Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts

Archive for February, 2011

February 28th, 2011 • Posted in On Collecting

Advice for beginner Book Collectors


…from ILAB President Arnoud Gerits

"Start building a collection around [a] subject or author or period [of interest to you, what your heart tells you, what you like, what you love, what gives you pleasure and satisfaction, what is meaningful or significant to you]. Continue to develop knowledge about your subject. Time will teach you and you will discover what you want to have and what you consider of less interest for your collection. Buy the best copy you can afford: you will always regret buying a bad copy, you will never forget what you paid for it and the book will always be irritating. Buy the best copy you can afford and you will forget what you paid for it but always look at the copy with pleasure. Discuss your collection and where you want to go with your collection with the dealers you trust and whose opinion you value. Many collectors have one or a couple of dealers who serve as their advisors and with whom they discuss a possible purchase. And of course, these dealers will be alert on any material they find which may be of interest to you and your collection."
February 25th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Julian Assange and enormous British, American, Swedish weapons sales profits

Let’s get this straight…Swedish authorities want Wikileaks’s Julian Assange in Sweden to question him about sexual relations he had with two women…to question him about events which occurred behind closed doors -  about which no proof of wrong doing can be derived: it’s his word against theirs…no one else  I don’t imagine was in the respective bedrooms at times of engagement…

How can the Swedish realistically believe that they’ll get a conviction? By beating a confession out of Assange behind closed doors?

Now, most of you probably have a rather pleasant concept of Sweden, what with its pretty blonde women, safe cars, healthy lifestyle, Nobel peace prize and all…few know that it’s one of the world’s biggest weapons exporters – first or second per capita, and that shipments of same to the United States and Britain have  doubled since 2000.

Swedish weapons were used by both sides in the Iraq war, according to classified U.S. files released by: WikiLeaks. Amongst weaponry referred to in the WikiLeaks files are Carl Gustav recoilless anti-tank rifles, a variety of different types of Swedish ammunition and even some old Swedish sub-machine guns. With about 200 mentions, Saab’s world-renowned AT4 light anti-tank weapon featured most prominently….

Do you think Sweden likes the world knowing about this?

How about American citizens knowing this:

The world’s 100 largest arms dealers, excluding Chinese vendors, sold weapons for $401 billion in 2009, with US vendors remaining in first place, according to a report published earlier this month.

"Despite the continuing global economic recession in 2009, the total arms sales of … 100 of the world’s largest arms-producing companies increased by $14.8 billion from 2008," says the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

That amounts to a year-over-year increase of eight percent, and "an increase of a total of 59 percent in real terms since 2002", the think tank said, pointing out that 61.5 percent of all 2009 arms sales made by the top 100 arms dealers could be attributed to 45 companies based in the United States. 

War is shockingly profitable for England, the United States and Sweden. The more Wikileaks stories that get out describing the terrible human toll produced by weapons made in these countries, the less likely the public will be to put up with it.

Hardly surprising that Assange feels a mite squeamish about having to set foot back in Sweden.

February 23rd, 2011 • Posted in Nigel Beale Photos

Must’ve been some big Honkin’ Computer Problem


Bank Street, Ottawa, Canada.

February 23rd, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

3quarksdaily’s second annual prize for the best Arts & Literature blog writing

Laila Lalami has agreed to be the final judge for 3quarksdaily’s second annual prize for the best blog writing in the category of Arts & Literature. (Details of last year’s A&L prize, judged by Robert Pinsky, can be found here.) The nominating period is now open, and will end at 11:59 pm New York City Time (EST) on March 2, 2011

February 23rd, 2011 • Posted in Nigel Beale Photos

Walls in Havana


 Walls in Havana are put to quite










uses. Granted, there may be a smattering of political propaganda, but one thing


that is blessedly absent: bullshit advertising.

February 12th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Alex Ross in Ottawa this Sunday, February 13th

Alex Ross will deliver his "Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues" lecture at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa this Sunday afternoon. Here he is on Charlie Rose talking about his National Book Critics Circle Award winning book The Rest is Noise , connecting the history and politics of the 20th century with its classical music composers and conductors.


Alex has a new book out called Listen to This. It contains essays on Mozart, Dylan, Radiohead, Chaconas, Bjork, the debate over recorded versus live concerts, and a lot more…all designed in a way to link the classical with the current, to point out similarities and connections by identifying recurring motifs, riffs, and bass lines. I’ll be interviewing him this Sunday morning. Please stay tuned.

February 11th, 2011 • Posted in Literary Tourism

Off to the Havana Bookfair next Week

Publishers, writers and bibliophiles gather to shmooze at San Carlos de La Cabaña Fort during the Havana International Book Fair every year. In addition to readings, lectures, and symposiums, there’s also a ton of live music, theatre, dance and cinema to take in. It’s going to be a tough gig.

Havana’s International Book Fair has been running since 1982. It’s a hugely important event on Cuba’s cultural calendar. I’ll be there covering it for a new website I plan to launch in the coming weeks. Please stay tuned.
February 9th, 2011 • Posted in On Book Collecting

Snubbed by the Governor General?

Favourite Dust Jackets 049

I sent this letter via email  to His Excellency David Johnston back on November 23, 2010. To date, no response.


The Right Honourable David Johnston, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.
Governor General of Canada

Your Excellency,

I write with a proposal.

I am a freelance writer/broadcaster who specializes in literary journalism. My work has appeared in, among other places The Washington Post, The Toronto Globe and Mail, Rain Taxi, Canadian Bookseller magazine, The New Quarterly, Canadian Art magazine and BorderCrossings. I host a radio program on books called The Biblio File,  write  blog posts for The Guardian’s Online Books Section ( ), serve as Poetry Editor for an Ottawa-based cultural magazine, Guerilla,  and author a popular books blog at

I also collect signed first editions of the Governor General’s Award winners for English Fiction, as indicated in this post:

I contacted Rideau Hall recently with a request to view its collection  in hopes of familiarizing myself with dust jacket and other points associated with GG Firsts and their variants. At the time I was informed that the books were not available to the public. Subsequently, I learned, here:

that, in any case, the GG collection consists not primarily of Firsts, but mostly of "reading" copies.

I’m not sure how you feel about First Editions – many find the practice of chasing them rather silly – I happen to think they represent  important cultural artifacts; given this, I’d like to propose two things:

One, that I study your collection in order to help determine that yes, you do indeed possess what you think you possess ( Ms. Dupuis informed me several days ago that she believes all volumes in your collection are in fact First Editions) , and two, assuming that some work needs to be done, that I work with you and your officials to put together the best GG collection possible, with the intent of placing it on permanent display at Rideau Hall. Furthermore, I’d suggest that, once this task has been completed, it would be a good idea to document and publicize the undertaking. I could blog about the experience; review some of the books:

interview living authors ( please listen to several such interviews here

and generally document, as best as possible,  the ongoing evolution of this important literary award.

Such an approach would, I think, bring attention to an important, neglected aspect of Canadian literary culture, and encourage a new generation of book collectors – so essential to the ongoing health of  a country’s literary life and scholarship. It would also give a valuable boost to an unheralded cultural institution: the used/antiquarian book trade in Canada.

I hope this proposal makes some sense to you.  I look forward to the opportunity of discussing it with you and/or your officials, in hopes of developing a plan under which we might move forward together.

Yours sincerely,

February 9th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview with John Ralston Saul on Penguin’s Extraordinary Canadians, Lafontaine and Baldwin

John Ralston Saul

Born in Ottawa, Canada  John Ralston Saul  studied at McGill University and King’s College, University of London, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1972. His award-winning essays and novels have had an impact on political and economic thought in many countries. Declared a “prophet” by TIME magazine, he is included in the prestigious Utne Reader’s list of the world’s 100 leading thinkers and visionaries. He has received many national and international awards for his writing, most recently South Korea’s Manhae Grand Prize for Literature.

But we’re not here to discuss the world. We’re here to talk about Canada, and Penguin’s Extraordinary Canadians project, a series of 18 biographies that reinterprets important Canadian figures for a contemporary audience by pairing well-known Canadian writers with significant historical, political and artistic figures from 1850 onwards.

I met Ralston Saul recently in Ottawa to discuss his general ‘editorshipping’ of Extraordinary Canadians, and his particular authoring of Lafontaine and Baldwin, one of the books in the series.

Please listen here:

February 5th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Russian Television’s Devious Truths

Searching for the latest on Julian Assange, I came across this link entitled

Video: Paper Cut: NYT dumps WikiLeaks after cashing in on nobel cause

YouTube RT

Very clever this. ‘Paper Cuts’ happens to be the name of the New York Times’ book blog. I clicked on the link expecting to land there. ‘RT’ is Russia Today, Russia’s CNN.

The funny thing is, the report, complete with posh English accented presenter, and pretty American reporter, is bang on. Accurate, true I’d say; makes a valid point…about love affairs.

Kudos to Google and Youtube for allowing us all access to such a pleasing breadth of opinion/propaganda. In fact, nothing would benefit the great bulge that is middle CNN-medicated America – more than a good dose of RT.