Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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Ever wonder where George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four? On April 3rd, for the first time in his life, Orwell's adopted son Richard Horatio Blair (Eric Blair was Orwell's real name), who is a retired engineer in England, will speak publicly about his father at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. In advance of the event, he sat down with Times literary critic and Oxford prof John Carey, to describe the years he spent as a tyke with his father on the island of Jura off the west coast of Argyll, where the masterpiece was written. His remembrances of their idyllic life there stand in sharp contrast the the bleakness of the novel.

Foreign critics have begun weighing in on Canadian novelist Joseph Boyden's Giller-winning Through Black Spruce, which was just released in the US & UK. Ron Charles in the Washington Post loves Boyden's "beautifully rendered" Ontario wilderness as seen through Native eyes, but finds the novel's depiction of American depravity "corny" and "bland". Valerie Ryan in The Seattle Times writes an insulting study in how not to review a book, providing 450 words of plot description followed by two sentences of milquetoast platitudinous critique. Across the pond, Julie Wheelright in The Independent concurs with Washington's Charles that the book's best parts are set in Ontario's north, and that its weakest are the urban bits, saying Boyden's "Manhattan is full of clichés". Meanwhile Tim Teeman in the London Sunday Times basically gushes over the entire book and can find no wrong, providing instant jacket quotes like: "Joseph Boyden's novel is, simply, beautiful: you will lose yourself in the richness of its prose and the ever-deepening puzzles it inveigles you into."

On the lighter side, in support of his kids book 52 Days by Camel author Lawrie Raskin has posted an entertaining little podcast over at Annick Press, about his journeys through the Sahara Dessert. What do we learn? Well, for one, camel poop is useful both as fuel and as checkers pieces.

In San Francisco, March 24th has been officially declared Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day in honour of the legendary poet's 90th birthday. Heidi Benson of the much beleaguered Chronicle has delivered a wonderful interview with the man behind the equally legendary bookshop City Lights Books, where he published Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" (and faced an obscenity trial for it). Ferlinghetti's most illuminating moment of the interview: "I never wrote 'Beat' poetry."

Brian Derballa over at Wired gives us a fascinating study of comic book store employees, with photos and interviews that take us not only into the stores where they toil, but also into their private nerd lairs. (Thanks to Brad Mackay at Cultural Magpie.)

The Guardian, meanwhile, provides a splendid gallery of illustrations from the recently launched book line Walker Illustrated Classics, which pair classic children's stories with renowned contemporary illustrators such as Inga Moore (The Wind in the Willows), Helen Oxenbury (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), and — my favourite — Chris Riddell (Don Quixote).

"I gaze at it across the street and, as if by magic, I ache with longing, just as I used to in the days when a trip here was the most enjoyable thing I could possibly imagine." Sounds good, doesn't it? Want to find out what can make you feel this great? Check out this passionately written essay by journalist Rachel Cooke in The Observer.

Speaking of passion, that Canadian institution, the Harlequin romance novel (yes, Canadian - the firm was born in Winnipeg and is today helmed in Toronto), celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. Apparently the brand is stronger than ever and just to prove it they are giving books away for free. Well, ebooks. Sixteen of them are available for free download from a special new website called Harlequin Celebrates. Enjoy.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Shaun Smith

Shaun Smith is a novelist and journalist living in Toronto. His young adult novel Snakes & Ladders was published in January 2009 by the Dundurn Group.

Go to Shaun Smith ’s Author Page