Fenylalanine Publishing has just released CanCon, a chapbook of poetry I wrote by mixing and mashing lyrics from some of Canada’s most overplayed musicians to see if collectively they can say more interesting things than they generally say alone. It is dedicated (with sincere apologies) to Bryan Adams, Barenaked Ladies, Michael Bublé, Celine Dion, Nickleback, and Shania Twain.

You can read it for free on Fenylalanine’s website.

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I was going through my scribble book this morning, copying out the stuff that might eventually find a place somewhere, when I came upon some lost words on writing. I know they’re not mine, because I put quotation marks around them. I know they’re not from a book I was reading, because those things end up in my commonplace book. But they’re not attributed, and I have no memory of writing them. The read –

“I always start writing in a state of confusion. As I write, if I’m lucky, I get a glimpse of answer, and then another glimpse. I write solely for those glimpses.”

 

I’ve been reading some really fun books lately – fun in the sense that I’m not even sure what to think about them after I’m finished – which I love. Here they be. Read them, then let’s arrange to have coffee so I’ll have someone to talk about them with.

1) Daniel Kehlmann’s You Should Have Left, which was recommended by Brad Deroo, Guelph-based musician and critic (you can frequently find his stuff in Canadian Notes and Queries). It’s a kind of riff on The Shining maybe? But far less violent and far more disorienting.

2) Paul La Farge’s The Night Ocean, which was recommended by Andrew Hood, Guelph-based author of books like The Cloaca and Jim Guthrie: Who Needs What. It’s a story (or several stories in a sense?) circulating around H. P. Lovecraft’s legacy, with a curious blurring of fact and fiction.

3) Daniel Sada’s One Out Of Two, which was recommended by more than one Latin American friend trying to temper my Roberto Bolano obsession. Two virtually indistinguishable twin sisters who’s relationship get’s disrupted by a romantic suitor, and… weirdness.

And seriously, if you get through one or more of them, let’s talk.

I’m currently in Edmonton visiting friends, which means also visiting Edmonton used bookstores. One of my finds was The Gray Book by Aris Fioretos, and it contains (in fact, begins with) one of those beautiful, sprawling sentences I love. Enjoy.

“Gray and falling, and while falling waiting for the strange moment when the tongue turns light and limber, liquid with avowal, the teeth become dragons, and the instant suddenly resembles the drowner’s last dream, he who fell from a precipice and now sinks like a stone but lackadaisically as a leaf, winging swinging like a dim dot suspended in motion, yet moving toward rest because the present’s elastic membrane has placidly expanded, now permitting images of past and prior to pour into appearance as he sinks glides sinks downward inside its roomy pocket in a dissident sort of rhythm – another cadence, another clause, another clue – contained in a depth that is its own surface encasement… and it has at that moment, comfortably cushioned yet malleable, when we have closed our eyes, resting on a mattress perhaps, or a cot, that it all begins… gradually the well-known surroundings disappear, although we still seem to perceive the table’s flat surface in front of us or the flower-patterned fringed bedspread covering our disheveled body in the manner of a rippled ocean out of which peaks and summits emerge like distending formations in a mist-distorted land.”

I’m going to tell you a story about a book.

A few months ago I went to a reading at The Bookshelf, our local independent bookseller. I didn’t recognize the name of one reader (Daniel Coleman? Author of Yardwork?), but the other was my friend Shane Neilson, and I love to hear him read, so I went.

It was a solid event, though too sparsely attended. Daniel’s reading was quite interesting, and Shane’s was good as always. Afterwards, I was chatting with Daniel about some of the ideas he had raised in his reading, and Shane mentioned that those ideas had been raised much more deeply in Daniel’s earlier book, In Bed with the Word, which was about reading, spirituality, and cultural politics. I was intrigued, but The Bookshelf didn’t have a copy, so Shane promised to loan me his.

Then I forgot all about it.

Shane, however, did not. The next time we met for lunch, he dropped me off his copy, and this morning I sat down on my front porch with my coffee (escaping the unseasonable heat of my house), and read it front to back, out loud. I don’t read everything out loud (Poetry, yes. Philosophy, sometimes. Fiction, rarely), but this book seemed to ask for vocalization, so I obliged.

It didn’t take that long to read, even aloud – maybe two and a half hours – and it was worth every minute. It’s a little gem of a book that gets into all kinds of my favourite things – the posture of reading and reflection, the function of slowness in thinking, the difference between criticism and what Daniel calls discernment, the spiritual (not to say religious) significance of reading, the necessity of good reading to turn to moral action – and so forth. He also cites a whole range of authors who have been influential on me, from Simone Weil to Jacques Derrida. It was a provoking and affirming read.

What it is not (despite what the previous paragraph might seem to imply) is a work of philosophy, not in a rigorous sense. It’s far more the sort of book that I have come to call a meditation, something like Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, or (closer in time and space) Tim Lilburn’s Going Home. What I like about these kinds of books is how they take up their subject in much they way that Daniel’s book recommends – slowly, thoughtfully, leisurely. They take their time. They adopt a posture of humility or (as I’ve often argued from Heidegger) of thankfulness.

Before I was even quite finished In Bed with the Word, I knew it was the sort of book that needed to be on my shelf. I started walking down to The Bookshelf to get my own copy, reading as I went. They still didn’t have it in stock, but I ordered it. There aren’t enough books like it out there.