “Infinite Jest.” He took accounting classes. He studied I.R.S. publications. “You should have seen him with our accountant,” Karen Green remembers. “It was like, ‘What about the ruling of 920S?’ ” He enjoyed mastering the technicalities of the I.R.S. bureaucracy—its lore, mind-set, vocabulary.

I’m an accountant, but not a tax accountant by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, most people are surprised to learn that an overwhelming amount of accountants know very little beyond the basic tax facts (that’s why we have a tax department at work! that’s why there are people who actually specialize in tax accountancy!), but I totally understand what he could see in focusing on it as a jumping point for his book.

The article is here.

And you can read an excerpt from The Pale King too.