EVERYONE’S A CRITIC
Like Mr. Alexis (“The Long Decline,” July/August), I have been disappointed by the near-extinction of Canadian book review sections and the sorry state of Canadian literary criticism. But I think the reasons are simple: money and laziness.
Newspaper sections are supported by ads. Book sections’ traditional advertisers, publishers and bookstores, are going broke. As a result, many papers have entered the race to the bottom, featuring sensationally bad books and salacious tidbits about authors’ lives to maintain their readership numbers.
Their contributors are also at fault. Writing good reviews and criticism is hard work; banging out gossip and personal asides are not. In 1947, C.S. Lewis, in his gem The Abolition of Man, denounced the “trousered apes” whose judgments were determined by their sentiments, and whose sentiments were ultimately determined by the contents of their breakfasts and the states of their bowels. Seems the trousered apes won.
New York, NY
“No one directs films like Orson Welles anymore, and the films of Judd Apatow are too thinly plotted. Therefore, movies today suck.” Such is the illogic of Alexis’s piece: “No one today is Northrop Frye, and the Globe and Star book sections have thinned out. Therefore, there is no decent criticism in Canada anymore.” The problem with this argument is it ignores the lesser-knowns. Welles is gone; Guy Maddin is not. By the same token, Northrop Frye is gone, but Bruce Meyer and Sina Queyras remain (and Atwood, by the way, has published a hell of a lot of criticism since Survival). If newspaper reviews fail to satisfy, read Geist, Open Letter, or Lemon Hound. There remain solid gems beneath the surface.
Peter Webb (online)
If anything, the host of impassioned, thoughtful responses to Andre Alexis’s @walrusmagazine essay [“The Long Decline”] are giving me hope for CanCrit.
the high life
A lifetime ago, John Schram (“Where Ghana Went Right,” July/August) and I grew up together in London, Ontario. His dad was a doctor, and their family lived in a big house; my mother was a nurse, single-parenting four kids, and we lived in a small one. But John and I were both involved in student government, and he was a nice guy. He once took me to lunch at the Toronto Hunt club.
After graduating from Western in ’63, I went to Ghana to teach high school. When I returned home in ’65, I heard that John had gone to Ghana for a master of African studies and was actually living in residence at Legon. I gave my head a shake; life at the university would be eye opening for him—and I hoped he liked fiery food!
Forty years later, my youngest son and my wife were travelling through Africa. I’d read that John had recently been appointed ambassador to Zimbabwe, so I contacted him. (Thank heaven for email; in my day, it took three days to put through a call from Accra to London, Ontario.) He and his wife responded immediately, and the exchange was delightful.
Yesterday morning, I opened my copy of The Walrus and discovered John’s funny, compassionate, and astute analysis of Ghana’s fifty years since independence. Golly, I thought, only one thing could make this day better. It did: that afternoon, Ghana defeated the US at the World Cup.
Diane (Davis) MacKenzie
Bigger question from @walrusmagazine on Marc Mayer: why is he doing curators’ jobs when he should be fixing @gallerydotca’s budgetary mess?
John Macfarlane’s Editor’s Note (July/August) rightfully sings the praises of English-language Canadian writers who have won high-profile literary prizes. But Canadian French-language writers have been winning these accolades for years. To your list of Canada’s distinguished writers in English, permit me to add Gabrielle Roy (Prix Fémina, 1947), Marie-Claire Blais (Prix Médicis, 1966), Antonine Maillet (Prix Goncourt, 1979), Anne Hébert (Prix Fémina, 1982), Nancy Huston (Prix Fémina, 2006), and Dany Laferrière (Prix Médicis, 2009). This abbreviated list includes writers from Alberta, Manitoba, and New Brunswick, in addition to Quebec, plus a political refugee from Haiti. Not a bad national representation.
St. Catharines, ON
I mustn’t squander my precious time and freedom. Tomorrow I shall superglue a $100 bill to the sidewalk outside @walrusmagazine, for laughs.
In “Firewater” (July/August 2010), Sismondo and Beggs write that “there are many more incidences of fetal alcohol syndrome on reserves than in the general population.” However, the US cdc found that college-educated women with annual household incomes of more than $40,000 were most at risk for alcohol use during pregnancy in America. In Canada, researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children found that pregnant women who engaged in binge drinking were, among other things, more likely to be white. Yet white, middle-class women are under-represented in pregnancy alcohol testing. fasd is yet another damaging myth about First Nations peoples.
Co-facilitator, fasd Caregiver Support Group
No reasonable person would think of the man depicted on the cover of the July/August issue—shown reading a book on the grass, a bottle of wine at his side—as a criminal. Yet in Ontario, outdoor consumption of alcoholic beverages is permitted only in licensed areas surrounded by a fence. To drink a glass of wine on a sunny hillside will almost certainly attract the attention of the police. I don’t know if the promotion of malfeasance is itself a crime, but if it is watch out for the opp.
This appeared in the October 2010 issue.