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MartinJohnI have read a lot of good books over the last while. If you want to be certain of getting good books into your hands, surround yourself by smart and literate friends who will recommend stuff to you. They won’t let you down!

Here are some highlights of the reading life.

Martin John, by Anakana Schofield

This novel, about a sex offender – told mainly from his perspective and his mother’s – is funny and disturbing and is rightfully getting heaps of critical praise. I loved it; could barely put it down. Then I saw Schofield read from it at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival and was struck by how intentionally she’s incorporated a sense of rhythm into her prose. It’s the kind of writing that is inventive, demanding, and would be called beautiful if it weren’t so deliberately ugly for all the right reasons.

Submission, Michelle Houellebecq

I’ve been a fan of Houellebecq for a very long time, but over the last decade, I’d sort of started to wonder if he was becoming a parody of himself. Then he releases Submission, and I was still a little uncertain, because from the reviews it sounded like Houellebecq was simply trying to be as much of an enfant terrible as possible: conjuring a plot about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over France. But the book went down easily, “like a bad oyster.” It all seemed horribly plausible. Submission is not the reactionary raving of a racist throwback. It’s Houellebecq crafting compelling plot while winding up his audience, forcing readers to think through what would happen if there were a legitimate and well-planned plot against an ailing, enfeebled western liberal democracy.

Postcapitalism, Paul Mason

My yearly dose of non-fiction! First half was very compelling. Great insights into the crises that have plagued capitalism since practically its inception. I wasn’t so sure about the technology-fuelled optimism about the future. But I do think Mason is probably correct in his basic premise: a new form of economy is going to form out of experiments that emerge before capitalism itself is dead. Maybe the new already exists, and to steal from William Gibson, “hasn’t been evenly distributed yet.” A very compelling read.

You, Comma, Idiot, Doug Harris

Doug is a born-and-raised Montrealer and we actually have known each other for eight years, going all the way back to my strange stint of work at Bath Fitter (Doug’s production company cut Bath Fitter’s North America-wide commercials). I loved You Comma, Idiot. It’s a bit reminiscent of my own Blind Spot in that it features a schmuck for a protagonist. The book also provides a fantastic snapshot of Montreal, warts-and-all.

And I am up to stuff

Here’s a link to a recording of a true story that I told for This Really Happened, an annual event the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. It’s called My Pagan Family, and is about the exhumation of a dead goat, a World War II gas mask, and familial bonding through druidism.

As for my fiction, I feel like a walking cliché. “I am working on my new novel,” has been my refrain for three years. It isn’t ready yet, and is unlikely to be so any time soon. Tentatively called “Northern Lies,” drafting of the novel preceded the Jian Ghomeshi scandal as well as the release of the final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But now that those two events have happened, I’m calling this a post-Ghomeshi, post-TRC novel, because without initially meaning to, I think I’ve delved into some issues of contemporary significance, and the fear that grips me every time I sit down in front of my laptop is: what makes me think I’m even remotely qualified to write this? But I keep on keeping on regardless, and have checked in with a professional editor twice now, who has reassured me I am not completely delusional that I could have a readable piece of work at the end of all this. It’s the third major draft that’s underway, and hopefully it’ll be finished by the end of the summer, when I will again check in with outside perspectives to see if I’ve committed a gross act of hubris and white privilege, or whether I’ve made an honest and empathetic attempt to portray a plausible scenario that could have unfolded some time in the early going of the 21st century in Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blind Spot cover

Click to enlarge

This has been a particularly exciting week in the life of my novel, Blind Spot. The super-talented Michel Vrana, who also created covers for Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues and for Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982, has produced what is in my opinion a fabulous design.

I’d always felt that the cover should depict a car crash, and furthermore, that it should be pretty clear that the crash was the result of a collision with a train. So I hope I’m not being hyperbolic when I say it was a stroke of genius for Vrana to take the railway crossing sign and blow it up like a giant X — symbolic of a warning, an error, or even an overturned cross.

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For obvious reasons (!) I’ve been thinking a lot about covers lately… My personal favourite book cover of all time is the one for The Great Gatsby. I can’t  think of any cover quite like  it, having the power to live on in a reader’s memory forever. Those eyes and lips, seemingly floating in an early night-time sky, are forever entwined in my mind with the novel itself. This Atlantic article makes it pretty clear that F. Scott Fitzgerald himself felt similarly. “For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me,” Fitzgerald wrote to his publisher. “I’ve written it into the book.”

It’s perhaps fitting that Gatsby’s cover remains the most iconic, born as it was when mass marketing was hitting its stride. Many other famous books, Lolita, for example, have been approached in numerous different ways by designers with very different sensibilities. This is probably more the norm for the book world. A story is as open to as many different visual “identities” as there are people reading it. Here are a few modern takes on Nabokov’s controversial classic. I like the way the designers feel in no way encumbered by the story’s most obvious thematic.

Besides Gatsby, the other covers that are most memorable to me are the ones for J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles, and Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

Blind Spot is out September 2014  from NeWest Press. It’s already available for pre-order at evil Amazon.

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