Verbatim: A Novel

Notes on an unconventional book

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:


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:


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:


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


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.

In Munich, 15 October 2013

I got back from europe last week, and enjoyed the trip very much. In paris and germany I caught up with old friends. Apart from visiting museums and zoos, it was a pleasure and privilege to have been invited to munich and germersheim to read (see earlier posts). Here’s a picture of three people who helped with that in munich:


That’s Dr. Sascha Pöhlmann to the far left,  friend and host, with one of his colleagues and a student. All three read parts of the novel with me, to the audience’s surprise and amusement. Sascha gave a wonderful introduction and had promoted the event very well. There were good questions from the audience.

Afterwards, a student from poland, Malwina Chmiel, came up to have a quick conversation and, to my pleasant surprise, asked for a photo. (Thanks to the unnamed friend who used both our cameras.) Malwina’s future career plans I hope to see come true, and not only because it could mean an invitation to me to visit that country from a person in high office. She seems firmly set on fulfilling her aspirations, and I wish her good luck..


The reading occurred in a classroom, starting a little after 7:00, with sirens going by and a free bar. Part of the audience of about 40 — pictured here post-reading and post-beer consuming —



— seemed to enjoy themselves. I know I did.

Next post: germersheim.


After Munich, Germersheim

On 22 October I’ll be reading at the Germersheim branch of  Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, in Germany. The poster is here. Looking forward to this, and to the 15 October reading at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich.

The reading in moncton

On the 19th of September the Attic Owl Reading Series in moncton, new brunswick, coordinated by Lee Thompson, Executive Director of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, started its new year of readings and music presentations. On the bill, and performing in this order, were Ryan Hillier (songwriter, guitarist), Danny Jacobs (launching his first poetry book, Songs That Remind Us of Factories), and me. I read part of the chapter, “Big goodbyes,” from my latest novel manuscript called “Unidentified man at left of photo.” Lee took photos of each of us, and here’s one. Read the rest of this entry »

To Germany

A book can take you anywhere. Read the rest of this entry »