Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Don’t let it Make you Thoughtful: Two Letters to Internet Strangers

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The following concerns this National Post article by the usually well-considered Barbara Kay. It’s sort of a follow-up article derived from a flippant comment Kay made about Lisa Moore’s new novel February. The buzz in said comment came from Kay’s assertion that February was “unreadably Canadian”, an assertion she later admitted to proving by not actually reading it.

Now, any intelligent person could stare deep into the soul of a phrase like “unreadably Canadian” and see it for what it is: the kind of blanket statement that distracts you with its flippancy and stretch just long enough for you to not immediately notice that it’s meaningless. It would appear from the article that Kay kind of gets this. She seems a little sheepish over the fact that she got caught committing an inexcusable book-critic evil, commenting on something she never actually read, but she counters that small matter with a series of increasingly flamboyant proclamations about what’s wrong with Canadian literature. Of course, nobody has offered an original criticism of CanLit in thirty years, so I’d argue that you don’t really need to read it any more than Kay needed to read February. Her points are what you think they are. She makes some good ones, sure, but they’re the same ones you hear every time someone makes this argument

But I want to talk, instead, about that dark, furniture-deprived corner of the Canadian media mansion, that joyless scrub of wasteland that is The National Post’s online comment community. Whenever I feel a little too confident that we, as a species, are thoughtful and evolved creatures with a tendency towards compassion and understanding, I like to visit the comments section of any major arts story on thenationalpost.com (or thestar.com, or theglobandmail.com) and take myself down a couple notches. And Kay’s magnificent blunder has brought the best of the bad. I recommend taking a wander through first the article (but just skim it, I’m sure whatever two-word opinion you have of it is accurate and doesn’t need the scrutiny of a full read) and then the comment section. And then come back here and join me for some replies to a couple internet strangers. I want to leave Kay out of it because it’s sometimes Barbara Kay’s job to say ridiculous things. She has said a number of really smart things in her time, and I think she more than understands how epically she screwed this up. As always in public discourse, what matters is the mob.

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IainGFoulds writes: “... If I choose to be a writer, it is my own responsibility. I would not want working Canadians to be forced to finance government prizes or grants.”

Dear Iain,

I’d like to thank you for being the very first person to weigh-in on this. I also appreciate you bringing up the money element, which is something that the comments written after major newspapers’ literature stories always do with a keen and reliable agility.

I like that you are a man who appreciates personal responsibility, as I am this kind of man also. I’m wondering what you mean by “working Canadians”? Are you suggesting that only certain industries are based around work? I guess I agree. I’m unsure if the financial sector employs many working Canadians, but maybe I’m biased against that sector, I don’t want to be insulting if that’s what you do. I agree that writers should have to make sacrifices in the name of pursuing what they love. Have you done this as well, in your own career? A person can make $160,000 cleaning sewers in this world, and they don’t require advanced education. How much do you make, Iain? If it’s less than $160,000, then why are you doing it? If you are (heaven forbid) befallen by some misfortune, and need to rely on your nation for support, why would you expect the rest of us to support your chosen preferences of work and lifestyle? You could have been in the sewers this whole time, being more responsible.

-jmmooney

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Rectificatif writes “The overwhelming selection by the feminist publishing industry is of females trained by academic feminists and of males who are properly feminized.”

Dear Rec,

Zing! I’m not going to ask you if you’ve read Moore’s book because it’s apparently “not your thing,” as we say. But if you did, you might like it for the same reason I did, the character named John. John is the owner of the longest and most nuanced character arc in the novel, and he is neither an academic, a feminist, feminine, feminized, or proper. Rectificatif, I’m unsure from your post if you’re a man or a woman, but let me pretend for a moment that you’re a man.

I consider myself something of a dude. I write poems, I know, but I also watch too much sports and drink too much beer and despite my new Toronto address, am still essentially a redneck from the East Coast. I still call an F to M transgendered person things like “Ma’am.” I’m working to stop myself, but it’s hard. And stuff like what you wrote embarrasses the shit out of me. I know what you’re suggesting: Women control the publishing industry. And while I don’t think this is true, it doesn’t even need to be a massive simplification to be dishonest and even treacherous. What does it mean to be “properly feminized”? If I, as a dude, am affected in both emotional and intellectual ways by a female author’s story concerning some female characters, written in long sentences that include words like “haunting,” am I being feminized? What if I read the first several chapters in between innings at a Blue Jays/Yankees game (I did)? Novels are devices made to entertain thoughtful people. Why do all your petty sarcasms smell like greed and anger?

-jmmooney

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It was my original intention to do more of these, but I’ve been going for awhile now and I don’t want to turn this into more than it needs to be. If you read the comments section, you’ll see that most of the concurring opinions are variations on the two themes selected above (writers and publishers and lazy, writers and publishers and lazy and have ovaries) with a healthy supply of counterarguments thrown in. Of course, none of these people are Barbara Kay, and her column is full of good points that maybe would be harder for me to mock in this blog post. So I take back what I said about not reading it. You should read it. Go, read the whole thing, and leave a comment of your own, either at the National Post or here in the spaces below.

And stay manly, Toronto. Whoever you are, stay manly…
-Jake.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney is the author of the acclaimed collection of poems The New Layman’s Almanac (McClelland & Stewart, 2008) as well as an upcoming second collection from the same publisher.

Go to Jacob McArthur Mooney’s Author Page