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I Am Skooter  So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
I think that ghosts like / The cooler weather / When leaves turn colour / They get together
— Hawksley Workman, Autumn's Here
November 19, 2012
The Biblio-Mat: Mystery Books for you--Two Dollars!

The Bilio-Mat is in Toronto, and I haven’t seen it but there’s a pretty fun video of it on Vimeo complete with a Tom Waits soundtrack. You can see it below.

I love it, because I love the concept of the mystery book for a twonie (a word, incidentally, that I’ve never quite been able to figure out how to spell—a hyphen makes it look awkward, and every other version I’ve used seems strange to my eye.) People don’t buy books as much as they used to. People have Kindles and they licence content instead, or they steal content, or they get free ebook versions of books that are out of copyright.

Books, though, those are getting a bit less common in people’s lives. So is mystery for that matter, and this is a Rube Goldberg contraption that brings a little bit of both back into your life all in exchange for a single shiny coin.

The BIBLIO-MAT from Craig Small on Vimeo.

I still buy books. Every time I do I talk about being one more step away from a Kindle. I sort of recognize the inevitability of a ebooks, but I resist it. Books don’t run out of batteries, they aren’t that large, and if you spill coffee on them (as I did with a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay) they usually survive, though sometimes you may choose to replace them anyway (I did, by the way. It’s a very good book.)

I’ve gotten a bit less precious about them in recent years. This comes a bit from a combination of having moved a lot in a short period of time, a general downsizing of my life and a benevolence that’s come on with age. I like to circulate them: most books I buy, red, and then send to someone else. I keep some to be sure: the John Irving’s, the Alice Munro’s, the ones that I promise—with good intent but a weak follow through—to read again some day. Some day.

But there are so many new books, and I keep buying them used. I love the Biblio-Mat because it recognizes that the fact that it’s a book is more important than which book. Reading is a reward in and of itself, and with just one shiny coin you can get new material. You may not know what it is, and you may not like it in the end, but it’s a book and that’s important.

Posted by skooter at 7:05 PM
Tags: Books, Reading, Toronto, Videos

May 20, 2012
Neil Gaiman: Advice on Pursuing a Career in the Arts

Honestly, I’ve never been that fond of Neil Gaiman’s work. The Sandman was brilliant, but when I’ve read his novels I’ve always been left disappointed.

That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that the man gives some very good advice in a commencement speech to arts graduates. Well done sir.

Posted by skooter at 11:06 PM
Tags: Advice, commencement, Neil Gaiman, Videos

October 13, 2010
Douglas Coupland's Massey Lecture

Douglas Coupland delivered the Massey Lecture at UBC's Chan Centre The annual Massey Lectures are presented by CBC and since 1961 have featured a noted Canadian academic or scholar delivering a lecture on the topic of their choice each year. This year’s lecturer is West Vancouver’s Douglas Coupland, perhaps best known for his fiction writing but also a prolific artist and designer of all sorts of things (and a fan of platonic solids, I’m told.) His Digital Orca is a beautiful and welcome addition to Vancouver’s selection of public art. Coupland and I share a Lego fetish.

I’ve never been fond of Coupland’s fiction. Girlfriend in a Coma was the first book written by Coupland I read: it was horrible. It may be as simple as us having gotten off on the wrong foot, but I tend to think of him as writing witty dialogue wrapped in bad fiction. The slavish devotion of his fans to his wildly inconsistent body of work annoys me (though slavish devotion to anything tends to do so—it’s not specific to Coupland.) I’ve enjoyed his non-fiction and am particularly fond of pointing out that his role as an unrepentant whore for Vancouver and its charms is something I’m rather fond of.

I won tickets to see the lecture though, and so I went. He’s an engaging person in no small part because he sees the world through multiple prisms—including those platonic solids—and doesn’t narrowly define himself as a writer or a painter or a designer. Our world needs more of these people, before we develop too many silos.
Douglas Coupland delivered the Massey Lecture at UBC's Chan Centre

March 31, 2010
Philip Pullman on Censorship

March 20, 2010
The iPad Doesn't Threaten Publishing

The New York Times writes on the state of the publishing business today and includes a red herring comment about the iPad’s impact on the business:

With the rise of electronic books, makers of reading devices and online retailers are putting pressure on prices and the traditional book publishing business model. And, as with record labels and newspapers, digital media raises the question of what part the traditional book publisher will play in the future.

“If book publishers are supposed to be the gatekeepers,” said Kurt Andersen, the novelist and host of “Studio 360,” a public radio program, “tell me exactly what they’re closing the gate to.”

In the case of “The Last Train From Hiroshima,” the author, Charles Pellegrino, said he had been duped by a source and insisted that other sources the publisher questioned definitely existed.

While the iPad may have an impact on the publishing business, it’s got little to do with the situation related to The Last Train From Hiroshima. It may be that the iPad is the device that tips electronic books into the mainstream (Amazon’s Kindle was, without a doubt, the first chink the armour) but the true impact of the digital age on publishing relates to the culture of immediacy that’s developed in our society. The rush to publish faster than ever appears to have pretty much eliminated any fact checking that ever happened.

The same problem has had an impact on the mainstream news media.

I lament for the days when we had time for careful reflection; when we had time to research, consider, absorb and truly understand instead of just skimming. I worry that this is the standard lament for previous generations that happens as we all age, but I fear that something different is happening now.

It seems as if a question that can’t be answered by clicking on one of google’s top ten links is dismissed as irrelevant, too complicated, or simply too time consuming to answer.

When even authors and journalists seem to ignore the importance of accuracy and understanding, is there hope for the rest of us?

Posted by skooter at 5:19 PM
Tags: Articles, Books, New York Times, Publishing

September 9, 2009
Cormac McCarthy: The Road

Any praise I have to heap upon Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is pointless: it’s received heaps of it, not the least of which is being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It’s a great novel, and if you haven’t read it you should. I did last year while I was on a kayak trip last year. It was bracing, and definitely different than what my co-paddlers were reading.

It’s been made into a movie, the production of which was famously troubled with a release date that shifted many times. The final trailer is out and it doesn’t look promising. I doubt I’ll be seeing it.

The novel has a cold open: the events that lead up to the novel’s setting aren’t explained or expanded upon. The reader is thrust into the middle of an unknown scenario already underway. It looks as if the movie has needlessly added background and expository information.

That’s not the worst of it though. By far the worst moment of the trailer is that moment when the words An Epic Journey flash across the screen. The beauty of The Road is precisely that the journey is not epic and there are no heroes. It’s a novel about survival, and necessity, and the basest of human needs. No one is glorified, though there is a cold nobility in the lead character’s persistent attempts to save and provide the child in the story against all odds.

There’s nothing epic about it and that is exactly what makes it such a compelling novel. Read it. Don’t see it.

Posted by skooter at 6:40 AM
Tags: Books, Cormac McCarthy, Movies

July 10, 2009
Pages Bookstore is Closing

Pages Bookstore is the best bookstore in Canada, without exception. When I’m in Toronto, it’s always one of my first stops. Just up the road from the chaos of Chapters and the Paramount theatre, it’s a refuge for those of us who read outside the bestseller list.

I can’t believe its closing. I have a feeling the gentrification of Toronto’s Queen Street West is only part of the problem…the other is the decline in the purchase of books, and role of the mass media in narrowing the focus. Oprah’s book club may be great for sales of certain books, but many readers never bother to look beyond those few. This is a true loss, as Pages was one of the most vigorous supporters of independent publishers and first time Canadian novelists.

Pages bookstore to close next month
John Barber and Jennifer MacMillan
Toronto — Globe and Mail Update
Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 09, 2009 08:21PM EDT

One of Toronto’s best-known independent bookstores, Pages Books & Magazines, is shutting its doors for good, citing skyrocketing rents on the strip of Queen Street West where it set up shop 30 years ago.

Posted by skooter at 1:26 AM
Tags: Books, Toronto

January 1, 2009
William Gibson's New Year's Gift

A little gift from William Gibson on his blog which is, presumably, a snippet of text from his next novel.

Posted by skooter at 11:17 PM
Tags: Books, Science Fiction, William Gibson

September 8, 2008
Rwanda

My end of summer reading was a book I stumbled across in a used book stor called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. I’d read bits and pieces about the Rwandan genocide, but this book provides an in depth look at a situation that demonstrates how utterly completely the world ignores the African problem.

Of course, in North America the African problems doesn’t exist because we just ignore it.

Over 800,000 Rwandan Tutsi’s were slaughtered in 90 days by their Hutu neighbours. The world’s response wasn’t to do nothing, which is the popular view, but instead to send troops and pretend a genocide wasn’t happening.

Until it ended, and then what did we do? We set up refugee camps to shelter the Hutu’s who had killed the Tutsi’s, and then asked them all to live next to each other again.

In the aftermath of World War II, the nations of the west supported the creation of the state of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish population that had been methodically massacred.

In Europe, the vulnerable were given their own country. In Africa, the vulnerable were asked to live next door to the very people who’d killed them and just forget everything that happened. They were expected to just get along.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t make any sense at all.

Posted by skooter at 5:29 PM
Tags: Africa, Genocide

May 28, 2008
A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines

A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines is a wonderful book, written by physicist Janna Levin.

Though I’ve long been familiar with Alan Turing, and an admirer of his I had no idea that Turing had committed suicide (at least that’s the book’s thesis, and appears to be the most commonly shared opinion.) I also had no idea that he had been prosecuted for homosexuality.

It’s shocking to think of how different the world might have been if Turing had been allowed to continue his work.

Posted by skooter at 5:28 AM
Tags: Artificial Intelligence, Books, Computers

March 19, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke

Words cannot express how much of a loss this is. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous With Rama, Childhood’s End list could go on forever of influential works that Arthur C. Clarke was responsible for.

If you haven’t read his work, there will be no better time.

Arthur C. Clarke, 90, Science Fiction Writer, Dies
By GERALD JONAS
Published: March 19, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke, a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was 90.

Rohan de Silva, an aide, confirmed the death and said Mr. Clarke had been experiencing breathing problems, The Associated Press reported. He had suffered from post-polio syndrome for the last two decades.

Posted by skooter at 6:20 AM
Tags: Arthur C. Clarke, Authors, Books, Obituaries

March 7, 2008
Henry Dorsett Case's Airstream?

Airstream Trailer at William Gibson's house That’s not a trailer, it’s an Airstream. This isn’t Chiba City, it’s Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood. The phalanx of Volkswagens has been replaced by an extension cord running out of the house.

Posted by skooter at 1:01 AM
Tags: Shaughnessy, Volkswagen, William Gibson

November 22, 2007
Censorship in School Libraries

Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass has been pulled from school shelves in some Ontario catholic schools.

School board pulls ‘anti-God’ book
RON BULL/TORONTO STAR
Philip Pullman’s works have often been criticized by the Catholic church.
Halton’s Catholic trustees and staff to review fantasy that is `apparently written by an atheist’
Nov 22, 2007 04:30 AM, Kristin Rushowy, Education Reporter

Halton’s Catholic board has pulled The Golden Compass fantasy book—soon to be a Hollywood blockbuster starring Nicole Kidman—off school library shelves because of a complaint.

Posted by skooter at 3:38 PM
Tags: Books, Censorship, Fantasy

February 11, 2007
Riding with Rilke, Ted Bishop

A finalist for the Governor General’s Award when it was published, Riding with Rilke has a good place on any list of modern books about motorcycling. It’s well written and interesting to read.

This doesn’t meant that it’s not without it’s share of flaws.

Ted Bishop, the booke author, suffered a severe accident and I have a slight beef with the fact that in recounting the accident he seems to often gloss over the fact that he was passing a truck dangerously. Bishop blames his crash on the high speed wobble that the bike developed.

Most motorcycle accidents start with some form of rider error. Bishop’s is no exception.

The book also gets dragged down into minutae about writers of historic significance and their motorcycles. It would have benefited from a little more brevity on this topic.

A good read though.

Posted by skooter at 11:31 PM
Tags: Books, Motorcycle, Reviews

January 25, 2007
Until I Found You

John Irving’s Until I Found You is a long book that rambles through both North America and Europe before coming to its fairly predictable conclusion. Along the way it touches on his classic themes of older women, lost fathers, and wrestling.

At this point I’ve read just about everything Irving’s writen. A Prayer for Owen Meaney is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, but the rest of his work has been somewhat inconsistent. The Fourth Hand was horrible, Son of the Circus was pleasant but not great, and The Cider House Rules was good but I wouldn’t rave about it. I haven’t yet read The World According to Garp but I may yet.

If you’ve got time on your hands, Until I Found You might be a pleasant read, but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for it.

Posted by skooter at 8:17 AM
Tags: John Irving, Reviews

September 16, 2006
The Greatest Story Ever Sold

A good review at the New York Times of a book by Frank Rich called The Greatest Story Ever Sold

The central thesis of the book is that politics is more like the theatre every day. This should be obvious to anybody who’s paid close attention to modern political campaigns in North America — the Bush campaign isn’t so much ‘scripted’ as it is pre-recorded.

There’s much more than this wrong though.

That television — that cyclopean seductress of the thirty second attention span — has become addicted to the soundbite and sells political campaigns in the same manner as it sells pizza pops should come as no surprise. TV has long since stopped being good at communicating real information, at least in the current expensive production supported by advertising model.

What’s truly disturbing is alluded too by this comment:

Yet — and this is where Rich is particularly acute — most serious papers published the White House claims on their front pages, and buried any doubts in small news items at the back

The propensity for virtually all mainstream media to simply reprint what the White House calls news is a problem.

This is not limited simply to political news — open the business section of any newspaper, and check the content against press releases distributed directly by the company through Canada Newswire or PR Newswire. You’re likely to be shocked.

The days of Woodward and Bernstein have long since been left behind, and the news media these days is not much more than a machine for reprinting content.

Ask questions — it’s your duty always, but especially in the absence of effective news organizations.

Posted by skooter at 8:19 AM
Tags: George Bush, Reviews

July 23, 2006
John Irving, The Fourth Hand

John Irving is one of the great authors of his generation, having produced novels which are simultaneously popular and literate. This is no mean feat. A Prayer for Owen Meaney is one of my favourite novels of all time.

The Fourth Hand is an entertaining read that demonstrates Irving’s unique way of looking at the world — slightly askew, but not so much that you won’t recognize it. The story of a television reporter who loses his hand and slowly gains a soul is deftly interwoven with actual historical events.

Coming on the heels of reading Joshua Then and Now — another darkly comic novel — I have to say that The Fourth Hand is the more enjoyable of the two books. It’s an aproachable novel, with characters that are easy to relate to.

Posted by skooter at 11:26 PM
Tags: Books, Fiction, John Irving

April 30, 2006
Two Rich Minds Departed

This week has seen the departure of two of North America’s distinguised thinkers: Jane Jacobs and John Kenneth Galbraith. Both were erstwhile Canadians.

Jane Jacobs Death and Life of Great American Cities is a classic text to anyone interested in urban planning. It went against conventional wisdom of the time and, to this day, remains an insightful thoughtful viewpoint.

Jacobs called both Toronto and Vancouver home for extended periods of time, and was proud to have been associated with both communities.

John Kenneth Galbraith was one of the most influential liberal economists of our times. Born near London, Ontario Galbraith was a Harvard professor and trusted advisor to a number of democratic presidents. His influence over American monetary policy was significant, and serves as evidence that the decline of liberalism in modern American economic thinking may, in fact, be linked to the general decline of America’s economy and its political relevance in the world.

Galbraith’s The Affluent Society was republished to celebrate an anniversary, and I read it years after I’d left school. It’s worthy reading for anybody with an interest in modern economics, despite the fact that it was written many years ago.

Posted by skooter at 9:15 AM
Tags: Economics, Obituaries, Urban Planning

February 18, 2006
Tom Wolfe

I have just finished reading Tom Wolfe’s most recent novel I Am Charlotte Simmons. It’s the first Tom Wolfe I’ve ever read. I probably won’t read another.

I Am Charlotte Simmons chronicles a young, small town girl’s attendance at a fictional Ivy League university in the United States. Charlotte is cast as a fish out of water in many ways: the small town girl from North Carolina with an accent; the academic paired with a roommate who likes to party; the young virgin surrounded by the feelings of lust that are pervasive amongst post-high school kids.

Wolfe — a 75 year old man with a fondness for white suits — has a fertile imagination and a pen that can certainly spin a story. This is a story with three fundamental threads that run throughout (two of which are, essentially, variations on the fish out of water theme…one social, one academic) and all come to a rapid conclusion towards the end of this 600+ page novel. It’s sort of the opposite problem of The Da Vinci Code which plods along such a predictable path that one can’t help but see the end; I Am Charlotte Simmons simply unfolds, and when the ending comes it seems to have little relationship to the rest of the novel.

If the book has a message, I think it’s that for those who remain true to themselves, things always work out in the end. A young girl discovers that just because she lives in the big city doesn’t mean she’s changed; an athlete learns that there’s more to himself than just basketball and a campus journalist and smart guy learns that honesty can be the best policy, even if it doesn’t always seem like it at first.

Five out of ten. Not remarkable, but I don’t get what’s particularly special about the book.

Posted by skooter at 8:44 PM
Tags: Books

December 27, 2005
The Tipping Point

Fast Company has chosen Malcolm Gladwell as one of the year’s most creative thinkers in business.

This is a sure sign that they haven’t read his book, The Tipping Point

If you haven’t yet, the first chapter is worth a read. Not much else. It’s a fairly simplistic look at trend analysis and how business can create a vocabulary around it. Not much else.

Posted by skooter at 8:53 PM

October 23, 2005
The Da Vinci Code

Reading The Da Vinci Code is interesting - this was, I gather, a pretty popular little book a while ago. I got to it slowly.

I’ve been accused of being an elitist reader, and a snob. Both of these things are true, and I’ll take them as complements in a world where Time Magazine is increasingly considered literature and the 30 second attention span is considered long. Reading is the best way I know to stretch your mind, and most people don’t do it.

I don’t read a lot of “popular” fiction. I read a lot of fiction, but it tends to be of the literary popular variety. I’ll read John Irving but not Stephen King.

So what does all this have to do with The Da Vinci Code?

This book is 449 pages in length, as published in the original hard cover, and it contains 105 chapters. That’s right - 105. That’s more chapters than appeared in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This bugs me, because it’s written for a TV generation. At 4.27 pages per chapter on average (and the pages are not densely packed with a small font, by the way) the action, activity or character development all happens in bullet time. The book’s plot is outlined in explicit detail on every page, with not much left to the imagination as you jump from scene to scene.

The Harry Potter books felt the same to me - the authors of these books don’t want you to think, they just to lay their story out in front of you. It’s just plain bad writing, that fails to recognize the most powerful aspect of the written word - the human brain.

All of this is not meant to imply that I’m not enjoying the book, but I’d have a hard time recommending it to many of my friends.

And if Time is your idea of literature, try reading either The Walrus or The Atlantic Monthly for a change. You might enjoy it.

Posted by skooter at 3:58 PM

September 13, 2005
Roadtrip: Portland

My last visit to Seattle inluded a road trip to Portland, with two main goals. The first was to visit Mt. St. Helens, which was about to blow the last time I passed by; the second was to hit Powell’s bookstore, long my favourite online bookstore and the world’s best used store by far.

A funky new Lomo Fisheye camera got trotted out for this trip too - the results are below.

Mt. St. Helens
Cycling the road to Mt. St. Helens The road to Mt. St. Helens is a twisting, sprawling road to nowhere and one that positively begs to be ridden on two wheels. These girls chose my favourite mode.

Entering Oregon
Crossing the Columbia River from Washington Every time I cross the bridge over the Columbia River - something I’ve done 4 or 5 times - I love it. The Columbia is one of the world’s greatest waterways, and was planned, by the Hudson’s Bay Company, as the border of Canada. This bridge, even if it’s fairly new, is a piece of history simply as a result of its geography.

Powells
Bikes parked at Powells City of Books Powell’s has long been my favourite online bookstore but I’ve never been to the store itself. Wall to wall books with book cases that go from floor to ceiling. So easy too get lost. So much fun.

Portland is a great city - a cyclists paradise that doesn’t suffer from the urban sprawl that characterizes so many large cities. I love this place.

Gas Works Park, Seattle
Gas Works Park Back in Seattle the next day, a visit to Gas Works Park was in order. From Gas Works, you can watch the water based buzz of seattle happening. In this picture, you can just see a sea plane landing in the upper portion of the picture. The structures at Gas Works are remnants of a more industrial era - a time when cities were lit by gaslight with all of the attendant smells and murkiness that this implies.

Some things are best left as memories.

Posted by skooter at 8:37 PM
Tags: Portland, Road Trip, Travel

July 7, 2005
London: July 7th, 2005

I couldn’t sleep last night - I was trying to sleep on my couch, which will serve as my bed for the next few days, and I tossed and turned all night.

Consequently, I spent most of the night listening to news from London where something like four bombs have been set off in the Tube and at least 45 people appear to be dead.

I can’t imagine being there, and I can’t imagine the sense of normalcy with which many Londoners seem to be treating this event. In a city that has dealt with the threat of IRA bombings for years (and no one seems to think this is an IRA bombing) everyday citizens in London seem to be taking this very much in stride.

Astounding.

I’m pretty happy today to be living in sleepy little Vancouver, where nothing ever seems to happen.

Laurie Anderson, on her Ugly One With The Jewels album, quotes Don De Lillo’s book Mao II saying that the terrorists are the only true artists because they’re the only ones who can surprise us anymore.

So much for liking surprises.

Posted by skooter at 8:25 AM
Tags: Books, London, Politics, Terrorism

December 1, 2004
Pierre Berton has passed away

Pierre Berton has passed away, just days after the CBC selected their “Greatest Canadian” - a contest that might not have been possible without Pierre.

Canada is a young country, and Pierre was a big part of establishing our national identity. His books brought history to life for many (and put many others to sleep) and defined out history for a generation. Along with Peter C. Newman, Berton was one of our great storytellers.

I guess I’m going to have to read the National Dream next; it’s on a shelf here somewhere.

Posted by skooter at 7:41 AM

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