Category

Reviews

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Bromance Revisited: A Review of Fugue States, by Pasha Malla

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If there is one aspect of Pasha Malla’s new novel, Fugue States, that will linger in the mind long after you’ve finished the last page, it will be the book’s supremely rendered portrait of an obnoxious friend from the past. Have we all not had someone like this in our lives before? A person whom we’ve known for years, even decades, and maintained a relationship with out of a dyed-in-the-wool...

Nuannaarpoq: Thomas Wharton’s Every Blade of Grass

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In all of his literary fiction, Thomas Wharton speculates on one question: what is a book? Answers are as various as books themselves. Wharton imagines fantastic books: books as pinwheels and books nested inside books until they were too tiny even to read. Audio-books and graphic novels stretch books in the direction of the purely acoustic and the primarily visual. In e-formats, a book no longer...

Bina Shah’s A Season for Martyrs

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The funeral congregated in Liaquat National Bagh park. Angry clerics denounced the government for allowing the execution to proceed, and an ambulance strewn with flowers carried Mumtaz Qadri’s body slowly through the crowds. When Qadri was executed for the murder of Punjab governor and Benazir Bhutto loyalist Salman Taseer on February 29th, Pakistan’s sharp ideological divisions and complexities...

After the Prophet: Leigh Fondakowski’s Stories from Jonestown

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The paradox of utopias is that while their failure is assured, their appeal is eternal. 800 years ago, tens of thousands of ordinary people left their homes, their families, and the innumerable small ties which made up their lives to march on Jerusalem and retake it in the name of God, in the deadly mass migration known as the Children’s Crusade. Today, would-be jihadists make the dangerous...

Newfoundland Off the Map: Michael Crummey’s Sweetland

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The demographics don’t lie. In a couple of decades, a generation at most, dozens of Newfoundland communities will have disappeared, and there seems to be no way to reverse the flow. Soon, all that will remain will be a ghostly assembly like the one that closes Michael Crummey’s Sweetland – a scene reminiscent of some of David Blackwood’s bleaker prints, first understood as...

Geoffrey Farmer Makes Moore Dangerous Again

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The explanatory text at the entrance of Every day needs an urgent whistle blown into it at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) reminds us that British sculptor Henry Moore originally intended to bequeath his works to the Tate. When a letter writing campaign caused the London gallery to refuse to build a suitable space, he chose Toronto and the AGO instead. We can remember this as Toronto’s...

Pretenders and Holy Fools: E. L. Doctorow’s Andrew’s Brain

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Reviewed in this essay: Andrew’s Brain by E. L. Doctorow (Random House, 2014) Andrew, the cognitive scientist-narrator of E.L. Doctorow’s latest novel, is endearingly clumsy—he knocks drinks into laps, drops bottles on toes, and litters the floor with books. For his ex-wife’s new husband, these slapstick misdemeanours betray a sinister connection to the tragic deaths of Andrew’s first daughter...

Digital Humanities and the End of (Close) Reading: A Review of Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading

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Last year in a post titled “Why Teach English?” Adam Gopnik offered one reason why not to teach English studies: as a discipline it does not give students basic research skills since research in English amounts to “archival futzing.” And scrounging a library for out of print books is “not really research.” Research involves looking for new knowledge within clear boundaries, or within a science...

On Wanting The Goldfinch: Donna Tartt’s Book of Cravings

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Shortly after finishing Donna Tartt’s masterpiece, I stepped into a bookstore eager to buy another book but immediately spotted The Goldfinch on a table. All sorts of novels lay around it, but I thought, petulantly—No! Only The Goldfinch! The book had made me hungry to keep reading, but I wasn’t ready to leave its story behind. Since it appeared last fall, efforts to find comparisons for Tartt’s...

The Razor’s Edge: The Erratic Brilliance of Martin Scorsese

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It all begins in a bloody bathroom. A young man shaves at a mirror, his body arched over a porcelain sink. With each new stroke, a torrent of blood gushes down his cheeks, streaking across the tiles in a crimson cascade. A romantic ballad floats over the soundtrack and the young man’s gaze is as placid as the singer’s voice. He slits his throat without a sound. The Big Shave is the 1968 student...

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Dedalus Book of Lithuanian Literature

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Reviewed in this essay: The Dedalus Book of Lithuanian Literature, edited by Almantas Samalavičius (Dedalus, 2013) If Alice Munro’s recent Nobel win demonstrates that writing about small places can illuminate the human condition internationally, then the same can be said of writers working in languages whose speakers are not numerous. The literatures of small countries tend to be backwaters...

Tijuana’s Borderline Personality: A Review of Tijuana Dreaming

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Reviewed in this essay: Tijuana Dreaming, edited by Josh Kun and Fiamma Montezemolo (Duke, 2012). Over the last few decades, Tijuana has mutated more than any other city in Mexico. No longer the family-friendly day-trip it was in the 60s, and no longer the international art hotspot it was in the 90s, the city has in the last decade been generally seen as a model of uncontrolled violence...