The panel included psychiatry professor Dr. Liza Gold, British criminologist Peter Squires, and Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett. It’s worth a listen. Dr. Gold in particular makes the point I made on Q Friday, that mental illness is a red herring, but of course makes it from a position of much greater authority.
With the release of Arms still two weeks out (September 15), I did a quick interview for CBC radio’s Q this morning, the key question being whether the on-air murders of WDBJ7 journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward would represent a tipping point in the American gun control debate. You can catch that interview here.
As horrifying as these murders were, my answer is no — the same answer I gave following the Sandy Hook massacre. The gun culture is simply too entrenched. In this culture war, our positions are largely immovable. Things will get worse.
… 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.