Margaret Sweatman

Standing next to the fireplace in the Hart House Library, Margaret Sweatman read from her book The Players on Thursday, February 11th. Although she sounded like she was suffering from a cold she still gave her characters distinct voices.

The Players is a novel set in 17th century Restoration England. It follows Lily Cole, the 16 year old mistress of King Charles II, on a journey to Canada to find the Northwest Passage to China. But this is no normal historical fiction. The Globe and Mail calls Sweatman’s book “far grittier and realistic than the period pieces you’ll see on TV or at the Movie theatre.”

Sometimes when it gets to the Q & A portion of an event the audience typically falls silent but this night the audience was full of English students and many interesting topics were brought up. Margaret Sweatman who teaches literature and creative writing gave insight into her writing process and offered advice for new writers.

For more information about Margaret Sweatman check out www.margaretsweatman.com

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Get ready for Reading Week!

April may be the cruelest month but February doesn’t have to be. Why not go to a book event?

Check out twitter.com/uoftbookevents for more information on UofT Bookstore events.

This week Professor Jonathan Culler gives a series of lectures at University College. Look for the University of Toronto Bookstore table and expand your literary theory library. Professor Culler’s smallest and most popular book, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction gives you that first step you need to better understand the relationship between literature and culture.

Also this week, Margaret Sweatman will be giving a reading from her new book The Players at Hart House Library. She is hosted by the Hart House Literary &  Library Committee on Thursday, February 11th at 6:30pm.

Margaret Sweatman is not only a poet and writer but she recently came out with a CD called Phenomenological Love Songs.

The Review: Collections of Nothing, William Davies King

The Review:  Collections of Nothing, William Davies KingCollections of Nothing
William Davies King
University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 978-0-226-43701-9
$13.71

Reviewed by University of Toronto Bookstore Staff, James Bell

I’ve collected various things over the years: comic books, CDs, stamps, baseball cards.  The first two I would classify as useful items (I read every comic, listened to every CD), while the last two were extravagances, mere symbols of things that interested me (history, art, sport).  Comics and CDs took over much of my discretionary income for large periods of my life, but I wouldn’t say that they ever became obsessions–I rarely paid more than face value for a comic book, for example, and few of them made it into mylar protective bags.

William Davies King rarely paid a dime for the things he collected, because they were nothing anyone else wanted.  Cereal boxes, pieces of tooled metal, envelope liners, stickers from fruit, business cards–these items and many others, detritus from our consumer culture, make up the bulk of King’s collection of nothing (a Seinfeldesque nothing, meaning everything).  What he collected is only part of the story of Collections of Nothing, a fascinating and poignant memoir of an extraordinary–though populated by the extra ordinary and banal items that we touch every day without thought–life of a fifty-something professor, father, husband, and yes, collector.

“Collecting is a way of linking past, present, and future.  Objects for the past get collected in the present to preserve them for the future,” writes King, who takes the reader into his own past in an attempt to explain why he collects in the present, while remaining uncertain of his future, and the future of his collection.  As the book closes, he’s about to move to a new house, and must contemplate moving his collection, leading him to wonder if his children will want it–they say they do, they say they’ve begun to understand the collection, but he’s not sure. 

While King shares an acquisitiveness reminiscent of stories we’ve read about hoarders who fill their houses with newspapers, he’s more akin to Henry Darger, the janitor whose lifelong project/novel/art was revealed to the world only at the end of his life.  King can argue that his collections are art, that he has functioned as a curator, the subject being life in the second half of the twentieth century, specifically his own life and the goods, packaging, and discarded bits that surrounded him in a society inundated with stuff.  He has the academic credentials to back him up: Scholar of the House in his senior year at Yale, university professor and later Chair of his department, published author.  But apart from rare occasions, he hasn’t shown his collection to others, hasn’t made a career or a life out of his art, but in spite of it.  “Why, I wonder, do I create objects that I presume others won’t want to see?  Self-hatred shouts out in this,” he writes, “or guilt.  And it’s all rather beautiful.”  It’s not normal behaviour to have kept the labels from hundreds of different brands of bottled water, as King has, and he’s aware of it, but he also knows that “I’ve got something here, an entity, in these collections of nothing, though the entity cannot stand alone. . . I have to be there with it for it to be something other than an enigma.  My impulse to write about the collections responds to that need for me to be present, like a father, but also to my need to let them go, like a father.”  Writing this book, revealing his collections, is King’s way of coming to terms with the difficulties of his life–an abusive, later institutionalized sister, the loneliness of being sent away to school at thirteen, never to live with his family again, the breakdown of his marriage.  This is the real heart of the book, where King conveys how collections of nothing became something, and sometimes everything.

Buy Collections of Nothing, William Davies King Now!

The Review: Portobello, Ruth Rendell

Portobello
By Ruth RendellThe Review:  Portobello, Ruth Rendell
ISBN: 978-1-4000-2550-3
Random House
$10.99

Reviewed by University of  Toronto Press Staff, Andrea-Jo Wilson

Lacking the menace a casual mystery reader would associate with the genre, Ruth Rendell’s latest novel, Portobello,  nonetheless builds a formidable atmosphere of suspense, as the lives of a few are impacted by the seemingly innocuous discovery of a small sum of money found lying around London’s busy Portobello Road.

Preferring the whydunit to the whodunit, Rendell relies on the uncertainties of human behavior and not a masked villain to provide the necessary drama. “Like his mind,” she says of her main character, “his house in Chepstow Villas held many secret drawers and locked boxes.”

Famous for her Inspector Wexford mysteries set in the fictious small town of Kingsmarkham, Rendell’s talent has always been her eye for detail and finely drawn character studies. The author of over 40 novels, in addition to 11 more under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, Rendell is as famous in Britain for her obsessions (vegetarianism, punctuality) as she is here for her best selling novels.

The characters that inhabit Portobello are a believable mix of quirky and mundane, their sugar-free candy addictions, time management skills and interior decor  preferences keenly drawn, although none are as lucid as Rendell’s preferred foil, the city of London. Neither hero nor villain, Rendell’s London is prepared to take the long view and so bears the vagaries of human behavior and fate with an empathetic smile. “Some say the Pubs are to be renamed because no one knows who the Earl of Lonsdale was, still fewer the Prince Bonaparte, and those wanting change favour that cliché name the Slug and the Lettuce. But there are always rumours, and mostly they come to nothing.”

Buy Portobello, Ruth Rendell Now!

The Review: Angel Time, Anne Rice

Angel Time
By Anne RiceThe Review:  Angel Time, Anne Rice
ISBN: 978-0-676-97808-7
Random House
$35.00

Reviewed by University of Toronto Bookstore Staff, Ceri Nelmes

In Angel Time, Anne Rice moves beyond the despairingly dark vampires, witches, and beauty protagonists that we’ve come to expect from her and portrays a deeply troubled and soulless contract assassin named Toby O’Dare.  In the first half of the novel, Toby is forced to reinvent himself after his abysmal teenagehood comes abruptly to a tragic halt.  Unknowingly searching for a purpose, love, and acceptance, Toby finds a Father Figure – something he’s never had before.  When injustice strikes Toby initiates a protective battle for what is right, commits the ultimate sin, and soon becomes a contract assassin.

Before the end of the first half of the book a skeptical Toby meets a seraph, Malchiah, who has a mission for him.  After the angel convinces him that he is a messenger from God, Toby’s work transforms into a quest to save lives instead of end them.  His first task is to save a 13th Century Jewish couple accused of ritual murder. In order to do so he is transported back in time by Angel Time and must attempt to end conflict in the town of Norwich.

Part two is a struggle for rightness in a cast of would-be martyrs . The landscape in England surrounds an accused “sinner” couple who are choked by thorns of religious difference and familial expectations.  Fluria and Muir are accused of a child’s ritual murder which, in an attempt to find justice, creates a tumultuous and festering witch hunt.  Enter the town Friar, the lawman, the woman and her child who have brought forth the accusations, the loving-but-zealous Grandfather, and numerous other characters who believe that what they are doing what is right.

Toby grows while he watches beautiful yet equally festered humanity play out. Almost all of the main characters lie to suit their purpose and, surprisingly, we are left somewhat relieved. The puritanical go against everything they believe in and lie when put on trial in order to save lives.  Seeing this, Toby struggles with his former self and the demons that continually beat him. He forgives himself, just as he was righteously forgiven by God, proving that one good deed vanquishes all of your past deeds as long as you are genuine in your request.

The events during Toby’s perilous mission affect his own tangled web of emotions.  Toby’s childhood, choice of career, and the resulting struggle is heart wrenching. Although he embodies the traits of a stereotypical killer, we sympathize with him despite ourselves because we know how addiction and selfishness stole his childhood.

Buy Anne Rice’s Angel Time Now!

The Review:Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey
By Jasper FfordeThe Review:  Shades of Grey, Jasper Fford
978-0-670-01963-2
Penguin
$32.50

Reviewed by University of Toronto Bookstore Staff, Aleks Wrobel

Eddie Russett is a Red. He lives and will one day gladly die by the Rules of Chromatacia. He lives in a Colortocracy where Purples are highly respected and Greys are often ignored. All people, regardless of color, work for the betterment of the Collective and receive merits for good behavior. Merits can be used for privileges but a loss of merits will send any color to re-education at Reboot. Eddie Russett seems to be enjoying living by the Rules and even has plans to marry up in color until he learns what no amount of merits can buy you: the truth.

It all starts in Vermillion where Eddie and his father have stopped for the night on their way to East Carmine. Eddie’s father, a swatchman (one who heals with colors), is being sent to replace the recently dead Mr. Ochre. Eddie is on assignment for a “Humility Realignment” in which he must complete a chair census. Their stay promises to be a delightfully uneventful experience until a strange man posing to be a Purple dies in the arms of the Russett men. Eddie fills out the appropriate feedback forms, but is still perplexed by this death.  In Chromatacia death is never unexpected: there are Rules to follow and every color knows when it is their time to go to the Green Room.

Jasper Fforde’s story takes place 700 years after the Something-that-Happened which has wiped out the Previous and much of the world’s population of spoons. Like most post-apocalyptic stories, “Shades of Grey” describes a world not unlike our own. Although the story can be difficult to get into because of its complex and seemingly absurd Rules and color hierarchy, you can’t help but follow Eddie through his conscious awakening. His inquisitive nature and bending of the Rules earns him the name of “running with scissors” and even after his father warns him of the risks of independent thinking Eddie continues to ask questions even if it costs him all the merit points that he has accumulated. Jasper Fforde describes “writing without risks as not writing at all.” In the same way he writes about life without risks as no life at all.

Once you become acclimatized to the colored world “Shades of Grey” is an engaging read, in fact, once Eddie truly opens his eyes it’s hard to put this book down. Although, most post-apocalyptic stories are quite predictable this one is so bizarrely hilarious with no apparent “happy ending” that you can’t help but want to find out what happens next. This book not only questions the way we see things but makes you laugh in the process.

Jasper Fforde’s website,  is a great place to visit while reading this book for a “Who’s-Who” and a “What’s-What.” Check out the Bestiary section with illustrations of animals from Chromatacia. And in the Gallery you will find pictures of people proudly holding their spoons.

Buy Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde Now!

The Review: Holding Still for as Long as Possible, Zoe Whittall

Holding Still for as Long as Possible
The Review:  Holding Still for as Long as Possible, Zoe WhittallBy Zoe Whitall
978-0-88784-234-4
Harper Collins
$29.95
Reviewed by University of Toronto Bookstore Staff, Anne Burbidge

It’s hard to conceive of a more dramatic story line than that of a year in the life of a young paramedic in Toronto.  In Holding Still for as Long as Possible, Zoe Whittall follows in the great footsteps of Vincent Lam and writes about the journey of medical professionals in Canada. Lam’s Giller Prize winning Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, is a collection of inter-related stories about the lives of doctors, many of which are also set in Toronto. Whittall takes this kind of fiction — complete with medical jargon — one step further and examines themes of love, loss and death.

 Just as she did in her very successful first novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, Whittall creates characters who are both memorable as fictional beings, but who are also very real in their responses to challenges. In order to deal with his relationship issues, Josh, a gifted paramedic and transsexual, relies on texting on his cell phone to weather all manner of storms.  Amy, a filmmaker and Josh’s longtime date, uses email to reconnect with a lost love and her bike to find a measure of freedom.

Reading about and beginning to understand the drama faced by paramedics is enlightening and, as Whittall observes, many of our “petty” problems are put into perspective. She argues that producing art is also a “fight against. . . death”, a fight that is perhaps as important as the job of first responders. This creativity also can provide comic relief as in the case of former teen pop starlet Billy’s songwriting ability (“My Little Pony Ran Away”.) Along the way, plot lines take us to cultural hubs like 401 Richmond Street West and “that bookstore” on Harbord.  Like a seasoned paramedic of the soul, Whittall cares for the vitality of her readers in an incomparably fearless fashion.

Buy Holding Still for as Long as Possible Now!