Archives for category: Writing

Alexander Masters cover


One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Especially when it comes to celebrated biographer Alexander Masters’ relationship with “I,” the enigmatic author of 148 diaries found in an Oxford Dumpster. Fifteen years after the discovery of the diaries, Masters’ latest book, A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip, is the result: a biography, mystery, love story and chronicle of social class in 20th century England.

It’s a delightful read.

I reviewed it for the National Post, here.


The crowd at Wayzgoose 2014

A new publishing season is in session after the annual Coach House Books bash.

My latest column for Open Book: Toronto is about The Week We Wayzgoosed.

Read it here.


As we prepare to ring in 2013, here, in no particular order, is my top 5 for 2012.


Londoners by Craig Taylor
These oral testimonials create a living, breathing portrait of a city. I was happy to see the book turn up on two out of three National Post critics’ lists on the last Saturday of the year, proving my love for it isn’t too too swayed by my personal love of London.

You Aren’t What You Eat by Steven Poole
This smart and hilarious rant about foodie culture caught my eye in an advance edition  in the UK this past spring. I read most of it in a gastropub  and giggled away over my pint and wild boar sausages. Available only as an eBook in Canada, it’s a steal at $1.99.

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
Listen to Andrew Solomon talk about his book in this episode of CBC’s The Sunday Edition and see if you can resist picking it up. Solmon’s book about children, parenting and identity is both sad and hopeful, and holds relevance for us all.


The Faster I Walk the Smaller I Am by Kjersti A. Skomsvold
This short novel about an old woman approaching death has echoes of Will Self and Alan Bennett. A terrific debut from a young Norwegian author that I was delighted to discover at this year’s International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy
Dobozy emerged as the literary darling of awards season, with a Writers’ Trust win and a GG nomination topping off a collection of absolute rave reviews. Linked short stories  about the lasting effects of Siege of Budapest, this collection stood out by a mile and deserved every word of praise.

Honourable Mentions

Straphanger by Taras Grescoe — an important and eminently readable book about urban transit. Watch out for the paperback in the spring.
The Measure of a Man by JJ Lee — a 2012 paperback (I came to it late). I was reading passages to people out loud I enjoyed it so much.
In One Person by John Irving — his best novel since A Widow for One Year. Too bad about the horrendous cover.


’tis the year of discord among prize juries, we are told.

With the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Scotiabank Giller Prize and Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language Fiction lists all out, the verdict came in: an almost unprecedented level of dissenting opinion between the three juries threw Canada’s literary awards season into disarray. Or possibly into ambivalence, if one can be “thrown” into ambivalence (today’s “Guessing the Giller” article in the Globe & Mail might as well have been titled “Meh”).

“The Year of Discord Among the Literary Experts,” said  the Globe & Mail on Oct. 2, noting that, “the divergence of opinion among literary experts contrasts with the solidarity that occurred last year.”

An “almost unprecedented number of 12 different books have been selected by various juries and committees,” said the Toronto Star on Oct. 26.

Really? Or is it just that last year’s lists were so dominated by two names in particular that it gave the illusion of the awards being a race between only those two books?

As the publicist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize it was my great pleasure to work with Patrick deWitt and Esi Edugyan (the two shortlist-dominating authors in question) in 2011. What was frustrating about last year though was that the noise surrounding those two names was such that the other nominees (there were nine of them, by the way) found themselves a little drowned out. By contrast, the 2012 shortlists with their lesser (but, see below, not by as much as you’d think) accord provide, instead of one big story, many smaller ones. And isn’t that what literary awards are here to do? To re-open the window of publicity for those authors short- and long-listed for them?

The configuration this year is different, but the stats not so much.

The Breakdown (Canadian shortlists only – I’m not including the Booker):

  • In 2011, 11 out of a possible 16 books were shortlisted.
  • In 2012, 12 out of a possible 15 books were shortlisted.
  • In 2011, 3 books were nominated for multiple awards.
  • In 2012, 3 books were nominated for multiple awards.

One notable difference: in 2011, two books were nominated for all three awards (and hence became major noise-makers), whereas in 2012 none were.

Because the Giller had a six-book shortlist in 2011 it messes with the numbers a little, but let’s assume that a five-book shortlist in 2011 would have omitted Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (by all accounts the outsider), which didn’t appear on any other lists. That would still leave us with 11 books out of a possible 15 in 2011, versus 12 books out of a possible 15 in 2012.


  • The same number of books appeared on multiple lists in 2012 as in 2011
  • The total number of books shortlisted across the combined lists in 2012 is only one higher in the year of disagreement than it was in the year of accord.
  • The same number of books (3) appeared on multiple lists in 2011 as in 2012.
  • Book people are bad at math. But I think we already knew that.

As Mark Twain said, “There are three sorts of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” 2012 may be the year of discord among the literary judges or it may be the year that award recognition managed to sprinkle some fairy dust on a greater number of books than in 2011.

Good luck tonight (Giller nominees), on Nov. 7 (Writers’ Trust nominees), and Nov. 13 (GG nominees) to each and every one of this year’s literary dozen.


(with thanks to @ebcameron for swiftly pulling together these stats)

It’s been 12 years since Zadie Smith published her break-out debut, White Teeth, and 7 years since her most recent novel, the brilliant On Beauty.

So … was NW worth the wait?
On Day 6 with Brent Bambury I say … YES. With a word of caution that the novel is “crazy good” in parts, but “chaotic and cluttered” in others.

Here’s the audio.



My latest Open Book: Toronto column. On uniting personal libraries from both sides of the Atlantic, and on the power of the scrap-of-paper bookmark to turn a book into a forever keepsake.



I found Karen Thompson Walker’s much hyped debut to be a slightly flawed but overall impressive and tightly wrought feat of the imagination. And it absolutely screams “summer read.”

Read my review in the Globe and Mail.

This month’s column on Open Book: Toronto is about book design, dipped edges, and the pleasure (and incidental advertising spillover) of snooping on what strangers are reading.


NYU sociology professor Eric Klinenberg examines the life of the “singleton” in Going Solo.

I read the book for the National Post and found it perhaps a little too focused on North American city life, but overall a meticulously researched and thought provoking examination of the reasons we might choose to live alone at any stage of our adult lives.

Read my review here.

The perfect Chandler-esque cover doesn’t always point to the perfect Chandler-esque crime story.

In today’s National Post I review Love Alone by Emmanual Kattan and find it a strong finisher with a weak start. The end is a goodun’, but will you manage to even read that far … ?