Dispatches from the War on the Internet

January 27, 2012 | John Elmslie | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

When Wikipedia darkened it's site last week to protest the passing of laws that would have placed new restrictions on our use of the internet to share books, music and video, I was very glad to have just finished reading two excellent collections of essays by Cory Doctorow on the issues involved.

Photo by Derryl Murphy

Cory Doctorow by Derryl Murphy

Content smallDoctorow was born in Toronto and has a reputation as an author of fine science-fiction and as a co-editor of the wildly popular blog Boing Boing. He has also been writing marvelously entertaining articles on the internet using down-to-earth, easy to understand language and examples from everyday life.

In his first collection -- Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future he writes in detail about the negative effects of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and other forms of control on the internet.

Doctorow's argument boils down to his belief that whatever we lose in the free exchange of information on the internet, we will gain in innovations which will enrich our culture in ways that cannot yet be predicted. Call him an optimist.

Doctorow has given away free downloads of all his novels from the beginning of his career. He has found that by making these copies free and encouraging his fans to share them online he has expanded the market for the printed editions of his books.

Context smallIn his latest collection -- Context: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting, and Politics in the 21st Century he writes about how these issues affect him as a creative writer and as a new parent.

He explains intellectual property, the "information economy", copyright enforcement and digital licensing in clearly understandable ways.

His warnings about the vulnerability of our passwords and our personal data online are frightening and sobering.

He explains why streaming will never replace the downloading of music online.

He also talks about how he manages the hundreds of non-spam emails he gets every day, and why he will never buy an iPad.

Together these books cover ten years of exciting, insightful coverage of these increasingly important issues in a highly readable way.


Christopher Hitchens: 1949 - 2011

December 16, 2011 | Viveca | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

  Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, British author and essayist, died last night of complications related to cancer. A fierce intellectual and polemicist, Hitchens was no stranger to controversy. Indeed, his impressive body of work has both engaged and enraged his many readers over the years - and his passing has resulted in an outpouring of editorials reflecting on his life and work.  

Read obits from the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the BBC, CNN, the Guardian, the National Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Daily Mail and Vanity Fair.

See Vanity's Fair's photo essay.  Read some of his memorable quotes here and here.

Watch Hitchen's inteview with Sally Quinn of the Washington Post in which he reflects upon his life's work. 


The Guardian reports on a forthcoming memoir, Mortality, based on his Vanity Fair columns.

Until then:

God is Not Great Christopher HitchensArguably Christopher Hitchens Hitch-22 Christopher Hitchens Quotable Hitchens Christopher Hitchens







Christopher Hitchens Young Man
Hitchens in 1968.


How to Live, Work and Play in the City

November 25, 2011 | John Elmslie | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

ChairsAll of us have at least one brilliant friend with endlessly fascinating ideas and opinions, but few of us do anything about it. Toronto novelist Sheila Heti decided to sit down with her friend Misha Glouberman and write down everything he knew.

The result of their collaboration is a lively and very readable self-help book that distills the culture of downtown Toronto.

It's called The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work and Play in the City.

Most of the chapters are a page or two long.

The opinions are Glouberman's. The editing is Heti's.

Glouberman is a wonderful talker. I was impressed by his good sense and the down-to-earth nature of his sometimes surprising opinions. Here is a sampling.

  • From Why a Computer Only Lasts Three Years -- "The typewriter that lasted for fifty years wasn't built in a world where the machines we type on on become a hundred times more powerful every three years."
  • From Kensington Market [on Pedestrian Sundays] -- "Neighborhoods that are really good, I think, are places that feel like people live there. When you throw a huge, noisy street party every Sunday, it really creates the impression that people don't live there... Who would think that what their own neighborhood needs is to have a drum circle and an amplified performance poet outside their own home every single Sunday all summer? So a festival like [Pedestrian Sundays] creates the message that the neighborhood belongs to the people who come there as an entertainment destination, not to the people who live there."
  • From Why Robert McKee Is Wrong About Casablanca -- "The idea that love is something magical, almost supernatural, in your heart, that has nothing to do with the day-to-day encounters with a real person ... has probably created more unhappiness and ruined more marriages than just about anything."

A Spy in the House of Food

October 21, 2011 | John Elmslie | Comments (3) Facebook Twitter More...

GarlicWhen the New York Times newspaper approached Ruth Reichl about becoming their new restaurant critic, she was already reviewing restaurants for the Los Angeles Times and was in no mood to make a change.

Her husband was supportive. 

"Why on earth would you want to work at the best paper in the world?"

The Times hires her and Reichl quickly discovers that every restaurant in New York has prepared for her arrival by putting a picture of her face on their staff bulletin board. So with the help of a theatre make-up artist she creates a well-to-do, but very dowdy, disguise for herself.

Reichl's account of the shabby treatment this unfashionable character gets at the fashionable restaurant Le Cirque is refreshingly scathing.

She returns to Le Cirque as herself, the reviewer for the New York Times, and her account of the splendid treatment she gets is just as scathing. She writes a hilarious review about both experiences , and postitive responces roll in from readers.

One reader praised her as "a spy in the house of food".

So begins Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, her memoir of reviewing restaurants in New York City, published in 2005.

Reichl is good company, never takes herself too seriously and seriously loves good food. I picked this up when I was in the mood for something light, urbane and hilarious, and I could hardly bear to put it down.

Also in Large Print.

Who's *That* Woman? Madonna and Mrs. Simpson

September 10, 2011 | Viveca | Comments (6) Facebook Twitter More...

    Duchess-of-windsor-wallis-simpson-late-1930s B-image-3-875478112

The Duchess of Windsor, previously Wallis Simpson, is 'that woman,' the American divorcĂ©e for whom King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry (leaving baby brother Bertie to stutter his way to the top job).  Sex, power, and glamour: Wallis was reviled by a scandalized (yet fascinated) public. No surprise that Wallis' brunette ambition captured the imagination of Madonna.  W.E., her film structured around the Wallis and Edward romance, is now at the TIFF.  For critics, reviewing Madonna's directing (and acting) is a bloodsport. After its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, the Guardian describes W.E. as "a primped and simpering folly, preening and fatally mishandled." 

Upcoming books revisiting Wallis are in the works, including That Woman by Anne Sebba due out next year.

Ms. Ciccone identifies with Ms. Simpson: "I think she felt an existential loneliness."  Read more about her interest in Wallis here.  Read Gus van Sant's piece on Madonna for Interview.

Madonna has another bizarre mission: to prove that the Duchess was not a Nazi sympathizer. In the Globe and Mail, Madonna states ..."after years of research, I could find no empirical evidence proving she was a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer." 

Madonna could have visited her local library to get help with her research.


Interested in Simpson and the royal abdication that rocked a nation?  Further reading:

If you happen to get tickets to catch W.E. at the Toronto International Film Festival, let Madge know what you think.

Just don't give her any hydrangeas.

"One or Two Lumps, Mr. Mortenson?"

July 18, 2011 | Viveca | Comments (5) Facebook Twitter More...

Three Cups of Deceipt Book Cover In Three Cups of Deceit, Jon Krakauer alleges that humanitarian Greg Mortenson bent the truth about certain events in his bestselling memoirs Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools and furthermore, that his charity, the Central Asia Institute, is not exactly what it seems.  Mortenson, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has gained global recognition for risking his life to bring education to women in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. His memoirs kept countless middle-class book clubs enthralled while the military made his books required reading

Watch CBS's 60 Minutes episode that broke the story. Read about the allegations here.  Krakauer, who was working on his own investigation, was interviewed by 60 Minutes. The author of Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, Into the Wild, and Where Men Win Glory is no stranger to controversy - his books deal with difficult topics and with subjects living on the edge.

Read the Daily Mail article which includes Mortenson's response to Krakauer. Mortenson has his defenders: his mountain-climbing friend, Scott Darsney, responds.

Mortenson is also reported to be facing a class action lawsuit. Read the article in the Wall Street Journal on the recent rash of class action suits from readers against authors for 'misleading' them.  (Good thing the villagers didn't know they could sue the pants off Copernicus for the innaccuracies in his de revolutionibus orbium coelstium).

In the end, these allegations are a matter for the courts to decide - but in the meantime, both Mortenson and Krakauer make for excellent reading: 

Three-Cups-of-TeaStones For Schools Into Thin AirWhere men win glory book cover Under-the-banner-of-heaven

Go the [Bleep] to Sleep: Tender Tales for Sleepy Adults

June 21, 2011 | Viveca | Comments (3) Facebook Twitter More...

No one was more surprised than Adam Mansbach when Go the Fuck to Sleep became a bestseller in advance sales.  Definitely not for children, this book is intended to reflect the frustration of parents whose little (non-sleeping) angels remain wide awake long after their bedtimes. Mansbach, a prof at Rutgers University, a novelist (The End of the Jews), and a first-time parent, was inspired to publish this book after he joked on Facebook that this would be the name of his next novel - and received an overwhelmingly postive response. See his interview on ABC news.  Listen to his interview on CBC.

Samuelljackson 061708herzog Now, I don't know about you, but when I think of childrens' storytellers, American actor, Samuel L. Jackson and German director, Werner Herzog naturally spring to mind.

Listen to Samuel L. Jackson's tender interpretation. 

And here is Werner's version.

Read what the NY Times, the Washington Times, and the Globe and Mail have to say.  The U.K. Guardian writes about the curious phenonemon of children's books for adults.

Read what the New Yorker says about nervous publishers dealing with profanity-laced bestsellers in a post-Cee Lo universe.  Forget you, indeed.

Will pareAdam-Mansbach-007nts find this funny?  Of course.  No doubt some parents will find this offensive, or dismiss it as a one-joke gimmick.  Serious parenting pundits will wade in to argue for or against the book's "premise."  One thing is for sure - this book stands to make a lot of money. 

For those who prefer to hear bedtime tales with an old lady whispering 'hush,' there is always the classic Goodnight Moon.

(author Adam Mansbach with his daughter)

"You tweeted a photo of WHAT??"

June 9, 2011 | Viveca | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

Anthony Weiner's recent admission of inappropriate conduct via the social media is simply the latest scandal involving icky behaviour by people who really should know better. This member (no pun intended) of the U.S. House of Representatives for New York was a Democratic hopeful destined for higher office. This article appeared in today's Toronto Star.

Spectacular falls from grace make for great comedy, cautionary tales, and of course, great reading.

One Nation Under SexTigerJohn EdwardsElizabeth EdwardsJesse James  Art of the Public Grovel Spitzer




Further Research:

  • Try Jennifer Weiner's (no relation to Rep. Weiner) novel, Fly Away Home, about a politician's wife who gets blindsided by her husband's infidelity.
  • Check out the the L.A. Times helpful reading list compiled for Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Maria Shriver.
  • Watch the Daily Show's coverage of "Weinergate" (just wait - the video starts after the ads).

The Big Wang Theory June 2, 2011

Jon Stewart Press Conference June 7, 2011

Weird fact: Weiner was Jon Stewart's old roomate after college (Weiner's remarks in this 2009 article in New York Magazine are uncannily prescient with regard to his current predicament)


The Last "Ah-Ha"

May 26, 2011 | Viveca | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

Oprah_winfrey_amazon_kindle The last Oprah show has aired - after 25 years on television, the woman behind this daytime institution is moving on. Reading was one of the many areas to which the mighty Oprah lent her considerable power and influence. Whatever one thought of her choices, the Oprah Book Club had an immense effect on readers, publishers, and authors.  Fall on Your Knees, by Canadian author, Anne-Marie MacDonald gained a huge audience through Oprah's endorsement.  James Frey's reputation was blasted into a million little pieces after crossing her; Jonathan Franzen realized the error of his ways after snubbing her.  Watch him come crawling back. 

Crain's New York Business describes the effect Oprah had on the publishing world.  Oprah has hinted that she might keep her book club going in some capacity. The media speculates on the state of reading A.O. (After Oprah). 

At the library, requests for "Oprah Books" have been so frequent over the years, that we consider them an honorary sub-genre. If you haven't read everything on Her list, check out some of these notable titles.

  Pillars Edgar Sawtelle New earth Middlesex MillionA_fine_balance_frontcover_large_gGeUDAeWDkntdaXThe roadFall_on_your_kneesSay You're One of ThemBluest eyeLove_in_the_TIme_of_Cholera      





Bono: He Was Born This Way

May 14, 2011 | Viveca | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Bookcover-project In Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, Chaz Bono tells the story of his gender transition from female to male. Born Chastity Sun Bono in 1969, Chaz is the child of Cher and the late Sonny Bono. In 1995, Chaz came out publicly as a lesbian - and in 2008 realized his true dream when he began the process of gender reassignment.

Becoming Chaz, a documentary about his sex change, premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and will be released May 10. Watch the trailer.

Chaz's relationship with his celebrity mom has been stormy.  Vanity Fair CherCher, an iconic figure to the gay community, has made public her earlier struggles with accepting her child's sexuality. Read Cher's interview in Vanity Fair and watch Letterman's befuddled interview with her (she really, really scares him).

But this isn't all about Cher. 

Visit Chaz's website and learn about his ongoing work as a LGBT activist. Read his earlier book, Family Outing, a guide for young people coming out, and The End of Innocence, which he wrote in 2002 as Chastity.

See his first public interview with Mary Hart after his transition. Watch these clips from Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project: including words of hope from Chaz, Adam Lambert, Woody (from Toy Story 3), and Lady Gaga. And speaking of, put your paws up and dance to Gaga's Born this Way.

Further reading:

What Becomes You
 Becoming a Woman

Michael Dillin Roberta Cowell Book
Testosterone Files

What Becomes You

by Aaron Raz Link and Hilda Raz

Becoming a Woman

by Richard F. Docter   

The First Man-Made Man

by Pagan Kennedy

The Testosterone Files

by Max Valerio

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