Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Edward Keenan

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Edward Keenan

Toronto politics attract no lack of heated opinions, but useful suggestions are often lost in the din of partisan shout-downs. For city hall aficionados looking for engaged, thoughtful and witty examination of how we got where we are and where we can go from here, pick up Edward Keenan's Some Great Idea: Good Neighbourhoods, Crazy Politics and the Invention of Toronto (Coach House Books). Some Great Idea includes behind-the-scenes tales from the David Miller and Rob Ford mayoral campaigns, and explores recent turning points like the city's core service review and the mayor’s conflict-of-interest trial.

Edward (or maybe "Eddy", but not "Ed") tells us about writing horoscopes, quitting and not quitting smoking and what he and Mordecai Richler agree on when it comes to writing.

  1. I have never much liked being called “Ed,” though it is what my friends (and, invariably, chummy strangers call me). I use “Edward” professionally. My mother and many of my aunts call me “Eddie.” I probably should have stuck with “Eddy,” which is the variation I used in kindergarten.
  2. Actually, I like Edward because it’s my dad’s name, and his uncle’s and grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s name. My own grandfather used to sometimes call me “Five” because I am the fifth Edward Francis Keenan in my line.
  3. For a while, I wrote horoscopes under a pseudonym. Astrology fans will be horrified to learn I just made them up without conducting any pseudo-scientific star charting or whatever. But it was fun, because it was like writing a bite-sized advice column dressed up as something a whole lot of people actually wanted to read. And I tried to actually make it good advice, to compensate for the fraud.
  4. Here’s a piece of all-purpose advice, adapted from Alan Carr’s method of quitting smoking: realize which decisions are behind you, and stop moping about them.
  5. I still haven’t quit smoking yet.
  6. Speaking of smoking: for a while I worked in a bingo hall in Scarborough. It was like working in the inside of a bong — that’s how chokingly cloudy it was. And it was among the most anti-social public places I’ve ever been. When games were on, the room was completely silent except for the occasional cough. That was a sad place. I realized all the bingo-lady jokes I’d heard were essentially just making fun of a bunch of compulsive gamblers throwing away grocery money.
  7. I do not understand writers who talk about writing as if it were torture. “Hell is a blank piece of paper,” and all that. I’ve had a lot of jobs, and writing is by far the easiest and most rewarding of them all. Some days the words come easier than others, and sometimes it’s a grind, just like any other job. Often I’m most disappointed by how few of the things I want to write I can fit into my schedule. But on my most frustrating day as a writer, I’m still inclined to get down on my knees and give thanks that I am paid to do this for a living.
  8. If I did find writing painfully difficult, I almost certainly wouldn’t do it. I mean, it’s not like the world suffers a desperate shortage of writers. And it’s certainly not like I got into this for the money. Any sacrifices I have made in order to make this career work have been for my own benefit. And if I’m ever tempted to feel like a martyr to my craft, I remember that. As Mordecai Richler once wrote, no one drafted us. We’re volunteers.
  9. I have a third nipple. You’ll see people make references to third nipples as a freakish genetic mutation, but it’s really quite unremarkable. Sometimes when it comes up in conversation people ask me to see it, and they’re always disappointed because it really just looks like an oddly shaped mole on my rib cage.
  10. Very few people can make a better omelette than I can. I don’t like eating eggs very much, but I’m a wizard at cooking them.
  11. When I was first learning to write opinion columns, I spent a lot of time thinking up withering put-downs and hilarious characterizations of the other side of the argument. But at some point I realized that this game is not won by the most biting insult, it’s won by the most thought-provoking and persuasive argument. To persuade my opponents, or at least get them to think carefully about my point, I need to accept that their position stems from a genuine desire to make the world a better place, and then understand why they think the thing they are proposing will accomplish that. Then I can explain why I disagree, and stand half a chance of persuading them — or at least persuading anyone who is undecided and watching the argument take place. That doesn’t mean trying to downplay disagreement and always looking for common ground. It doesn’t mean I think everyone needs to be super-polite and friendly. It means aggressively defending a position and thoughtfully attacking your opponents’ actual arguments head-on, rather than demonizing them or dismantling the nonsensical argument you wish they were making. I feel better about it, and I find readers seem to like it, too. Still, it means a lot of zingers wind up in the recycle bin.
  12. No-smoking laws killed the Toronto doughnut shop culture. My brother Sean and I may be the only people in the city who consider that a loss.


Edward Keenan serves as senior editor and lead columnist at The Grid magazine in Toronto. An eight-time finalist at the National Magazine Awards, he was the top editor at Eye Weekly, is a contributing editor at Spacing magazine and writes widely on politics, sports and culture.

For more information about Some Great Idea please visit the Coach House website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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