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Archive for August, 2006

August 28th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

The City Library: Past, Present and Future: Audio interview with Phil Jenkins by Nigel Beale.

Author and performing songwriter Phil Jenkins has written at least five books, including An Acre of Time, published in 1996, which won the Canadian Author’s Association Lela Common Award for History, jointly won the Ottawa Citizen Non-Fiction Award, and was made into a play nominated for a Governor General’s award.

We talk here about a book he was commissioned to write called The Library Book: An overdue history of the Ottawa Public Library published in 2003, but hot now, because 2006 is the centennial anniversary of the organization.

Conversation starts with Andrew Carnegie, moves through all the various city librarians via the Battle of the Bookmobile, Frank Lloyd Wright, spelling errors, secular churches, strip malls and Friends’ organizations, touches on current Chief Librarian Barbara Clubb, (interview to follow), and ends in the future where the subsiduary function of a library is predicted to become primary.

Please listen here: 

August 27th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Read Great Write Great

Surprise. Francine Prose in her lastest book READING LIKE A WRITER A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, espouses a close reading of the great works of literature for those who want to join the Canon. Here, from the chapter called Words is what she does with a passage from Paul Bowles’s story A Distant Episode The contents of the Professor’s two small overnight bags full of maps, sun lotions and medicines provide a tiny mini-course in the importance of close reading. The protagonist’s anxiety and cautiousness, his whole psychological makeup, has been communicated in five words (maps, sun lotions and medicines) and without the need to use one descriptive adjective or phrase. (He was an anxious man, who worried about getting lost or sunburned or sick and so forth.) What very different conclusions we might form about a man who carries a bag filled with dice, syringes and a handgun.

So much of what is published today, although perhaps good, is not great, despite what the hype machines tell us. And although one wants to be current, and doesn’t want to ignore interesting work, there is only so much time. This is precisely why most of the books I read are ones recommended by Clifton Fadiman and Harold Bloom and others kindred. Not because they were written by dead white dudes, many weren’t, but because they deliver the best quality goods; the best bang for the browse. It’s interesting that a lot of the writers I’ve interviewed over the past year do exactly the same, and, as a result, are hard pressed, I would suggest, to read many works written by their contemporaries. Unless of course they have been selected to sit on the Booker jury, in which case they will have read 112…closely I’ll bet… in a matter of 112 days…or whatever.

August 26th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Trees Take Precedence

Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall, 1997-98, as mentioned below. It makes you smile, just as Gaudi does.

August 26th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Inefficient for Inefficiency’s Sake: Gaudi’s Fantastical Impracticalities

Just went to see Hiroshi Teshigahara‘s 1984 feature documentary on Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi­. Much less informative than it might have been, the film was, nonetheless, aesthetically rewarding . Hardly any talking, just a slow camera luxuriating on the textures, slopes and intricate designs of this artist’s supercalifragilistic creations. I love Gaudi’s buildings as much for their sheer fantastical impracticality as anything else. But too for their clean humanoid curves and spines, wavy roofs, outlandish sculptures and Sci Fi faces, and for all those wonderfully colourful ceramic chips. Looking at his weird shaped windows and convoluted arched ceilings you just know that anyone with cost-savings on the mind would have headed immediately in the opposite direction. So different from your typical functional downtown building that they stick out in ways that are supremely joyful. As animation might in a regular unanimated film. I’m tempted to compare some of his houses to Mini Mouses’ at Disney in Orlando…but I wont. So beautifully anti-efficient.

Like Andy Goldsworthy‘s winding wall at Storm King Art Center in New York State…built around living trees, not straight on top of killed ones. Speaking of surreal, apparently Gaudi’s abandoned plans for a New York skyscraper hotel influenced the redesign of the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Funny, one thing I won’t forget about my visit to the Sagrada Familia back in 1979: all the sad, unimaginative parishners parroting back all those sad, unimaginative religious incantations in one of the most imaginatively designed buildings known to humankind. And finally, just so we stay on message: The "Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia" (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family) was the idea of a bookseller, Josep Maria Bocabella. Photo from here

August 25th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

A Shared Connection: Artist/Poet Christopher Pratt: Audio Interview with Nigel Beale.

Christopher Pratt is one of Canada’s most ‘prominent’ painters. He is now also a published poet. We talk here, in his home in St Mary’s Bay, Newfoundland on the Salmonier River, about his book A Painter’s Poems (Breakwater Books, 2005), about parallels between his writing and his art, emptiness, lonliness, cleanliness, juxtaposing real and imagined worlds, getting it right, abandonment, absence and how it draws in readers and viewers, leaving important things unsaid, seasons, a man drawing circles in the sand who, when asked why he does it, responds "Well, I’d be a damned fool if I didn’t," and about how creation involves sharing what is most intimate in order to communicate; in order to find out about and connect with the same in others.

Copyright © 2006 by Nigel Beale

 Please listen here:

August 19th, 2006 • Posted in Uncategorized


FYI, I will be unplugged for the next few days. So, in the meantime, this lob for you book loving tennis players in the crowd, on Federer from the NY Times.

August 18th, 2006 • Posted in Uncategorized

Audio Interview with Ken Rockburn, broadcaster/interviewer: by with Nigel Beale.

Ken Rockburn is a well known and respected Ottawa-based Canadian broadcaster/interviewer. We talk here about Medium Rare, published about a decade ago…and out of print…so rare in itself…a book of anecdotes about Ken’s experiences interviewing some of Canada’s leading authors. More precisely we talk about the merits of reading entire books, difficulties offering opinion, the extent to which an interviewer should or shouldn’t be present, Eleanor Wachtel, thin skin, the over-rating of Robertson Davies and Jack Kerouac, coincidences, Pierre Lachaise cemetery, Irving Layton on poetry and the staggering obnoxiousness of Douglas Coupland.

This interview was conducted and aired in the Spring of 2006. Please forgive the occasional editing hick-up. It was early on in the game.

Photo from here

August 17th, 2006 • Posted in Uncategorized

Jerks with Toys

Warning: If you are offended as I am by the gratuitous use of foul language, please skip this post.

Most of the time I look out onto a lovely placid courtyard/fountain when editing interviews for The Biblio File radio program I host. Unless of course it’s one of those morning when some young jerk cranks up his God Damned blowing/clipping machine every half a fucking hour in order to chase two or three of those oh so unsightly little flower blossoms off the pavement…or shave down that tiny hedge twig whose appearance clearly ruins the aesthetic of the whole neighbourhood…

Boys with toys fucking-the-dog at others’ expense should be shot…with a bow and arrow, so I don’t have to listen to it. And then gagged so, again, I don’t have to listen to it. And when they are dead and in hell, where they belong, they should be tasked with the eternal and then some trimming and sweeping of Hades’ hot courtyards with a good solid quiet pair of shears and a broom.

Using technology to perform tasks that don’t require it is wasteful and damaging and shameful…and, when it intrudes on the lives of others, bloody irritating.

There. That feels better.

I’ve complained to management of course. And they have dealt with it in the way most modern organizations deal with things these days. By igorning it.

I really should change my handle to grumpy old bookman. Especially when you see what’s coming.

August 17th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Comprehension enters NY Public Library Reading Room

For the past 100 odd years books in the New York Public Library’s Main Reading Room have been arranged under a system invented by John Shaw Billings, the library system’s director from 1896, the year after it was founded, until his death in 1913; a system used and understood only by said Public Library and a few of its more longstanding patrons.

This now too has passed. The Library is currently converting to the Library of Congress classification system, the standard used by academic and reference libraries in the United States, a system which divides all knowledge into 21 classes, each signified by a letter (wonder if they’ll come up with new ‘classes’ or if they’ve got the waterfront covered with 21…and if so, how long it will take them to move into double, AA, letters?). As new areas of knowledge — for example, the Internet or nanotechnology — emerge, new call numbers are created. The Library of Congress’s cataloging policy office updates the classification system each week. New York librarians had to figure out a way to revise their antiquated Billings system each time they added books on new topics.

The conversion means that every book in the reading room will have to be taken away and given a new call number and label, while its entry in the catalog system, known as Catnyp, is updated. The process began in late June.

Some quirks of the old system will vanish. For example works by and about three English authors — Shakespeare, Milton and John Bunyan — and one Spanish author, Cervantes, have separate call numbers under the Billings arrangement. The four authors will now emigrate back to their respective national literatures (for those anal about this: I suppose it could better be put: these authors will emigrate from their place in the old system…immigrate to their countries of origin). Oh well. Good while it lasted eh boys?

No doubt a frustrated little circle of bun-haired control freaks are rueing this day…

Image from here, where you’ll read that The American Phobia Foundation did a study on the nation’s most feared professions. #1 was Public Librarian. #2 was Undertaker. And #3 was School Librarian.

August 15th, 2006 • Posted in Authors and Books

Strumming Neruda’s Love Sonnets

Reading Pablo Neruda‘s Love Sonnets, and these plucked lines:

…love is a war of lights in the lightning flashes, two bodies blasted in a single burst of honey…

…The lunar markings, the pathways through the apple, are yours; naked, you are slender as the wheat…

…You are a little mare carved in black clay, a kiss dusky with pitch, beloved, a clay poppy, a pigeon of twilight that fluttered its way on the roads and followed us into childhood of want, with its tears….

…Death is the stone into which our oblivion hardens. I love you. I kiss happiness into your lips. Let us gather sticks for a fire. Let us kindle a fire on the mountains… (not sure I like the way the translator uses fire twice here…but still…it makes the cut)

I tried to pluck from these two sonnets, but they were unpluckably beautiful. Inviolable.


Whoever intends me harm, lets your blood, too:
the poisonous blow directed against me,
falling across my labors like a net,
darkens your wincing flesh in its corrosion.
Under a flowering moon, beloved,
may I never see the odium of others lining your forehead,
remote of forgotten rancors ravage your sleep with thier useless crown of knives:
I do not wish to see it.
Behind me as I move, the malevolent pass,
a grimacing horror copies my face if I laugh,
I sing among mockers and backbiters,
cursed by the covetous.
This is my life, my darling,
the cloud life has gathered me under,
the vacuous garment that limps at my heels as I go,
the scarecrow smiling his bloody smile among the crows.

And saving the best for last:




I dreamed that I died:
that I felt the cold close to me;
and all that was left of my life was contained in your presence:
your mouth was the daylight and dark of my world,
your skin, the republic I shaped for myself with my kisses.
Straightway, the books of the world were all ended,
all friendships, all treasures restlessly cramming into vaults,
the diaphanous house that we built for a lifetime together –
all ceased to exist, till nothing remained but your eyes.
So long as we live, or as long as a lifetime’s vexation,
love is a breaker thrown high on the breakers’ successions;
but when death in its time chooses to pummel the doors –
Ay! there is only your face to fill up the vacancy,
only your clarity pressing back on the whole of non-being,
only your love, where the dark of the world closes in.


From: Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970 Pablo Neruda A bi-lingual edition edited and translated form the Spanish by Ben Belitt. (Grove Press, 1974).