Verbatim: A Novel

Notes on an unconventional book

A review for a different audience

Or at least, I think Goodreads has a somewhat different readership than Amazon.com. At GR a review of the novel has just been posted that describes the way, to the reader’s mind, the subject of governance (and much else) is addressed. There’s even a brief history lesson on what Hansard is, which can be helpful to the majority of people who never run across it. Very thankful for this long review, and for the time taken to consider what was written.

New notice

It’s been a while since there’s been something to say here, but winter is a quiet time (especially when enhanced by the polar vortex and storm after storm), and after all, it’s been three and a half years since the release of Verbatim: A Novel. However, it was noticed recently by u.s. novelist Marek Waldorf here, and he makes certain points not touched on by earlier reviewers. (His novel The Short Fall looks at politics from the personal end, and is well worth reading, as I said in this review.) The use of the word “boobishness” is particularly appreciated for its rarity nowadays. Thanks go to Marek for taking the time to make substantive comments, as every new review helps keep the book in the public eye.

A frenchman’s revenge…

… on another frenchman. In the late 1880s and early 1890s Alphonse Allais wrote under the pseudonym Francisque Sarcey, portraying himself as an Ubu-like literary figure, a bit of a dolt, dense and large, and conventional. His target for seven years? The real parisian theatre critic… Francisque Sarcey. The real one never seemed to mind. A set of AA’s columns and letters have been collected in How I Became an Idiot, published in May of this year by Black Scat Books. I reviewed it here and I hope that others hear of the book. It’s in a limited edition, so if you like the review, act fast by contacting the publisher. (And there’s no ISBN #.) What could say Christmas better than a satire?

Arts East and a profile

Shortly before going to europe, Arts East said they wanted to do a profile piece on me. The result is on their site, and I want to thank Michelle Brunet for her curiosity and questions. Arts East has a lot of different stories about what’s happening, artistically, in this part of the country, so it’s worth looking around when you get there. You’re bound to find something interesting on dance, music, writing and events.

What does it take to write criticism?

Since about 2003 I’ve been writing book reviews, and before and after that longer articles, a few of which would be considered academic, others called popular. If a writer can write criticism about books, positive and negative and neutral, and likes doing it, then that’s a further contribution to dialogue in the republic of letters, though there’s no obligation on anyone to do that. Sometimes in canada we’re pretty dull in our critical writing, so anything that invigorates the conversation is welcome.

Not not everyone thinks like that. And some writers object to criticism. In April of this year, responding to a Big Other piece of mine on his rules for writing, Chad Pelley commented: “Most papers and magazines do such a dry job covering books that it’s nice to hear right from the author on their work or motivations. The reviews, m’eh. Why do I care what some critic I dunno thought? And what’s exciting about reading a review for a book I haven’t read? A guest post is a direct connection to the writer, and the best way to form an opinion on their book, often. For me.”

In the fall of this year it came as a surprise to read, in a publication called Atlantic Books Today that’s available for free at book stores, an article titled “Critiquing the critics” by Pelley, in which he says: “We readers are talking more than you think we are about your articles.” Going from not caring what critics think to being engaged in deep conversations about book reviews is quite a change. The Pelley article has many problems, and earlier this month The Winnipeg Review, for which I’m a contributor, published my response, titled “Atlantic Books Today Gets Prescriptive.” In it is a link to the Pelley piece, so I hope you’ll read both.

 

An interview with Steven Moore

Steven Moore is a writer well known among William Gaddis readers. Earlier this year his edition of Gaddis’ letters came out from Dalkey Archive, and it’s a great read. Any Gaddis is good reading, and the edition has notes to help guide the reader over the silences and various family and publishing matters. For the past few years, building on his interest in experimental and exploratory writing, Moore has had published two lengthy non-fiction studies of the novel: The Novel, An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600 (2010) and The Novel: An Alternative History: 1600-1800 (2013). My reviews of these two books are here and here. A while ago, Music & Literature asked me to interview Moore, and the exchange went up not too long ago. His books are worth checking out for anyone who likes to see where the novel has been.

And now, Germersheim

It’s a sleepy little town of 30,000, with a bustling university. The hotel had a “quaint” feeling to it, to quote someone, and I felt very good there. Here’s the hotel key:

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So much for a thin card. Easy tell germany is a have-country (small joke for canadian readers). As in other hotels there, on returning from adventures elsewhere I’d find the window open, airing the place out nicely. The weather was very good when there, especially the day I read (22 October), and while sitting outdoors at a café post-performance, unexpected company took over the other chair:

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Neither the waitress’ approach nor the occupation of the next table by three college girls disturbed this drowsy visitor.

Now, to the reading. Thanks go to Dr. Florian Freitag of the University of mainz (germersheim campus) and the head of his department, Dr. Jutta Ernst, for their invitation, hospitality and dinner conversation. Here’s Florian with his copy of my book:

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And here’s part of Jutta’s class who I addressed:

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A student participated along with Florian and Jutta. (I regret not getting a photo of the three of them.) The audience numbered about 70. Facing people in tiered seating was new for me, but they were a warm crowd who laughed in the right places.  As in munich, there were lots of good questions, and hopefully the italian student who considers canada a “dreamland” didn’t have his impression ruined by the reading. Also, thanks to the unnamed student who came up after to shake my hand and said a few kind words.

If there are any canadian writers out there who can get to germany, I recommend it. Friendly audiences, fine hosts, and good food. And it’s an easy place to get around.

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