Prickly Paper

Poking around the Toronto book scene

Are lyrics literature? Is Bob Dylan literary?

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature came as a shock, particularly to book nerds such as myself. How did Dylan surpass Murakami? Why were his lyrics equated with the works of Munro or Coetzee?


Online, I felt the wrath of fellow bookworms in pique:

But then, I found this article, and it made me pause:

Let’s get back to basics — What is literature? Written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.”

Why did Bob Dylan win? “For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Dylan’s winning the award forces us to reconsider what literature is, and what deserves literary applause.  Here are some thoughts:

We can safely say that lyricism is a form of literature, but I hesitate to say lyric writing should be judged by the same principles as a short story or a lengthy novel. Podcasts, operas, blogs, etc., are all different mediums of literature (though it would be hard to say any blog is of of lasting artistic merit), all with vastly different creative procedures. In a prize that looks at the value of different literary fruit, it’s hard to put the apples up against the oranges.

I appreciate the idea of expanding to new literary forms to reflect a new age of media that ought to be noticed — but with more literary mediums comes more standards by which to judge. Should Dylan ever be on the same list as Hemingway? I’d argue not. Should Dylan be awarded for his lasting impression on song-writing? Sure, but perhaps somewhere else.

Are you encouraged  or disappointed that Bob Dylan won? Who should have won instead?  


The Print Scene


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:

This year, books are on the rise for the first time in 4 years (okay, yes, because of the colouring-book craze):

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

Why the World Does Not Exist – Book Review

Why the World Does Not Exist

Markus Gabriel is a realistic man. His arguments are practical and locked in an actuality that many philosophers often diverge from. For example, he believes that if something is in your realm of sense, than it must exist. One cannot look at a water bottle on a desk and claim that perhaps it does not exit. One cannot progress through life and question time passing.

“When one honestly gets the idea that time does not pass while one is formulating one’s theory, something has obviously gone wrong” (51).

He does acknowledge that truths exist beyond that which we observe (just because we haven’t discovered the water bottle, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist), but Gabriel won’t dabble in alternate/multi-layer realities or internal vs. internal realities. But then, the title of the book seems rather misleading as he aims to show readers that the world does not exist.

These ideas can be summarized through a couple quotes I’ve identified to be the crux of his argument. First:

“The world is neither the entirety of objects or things nor the entirety of facts. It is the domain of all domains” (49).

Gabriel’s world is impossible to grasp because he wants to encompass all that the world holds, tangible and intangible. The world is not only made up of people, trees, and water bottles, it includes ideas, imagination, infrastructures, democracy, love. All of these elements are not necessarily connected but reside in their own (often connected) domains.


“An object that would have all possible properties cannot exist, however, or stand out against the mass of other objects. […] It could not stick out against a background, as it would have to encompass any possible background within itself” (55).

Nothing can encompass everything as a field of sense cannot also contain itself and an object cannot define itself. Therefore, the world does not exist as an all-encompassing entity of our life.

“Rather there are infinitely many worlds” (65). Or, in other words, the world is really only a fractal of many different domains.

Get it? You’ll have to read the book to understand the full scope. The book is carefully plot out. It is complex, but well explained and doesn’t leave much room for misinterpretation. He slowly layers his theories in order for the reader to grasp each step of his views on why, exactly, the world does not exist.

Markus has created a very accessible book. One need not have a grand philosophical background in order to understand the jargon of hi
s book; rather, he explains the world as he would to anyone willing to contemplate the existence of humans and their “world.” To really draw in a wide range of readers he uses a plethora of real-world examples that really bring his arguments to understanding. By the end of each step of his argument the reader cannot help but think what he’s said is reasonable.

I will go so far as to critique some of his humour. The funny examples are often good, but sometimes devalue the seriousness of the text and the quality of his writing.

What can we take away from this book? Well, what can we take away from any book of philosophy? The world cannot be explained by science alone (that is but one domain in our field of sense!) Thinkers such as Gabriel give us the tools to attempt glimpsing the many worlds that make up existence.

Mini Tip for Writers

When submitting your manuscript to an agent or a publisher, INCLUDE A STAMPED ENVELOPE WITH YOUR ADDRESS.

At the very least, you should always seek and welcome constructive criticism. If you don’t add an addressed envelope with sufficient pre-paid postage, you will not be contacted with positive news or constructive advice. Publishers will often take the time to explain (even if briefly) why they decided not to accept your manuscript.

Of course, for larger/international presses, a template rejection letter is more likely if you send your manuscript without an agent, but sending personalized letters is a tradition many publishing houses still hold.

Writing a book? Here are 6 tips to submitting a manuscript

These basics to submitting a manuscript are surprisingly unknown to many aspiring writers.

Here are six tips I’ve learned while interning at publishing houses.

Keep in mind, if you send unsolicited work to any large press, it will be put into a slush pile. This is not necessarily a land of no return, but it certainly decreases your chances closer to the likes of winning the lottery.

  1. Know what’s selling

Have at least four comparative titles that show successful books on the market similar to your own. And no, your manuscript is not the next Fault in our Starts, Harry Potter, or Romeo and Juliet.  Find relevant, relatable titles that have had significant sales. You can’t forget that the book business is just that, a business. Sell your idea; don’t rely solely on your God-given writing talent (though they’ll check how divine your writing is next).

  1. Be aware of the publishing house’s style

In short, don’t send your sci-fi underworld fantasy to a press that focuses on contemporary Canadian poets. You should be able to explain why your book will fit the publisher’s brand.

  1. Make a 100-page impression

Editors will finish about 50 to 100 pages to decide whether it is worth reading the rest of the manuscript (30 pages if the submission is a real stinker). If you can, submit the complete work—that way if the editor IS interested, there’s nothing to stop them from continuing until the end.

  1. Find a copyeditor

Despite your God-given writing talent, there’s always a benefit to having an objective eye go over your work. A good editor will value your opinion first and edit in a way that falls in line with the style of your book. It’s painfully evident when a work has not been thoroughly edited. Every book is a collaborative effort; be open to suggestions.

  1. Include the illustrations

If you are pitching a picture book, INCLUDE THE ILLUSTRATIONS. As you can imagine, pictures are a crucial element to a picture book. Don’t expect the publisher to figure that part out for you. When you send the accompanying artwork, make sure it is high-quality (no doodles on hotel napkins, please).

  1. Above all else, hire an agent

Admittedly, your agent should cover most of the points I’ve listed (that’s what you’re paying them for!). In a more established publishing house, your manuscript is going to fall into the hands of the slush pile unless there is an agent endorsing your work. However, if you target small or local publishing houses, they often thrive off of author submissions before they are recognized by literary agents.




A little free library in the park.



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. 🙂

mini review: Martin Luther King, Jr.: a life by Marshall Frady

“The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends towards justice.”

“We will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer.”


Was very pleased with this Martin Luther King biography. Marshall Frady is a fantastic writer. When a good book, poem, or movie is finished, the tone of that work will linger for days. Suddenly all thoughts are framed in the same character as that of the movie, or writing mirrors the style of the poem that’s been read because their work has so strongly resonated.

During his life and research, Frady must have felt immersed in the world of King, because his words reflect that crooning yet powerful tone, creating the essence of the time with his words and the words of MLK.

I must thank this book for inspiring a nonfiction/biography kick! Any literary biography recommendations?

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.

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