Summer is almost over. Now what?

The countdown has begun. There are 5 weeks until The Word on the Street.

Every year, just before September, we get very excited here at The U of T Bookstore. It’s ‘back to school’ and the store is busier than ever but it’s also the start of the fall book season. New and exciting books start coming in and there’s more to read then ever.  So where do you start? How about the line up at The Word on the Street?

Each year I eagerly anticipate the list of authors who will be attending The Word on the Street. It’s like Christmas in summer for me. Who will be the festival sweetheart this year? Who will attract line ups around the park? It’s hard to predict all this but you have to start somewhere so I choose the wacky and wonderful author Tony Burgess to read. Burgess’ last book, Pontypool Changes Everything was a Canadian zombie bestseller. It explored our obsessions with zombies and epidemics. It was made into both a motion picture and a radio play.

Burgess’ newest book, Idaho Winter is a bizarre story of a young boy who nobody likes because there is no reason to. He lives in filth and his parents hate him more than anyone else. But there is one person who does not hate Idaho and she is the lovely Madison Beach. We are introduced to the world of Idaho Winter by an intrusive narrator who asks us, the reader to extend our empathy for this hated boy. But how can we help this little boy who is hated by everyone except for an innocent little girl? Perhaps little Idaho will just have to help himself?

This book immediately caught my attention from the beautiful cover to the quirky opening Chapter. And once I started to learn more about Idaho and his bizarre world of hateful people, the more I couldn’t put this book down. I’ll have to admit I haven’t read Pontypool Changes Everything because I’ve heard so much about it and its corresponding movie that I feel like I already know the entire story. But after reading Idaho Winter I’m going to have to investigate this Tony Burgess a little more closely. I can’t wait to meet him at The Word on the Street and get my copy of his newest book signed!

Happy New Year!

Most of our student readers are getting back into the swing of things but for those of you who don’t have a list of books a mile long (and even if you do) here are a couple of book recommendations for the New Year.

Tom Rachman’s Imperfectionists has received many excellent reviews since it first appeared on bookstore shelves in the spring of 2010. Rachman’s first novel has been described as “hilarious and heart-wrenching” by Christopher Buckley. And now the book is available in a slim paperback edition. I decided to read what all the fuss was about and found myself sucked into the world of Lloyd Burko and his coworkers at the unnamed English-language newspaper based in Rome. But be warned, this novel is not to be taken lightly. Each character has his (or her) own chapter in the book that is interwoven with their fellow coworker’s narrative to reveal the larger story. If you plan to attend the event with Tom Rachman on January 13th at Innis Town Hall I recommend you read the book before going.

One book I was hoping to receive for Christmas (people never give me books anymore) was Charles Burns’ newest graphic novel, X’ed Out. I was introduced to Charles Burns in an English class, of all places, and was torn between the feelings of sheer terror and awe. Ever since then I have been waiting for something new by Mr. Burns and here it is. This time around I was prepared for the freaky story line and the bizarre visuals. And as always with Mr. Burns, I am left with the resounding question: “What does it all mean?”


In light of that very serious question, here is an amazing video from The New Yorker’s Book Bench. (I believe books can save my life but perhaps not in this way.)


Massey Lecture

For the first time ever the Massey Lecture will be based on a novel. The novelist is none other then Douglas Coupland. Coupland will be delivering his lectures in 5 Canadian cities in what will culminate in a 5 hour lecture.

Coupland will be in Toronto at Convocation Hall on October 29th to deliver the last of his 5 lectures.

After reading Player One I can safety say that this lecture will be something else – what that something is I can hardly wait for.

Douglas Coupland is a fascinating person. He is a writer, an artist, the latest Roots designer and a Canadian celebrity, to say the least. The New York Times recently showcased his home in their Home & Garden section, letting readers get a closer look inside this famous Canadian’s psyche. I was personally impressed with his private collection of art featured throughout his gorgeous house.

Douglas Coupland’s first book, Generation X wowed and impressed his readers so much that after nearly 10 years it is still  being talked about and was featured as one of the Canada Reads this past year. And in those 10 years Coupland has not slowed down. He has written more then 20 works, including fiction, non-fiction and screenplays. But it is Coupland’s latest book that everyone is talking about.

Player One was launched at Massey College on September 28th where Coupland spoke to a very excited group of people. If you’re looking for an autographed copy of Player One we still may have a few on our signed books wall. Or better yet, come out to the Massey Lecture on October 29th to listen to the lecture and get your copy signed and personalized by Mr. Coupland himself.

Player One reminds me of a modern, apocalyptic “No Exit”. The characters are stereotypes of modern societies most common weaknesses. Rich, the bartender, with his lingering alcohol abuse problems suffers from low self-esteem. Karen, the single mom has flown to Toronto from the Praries to meet a man. Rachel, who is my favorite character, is the beautiful wierdo. And then there’s the priest who has his fair of issues as well. But who or what is Player One? This all-seeing narrator is the most perplexing part of this story and even though I am a book person I feel a need for the cliff notes on this one. And I guess that’s what the Massey Lecture is for – so Coupland can tell me what it all means.

The Review: Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Alan Moore and Curt Swan

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Alan Moore and Curt Swan
DC Comics, 128 pp

Reviewed by University of Toronto Bookstore Staff, James Bell

Soon students will be returning to university campuses across the country in pursuit of degrees in English literature, and some of them will be taking courses dedicated to a subject that not many years ago wasn’t acknowledged as appropriate for study, let alone a serious art form.  In fact, being caught reading it would have been an embarrassment, a sign that the student hadn’t outgrown childish pursuits, and indicative of a level of immaturity that would have called into serious question whether the student should even be attending an institute of higher learning.  Cries of “Nerd!” or “Geek!” would have rained down upon them without mercy or apology.

Professors and their students will say they’re studying graphic novels, but often they’re really reading comic books.  The “graphic novel” rose out of the comic book tradition, but as a designation it has a complicated history.  It is often a term used to add a patina of respectability to a story that is clearly a comic.  Chris Wares’ Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a graphic novel, and so is Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: they were written as complete stories, meant for the form in which they exist.  Dave Sim’s Cerebus “phone book” compilations are collected comic books.  So is Watchmen, the comic book that everyone loves, as long as they can call it a graphic novel and elevate it to the status of “literature”, because then it’s safe to study it in a way that’s still not possible with mere comic books.

Let me state unequivocally that I’m a huge fan of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and that it was a revelation to me when I read it at age 15 in 1986–month by month, eagerly awaiting the release of the next issue.  That’s how I read it, and I still have every issue, prized possessions amongst more than a thousand other comic books (pared down to just the essentials from close to two thousand–some comics, after all, don’t stand the test of time).  It’s because I read so many superhero comics that Watchmen means so much to me: the themes, rituals, and cliches of the superhero comic were embedded deep within me, just as they were with Moore himself, so that his deconstruction of them was, for me, a coming-of-age that marked a passage from childish pleasures to adult understanding.  I often wonder how much people who never grew up reading superhero comics can appreciate Watchmen or, when I’m being more generous, how their appreciation of it differs from mine.

But that sublime story, almost twenty-five years old (has it really been that long? Am I really that old?) has overshadowed the other work Moore has done in comics over the years, and people should understand that however much of an innovator and iconoclast Moore has been, most of his work has been within the comic book medium.  And as much as he was capable of writing extended story lines that played out over years in comic books like Swamp Thing and Miracleman (both of which I will proselytize about given even the slightest encouragement, so beware) he was also great at writing concise, brilliant single issues of a mere twenty pages.

“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” is an example (this compilation includes that story as well as two stand-alone stories written by Moore).  For reasons too complicated to go into here, but in part due to the seismic changes taking place in comic books thanks to creators like Frank Miller and Moore himself, in the mid-1980s Superman, the literal grandfather of all superheroes, was facing an overhaul.  A new creative team would be taking over, introducing changes in an attempt to make Superman more “relevant”.  Superman, unleashed on the world in 1938, had a lot of history, and the new team would be scrapping much of it and starting with a clean slate.  Thankfully, someone at DC Comics had the brilliant idea of revisiting that soon-to-be-dismissed history one last time, and the even more brilliant idea of allowing Alan Moore to write it.

Moore perfectly encapsulates the history of an icon, his friends, and his enemies, stories that had played out month-by-month for almost fifty years, in less than sixty pages.  He allows the reader to revisit the characters who had become so familiar, so much a part of our lives, in a way that honours the past, and yet acknowledges the changes to come.  The reader is surrounded by the markers of more innocent times while witnessing their destruction.  The genius of Alan Moore is that, given the opportunity to revel in the past, to lose himself and his readers in youthful nostalgia, he also finds a way to speak to very adult concerns.  Moore doesn’t transcend the genre of comic books; he elevates it by his presence.  And that’s why students will be studying his work this semester, and for years to come.  Watchmen may be the pinnacle of Moore’s career, but perhaps some brave professor will add Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? to the reading list.

Buy Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow Now!

The Review: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Volume 6), Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Volume 6)
by Bryan Lee O’Malley
ISBN: 9781934964385
Oni Press

Reviewed by U of T Bookstore Staff, Aleks Wrobel

Scott Pilgrim is 23 years old, is in a band called Sex Bob-omb with his friends Kim Pine and Stephen Stills, and has a rating of ‘awesome’. Scott also must defeat the seven evil exes of the beautiful Ramona Flowers in order to win her heart.

Scott’s story starts in 2004 with Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (Volume 1). Readers were introduced to Scott and all the members of his precious life and immediately fell in love with the Canadian loser. Fans couldn’t wait for the next volumes, and the independent comic book artist and writer Bryan Lee O’Malley suddenly became a local celebrity. Even Hollywood took notice and Scott Pilgrim finally met the world on the big screen this summer. Scott Pilgrim vs the World directed by Edgar Wright and starring Michael Cera, opened on August 13th and was one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer.

Except for the occasional battle with an evil ex, not much happens to Scott. O’Malley wrote the first Scott Pilgrim book as a joke for his friends, creating characters that were 20-something-year-old stereotypes, and put them in a familiar setting: Toronto. Scott’s sister works at Second Cup, midnight cravings are satisfied at Pizza Pizza and the gang’s favorite hang out is Sneaky Dee’s. Toronto fans immediately recognized the world that O’Malley writes about as their own. However, this world is a nerd’s paradise. Each battle with an ex borrows heavily from the video game format. There are ninjas, robots and a vegan with psychic powers. Scott collects lives, points and tips on how to win the girl.

In Volume 6 Scott has defeated almost all of the evil exes. The only one left is the one that really matters: Gideon Graves. Unfortunately, when we find Scott in Volume 6, he’s lost the will to do anything that doesn’t include moping around his apartment. In Volume 5, Ramona disappeared right before his eyes and no one has seen her in months. It’s difficult to talk about the books without giving too much away and Volume 6 is the most important volume of the series as evidenced by the nearly 2,000 die-hard fans who flooded the street at a local comic book shop’s midnight release party. On all the summer reading lists for 2010, fans will be excited to know that Scott does get off his rear end and confronts his issues, the results of which are ultimately satisfying for the reader. Volume 6 gives us fight scenes that are better than ever and there’s enough relationship drama to keep things interesting. O’Malley knows what his fans want and does a good job of giving it to them. Each Pilgrim book depicts the life of the millennial loser-turned-hero. And everyone needs a good hero, even if he is in a band.

Buy Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Volume 6) Now!