The Devil and Samuel Johnson

The Gates by John Connolly is a fun, wry, and (dare-I-say?) educational novel about particle physics, demons, and the end of the world. Samuel Johnson is an inquisitive, thoughtful 11-year old boy who, along with his dachshund Boswell, runs afoul of a plan to use the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to pierce the boundaries between universes and allow the Great Malevolence to break down the gates of Hell and lay waste to our world.  Connolly grounds his demonology in real physics theory, often in explanatory footnotes, a helpful (and cheeky) flourish (reminiscent of Lemony Snicket) to this fast-paced story.

The allusions to historical figures in the characters’ as well as place names give the adult reader of this Young Adult novel a knowing wink that means the book will continue to offer rewards to readers at any age: 666 Crowley Road, Bobby Goddard, Robert Oppenheimer, and Mr. Renfield are a few examples.

Connolly is a very descriptive imagineer of disturbing and frightening creatures, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this book turned into a film: his demons are particularly well-formed and varied, from bulbous marshmallow-coloured demons to the ringmaster, Ba’al, who is terrifying in whatever shape she takes.

The novel is set in Biddlecombe, a delightfully-named town full of interesting characters, from the rotund vicar and verger of the church who played Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee in the local production of Alice in Wonderland, to the exceedingly-polite police officers, and I really hope that this book becomes a series, if only to meet more of the citizens of Samuel’s hometown.

Book Events at the Hart House Library

On Wednesday, January 13th Brent MacLaine and Soraya Peerbaye both read from their latest works of poetry. The event was held in the cozy Hart House Library by the Literary & Library Committee.

Brent MacLaine teaches literature and poetry at the University of Prince Edward Island. His poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review, The Windsor Review, Matrix and The Cormorant, and in anthologies such as Landmarks: An Anthology of New Atlantic Poetry of the Land and Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada. He read from Athena Becomes a Swallow, Other Voices from the Odyssey and Shades of Green.

Soraya Peerbaye, who lives in Toronto and has also, lived in her ancestral home of Mauritius, read from her book Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Fire, The New Quarterly,  and in Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Canadian Women Poets.  She has also worked as a playwright, performer, and translator.

[Listen to Soraya Peerbaye on The Next Chapter with Tom Howell today (January 25) at 1pm on CBC Radio One. The show will be repeated on Saturday, January 30 at 4pm.]

After the readings both poets offered inspirational advice to other budding poets in the audience. Brent MacLaine spoke of the tension and balance of form and free verse in his poetry. Both poets remarked how crucial it was for every poet to remain attentive to the world around them.

Next month the Literary & Library Committee will host Margaret Sweatman on February 11th at 7:30pm in the Hart House Library. She will be doing a reading from her book The Players as well as a Q&A followed by a signing.

Guy Maddin

A whole week with Guy Maddin! What more could you ask for?

Last week, for four days Innis College hosted the famous Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. Maddin spoke about his influences and his home town of Winnipeg.

As well as his lectures and a roundtable talk there were free screenings of his films My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain with the man himself narrating.

People lined up every night hours before his lectures and stayed to hang out well after each event was officially over. Maddin signed copies of his book My Winnipeg, a book of stills, outtakes, family photos, emails, essays, animations, notebook pages and collages. The book includes the screenplay of the movie and an in-depth interview with Michael Ondaatje. It is also available with the DVD of the movie.

If you didn’t get a chance to pick up a copy of the book there are still some autographed books at the store.

Welcome to Book Events

Here’s something you may not know about the UofT Bookstore: in addition to selling clothing, stationery and of course books, we provide a free bookselling service for author events!

There are book-related events happening on campus almost every week. Professors and famous authors from around the world come to the university to share their latest works with students, colleagues and you.

Events can be lectures, readings, book signings, wine and cheese evenings, or a chance to meet your favorite author. Topics range from global warming to how to cook at home with your favorite chef.

At the most recent event Louisa Gilder, author of The Age of Entanglement talked about quantum physics and her friendship with Francis Ford Coppola. The filmmaker was so wowed by her book that he invited her to his villa in the Napa Valley so that they could talk quantum physics over wine.

This week, the 2009-2010 Program for the Arts, Pressures on the Human, and the University of Toronto Cinema Studies Institute are pleased to present Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. Guy Maddin’s book My Winnipeg offers a look inside the making of the movie and will be available for sale at the Innis Café before and after Maddin’s visit on Tuesday, January 12th at 7pm.

On January 29th from 3-4pm Professor Mount’s Literature for Our Time class hosts author Lynn Crosbie for An Hour of Talk and Conversation.

“Montreal-born Lynn Crosbie is the author of five books of poetry, including Queen Rat, Missing Children, and our featured work, Liar (Anansi, 2006), a confessional poem about the mother of all breakups. She is also the author of two controversial novels, Paul’s Case, based on the Bernardo-Homolka sex crimes, and Dorothy L’Amour, inspired by the murder of Playmate Dorothy Stratten. Crosbie writes the “Pop Rocks” column for the Globe and Mail.”

Be sure to check out these and other free upcoming events.

Where in the World Were Carnarvon and Senegambia?

Place names change for many reasons (Berlin, Ontario became Kitchener during the First World War for patriotic reasons; Peking became Beijing to reflect the official Chinese dialect) and while we still remember and use many of the old names, many more have become obscure or entirely forgotten.

In Whatever Happened to Tanganyika: The Place Names That History Left Behind, Harry Campbell reminds us of dozens of these names that now only pop up in stamp collections, old atlases, or in our memories: from countries that changed their names postcolonially (Ceylon, Belgian Congo) to places with similar names scattered across the globe (Guinea, Georgetown), adding bits of history, conjecture, and humour along the way.

This is a light-hearted but informative book that is a lot of fun to read.  Being a map addict for many years, some of these stories were already familiar to me, but Campbell has added a few new examples to my corpus of useless knowledge.  For example, I knew about Memel, but “Neutral Moresnet” between Germany and Belgium was new to me.

An old song asks, “Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.”  Campbell must agree, because Constantinople isn’t one of the place names he examines.  But there’s plenty of other great stories in this book, and with short chapters, it’s perfect to dive into at your leisure, and maybe impress your friends with the story behind The Islands of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins (maybe they’ve unknowlingly holidayed there).

* By the way, Carnarvon now goes by the Welsh spelling of Caernarfon, and Senegambia was, as you might expect, a combination of Senegal and Gambia, independent nations now, but tied together by geography and, for a brief period in the 1980s, politics.