… but I’ve been hard at work, as promised, on what has turned out to be a lengthy treatise on what is loosely called “gun culture.”One of the problems with writing a lengthy treatise on such a topic is that all kinds of stuff happens that you could comment insightfully on, but can’t, because you’re too busy hammering away at the treatise itself. Much has happened: the Aurora theatre massacre, the Sandy Hook massacre, the elevation of gun control (briefly) to the top of the American legislative agenda, the repeal of Canada’s long gun registry, the ongoing legal kerfuffle over Quebec’s attempt to preserve the registry data as the basis of its own long gun registry, and of course the trial of George Zimmerman. But I have been too busy even to blow the dust off this blog — which is frustrating, because much of the commentary on these subjects is painfully silly, if you have spent months with your head buried in the topic.
But now, the work is mostly done, and the dust is blown off. I am fully armed and ready to tangle with anyone.
We (by which I mean “I”) haven’t been too active around here recently, thanks to one thing or another, but a couple of things have happened:
I ranted and raved about Canada Reads in the new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries, which you should rush out and buy immediately:
It is difficult to decide which was the greater travesty: that one of the Canada Reads panelists, Debbie Travis, could not muster the mental resources to finish one of the books, or that the winning book, The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, was so outrageously bad that her failure to finish it vindicates her.
Okay, if you don’t want to buy the magazine (boo, hiss), you can read it here.
I reviewed David Adams Richards’s new book, Facing The Hunter, for the National Post:
Everything rural is good: Farming does not convert wildlife habitat into empty fields, no one ever drained a wetland for the sake of another field and farm runoff never hurt our water quality. Everything urban is bad; indeed, the indefensible in hunting — trophy hunting, hubristic excesses and overkill — is the work of urban hunters. All ills owe to “urban culture,” “urban ideas” and “urban sentiment.” Herein is a drinking game: Down a shot for each repetition, and you will soon be plastered. But you will be no closer to understanding, for Richards does not explore the ideas with which he takes issue. He simply writes them off as “urban” and moves on.
Since nobody actually buys newspapers, you can read that here.
I know that I said a couple of things, and that 3 > 2, but anyway … new projects are afoot here at the Banjaxed Institute of Writing Stuff About Things. Expect to read about North America’s gun culture. On that note, I leave you with this, hoping you’re well stocked up on canned goods and ammunition:
It is often argued, and always by critics, that we cannot have great literature without great criticism. If this is true, then it follows that we cannot have great criticism unless we have great criticism of that criticism. Thus, this review of a review.
One might hope that a book review would provide the reader with insight into the book under review. One would frequently be disappointed. In place of insight, we too often get nothing more than debris from the collision between the book and the reviewer’s prejudices, or worse, the reviewer’s sense of how he would have written the book if only he weren’t a lazy little dipshit of few redeeming qualities whose greatest contribution to our literature thus far has been a glowing, if semi-literate, review of a book by Terry Fallis. And so it is with Hubert O’Hearn’s review of Marina Endicott’s new novel, an effort that does little to advance the form, nor, indeed, to advance anything at all.
O’Hearn’s review suffers first from stupidity. Reviewers everywhere, allow me to offer you a tip: do not double up your lead by slamming the book with two paragraphs of insult, and then follow up by complaining that you were unable to keep track of which character was younger through some three hundred pages of reading. Your inability to keep track of even the most trivial detail will mark you as a buffoon whose ability to read the more subtle variations of character is surely in question. If you are unable to grasp that the character whose name commences with “B” is younger than the character whose name commences with “C,” the reader may well question whether the problem lies with the book, or with the reviewer.
Above all, O’Hearn wishes that Endicott had not written her book, but had written his instead. It’s a common mistake among those who haven’t quite gotten down to the real work of writing their own: how nice it would be to have someone else drop your book in your lap! And when they fail to do so, the disappointment!
And so O’Hearn complains that Endicott has not used her three sisters in the manner he would use three siblings, if only he were to get off his lazy ass and write something of consequence. And that Endicott did not give Swain’s Rats and Cats the importance O’Hearn would have accorded them, if only he were to get off his ass and write something of consequence. And that Endicott has not concerned herself with the audience, which O’Hearn surely would, if only, etc. The failure of her book, apparently, is that it is her book, and not O’Hearn’s, a point underscored by his continual complaint that she wastes her material.
O’Hearn also complains about the quality of Endicott’s writing, in a paragraph that leaves one muttering, “Physician, go fuck thyself”:
But really— scudding? Slow-flurrying? In trying to write, shall we say, ‘in period’ Endicott throws in clunky phrasing that brings to mind nothing other than The New Yorker and Wolcott Gibbs’ famous description of Time magazine’s style: ‘Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.’ One other point— Groucho actually was from that period, and he sure never talked like that, nor did Bob Hope, George Burns, Jack Benny, Fanny Brice or, hell, anyone who ever drew a living breath.
Notice the wordiness (‘shall we say,’ ‘nothing other than’), his missing comma, his comma splice, his brutal misuse of the em-dash, and the tin ear that leads us from Time magazine style to Groucho Marx through that clumsy “one other point.” This man cannot write.
I am reminded of Jim Harrison’s complaint that he can’t give a damn about a critic who hasn’t written a good book: if your own stuff is no good, who the fuck cares what you have to say? Harrison is wrong here, in that one can be a superb critic without being a competent novelist, but he still has a point: who cares what you have to say about how other people write, if you can’t yourself write an acceptable English sentence? In O’Hearn’s one paragraph I find three errors of punctuation, not to mention a solid dose of the “clunky phrasing” he so derides.
But worse than any of this is the evident glee O’Hearn finds in kicking around someone who has put two more novels out to face the critics than he himself has managed. Reading O’Hearn’s disclaimer (“I’m not enjoying writing this”), complete with emphatic italics, I find myself muttering that the lady doth protest too much. There is the double lead, his sarcastic complaint that the non-sequential names “must have seemed writerly and symbolic,” and his attempt at a final witticism. A reviewer who does not enjoy savaging a book discards sarcasm. To be savage and to pretend one would rather not is dishonest, or, in more precise terms, chickenshit.
Books deserve to be reviewed well, and The Winnipeg Review usually rises to a better level.
I can’t comment on whether The Little Shadows is a good book. Perhaps it is. Perhaps, on the other hand, it’s the kind of book club fiction I so despise. But I can’t help but feel that, having read a review, I should have some sense of which it is. I don’t. O’Hearn, as a reviewer, is a failure. He has provided me with some sense of his pettiness, but no sense of its object.
I, too, saw God through mud,–
The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.
Merry it was to laugh there–
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.
I, too, have dropped off fear–
Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
And sailed my spirit surging light and clear,
Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;
And witnessed exultation–
Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.
I have made fellowships–
Untold of happy lovers in old song.
For love is not the binding of fair lips
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,
By Joy, whose ribbon slips,–
But wound with wars hard wire whose stakes are strong;
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
Knit in the webbing of the rifle-thong.
I have perceived much beauty
In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
Heard music in the silentness of duty;
Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.
Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
And heaven but as the highway for a shell,
You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears. You are not worth their merriment.
This post is apropos of very little. Someone came here today looking for info on expiry dates for Kodak HC-110 developer. So.
This photo of Steven Heighton, taken in September at Eden Mills, was developed a couple of weeks ago in HC-110 with an expiry date of October, 2006. So essentially, I think, don’t worry about it.
Rebecca Rosenblum posted this questionnaire on her blog, and, well, refer to question 20.
1. What did you do on your last birthday? I can’t remember that far back. Nothing exciting. Went out for dinner someplace.
2. Name something awesome about you that you’ve never been able to market properly. I can explain jump and drift in armoured gunnery. Not just what they are, but why they happen.
3. What book do you have to resist trying to force other people to read? I’m going to resist mentioning it, but you can find it wherever fine books are sold.
4. How good a swimmer are you? Not incompetent, but unlikely ever to win any races. Unless I race eight-year-olds. I can pretty much kick their asses.
5. Ideal pet? If I don’t put “Welsh Springer Spaniel” here, Sadie will bite me.
6. If you don’t have to compromise with other diners or pay for extra toppings, what goes on the pizza? I never compromise with other diners. Let the whiners pick off those olives.
7. Can you, in your own estimation but also the viewpoint of the real world, sing? Those who witnessed my recent duet with Ray Robertson on “Your Cheatin’ Heart” may dispute this – Moody Food, it was not – but yes.
8. What are you wearing right now? Is this the prelude to something? I don’t do that on the Internet.
9. When, in your opinion, is it appropriate to chew gum? Never, unless (a) your name is MacGyver and (b) you have an imminent need to construct a nuclear reactor, and no other adhesives are available.
10. What book did you read as a teen that made you realize how smart and misunderstood and *deep* you are? L’etranger. I was much older then; I’m younger than that now.
11. What magazine would you never buy yourself but always sort of hope is in the stack at the doctor’s office? Who’s Who in Canadian Purebred Swine. I understand they ran a compelling profile of Conrad Black.
12. Can you bake a pie? Yes, of course. Probability that it will be edible? Low.
13. Who lives next door to you? What is your relationship like? That’s a good question, and I really should look into it right away. In other words, I live in the suburbs.
14. What is the easiest way for you to learn a new skill? Hands on.
15. What is that book you keep meaning to read and haven’t, and feel bad about every time it comes up in conversation? That book written by whoever I happen to be talking to at the time. What was it called? I’m sure it was good.
16. What are you listening to right now? Bob Dylan, “With God on our Side,” 19 October 1988, New York City. He mangles the lyrics.
17. Do you remember what you wore on the first day of high school? If so, what? If not, substitute some other important day when you remember what you wore. I can’t remember what I wore last week, much less on my first day of high school. I wore a tux for my wedding, though. That one’s easy.
18. What are you doing tonight? Is this the followup to question 8? I’m going over proofs for a magazine.
19. What’s the last thing you ate? Pizza, as it happens. Refer to 6, above.
20. Why did you do this questionnaire? Because it’s the end of a long, tough two weeks.
(And thanks, Rebecca & Mark, for coming to my launch this week. I wish we’d had time to chat.)