Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Emil Sher's blog

A Loss for Words

Sometimes, a passing comment sticks like a burr. Recently, I bumped into Ralph and his dog as I was walking mine. Ralph’s son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter had visited from out of town. It was the first visit since Ralph had lost his young grandson, one of those one-in-a-million long shots where a child succumbs to a virus that turns deadly. For the family that is the one in the one-in-a-million statistics dissolve in the face of unspeakable sorrow. Ralph noted that there is no word for a parent who loses a child. We speak of widows and orphans but do certain losses elude the grasp of language?

Kickstarting an Idea

The ideas in “The 9th Annual Year in Ideas” from the New York Times Magazine range from the inspiring (“The Advertisement that Watches You” decrying domestic violence) to the practical (“The Kitchen Sink That Puts Out Fires”). For the unpublished, the unproduced, the unsung, one idea is a happy blend of both. Kickstarter is a website that is inspiring because it is so practical.

“At Kickstarter,” author Clive Thompson writes, “creative types post a description of a project they want to do, how much money they need for it and a deadline. If enough people pledge money that the artists reach (or surpass) their financial goals, then everyone is billed, paying in advance as you would for a magazine subscription. For goals that aren’t reached, nobody is charged.

Holden Caulfield Pays Tribute to J.D. Salinger

Given the opportunity, I would have written a heartfelt homage to J.D. Salinger, as others have. But then I received the following and immediately thought, "This is how it should be done." This is a writer (I couldn't find the source) who responded to the call of duty with the best tool at our disposal: our imagination.

Bunch Of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger

January 28, 2010

Child's Play

In the course of one week this month I delivered the third draft of a play about wrongful convictions and the first draft of a handful of poems for children. The play, Conviction, is for Studio 180, a company that has gained a reputation for staging dynamic works that probe political and social issues. The poems — all about ocean-faring vessels — are for Chirp, the “See and Do, Laugh and Learn” magazine recommended for children ages 3 – 6. And so it is that, on any given morning, I might find myself in the company of a beleaguered man accused of sexually assaulting his 4-year old niece and with a droopy-eyed tugboat by the afternoon.

Cutting Paul Quarrington Down to Size

It is said that Phil Spector, the infamous producer of over 25 Top-Forty hits during the 1960s, found the title for one of his best-selling songs (No.1 in 1958) on his father’s gravestone: To Know Him is To Love Him. Like many in the arts community, I mourned the loss of Paul Quarrington, who was as versatile a writer as they come: novelist, screenwriter, playwright, author, songwriter (and musician, to boot). I didn’t know Paul well but knew him well enough to offer a spin on Spector’s song title: to edit him is to know him.

Windows within Windows

Our daily routine begins between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. and lasts about half an hour. We take a familiar route through empty neighbourhood streets, the comforting silence part of the early-morning rhythm. Despite the incessant tugging at his leash — there is precious little in our dog’s life that doesn’t warrant a sniff — there is something meditative about walking a dog, even when the walk includes a boulevard as busy as Danforth Avenue. Our stretch of the Danforth includes two bookstores, and to gaze into a bookstore window is to remove oneself, however fleetingly, from the here-and-now, to ponder an alternative world, time or place.

The Book of Ruth

Earlier this month, Ruth McBride Jordan passed away at her home in Ewing, New Jersey at the age of 88. It is tempting to say the unconventional path she tread is the stuff of fiction but, in truth, it is the backbone of an acclaimed work of non-fiction. Although she is not an author, Jordan can lay claim to half of the narrative that is The Color of Water, James McBride’s tribute to his white mother.


There is a scene in Julie & Julia (based on the book of the same name) where Julia Child is considering variations of a title for what would become a seminal cookbook. Her editor, Judith Jones, takes the task very seriously. Child, at least as she’s portrayed by Meryl Streep, doesn’t seem terribly concerned, as if to say, “It’s only a title.” Jones knew better, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking would grace the cover of Childs’s classic through countless printings.

How Does it End?

Years ago, an author (I believe it was Russell Banks) recounted a conversation he had had with another author (it might have been Joyce Carol Oates). When Joyce heard Russell had begun to write a new novel, she asked: “Have you written the ending yet?” Apparently, Ms. Oates knows how a book will end while she’s still crafting the beginning. The gist of the story isn’t about specific authors (I may be wrong on both counts)as it is about a specific truth: many a storyteller weaves a story’s end while the threads of the story lay in a tangled heap at her feet.

The Ugly Side of Haiti

The images are apocalyptic, the destruction almost too great to fathom. It is telling that our immediate terms of reference are often Hollywood films. “It’s just like a movie,” we say in the wake of the hell that is Haiti. The before-and-after photographs of the collapsed Presidential Palace — the second floor a missing wedding-cake tier — conjure up images of computer-generated special effects: now you see it, now you don’t.

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