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Prickly Paper

Poking around the Toronto book scene

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Personal Musings

Articles from my younger years, thoughts and interests I’ve written about, and other personal musings.

Chapters Indigo as a lifestyle

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You’ve probably done this: walk into a book store,  browse the titles, read some pages, see what’s new. After some perusing, you find a book you like. But, instead of bringing it to the cashier, you pick up your phone to price compare on Amazon. Or, similarly, you write the name down to check out your local used book store first.

Book stores are becoming showrooms.  We like to look at the crisp new copies of books, but when it comes time to buy, we look for the cheapest option.

Some stores have embraced this, creating a show room feel for their store, and then offering to price match with lower prices found online. Used book stores can benefit from this behaviour by offering a cheaper price. Either way, many book shops are suffering from the multitude of cheaper avenues that have cropped up in recent years.

Indigo has taken the showroom setup to the extreme. Not only are customers meandering among books, they can fit themselves into an entire lifestyle around the theme of books. Reading a book? Why not do so with a cup of tea in a pretty mug? Or wouldn’t it be nice to read in a plush throw blanket? Indigo had mastered setting a mood for the shopper.

Though this can be seen as an abandonment of the focus on the book in favour of a commercialized deco store, I think they can live symbiotically. Readers fit into a marketable mold, and indigo offers more than other book stores by setting an entire lifestyle for the book lover and all the products you need to fulfill that life.

Stores need to adapt to the idea of thinking like the reader. Fulfilling the need to read and love of reading  with books, but also the human desire to be a “book person.”
So, book stores. Help us be book people! Create a cozy atmosphere, sell some candles and tea, and encourage a life of reading.

Boyden & Atwood’s open letter is not all bad

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Joseph Boyden, with the support of many major authors, wrote an open letter criticizing UBC’s allegations against author and professor Steven Galloway. http://www.ubcaccountable.com/open.letter/steven-galloway-ubc/

It resulted in huge backlash and the tag #canlitaccountable

For any person who has been a victim of abuse, this letter must have been devastating. It’s clear that the authors have made up their minds: Galloway is innocent. A letter of this nature sympathises with the accused, and in doing so encourages victims to be silent to the benefit of their harasser’s “reputation” and “health.”

What’s worse, is there is barely any mention of the potential victims. Allegations were made — a rare act due to the fear of being silenced, shamed, and/or ignored afterwards. The least they could have done was acknowledged those who may have been harmed. By focusing only on Galloway’s need for redemption and justice the authors for this letter either forget or, worse, ignore the dire problem of unreported sexual harassment.

“No wonder that women are hesitant to step forward to call out sexual harassment and violence. No wonder that few women report rape to the police. In our judicial and parajudicial systems, every accused person has a right to a vigorous defence.” Lawrence Hill wrote in response.

As such, this letter has been heartbreaking for fans of some of Canada’s greatest authors: Madeleine Thien, Yann Martel, Margaret Atwood, Lisa Moore, Michael Ondaatje, Vincent Lam, Jane Urquhart, and many more who signed the letter. (Note, some have since withdrawn their name from the letter.) Why would they show support for the accused and work to silence those who made the allegations?

I understand this. However, I sincerely hope the real problem here is not the intent of the letter, but how it was written — ironic considering it was penned by some of Canada’s best authors.

The insensitivities of the letter distract from some genuine problems — the problems, I’d like to believe, these authors intended to highlight:

The university’s procedures are murky at best

  1. The Memo

A memo was released saying allegations were made against Galloway and students should come forward should they have safety concerns. Of course, the memo was followed by major media scrutiny against the professor.

This is difficult. We have to admit that this hinders a crucial universal right: innocent until proven guilty. If we agree this is an important human right, how can this process be improved to protect the identity of both parties and others until guilt is proven?

  1. The independent investigation

According to this article, independent investigations are often to the benefit of the victim. It should allow a more comfortable platform for victims to come forward, and provide an easier process than criminal court which would require more evidence, fees, lawyers, and stress in general. Of course, independent investigations aren’t perfect and work to benefit the university as well. “In informal processes, offenders will almost never face harsh punishments such as suspension, expulsion, or in the case of a professor or staff member, firing. Instead, there may be mediation – with the victim – or education.” Was this the best way to find the truth behind the allegations and bring full justice?

  1. The “verdict”

In this case, the accusations against Galloway were found to be unsubstantiated and yet he was terminated from his position. This must be frustrating from both points of view. If he wasn’t guilty, why was he fired? If he was guilty, why were the claims said to be unsubstantiated? This is opaque and should be addressed by the university. If he is guilty, the victim(s) should feel that the complaints were acknowledged. And if not, a career should not be affected.

Asking these questions is important; blindly defending Galloway is the wrong way to go about it. While the authors were trying to break open a vague university process, they forgot to consider the implications if their wording. They weren’t asking for the benefit of everyone, but to the benefit of their friend and colleague.


No matter what, this letter should make everyone seriously consider how we ought to bring justice and fairness to cases of sexual harassment. What does it mean for the claims to be unsubstantiated? How can this be proven? What are the best ways to bring relief to a victim immediately while also taking the accused’s assumed innocence into account? How can we maintain privacy while also bringing light to unsafe situations?

Let me know your thoughts in comments below. This is important and delicate. I’d like to know what others think.

How to write a good novel — 5 considerations

Throughout a reader’s life, he/she/they will encounter some gems. A book that moves the reader deeply, worms into the memory, and changes the way they move through the world.

When a person finishes a truly penetrative book, it’s as if fiction and reality are blurred for a moment; there is a lingering weight in their heart as they acknowledge the end of beautiful story.

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Why is your favourite book your favourite?

Some argue that book quality is subjective, that there are technically no “good” or “bad” books, only books a person prefers or dislikes. To some degree, this is true, there are high-quality books that haven’t captured my fancy. But there is a difference, in that I can still tell that they are high quality (whether they meet my preference or not). Some books ARE better than others, and it’s silly to argue otherwise. Some authors are masters of the craft. Here is what I say are necessary qualities for a superb work of fiction:

  1. Quiet/Observant

The author should hold an anthropological position. When they observe human mind and mannerisms with careful attention, it really makes a reader feel each character and scene they create. When a narrator points out how a character holds his hands as he speaks, how a fly looks stark against a white tablecloth, or how biting into a peach feels fuzzy against the tongue — bringing these little quiet, oft unnoticed, moments to life makes for fantastic fiction.

  1. Deliberative with vocabulary

Each word is carefully placed. They use a creative selection of vocabulary that isn’t obvious, but perfectly explains what the author is trying to create.

  1. Restrained

Nothing ruins a book like an author who can’t reign in their words. Suddenly the author’s voice rises above the characters’ because they cherish the words more than they do the goal of the story. Instead of being careful with their character and plot development, they can’t help but go on and on and on and on…

  1. Evocative

A novel that holds turmoil, love, woe, joy, anxiety, vengeance, despair, all of the above! BUT, in a way that feels real, makes them rise within the reader’s own chest in a way people can’t usually express in their own words.

  1. Creating a new lens

When a good books is complete, the reader should look out at the world as if they are a new person. Everything they say, see, and do should be tainted with the memory of that novel.

The Print Scene

TL;DR

Let’s be book buds! A book event coming up that I should know about? Tweet @PricklyPaper. I’d love to get to know our Toronto publishers and their authors better. I’ll be highlighting events Toronto is hosting for its amazing bibliophile crowd.


There seems to be an undercurrent of fear amongst readers that the published word is on the decline. Who can blame them? Indigo is slowly transforming into a home-decor shop, magazines are shutting down, indie publishers flounder, and international publishers cling to celebrity content. But that fear is perhaps misguided; people are still buying and reading books.  

Are you still buying new books? Answer in the comments

Book sales have, for the most part, remained consistent: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/19/slightly-fewer-americans-are-reading-print-books-new-survey-finds/

This year, books are on the rise for the first time in 4 years (okay, yes, because of the colouring-book craze): https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/may/13/printed-book-sales-ebooks-decline

What’s going on here?

I’m not too sure, but now I’m challenging myself to be part of Toronto’s book and author community. Readers need to connect to one another and writers — storytelling is about sharing. So, let’s attend book readings, launches, and awards together. Let’s share reviews, and host book clubs.

Because, when people read the same book, they share memories; suddenly, they have the same history.

I’m excited to be involved in our local book scene. Independent publishers in Toronto curate inspiring work. With little funds, they are the ones pushing the frontiers, taking the risks, and supporting local talent. We need to invest in them.

What can cities do to encourage their local book scene?

That’s why I started this blog, to act as a hub for a close-knit community around the Toronto book scene. Come together and rejoice when Cordelia Strube wins the Toronto Book Awards! High-five when André Alexis Wins the Giller Prize! And rest assured that the love of print lives on. 

A book event coming up that I should know about? Tweet @PricklyPaper. I’d love to get to know our Toronto publishers and their authors better. I’ll be highlighting events Toronto is hosting for its amazing bibliophile crowd.

Love from, Prickly Paper

40°

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Questioning the world’s existence. Might be heat stroke. Could be the beer.

After a day of bike-riding and sleeping in the park, reading with an iced cider feels oh, so sweet. Thoughts are brewing with the help of Brickworks brewery. 🙂

Personal Musings: The Unibrow

I wrote an article about unibrows in university. Don’t ask me why.


In comparison to other mammals, the human is a largely hairless being, so why do people—especially women—feel the need to remove the few hairs they have left?

The beauty industry has long been a proponent of minimizing female facial hair. A 1901  anonymous writer for a Beauty’s Aids column posited that “an exaggerated crop of hair all over the cheeks and chin and nose gives to the face a villainously masculine appearance, and is a serious drawback to feminine beauty.”

Luckily, the columnist provided a solution: “annihilation of hair by means of electricity,” using a charged needle to destroy the hair forever. “This operation, in no way painful to the face, is hardly painful to the chest either, and, if necessary, one can escape all pain by using cocaine.” Perhaps an extreme remedy for a process that she claims is “hardly painful,”  but alas, anything for beauty.  

Hair removal products have been on the scene for over 100 years—in 1907 a product called X-Bazin Depilatory Powder promised to remove any “humiliating growth of hair on the face, neck, and arms.” By the 1950s, shaving became a widespread norm in the west.

Today, an entire industry exists to sell and facilitate a variety of grooming acts—ones that range from waxing, shaving, plucking, bleaching, and tweezing, to the more permanent laser hair removal. One particular target is the dreaded unibrow.

Concern about eyebrow aesthetic, however, is not new—it exists as far back as the 14th century. “The Miller’s Tale” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales features the beautiful and sweet Alisoun, whose eyebrows are described thus: “Ful smale ypulled were hire browes two,” or, in modern English, two eyebrows plucked very thin.  There was also Criseyde in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde who, “save hir browes joyneden yfeere,/There nas no lak, in aught I kan espien,” had no observable defect except for her unibrow.  

Public figures who have refused to conform to the categorical norms against “unnecessary” body hair have historically made quite the statement. For instance, Frida Kahlo is known for boldly portraying her unibrow and subtle moustache in her painted self-portraits. Other famous unibrows include those belonging to NBA player Anthony Davis, George Harrison, Leonid Brezhnev, and Ernie’s best friend Bert.

Those who follow Sikhism also refrain from cutting their hair—eyebrows or otherwise—out of respect for the bodies they believe God has given them. Maintaining this belief can cause quite the stir.

Last year, a photo of Balpreet Kaur, a student and practicing Sikh, went viral online because of her prominent facial hair; it encouraged many web-goers to make fun of what they saw as a lack of femininity. In response, Kaur cleverly subverted the criticism and used it as a platform to make a statement about body image and her faith.

“My attitude, thoughts, and actions have more value in them than my body,” she said. “My impact and legacy will remain, and by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and, hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world.”

Ultimately, eyebrows are intended to keep rain, sweat, and debris from falling into the eyes, making any hair above the nose superfluous. However, for the chance to leave a legacy like Frida Kahlo or the aspiring Balpreet Kaur, it might be worth it to put those tweezers down.

posted in: thenewspaper.ca

Personal Musings: Falling in Love with Words

MUMMIFICATION. MUMM-I-FI-KAY-SHUN. MMMMUMM… IFICATION.

As my fifth grade substitute teacher read aloud a passage about ancient Egyptian traditions, she was suddenly enthralled by the word Mummification. What a beautiful word! All the ways one must manipulate the lips for each part of the word! She mapped out the syllables, each sound, tasting, listening. She repeated the word, had the class pronounce the word, we said the word together. Mummification.

Here, I introduce the obscure logophile: one who loves words. My middle school substitute is not alone in her affair. For example, Nabokov famously had an obsession with words. My favourite line of Lolita is still mesmerizing. “Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta” (Nabokov, 1).

For longer than I’d like to admit, I followed the movements of my tongue and lips as I mouthed the name too. Lolita, Lo-lee-ta. Literarily speaking, this sentence is genius. Within the first page of the book, any reader who felt the urge to say the girl’s name is already in the shoes of Humbert Humbert and as a result must share some of the protagonist’s guilt. But it also perfectly demonstrates his ear for beautiful words.

Herman Melville was also in love with words,

“…under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, wove almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma, – literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived in a musky meadow” (Melville, chapter 94).

Why is this paragraph so enamouring? Tranquil, indolent, serenely, bathed, soft, gentle, globules, infiltrated, tissue, wove, richly, discharged, opulence, ripe, snuffed, aroma, violets, musky, and meadow is why.

For the reader’s convenience, I’ve compiled a very short list in order to determine whether you too have an inclination towards the euphonic. If any of the following words inspires a feeling of immense pleasure, if you find yourself saying any of these words in a hushed tone upon reading, or if a few hours from now you mouth a word on your way home on the subway – you, dear reader may very well be a logophile.

Kumquat, plunge, flesh, plum, lullaby, flamingo, murmuring, marmalade, ooze, bruise, memory, pulp, jugular, whimsical, sponge, squish, tranquil, nonchalant, almond, lanolin, tambourine, moonbeam, eggplant, solitude.

Posted on: thenewspaper.ca

Personal Musings: Bone Records

Walter Benjamin lamented that the photograph eradicated the aura attached to art by being an endlessly reproducible image. The snapshot of today’s camera would never hold the history and originality that a painting did, but herein lies the beauty of the roentgenizdat, or the X-ray pressed record.

Western music was largely banned in 1950’s USSR. In order to smuggle forbidden tunes, tracks were printed onto discarded X-ray photos to be shared and sold.

Even as a photograph, the X-ray record encapsulates the aura Benjamin believed only pre-technological art could hold. The changes of the human body with age make the images fleeting and irreproducible; never again will those bones be pictured as they were in those X-rays.

They hold history by preserving the images of bones long since changed and also the history of an underground youth culture, one that transcended state bounds. Then, of course, the music. The addition of 1950’s blues, jazz, and rock onto haunting images of skeletons is the icing on the cake.

Little did these rebellious music lovers realize, they defied the limits of advancing technology; they created art.

posted on: thenewspaper.ca

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