The Human Side of War: Andrew Iarocci, Jack Granatstein, Thomas Weber, Denis Smyth – Nov 4th

All Proceeds from Ticket Sales Got to Restoration of The Soldiers' Tower

Four great Military Historians/Authors Read and Talk About The Human Side of War

In honour of Remembrance Day, University of Toronto Bookstore will honour the students, staff and faculty who were part of WWI and WWII by featuring four well known Canadian military authors Thursday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m. 

The event’s prominent Military Authors and Historians will read from their books, sign autographs and discuss the emotional and physical impact of war on soldiers, family friends and the community, especially in WWI and WWII.  Jack Granatstein will be discussing The Oxford Companion to Canadian Military History, Andrew Iarocci will be reading from his book, The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914 – 1915, Thomas Weber will read from his new book, Hitler’s First War and Denis Smyth will read the amazing story, Deadly Deception: The Real Story Behind Operation Mincemeat. Images and artifacts from the Soldiers’ Tower about the U of T Alumni will be on display.

 

EVENT DETAILS:

WHAT: The Human Side of War Reading Series Event

WHERE: Great Hall, University of Toronto Bookstore, 214 College Street, Toronto, ON, M5T 3A1

WHEN: Thursday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m.  (Doors open at 6pm)

TICKETS: $15 for general admission and includes coffee and tea.  All proceeds from ticket sales go to The University of Toronto Soldiers’ Tower Visit www.uoftbookstore.com/soldiers-tower or call 416-640-5829 for tickets.

 

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
9781401227319
DC Comics, 128 pp
$17.99

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
$12.44

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!

The Review: The Breakwater House, Pascale Quiviger

The Breakwater House

Book Review: Breakwater House, Pascale Quiviger

Book Review: Breakwater House, Pascale Quiviger

by Pascale Quiviger
House of Anansi
978-0-88784-230-6
$22.95

Reviewed by U of T Staff, James Bell

I’ve always been attracted to the fantastic in my reading: the realism of Little House on the Prairie or even the escapist but grounded-in-reality Hardy Boys are not for me.  First comic books, then science fiction and fantasy, and later Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic realism and the surreal landscapes of Richard Brautigan captured my imagination.  I would have loved to have a mother like Aurore in The Breakwater House, who doesn’t know from where she herself came, and so tells her daughter tall tales about her origins.

Suzanne, an upper middle class Parisian, gives birth to Claire.  Five days later Lucie is born to Aurore, a shopgirl who struggles to make ends meet.  In the park where their mothers take them in their strollers, and at school, the girls form a lifelong bond that bridges their class differences as well as the reticence of their mothers.  Claire’s mother is proper and reserved, Lucie’s mother flighty and bohemian, but even they come to understand and appreciate each other through the medium of their daughters’ unflinching devotion.

Aurore, an orphan, invents a family history for Lucie, who develops an artistic soul and her own talent for storytelling; Claire, as constant companion to Lucie, is exposed to Aurore’s stories as well.  In one tale, Aurore ascribes Lucie’s red hair to her Irish Canadian grandmother, a free spirit who seems to converse with nature, appears in more than one place at the same time, has picked up French without being taught, and is the soul survivor of a family mistrusted for their suspected congregation with the devil.  As Lucie grows older, however, she begins to tire of her mother’s stories, longing to hear one morsel of truth from her.  Instead, on Lucie’s fifteenth birthday, her mother tells her one last story, as fantastic as any she’s told before, and then leaves forever.  This departure marks a new beginning for Lucie, who moves in with Claire and her family.

The novel actually opens with a long sequence in which an unnamed woman finds a remote beach house near the town of Breakwater, a house with no electricity, no phone, but a wonderful garden and an old woman who answers the knock on her gate with just two words: “of course.”  She buys the house impulsively, but when she moves in odd things begin happening: time seems to pass differently in the house, the path from the town to the beach vanishes, and a little girl named Odysee appears.  Is this like one of Aurore’s fantastic stories, the hallucinations of a troubled mind, or do ghosts really exist?

Quiviger ties the different threads of the narrative together masterfully, while creating memorable characters both real and imagined.  Five strong women are brought to life with poetic prose that is a pleasure to read.  The Breakwater House reminds me of D.M. Thomas’ The White Hotel, because of its storylines that gradually converge to illuminate the novel’s opening, a setting in which the reader is dropped unprepared and uninformed.  Follow the story to its conclusion, which brings you back to the beginning, and you’ll be rewarded.
Pascale Quiviger’s first novel, The Perfect Circle, was shortlisted for the 2006 Giller Prize and won the Governor General’s Literary Award.

Buy The Breakwater House now!

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!