Hat trick Tuesday! DREAM SEQUENCE by Adam Foulds and LATE BREAKING by KD Miller Nominated for 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize!

On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, it was announced that Dream Sequence by Adam Foulds and Late Breaking by K.D. Miller have been longlisted for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Dream Sequence and Late Breaking are published by Biblioasis, an independent literary press based in Windsor, Ontario. Since 2004, Biblioasis has published contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and literature in translation. Another Biblioasis book, Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2019 just this morning.

In a statement, publisher Dan Wells said, “Well: it’s been a busy morning indeed around the Bibliomanse.  On the heels of Lucy Ellmann’s Booker shortlisting for Ducks, Newburyport comes two Giller nominations here in Canada: for Adam Fould’s Dream Sequence and K.D. Miller’s Late Breaking.  And if we were euphoric after Ducks, we’re positively moon-walking now. We’re so happy for all three authors. And it’s certainly not a bad way to kick off our 15th Anniversary year.”

Miller said, “This is such an affirmation. Always, in the back of a writer’s mind are the questions, ‘Will anyone want to read this? Will anyone enjoy and be moved by it?’ Getting the news about being long-listed for the Giller Prize was like hearing an enormous ‘Yes!’ to all that.  Thank you!”

Foulds said, “I am hugely honoured that Dream Sequence has been included on this longlist. It is a particular thrill as a new Canadian to receive this recognition from one of Canada’s most storied cultural institutions.”

 

ABOUT DREAM SEQUENCE

Henry Banks, star of the UK’s most popular television series, has higher aspirations, ones befitting of his talent: a serious film career, beginning with a role in a brilliant Spanish director’s next movie. To make the jump to the big screen, he’ll have to remake himself in more than one way. But as he runs his morning miles and scrutinizes his changing physique in the mirror, he doesn’t know that he’s not alone in his obsession—Kristin, an unstable American fan, has her own lofty ambitions. From the author of Man-Booker shortlisted The Quickening MazeDream Sequence is a moving depiction of psychological damage and the unsettling consequences of fame.

Adam Foulds is a poet and novelist from London, England, now resident in Toronto. He has been the recipient of a number of literary awards, including the Sunday Times Young Writer Of The Year, the Costa Poetry Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, the South Bank Show Prize for Literature, the E. M. Forster Award, the Encore Award, and the European Union Prize For Literature. His 2009 novel, The Quickening Maze, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2010. He was named as one of Granta Magazine’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013 and of the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets in 2014.

ABOUT LATE BREAKING

Inspired by the work of Alex Colville, the linked stories in K.D. Miller’s Late Breaking form a suite of portraits that evoke the paintings’ looming atmospheres and uncanny stillness while traveling deeply into their subjects’ vividly imagined lives. Throughout, the collection bears witness to the vulnerability of the elder heart, revealing that love, sex, and heartbreak are not only the domain of the young, and deftly rendering the conflicts that divide us and the ties that bind.

K.D. Miller is the author of two previous short story collections, Give Me Your Answerand Litany on a Time of Plague, and an essay collection, Holy Writ. Her work has twice been collected in The Journey Prize Anthology and Best Canadian Stories, and she has been nominated for a National magazine Award for Fiction. She lives and writes in Toronto.

PRAISE FOR DREAM SEQUENCE

“Dream Sequence succeeds as a narrative thanks to Foulds’s prose. He doesn’t waste a single word, is frequently very funny, insightful and surprising. And he does a marvelous job of making us wonder who loves Henry the most, Kristin or Henry—and which of these possibilities is the most alarming consequence of celebrity.”
New York Times Book Review

“The quality of the prose carries the book beyond conventions, as Mr. Foulds is able to conjure, with the unsettling immediacy of a person breathing against your neck, both Henry’s and Kristin’s private fixations and fantasies.”

The Wall Street Journal

“Adam Foulds is one of the best fiction writers working today. Dream Sequence possesses all the hallmarks of his previous books–emotional acuity, beautiful prose–and also a seductive plot and an ingenious structure. It’s a great novel. I read it practically in one sitting.”
—David Bezmozgis, author of the Giller-shortlisted The Free World

Dream Sequence notices everything . . . Description is intimate and visceral, scratching at the glossy surface of the lives of the characters and underpinning the ‘vacuum’ they move through, together but apart . . . This is a novel of screens, of echoes and constant counterpoint, driven by changes in light as much as its reflective plot where matters of ‘acting’ are paramount … [a] shimmering novel.”
Times Literary Supplement (TLS)

“[An] entertainingly skewering new novel about ambition and obsession.”
Toronto Star

“An outstanding and unyielding exploration of celebrity, fame, and all its attendant obsessions…Foulds’s novel is fun, smart, and tense, part psychological drama about media-driven obsession and part razor-sharp social critique.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[Dream Sequence] is an exquisitely concocted, riveting account of artistic ambition and unrequited love verging on obsession . . . Foulds is proving himself to be a versatile writer of intelligence and charm.”
The Spectator

PRAISE FOR LATE BREAKING

“A deft, nuanced, and human collection of stories. K.D. Miller’s gaze catches both humour and darkness in a wide variety of relationships. A thoroughly captivating book.” —Rebecca Rosenblum

“An undercurrent of the surreal pulses through 10 linked stories…sensitive portrayals of the fragility of love and ubiquity of need. ”—Kirkus Reviews

“If K.D. Miller had produced nothing other than “The Last Trumpet,” the opening entry in this collection of linked stories, she would still have a place on any list of this year’s best fiction. Taking up themes of aging, loneliness, and regret, “The Last Trumpet” is one of the saddest, most affecting pieces of short fiction to appear in this country in recent memory. But that story is just the first blast in a collection that is consistently engaging and assured. The stories in Late Breaking—loosely tied together by recurring characters, a focus on aging and death, and the paintings of Alex Colville—are moving and beautifully written.” —Steven W. Beattie

“Compulsively readable. Like an Alex Colville painting . . . the longer you look, you realize there’s something darker going on underneath the surface. My favourite book so far this fall.” —CBC Ontario Morning

“Miller’s attentiveness . . . is touching . . . The stories themselves are rich with coherence, meaning, and suggestion, and part of what makes them so satisfying is the space they leave free for us to engage with them and find our own interpretation.” —Quill & Quire

“Each of the 10 stories is introduced by a haunting Colville image . . . These paintings, through mood and theme, serve as prompts for the stories, with characters often wandering in from one verbal canvas to another. Refreshingly, the stories feature people in their 60s experiencing big fat emotions that younger writers often deny them.” —Toronto Star

“These stories plumb the depths of sadness and despair but never lose sight of their obverse: the quiet resilience and dignity of the human spirit, which doesn’t fade with age.” —Hamilton Review of Books

Lucy Ellmann’s DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT Shortlisted for 2019 Booker Prize

#chancetheducks

On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, it was announced that Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann has been shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize!

Booker Judge Joanna MacGregor said,  “Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport offers a radical literary form and voice. Dense to look at, challengingly epic, the novel is built around one Ohio housewife’s monologue, flowing with dazzling lightness and speed. The detritus and maddening complexity of domesticity unfold in one breath, over a thousand pages. Shards of film plot and song collide with climate change anxiety; the terrors of parenting, healthcare and shopping lists wrestle with fake news and gun culture. The narrator reverberates with humour, wordplay and political rage. The writing resonates like a dissonant yet recognisable American symphony for massive forces, with riffs and themes folding back, proliferating, and gradually cohering. Its one long sentence occasionally breaks to simply describe a mountain lioness and her cubs: a meditation on nurture that will be wrapped into the violence of the ending. Lucy Ellmann has written a genre-defying novel, a torrent on modern life, as well as a hymn to loss and grief. Her creativity and sheer obduracy make demands on the reader. But Ellmann’s daring is exhilarating ― as are the wit, humanity and survival of her unforgettable narrator.”

In a statement, Ellmann said, “In my book I suggest you should never tell people you’re happy, in case they wreck it for you. That’s why I’m having trouble writing this statement about getting put on the Booker shortlist. The fact is I’m euphoric.”

Biblioasis publisher and founder Dan Wells said, “We, too, are euphoric.  Ducks, Newburyport is a brilliant book, one of the most important we’ve been a part of as publishers.  It’s a book for our times, full of rage and sorrow and wonder, a revolution in book form, and now, because of the Booker jury’s endorsement, many more Canadian readers will discover it than might otherwise have been the case.  It’s very gratifying.

“A few months ago, we came across the nineteenth century phrase, “to chance the ducks”: it means, essentially, to do something regardless of the risks or potential for disaster.  Which pretty much describes what independent publishers around the world — with a special nod to our British counterparts, Galley Beggar Press, who first alerted us to Lucy’s magisterial novel — do every day.  It’s gratifying that with Ducks in particular the risk looks to be rewarded.  We’re all very grateful. To chance the ducks, indeed.”

Ducks, Newburyport will be published in the United States and Canada on September 10 by Windsor, Ont.-based press Biblioasis. Biblioasis titles have won the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Rogers Fiction Prize, two Governor General’s Literary Awards and Trillium Book Awards, as well as seen ten nominations for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Referred to by the Globe and Mail as “the first truly great Canadian press of the 21st Century,” Biblioasis celebrates its fifteenth year publishing fine books this October.

The news comes on the heels of an extraordinary burst of critical praise for the novel, with the Los Angeles Review of Books writing it “could possibly turn out to be the most important novel of the decade … Read Ducks, Newburyport. This is a novel for the idea of America today.”

The Irish Times called it “Breathlessly brilliant … an extraordinary achievement of wit and imagination … this isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.”

Baking a multitude of tartes tatin for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats and chickens. Also, America’s ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son’s toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing? With a torrent of consciousness and an intoxicating coziness, Ducks, Newburyport lays out a whole world for you to tramp around in, by turns frightening and funny. A heart-rending indictment of America’s barbarity, and a lament for the way we are blundering into environmental disaster, this book is both heresy—and a revolution in the novel.

One of the premier literary awards in the English-speaking world, the Booker carries a prize purse of £50,000 and has recognized outstanding fiction since 1969. Chair of the 2019 judges, Peter Florence, said of the list’s authors: “Imagine our world, familiar from news cycle disaster and grievance, with wild humour, deep insight and a keen humanity. These writers offer joy and hope.”

Awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland; this year’s panel is Afua Hirsch, Liz Calder, Xiaolu Guo and Joanna MacGregor, chaired by Peter Florence. Last year’s winner was Milkman by Anna Burns. Previous winners include Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.

Lucy Ellmann’s first novel, Sweet Desserts, won the Guardian Fiction Prize. It was followed by Varying Degrees of Hopelessness, Man or Mango? A LamentDot in the UniverseDoctors & Nurses, and Mimi. Her short stories have appeared in magazines, newspapers and anthologies, and she has written for the New York TimesWashington PostGuardianIndependentTimes Literary SupplementTelegraphNew Statesman, Bookforum and The Baffler, among others. Though American by birth, she lives in Scotland.

PRAISE FOR DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT

“Breathlessly brilliant … an extraordinary achievement of wit and imagination … this isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.”—The Irish Times

Ulysses has nothing on this … Once you get going, you’ll be too absorbed to stop.”Cosmopolitan

“Could possibly turn out to be the most important novel of the decade … Read Ducks, Newburyport. This is a novel for the idea of America today.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

“It’s a book that quite restores our faith in the possibility of literary ‘greatness’ while questioning what forms such ‘greatness’ can or should take. It is certainly, in its humane range and weight, a Great American Novel. Is it any good? Oh my word, yes. Reading it at this point in times seems like an act of human solidarity, a commitment to the world of truth and reason.”—Literary Review

“A wildly ambitious and righteously angry portrait of contemporary America.”—The Observer

“[Readers] will recognise Ellmann’s dauntless cataloguing of desires, her refusal to be anything but self-directed … It’s a book about a mother’s love, but also about loss and grief, and anxiety dreams about Donald Trump, and despair about mass shootings … It is also a catalogue of life’s many injuries and mishaps … and of the simple joys and consolations of memory and imagination. [A] triumph.”—The Guardian

“A remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds … brilliant.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A jaw-dropping miracle.”Library Journal (starred review)

“Mesmerizing, witty, maximalist…a bravura and caring inquiry into Earth’s glory, human creativity and catastrophic recklessness, and the transcendence of love.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Resplendent in ambition, humour and humanity … dizzying … a lifetime of memories hoarded and pored over, like the family heirlooms the narrator and her husband have inherited along with all the joy and desolation contained within them … In Ducks, Newburyport Ellmann has created a wisecracking, melancholy Mrs Dalloway for the internet age.”—Financial Times

For more information about Ducks, Newburyport, please see the attached press kit. For a review copy or to schedule an interview with the author, call 519-915-3930, or write to Chloe Moore at cmoore@biblioasis.com.

ABOUT BIBLIOASIS

Biblioasis is a literary press based in Windsor, Ontario. Since 2004 we have published the best in contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and literature in translation.

Happy U.S. Publication Date, MOSTARGHIA!

 

U.S. Readers: The Wait Is Over!

Donald Winkler’s English translation of Maya Ombasic’s Mostarghia, a moving memoir of refugee experience and filial love, is available today in U.S. bookstores.

 

AN OPENCANADA SUMMER READ 2019

In the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies Mostar, a medieval town on the banks of the emerald Neretva, which flows from the “valley of sugared trees” through sunny hills to reach the Adriatic Sea. This idyllic locale is the scene of Maya Ombasic’s childhood—until civil war breaks out in Yugoslavia and the bombs begin to fall. Her family is exiled to Switzerland, and after a brief return, they leave again for Canada. While Maya adapts to their new home, her father never does, refusing even to learn the language of his new country.

A portmanteau of Mostar and nostalgia, Mostarghia evokes Ombasic’s yearning for a place that no longer exists: the city before the civil war, when its many ethnicities interacted in a spirit of civility and in harmony. It refers as well to Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic film Nostalghia, the viewing of which illuminated the author’s often explosive relationship with her father, a larger-than-life figure who was both influence and psychological burden: he inspired her interest, and eventual career, in philosophy, and she was his translator, his support, his obsession. Along with this portrait of a man described by turns as passionate, endearing, maddening, and suffocating, Ombasic deftly constructs a moving personal account of what it means to be a refugee and how a generation learns to thrive despite the struggles of its predecessors.

 

Praise for Mostarghia

“Fascinating and timely…anybody who wants to think deeply about what happens when people are forced to leave their homelands will want to pick this book up.” —Book Riot

“Intimate, a filial cri de cœur…The book is run through with dark humour, and some of the most fatalistic scenes are also wryly funny…The condition of nostalgia is both dissociative and cleaving, and it is this tension that Ombasic most adeptly conveys.” —Montreal Review of Books

“Strikes a great balance between the ebb and flow between unemotional observations that provide context for the lasting divides in the Balkans, and a humanization of the victims of conflict….[Ombasic writes] with a tender care that evokes a sadness mixed with levity, anger mixed with love.” —The Walleye

“After her father dies, Ombasic seeks to resolve all that was unresolved between them in life. Her memoir ripples with the tension of these two great hearts each trying to shoulder an outsized burden… Subtly and with lyricism, Ombasic unpacks her father’s role in her history alongside the role of their hometown, Mostar, not to mention the Balkans, religion, communism, war, displacement, and nostalgia.” Foreword Reviews (starred review)

“With great candor, Ombasic shares how her experience as a refugee differed from her father’s…Through beautiful prose and impressive attention to detail, Ombasic paints a loving yet honest portrait of her father in all his complexity.” —OpenCanada

“An overwhelming homage, clear-eyed and drenched in tenderness, Mostarghia is driven by Maya Ombasić’s strong, sensitive voice, which allows us to glimpse the reverse side of the shadow of exile. Magnificent.” –Le Devoir (Montreal)

“In an unadorned style, which contains emotion by restricting itself to facts, the author recounts her years during the war, then her exile in Switzerland, then Canada. The book’s strength stems in large part from its ability to show the concrete daily consequences of a war from which the family suffers without participating in it directly, to showcase the absurdity of the issues–ethnic, religious, territorial–from which children and parents feel themselves estranged.” –Le Monde (Paris) 

“The book, its title inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Nostalghia, is a daughter’s love song to her father and the tale of her salvation, her refusal to be defeated by depression in order to move on.” –l’Humanité (Paris)

 

Happy US Pubdate to Stéphane Larue’s THE DISHWASHER!

“Reads like a cross between the dearly departed Anthony Bourdain and Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, combining the complicated life of a kitchen wretch with a highly literate voice…hypnotizing.”—Kirkus

 

 

The Dishwasher

It’s October in Montreal, 2002, and winter is coming on fast. Past due on his first freelance gig and ensnared in lies to his family and friends, a graphic design student with a gambling addiction goes after the first job that promises a paycheck: dishwasher at the sophisticated La Trattoria. Though he feels out of place in the posh dining room, warned by the manager not to enter through the front and coolly assessed by the waitstaff in their tailored shirts, nothing could have prepared him for the tension and noise of the kitchen, or the dishpit’s clamor and steam. Thrust on his first night into a roiling cast of characters all moving with the whirlwind speed of the evening rush, it’s not long before he finds himself in over his head once again. A vivid, magnificent debut, with a soundtrack by Iron Maiden, The Dishwasher plunges us into a world in which everyone depends on each other—for better and for worse.

Translated into English for the first time by Pablo Strauss

30,000 copies sold in Quebec alone
(pop. 8.3 mil)

Winner of the Quebec Booksellers’ Prize

Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award
for French-language Fiction

 

 

Check out what other booksellers have already said about The Dishwasher:

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The Dishwasher is a gruff-yet-affable working class lament, seasoned with hangdog determination and bleary verisimilitude. From the bar booths to the slop sinks to the shooting galleries of a painstakingly rendered Montreal, Larue proves himself a more than adept raconteur of blackout debauchery and wage labor drudgery. Think Nelson Algren by way of Bud Smith, such is the hardscrabble exactitude on offer in this wincing grin of a novel. An industrious and absorbing slab of cutthroat cuisine, Québécois death metal, and gambler’s dilemmas.”
—Justin Walls, Powell’s Books (Portland, OR)

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“Prepare to get your soul scrubbed down and wrung out. This novel from Quebec captures a world that will be familiar to folks in the service and music industry. Vividly painted scenes from the trenches of a barely-functional kitchen during a rush followed by dizzying late-night get togethers make up this portrait of the loneliness of late-capitalism and the strength we can find from art and our allies. Gritty, loud, and compassionate.”
Luis Correa, Avid Bookshop (Athens, GA)

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“I’ve never been to Montreal but I have worked in restaurants and Stéphane Larue’s The Dishwasher made me feel as if I do know that world in great, mad, detail. More importantly, it goes so beyond being a food industry novel or a novel about metal or gambling, it is a book that is both tender and tough. I appreciate this book for all that it must’ve taken to create–it is a wondrous thing.”
—Hans Weyandt, Milkweed Bookstore (Minneapolis, MN)

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“A simple story of a want-to-be-artist that has to come to terms with the reality of his vices and get out of his own way. The pacing and phrasing of this novel is in beautiful contrast to the raw story told. The sense of place is unforgettable. From the behind the scenes look of working in a restaurant to the weight of addiction, I devoured every page as I found myself hopeful for the underdog in this brilliant debut.”
—Shannon Alden, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)

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“All I did last weekend was read The Dishwasher.”
—Caitlin Luce Baker, Island Books (Seattle, WA)

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The Dishwasher is a tragi-comic adventure through the dark underbelly of a high end Montreal restaurant kitchen that follows a down on his luck 30-something brilliantly talented artist with fabulous taste in music and a little gambling addiction.  As much a  philosophical dive into life, love, trust, obsession, and heavy metal as just a damn good story, the Dishwasher made me laugh, cringe,shake my head and  drool over amazing food. I absolutely just couldn’t put this  quirky cool debut novel by Canadian author Larue that is just perfect for fans of David Sedaris or Anthony Bourdain.”
Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop (Southern Pines, NC)

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Mike Barnes’s BE WITH Shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award!

We’re thrilled to announce that Mike Barnes’s thoughtful, compassionate nonfiction book Be With has been shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award.

The jury wrote: “Caregiving for loved ones is a topic often left out of contemporary writing. In Be With, Mike Barnes lifts the curtain on his own experiences with dispatches to anonymous caregivers/loved ones living with the fallout of Alzheimers disease. This slim volume is filled with wisdom for the moments when caregivers may need it most—the long periods of uncertainty while waiting. While Be With may be directed to those who need it most, its in-depth look at human connection is relatable to anyone.”

“It’s wonderful that a book all of us care so much about here at the press has made this shortlist alongside such fine company,” said Biblioasis publisher and founder Dan Wells. “Mike Barnes’s Be With is a book about care, and is as generous and profound and beautiful a book as there is on the subject: We’re thankful that the jurors saw the value in this slim wonder of a book.”

Be With: Letters to a Caregiver is what its title promises: four dispatches to an anonymous long-term caregiver. In brief passages that cast fresh light on what it means to live with dementia, Barnes shares trials, insights, solace—and, ultimately, inspiration. Meant to be a companion in waiting rooms, on bus routes, or while a loved one naps, Be With is a dippable source of clarity for harried readers who might only have time for a few lines or paragraphs. Mike Barnes writes with sensitivity and grace about fellowship, responsibility, and joyful relatedness—what it means to simply be with the people that we love.

Established by Toronto City Council in 1974, the Toronto Book Awards honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto. The annual awards offer $15,000 in prize money: finalists receive $1,000 and the winning author is awarded $10,000. The Toronto Book Awards celebrates books that are evocative of Toronto.

The other shortlisted authors are Ian Williams (Reproduction), Cary Fagan (The Student), Dionne Brand (Theory), and Didier Leclair (This Country of Mine). The winner will be announced at a ceremony October 2 at the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at 759 Yonge St.

 

PRAISE FOR BE WITH

“Timely, lyrical, tough, accurate.”

Margaret Atwood

 

“Beautiful.”

Annette Hamm, CHCH-TV

 

“My heart lodged in my throat and my eyes stayed glassy over the brief duration of Be With: Letters to a CaregiverIt’s a lovely, loving, and unflinching work … He shares knowledge (“The truth is, there’s no graceful way to take control of someone’s life away from them”) and he asks questions (“How much room in your own heart?”) any caregiver must consider. He also asserts his primary insight: “But being with in person trumps all else. It’s the one way of caring most likely to be right, and the least likely to be regretted. ”

Toronto Star

 

“Barnes shares a tender exaltation…with a clear and melodic tenor; there’s poetry in his myriad introspections, and a willingness to put everything on the table, good, bad, and heart-wrenching. This is a powerful book for those who have experienced similar trials, regardless of length of time or severity.”

Publishers Weekly

 

“In their simplicity and even-handed tone, the letters achieve their author’s difficult aim: they present as a literary Third Man, a friendly, authoritative voice in the dark that will lead its at-the-end-of-their-tether listeners through to the endgame…What really matters, he concludes, is the hardest thing, being there with her. ‘For every thousand pages describing how living is shattered by this dread disease, there should be at least one page observing how living goes on within it.’ Be With has 156 pages of them.”

Literary Review of Canada

 

“Powerful…the short, digestible letters are written with a realistic understanding of busy, exhausted caregivers’ time and energy and stay true to the book’s title, emphasizing the deceptively simple need to just “be with” – to witness, see, and accept. Poignant but never heavy-handed, it’s a relevant and empathetic book that meets caregivers where they are.”
Open Book

 

“The particulars of Mary’s dementia give this brief book universal appeal. The author effectively humanizes himself as a man who has made errors, who wishes he had done things differently, and who has his own psychological burdens to bear…A book that tells the reader that you are not alone, whoever you are.”

Kirkus Reviews

 

ABOUT MIKE BARNES

Mike Barnes is the author of ten books of poetry, short fiction, novels, and memoir, including the novel The Adjustment League and The Lily Pond: A Memoir of Madness, Mystery, Myth and Metamorphosis. He has won the Danuta Gleed Award and a National Magazine Awards Silver Medal for his short fiction, and the Edna Staebler Award for nonfiction. He lives in Toronto.

 

A Biblioasis Interview with Maya Ombasic, author of MOSTARGHIA

Maya Ombasic’s gorgeous, lyrical memoir Mostarghia arrived in Canadian bookstores this week! (Don’t worry, U.S.—it will appear there in a week and a half.)

 

 

Maya sat down and answered some of our questions about the book Le Devoir called “An overwhelming homage, clear-eyed and drenched in tenderness, Mostarghia is driven by Maya Ombasić’s strong, sensitive voice, which allows us to glimpse the reverse side of the shadow of exile. Magnificent.”

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I was born in a country that no longer exists, in a place where living alongside people of different cultural identities was as natural as breathing. Everything that’s come since (for almost three decades now) has been an attempt to understand why the country no longer exists and how I can make sense of the whole experience, first as a daughter and a sister, and then as a mother, a woman, and an artist. How to survive after a physical and metaphysical disaster? Because once you’ve been awakened from your cozy and happy childhood, had your roots torn away, and been forced onto a boat that will take you forever away from the reassuring valley you’ve called home, the universe is no longer a warm and benign place. Today there are several geographic locations in the world where I feel “good,” but no place offers the unique metaphysical reassurance of “home.” The war that ended my childhood also destroyed that for me.

I do not like the words integration, assimilation, success story, because I do not believe there’s any such thing as successful exile. Why? Because the whole process inevitably leaves behind what the human being holds most sacred: the feeling of belonging to a place, a language, a culture, a territory from which the meaning of life emerges. To have those sacred bonds brutally torn away is to face, at the age of twelve, brutal nonsense. I learned very quickly that it was now up to me to give my life meaning, while also keeping in mind that not everyone can, or wants to, “custom-make” their own life’s meaning. This is the experience I try to relate in this book through the emblematic figure of my father, who is not a “successful” immigrant. Of course—and inevitably—questions of memory, transmission, identity, and exile (or what they really mean, on a metaphysical level) have become my obsessive quest.

Your book takes its title from a portmanteau of Mostar, the city where your father and you both were born, and Nostalghia, the title of an Andrei Tarkovsky film. What about this film made it so important to the way you tell your father’s story?

My father died at the age of 54. During his short life, but especially during the early years of our exile, I lived and grew up in the shadow of a tragically Slavic man. He could have a fit over anything. He could fall without warning into long moments of melancholy in which he recited by heart his favourite poet, the Russian Sergei Essessine; at the same time, he could be extremely funny, because he was a master of self mockery. I have often tried to understand him, without success—he was unpredictable and elusive.

Then one day, by chance, I came across the film Nostalghia. It was being screened in a small Parisian cinema that was doing a retrospective of Andrei Tarkovsky’s whole filmography. As I watched that movie, I had the impression of meeting my father, not only in the main character, the poet Gorkachov, but also in the filmmaker’s eye: his choice of shots, his landscapes and his colours, which all speak unanimously the language of nostalgia. The protagonist, in exile in Italy and on a quest to learn about a sixteenth-century Russian artist who lived in Italy, cannot overcome his melancholy and homesickness. He wants to return to Russia, but it seems impossible. Later, I read Tarkovsky’s biography. He, too, lived in forced exile, far from his family and friends; nostalgia emerged as the main theme of his artistic quest.

When I discovered Tarkovsky’s work, I understood my father better (not to mention that physically they looked as alike as two drops of water).

 

Early in the book, you equate learning a language with accepting a social contract. Can you elaborate on this idea?

From the moment we put aside our mother tongue in order to learn the languages that will help us integrate into our new society, we sign a new social contract. Not to learn its language is necessarily to be outside of a society. My father never wanted to go through this process; whether that was a positive choice or simply out of spite, I do not know. What is certain is that he willingly remained outside of Canadian society and the Canadian social contract, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

Let’s start with the worst: I was his assigned translator, his indispensable crutch; he had no contact with the outside world that did not pass through me. As for the best: he had direct access to reality beyond language and the social contract. He had an amazing ability to understand situations, people, and the world beyond language. In other words, he had a direct experience of life. As he was a visual man, he pictured reality, especially in metaphorical images. This is an advantage in itself, because it allowed him to access emotion directly, without going through the intellect or the cogs and gears of language. But his linguistic handicap was above all a burden for me.

Talk a little bit about the part Cuba plays in your book.

Coming from a socialist country on the old continent, I belong to a whole generation for whom Cuba represented an admirable satellite led by idealistic warriors demanding a more just world. And when you’re young, you need ideals. As a teenager, I was desperately in love with Che Guevara because he represented my masculine ideal: a handsome, long-haired, dark and gloomy figure, but also a poet, a doctor, and a revolutionary. Then there’s my father’s love for Cuba, this utopian island where the promise of communism had not yet failed as it had elsewhere on the planet.

In the book there is a whole chapter on Cuba where I try to explain the disenchantment that comes when those ideals meet reality. In that chapter, when my father realizes that all in Cuba is not really as he imagined it, it’s like a nail in the wound his exile has already created. He has to come to terms with the realization that his lost paradise will never be found. From that moment, he sinks into a melancholy that will continue until the end of his life.

I have to add that, consciously or unconsciously, I married a gloomy long-haired Cuban who looks like Che Guevara, so my daughter is also half Cuba. Fantasy imitates reality and vice versa . . .

How do your experiences as a philosophy teacher and as a documentary filmmaker affect your approach to writing?

I’m often asked how I manage to do all of this at once, but for me, all these practices come from the same starting point. In other words, it is the same vibration, the same source, the same inspiration that unfolds in different forms. As much as the teaching of philosophy nourishes me on a daily basis, not only because I am obliged to update my knowledge, but also to share it with my students who in turn bring me a lot, the documentaries or the images on the screen offer another visual language that influences my writing. I believe in the power of images, whether visual, cinematographic, literary, or philosophical. For example, the image of the Sun of Knowledge in Plato remains vivid for me. When we come to knowledge—true knowledge—we come out of the darkness to feel enlightened . . .

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Amin Maalouf’s Naufrage des civilisations (Shipwreck of Civilizations). He is an author that I admire a lot, and his latest book puts into words what I have been feeling for some time: that we’re living through the decline of civilization and the return of barbarism. Depressing book, but necessary for all those who are trying to understand our time.

Kathy Page’s beloved The Story of My Face re-released August 6

In less than a week, Kathy Page’s marvel of a novel, The Story of My Face—first published by Orion/Phoenix House in 2003—finally comes back into print under the Biblioasis banner.

Natalie Baron, a neglected teenager, is drawn into the life of Barbara, an older woman who invites her along on her family’s religious retreat. She soon discovers that their curious habits and beliefs result from their membership in a Protestant sect: Finnish Envallism. Though some members of the community reject Natalie as an outsider, the mutually fulfilling relationship between the two women leads Barbara to reveal a dangerous secret that sets into motion a devastating series of events. Years later, the adult Natalie, now a respected academic, travels to Finland to research the origins of Envallism and tries to understand the things that happened to her in her youth.

 

Critics loved The Story of My Face.

“Quietly powerful, with considerable emotional depth: an intriguing account of tortured faith and thwarted desire.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“One of the most compelling, unsettling novels I’ve read in ages, which should appeal to fans of classy thrillers and literary fiction alike.”

—Sarah Waters

“[Page’s] writing, mostly in the present tense, is lit with an immediate sense of period, summoning images which are by turns softly painterly, sharply filmic or as murky as those first television images of the moon landing.”

—Aisling Foster, TLS

“Incredibly evocative and haunting . . . it keeps you reading, wanting to uncover both Natalie’s past and that of Tuomas Envall.”

—Clare Heal, Sunday Express

“An elegantly compelling story of how a young girl’s obsession forever changes the lives of those around her.. a disciplined exploration of the complexity of human motivation and our need for redemption.”

—Lynne Van Luven , Vancouver Sun

“A most impressive achievement.”

—Jessica Mann, Daily Telegraph

“A compelling and unpredictable journey . . . beautifully written, rolls on at a rapid pace and delivers a satisfying punch at the end.”

–Christine Pountney, Toronto Star

“A moving, absorbing story . . . Kathy Page writes beautifully.”

—Helen Dunmore, author of A Spell of Winter

Kathy Page took a few minutes to talk to Biblioasis about The Story of My Face.

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’ve written eight novels and three collections of short fiction. I’d say I’m versatile writer, and perhaps unusually so. So each of my books is very different to the others, but common elements often mentioned in the reviews are vivid, complex characters and relationships, suspenseful plots, and fluent prose.

I was born in England and spent much of my early life there. Like most writers I’ve done various day jobs and held numerous writer’s residencies, including one for a year in a Category B men’s prison in the UK, about which I wrote in my novel Alphabet. I moved to Canada with my family in 2001; I now live on Salt Spring Island and teach part-time at Vancouver Island University.

This is a novel about a girl’s relationship with a chosen surrogate mother-figure. What made you want to explore chosen family in this novel?

I think children in difficult or dysfunctional family situations like Natalie’s often seek out intense “surrogate” relationships with adults who are not their biological parents. I certainly did, and that has very likely informed the story, though I should say that the teenaged Natalie is nothing like me, and was inspired by a girl from a small village who tried to “adopt” me when I was hiking and camping in France . . . Natalie is a deprived and very damaged child; writing The Story of My Face, I was fascinated by the power and intensity of Natalie’s need for mothering, and drawn to explore where it led and how far she would go. A long way, it turned out, and she does not always play fair; people get hurt and she almost dies . . . But in the end, this is an optimistic story: she does survive, change, progress.

Exploring relationships is what drives me to write. I’m especially interested in the unconventional, messy, and less than textbook-perfect kind: they make for better stories.

Why Envallism? What prompted you to invent this sect? What real-world religious traditions is it based upon, and how does it differ from them? What is it about these extreme forms of Protestantism that prompted you to the extended engagement a novel represents?

It interests me that many faiths choose to regulate or prohibit aspects of human life, vitality and culture, and I wanted to explore the possible reasons for this. Sex (with whom, what kind) is often highly regulated, food and art likewise. Protestants have accused Catholics of idolatry and at various points they have forbidden dancing, music, and theatre. Islamic art avoids the figurative. Perhaps because I am very interested in visual art, I became fascinated by the idea of a sect that banned all life-like representation. I started to explore this imaginatively after a visit to Finland as a Writer in Residence during which I learned of “the Awakenings,” a religious revival movement which flourished there in the nineteenth century. The movement persists today and is averse to dancing, music, colourful clothing, etc., but relatively liberal regarding sexuality, ordination of women etc. As I said, I love visual art, both representational and abstract, but I found I was able to sympathize with the Envallist point of view in that I saw through their eyes how we live in an image-saturated culture, and became increasingly aware of how that can affect our relationship and connection with the actual world.

This novel uses a distinctive point of view: a first-person voice that nevertheless has access to other characters’ inner lives and motivations. Tell us a little about how this voice came about and what it was like to write from such a perspective.

I’m glad you picked up on this. Regular first-person is intimate, but also very restrictive; I managed to open it up into a kind of “first-person omniscient” and so get the best of both worlds. Natalie, in middle age, is looking back and telling the story of her younger self’s involvement with the Envallist family in 1969, and also the story of Tuomas Envall as she uncovers it in her research. She allows herself to present what she intuits of other people’s inner lives and actions as part of her story (rather than speculation). This seems appropriate because a very driven curiosity—a desire to know about other people and what makes them tick—is a defining characteristic of Natalie right from the start. The point of view has a slightly spooky, menacing effect, and that works well for a story that definitely has some Gothic qualities. It took me several drafts to find this way to tell the story, and I felt very liberated once I discovered it.

Why is The Story of My Face ripe for re-release in 2019? How will it strike audiences differently now than it did upon its first publication eighteen years ago?

I completed the The Story of My Face while my first baby napped, and it was the first of my novels to be published in Canada. It came out in 2002, shortly after we moved to BC, and was long-listed for what was then called the Orange Prize. Since then my children have grown up and my work has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, The ReLit Award, and the Ethel Wilson Prize; my most recent novel, Dear Evelyn, won the Writer’s Trust Award for Fiction in 2018. I think the two novels—which both feature the kind of interesting, complicated relationships I spoke of earlier, but are otherwise quite different—make great book-ends for the body of work between them, all of which is now available.

As for how differently it will be perceived— the sheer volume of images that we deal with, many of them highly manipulative, has increased exponentially, and some readers may well have more sympathy with the Envallists than they would have earlier! And of course, it’s certainly true to say that religious fundamentalism impinges much more on our lives now than it did at the time of writing. The thing about The Story of My Face is that it does not portray any particular existing group but uses a fictional sect to explore the notion of religious prohibitions in general and ask what makes some of us need to restrict our lives (and those of others) in this way, and what is the cost of doing so? I think if anything it will be easier to connect with and even more relevant than before.

DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT by Lucy Ellmann Nominated for 2019 Booker Prize!

 

On Wednesday, July 24, 2019, it was announced that Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann has been nominated for the 2019 Booker prize! Ellmann is the only American writer nominated for this year’s prize.

Here’s what the judges had to say:
“The unstoppable monologue of an Ohio housewife in Lucy Ellmann’s extraordinary Ducks, Newburyport is like nothing you’ve ever read before. A cacophony of humour, violence, and Joycean word play, it engages – furiously – with the detritus of domesticity as well as Trump’s America. This audacious and epic novel is brilliantly conceived, and challenges the reader with its virtuosity and originality.”

The shortlist will be announced on September 3rd. Until then, we’ll just be over here bursting our buttons.

 

 

Martha Wilson’s Nosy White Woman is coming August 20!

We’re just a month out from the publication of Martha Wilson’s Nosy White Woman, in which a daughter tries to explain to her mother why calling the police isn’t always a good idea. A caretaking group of sisters must rely on each other, but one has a fierce drinking problem. A mother confronts the frightening environmental damage of the world in which her child must grow old. In these sixteen stories, Martha Wilson provides a powerful look at the intersection of politics and daily life in our contemporary world, showing us the banal and gritty connections that lie there.

The critics are raving about Nosy White Woman:

Resonates in that narrow space where everyday life drips with meaning and the quiet world around us breathes its secrets. Nosy White Woman both elevates the ordinary and strips back its facade to reveal the often uncomfortable truths it hides.”
—Charlie Lovett, New York Times-bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale and The Lost Book of the Grail

Nosy White Woman is a collection of compelling stories replete with delicious contradictions. Filled with sardonic, sly humour, the stories can be as touching and fleeting as daily life. The book catches today’s zeitgeist, while the style is at once traditional and decidedly contemporary. I looked forward to every spare moment I could find to read this terrific collection.”
—Antanas Sileika, author of Provisionally Yours and The Barefoot Bingo Caller

If I say morally subtle, I’m worried you won’t get how thrilling these stories are. And oh, they are thrilling. Martha Wilson plumbs the smallest moments of everyday life—of aging, marriage, parents and children—to unclog the biggest questions. In her gloomy and hilarious way, she makes familiar dramas, insults, and injuries—what one narrator calls “the small tragedies”—sparklingly fresh. If you’re looking for crescendo and certainty, though, then don’t read this absolutely quietly perfect book that I devoured through the night with a headlamp on because that’s how good it is.”
—Catherine Newman, author of Catastrophic Happiness and Waiting for Birdy

Martha Wilson’s curiosity about the world is wide-ranging and generous. In these fine stories, she brings a tender, courageous and precise attention to her characters’ foibles and concerns, while charting the places where ordinary lives intersect with and react to the political.”
—Kim Aubrey, author of What We Hold in Our Hands

Martha Wilson is one of those authors who gives the impression of knowing all our secrets and liking us anyway. She writes with wit and compassion about ordinary people dealing as well as they can with life’s immensities – growing up, getting married, becoming parents, watching their own parents age and die. Halfway through this wonderful collection of stories, I knew I would recognize Martha Wilson’s voice whenever I encountered it. And I hope I will encounter it often.”
—K.D. Miller, author of Late Breaking and the Rogers Writers’ Trust-shortlisted All Saints

Can’t wait to hear more from Martha Wilson? Here’s an interview:

A Biblioasis Interview with Martha Wilson, author of Nosy White Woman

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m interested in the small events of daily life. My favourite moments are when I notice some weird little detail or transaction, often something I nearly miss. I might feel the faintest poke at the back of my brain: “Hang on; what was that?” I love that we can stop and assess what just happened, like a video replay. In one of Barbara Pym’s novels there’s a character in a cafe who observes a tiny moment of friction between a customer and a waitress, and he asks himself, “Now what have I seen? Something or nothing?” I’ve thought about that passage a lot over the years.

How did this collection come together?

I write really slowly, and it took me a long time to finish these stories. One thing I’ve found satisfying about finally completing the book is that it seemed to free up some space in my brain for other writing and for future projects. Sometimes I turn an idea over and over in my mind for years, trying to figure out what it means, or meant, or could mean, or might have meant. Once I had those remembered elements pinned down at last, after a long time of letting them tumble around, I felt a satisfying sense of things clicking into place—a sense of doneness, of finishing. That was an unanticipated pleasure.

If you could pick one thing you’d like your reader to take away from this book, what would it be?

We all think, want, plan so many of the same crazy things. Reading is so private and internal and kind of unsharable; but it’s also being inside another person’s head. It’s pretty intimate! And I’m always fascinated when it turns out that some weird notion I’m afraid I made up is, in fact, evidently quite common. It happens all the time. We’re not alone! You’re not alone! Whatever peculiar idea you’re fretting over, millions of other people are wondering exactly the same thing. I find great comfort in that.

Your title story, “Nosy White Woman,” looks at why white people are so ready to call the police, which is a hot political topic right now, but it wasn’t as talked about when you first wrote the story. How did you come to new realizations about privilege as an adult, and why did you decide to write about them?

I first became aware of the phrase “driving while black” with the early Men in Black movies. So around twenty years ago. While it’s played for laughs in those movies (wry jokes, but still jokes), over time I heard about it more often and realized that this was way, way beyond merely a nuisance for the people getting stopped. The two changes that underlined this reality were smartphones and social media platforms; suddenly people could record their encounters with police and post them online. And it’s horrifying. A relatively calm situation can accelerate so quickly. To have to endure this ongoing possibility of violence, every day, seems exhausting and scary beyond words.

In that story, the mom is someone who hasn’t assimilated this information yet. She’s not a racist. She’s a white woman who hasn’t yet recognized this aspect of white privilege, because her experience has been so completely different. For her the police have always, only, been helpful and reasonable.

The Men in Black example is an apt one, in fact, because seeing the encounters some people have had with police officers made me feel there was a whole different world from the one I live in—a parallel universe. I thought, How have I been so naive? Am I crazy? It was a crystal-clear, extremely chilling example of white privilege that I had been utterly oblivious about. It flipped my understanding of a lot of things about the world.

Who are some short fiction writers who have inspired you?

Well, Alice Munro. I don’t think she’s even human, what she can do. And I love writing that’s self-conscious and funny and sad, without being tricky or fancy with the language. I like plain language. I love Nicholson Baker, Julie Hecht—I chose the epigraphs for my book from their work. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum; I deeply admire her fiction collection Ms. Hempel Chronicles. It’s about a middle school teacher! How cool is that? I loved that book.

How have your experiences living abroad changed your perspective and your writing?

Elections are terribly important—that’s something I’ve come to understand. And not just the big ones; president, prime minister. Local elections matter so much. Policy has an enormous, ongoing impact on people’s daily lives, and elections determine policy. I’m also surprised, and frustrated, that it’s so difficult to deeply understand another place’s politics. This is something I wrote a bit about in my book, in the story “Midway.” Even when you earnestly try, what’s going on elsewhere is slippery and nuanced and multi-layered, with all sorts of background and ramifications that are hard to parse if you don’t live there. Still, we need to pay a lot more attention than we generally do.

What are you reading right now?

I just began Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is in Trouble, and I’m liking it a lot so far. It really gallops along—so smart and compelling. I’m rereading Crampton Hodnet, my favourite Barbara Pym book. It’s not her best, but it’s irresistible. (A few years ago I gave a paper at the annual Barbara Pym conference in Boston, and it remains one of the highlights of my life. I adore her.) And I’ve just begun a truly terrible Agatha Christie mystery set in ancient Egypt (!!). (I know.) It’s called Death Comes as the End. My older daughter and I hoard Christie mysteries we track down at bookstores over the course of the year, and as soon as she finishes school for the summer we tuck into them and compare notes. Oh, and I’m reading Swann’s Way, also with that daughter. She and I have a two-person book club. We are shocked—Swann is a dog. He truly is. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

An Interview with Douglas Glover, author of THE EROTICS OF RESTRAINT

Douglas Glover’s smart, heartfelt writing manual The Erotics of Restraint—his follow-up to Attack of the Copula Spiders—is coming August 13!

 

But if you’re like us, that’s a long time to wait for Glover. So to tide you over, he’s answered some of our questions here.

 

A Biblioasis Interview with Douglas Glover, author of The Erotics of Restraint

For those who are coming to your work for the first time, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I grew up on a tobacco farm in southern Ontario. Loyalist ancestors. My great-grandfather tried to be a poet and committed suicide—I blame the Loyalists. Studied philosophy at York University and the University of Edinburgh. Taught philosophy briefly, then worked in newspapers across the country for a few years. Ended up in the U.S. for the usual catastrophic domestic reasons, one of those non-decision decisions, but then stayed to bring up my sons, which was a solid good thing.

Early on I was just finding my legs and wrote pretty straightforward novels and sometimes riskier stories. But by the time I wrote The Life and Times of Captain N, I had hit my stride—large themes about the founding of nations and contact with indigenous peoples, intense formal patterning and elaboration, and mixed form. Almost everything I write is comic or at least heavily ironic. In the back of my mind, the ideal of the Menippean satire lurks. Once in my hometown of Waterford, a man I did not know came up to me on the street and said, “You’re the guy who writes those dirty books.”

For those who know you from Attack of the Copula Spiders, can you talk about the relationship between this book and that earlier one?

I’ve written four nonfiction books—Notes Home from a Prodigal Son, The Enamoured Knight, Attack of the Copula Spiders, and now The Erotics of Restraint. They all evolve out of a very early essay “The Novel as a Poem,” which is in Notes Home, where I announced a theoretical approach and a program, which is essentially formalist (or McLuhanite) and what some would call experimental. Form over matter, medium over message in the sense that the way something is written is primary to the meaning it projects. In that essay, I value sign over signified, patterning over verisimilitude (which is really just another pattern), artful elaboration over communication. The program then is to keep reading for form and technique and, of course, writing about it.

Popular literary commentary concentrates on theme and plot, scanting formal considerations. I used to have a radio interview show in Albany in the 90s and every writer I talked to would suddenly come alive when I started asking about structure and devices. “I’ll bet you had fun doing this little thing.” “How did you invent that device and the way it inflects the text?” Writers get bored endlessly explaining their themes, but they love to talk about the joyful inventions of their solitary tussle with language, the things they know how to do intricately and well. Every essay I write is an exploration of and a homage to what writers really do, what they love. I only look at work that I think is formally incandescent. Other than that my taste is eclectic—in this book, from Jane Austen to Witold Gombrowicz.

For many readers, the word “erotics” will be a surprising one to find in the title of a technical book about writing. Can you talk about the various ways you use that term in the book? What’s erotic about syntax and narrative form?

I could write a very long essay about this. It goes to the heart of the matter. First, it’s a direct nod to Attack of the Copula Spiders. Copula and copulate have the same root, from the Latin copulare, to join, link, couple. In grammar the copula is a linking verb, to be for example. So there is a sexual flag in that earlier title, too. Both are ironic references in the sense that irony juxtaposes two meanings simultaneously, in this case the sexual and the literary. The literary meaning of the sexual reference has something to do with the linking aspect of language and with the rhythmic structure of art (sex is rhythmic, right?). Metaphor, for example. I think it was Charles Olson who called the image “a bright, wingèd sexual being.” I am also thinking of Francois Lyotard’s remarkable book Libidinal Economy. Libidinal as in libido, erotic, rhythmic, fleshly.

Second, it’s the title of an essay in the book, an essay on Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, a novel that is about restraint, true morality in conflict with surging hormones and the seedy pragmatism of Regency England. The title of the essay is a joke and a double pun on the words erotic and restraint. Erotics is a substitution for the word aesthetics. A title like “The Aesthetics of Restraint” would have made complete sense for a book and an essay about form. But where would be the fun in that? Also it’s comical the way the heroine’s love interest is finally aroused by her tortured self-restraint, a little Austenian bondage humour. But in literary terms, form is a restraint; and language is constrained by the forms of grammar. So there is always a paradoxical oscillation between erotic rhythms and the pressure of form; the two antithetical vectors are at the heart of art.

You are a writer of fiction and a teacher of creative writing. How does your nonfiction writing practice dovetail with those two other practices?

A good deal of my time is spent reading and analyzing books in order to teach myself how to do what I do better. If you’re candid about what you learn in order to make yourself a writer and how you learn it, that can make you a good teacher. Some of the essays I have written started as lectures. Even my book on Cervantes, The Enamoured Knight, began as a lecture that got away from me (when I hit the 40-page mark, I realized I was doing something else).

In terms of The Erotics of Restraint, I would draw special attention to the very long essay “Anatomy of the Short Story,” which grew directly out of my teaching. I’ve used the three stories I analyze in that essay over and over with creative writing students to teach them the rudiments. “Anatomy” is a huge expansion of the essay on short story structure in Attack of the Copula Spiders. Also an advance. I’ve invented new terms, memes and homologies, and become much clearer in my own mind on how character thought and thematic passages work in story structure. In this regard, the pressure of trying to make myself a better teacher has made me a better thinker about the nature of literary art. These activities are reciprocally generative.

Also I began life as a philosopher. My first academic job was teaching philosophy. It comes naturally to me to think about language, stories, and art at a meta-level and writing essays about them.

What are you reading right now?

Elfriede Jelinek’s novel Greed and Annie Ernaux’s memoir A Man’s Place. Lately, I gravitate toward Austrian writers—Peter Handke, Thomas Bernhard, and now Jelinek—because like me they are so uncomfortable in their own skins. This puts pressure on their language, which has delightful effects. Bernhard seemed to hate everyone but was funny about it. Jelinek just drips venom. It’s so refreshing. Ernaux’s memoir about her father is brilliantly terse and elegantly poignant (her internal commentary about the writing is a lesson to us all). I like short books.