Thursday, 25 December 2008
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
To recap briefly for my international readers (where Canada hardly makes front page news) - we've had an interesting few weeks to say the least.
In our recent federal election, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was re-elected with a minority government. His lacklustre proposals for dealing with the economic crisis have angered the three main opposition parties who threatened to form a coalition government and vote against his budget (effectively ousting the Conservatives from power). Canadians have been quite divided over their support for a coalition government (which would include members of the Bloc Quebecois - the separatist party) questioning whether it's really democratic or not. Harper then went to our Governor-General and invoking a rarely used constitutional clause (more heated debate), got her to suspend Parliament until January, thus avoiding a non-confidence vote and buying some time for his party. In the midst of this, and under severe pressure from his party, Stephane Dion, the Official Leader of the Opposition, resigned as leader of the Liberal Party, leaving two main candidates in a race to replace him - Bob Rae and deputy leader Michael Ignatieff (who were once college room-mates). Then this week, Rae dropped out of the race leaving Ignatieff as the new Leader of the Opposition. He has been cautious and cagey about his support for the coalition government, so when and if the budget vote goes against Harper at the end of January, either a new election will be called and of course if his party wins, Ignatieff becomes the new Prime Minister. Or this coalition government may be called upon to form the government and he would be the head of that. A lot can happen between now and then.
Still with me? And who is Michael Ignatieff? Well, he's an academic, historican, journalist and author of numerous books. His novel Scar Tissue was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1993 (losing to Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha). I haven't read that novel, but I have read and enjoyed The Russian Album, his biography of four generations of his family. It won the Governor-General's Award for Non-Fiction, one of our top literary prizes. He's also written a critically acclaimed biography of Isaiah Berlin. I met Ignatieff many years ago when I was still a bookseller and we hosted a reading for one of his books. I found him charming and very intelligent. He gave a fascinating talk and insisted on engaging with the audience and taking multiple questions even though his frantic publicist was trying to get him to stop, as he had a plane to catch. If Ignatieff becomes Prime Minister, he will almost certainly give Bob Rae a prime Cabinet position. Rae has also written several books and most recently was a judge for the prestigious Giller Prize (he had to read 90 plus novels this year). Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party (one of the parties that would make up the coalition) is a staunch environmentalist and socialist, and has also penned a number of books, including one on homelessness.
What's going on here? We have prominent and powerful politicians who actually read! (As opposed to Harper who thinks the arts are just for elitists and has severely cut arts funding). And with world leaders (and ordinary citizens too) looking to emulate Barack Obama (another reader and author) this can only be a very, very good thing. I have to believe it's going to make a difference in terms of funding for libraries (particularly school libraries which are just absymal in terms of their collections and the lack of full-time librarians), literacy programs, and an overall heightened awareness and attention to the societal importance of books and reading.
I have this vision of Ignatieff and Obama meeting officially for the first time and exchanging gifts of signed first editions of their books. And then the conversation would go something like this:
"Mr. President, before we tackle the economy and NAFTA and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, I really have to know - what are you currently reading?"
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
Monday, 8 December 2008
The AGO has also expanded their store which has a good selection of beautiful and unusual items that come in all price points. There's also a very nice cafe in the basement that has organic food and eco-friendly packaging. I had a very hearty chicken pot pie and they sell really delicious pastries. The expresso bar on the top floor wasn't yet open when I was there, but I'll definitely be checking it out when it is. I left completely inspired and feeling creative and most of all, very proud that Toronto truly has a world-class art gallery now. I'll be visiting many times, especially since every movie ticket I have from my Cinematique membership gets me in for free. Here are a few more photos of the front and side:
It now fits right in with the rest of the neighbourhood. The Ontario College of Art and Design's quirky and fun building designed by Will Alsop is just down the street.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Coach House Press. Lots of great Canadian writers got their start with this press and I still discover new talent every year. One of my favourites is Sean Dixon's The Girls Who Saw Everything, about a very unusual type of bookclub. The books always have a savvy design and they use beautiful paper.
Dalkey Archive Press. A publisher that keeps classics alive and introduces all sorts of interesting international literature and literary criticism. They publish one of my favourite contemporary novels of all time - Janice Galloway's Foreign Parts. This year on a trip to Seattle, I picked up one of their newer books that was calling out to me from the tables at the famous Elliot Bay Book Company - Olivier Rollin's Hotel Crystal. And started reading it (where else) but in my hotel room.
There's been a lot of doom and gloom about the publishing industry lately and the economic downturn is definitely going to affect the larger publishers and chain stores. But readers needn't feel depressed - there are still a lot of exciting new authors to discover. Buy lots of books this season for your loved ones and support your independent bookstores!