Ongoing: Guardian article and spuds
Continued thanks to the many people who have sent me messages about my Guardian article on the shift from a reading culture to a writing culture, the diminishment of value placed on all labour and my perplexment therein. I am trying to respond to all the messages and tweets, but it may not be possible to thank all individually. If I miss you, I apologize.
There’s a number of responses to my article in blog form (I shall try to collate when I find time) and a critical response of it by a book publicist published on Bookbrunch and rewritten/edited and published on the Guardian Books Blog (likely unpaid, so I salute and thank the respondent Ruth for her labour writing it). It’s great to see debate. An important conversation about reading seems to have been prompted by my article, so I can now, if necessary, die happily obsolete, with un-pierced ears and an inability to bake.
As I reviewed books and wrote articles about literature in newspapers during the last 10 years I am all-too-painfully aware how space, word count and pay for literary criticism and journalism have been drastically reduced. However, this does not give us free reign to turn the entire process over to an unregistered charity status just because modes are changing. Yes we need to adapt to new media, new technology, but the principal of ethics and not even a fair wage, but some vague gesture of any compensation needs to be part of this adaption. It’s easy to be cavalier with other people’s labour. This applies to all sectors. This week there are reports of 11 month contracts, zero hour contracts and we find ourselves returned to the argument that Occupy raised about the 99%.
I am not anti-publicity, nor, as anyone who has seen me read will attest, am I remotely uncomfortable doing public events. I love to meet the public and do festivals and have been blessed by the warm embrace and invitations of many festival directors. (Thank you Hal Wake, Charlene Diehl, Wordstock, Jo Steffens, St Albert Literary Festival, Sara Cassidy, Brooklyn Book Fest, Dani Gill, Anne (Cork), Sirish Rao/ Laura/Indian Summer Festival, Words on the Water, Denman Island Readers & Writers Festival, Geoffrey Taylor, The Toronto Public Library, Trent University, SFU, UBC and more). I also share a warm working relationship with both my publicists the mighty Tara Murphy and patient, open-minded Henry in London. But this does not mean I should sit like a smug squirrel content, with her paws in the air, disconnect my critical faculty and not examine anything related to the aspects outlined in the essay that concern me. I have a responsibility as a writer to ask questions about reading and the place it occupies in our cultural life. As Sudeep Chakravarti said during our conversation at the Indian Summer launch when I discussed the dilemmas of raising critical questions/ engagement and the reverberations/consequences that can beset one it seems if you say anything contrary to the accepted prevailing view or status quo …. “That is the job of a writer, surely that is the life of a writer. That’s your job.“. I thank him for that wisdom because it certainly gave me courage. I will not shirk. Women writers need to take up space, including critical space and contribute. We have questions to ask and we will ask them. We have books to write and they will be written. Interrogation and critical thinking are included in the process. If I didn’t interrogate I never would have found the form of Malarky and these days I am very glad I did. (Through the long, lonely process it took to find it — I wrote three novels and regularly despaired, I often felt otherwise). How did I endure that despair ? It was certainly alleviated when I turned my attention to interrogating forgotten working class Vancouver novels and through the Rereading the Riot Act project I did with UNIT/PITT and working on Big Mamas Ridin High with Lori Weidenhammer and Leannej on our meta-piece Walkers. Generous, inspiring, wise collaborators. Together we interrogated and excavated.
This brings me back to the book I am currently reading by Thalia Field Bird lovers, Back Yard along with Mary Robison’s Why did I ever. Both works engage with the question as departure points and they are v appropriate to this particular time for me. Literature always provides.
New acquisitions to my library include:
Shake a paw by Gerry Gilbert (1996) A whole blog post will come eventually on this treasure.
Walking with the Comrades by Arundhati Roy
The Bunney Fluffs’ Moving Day (Ladybird. Moment of deep nostalgia and international postal service)
Diamond Grill by Fred Wah (For my son & I)
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (a gift for Grandma)
Des Kennedy’s memoir (another gift for Grandma)
Am I A Redundant Human Being? by Mela Hartwig
I confess all have been acquired in past two weeks. Book buying is my main contribution to the global economy.
I found 5 spuds to harvest in my community garden plot, but am convinced there have to be more. I like the 5 that grew. There’s nothing quite like digging up your own spud, or cooking it, until you realize it’s not cooked properly. Then it’s a pretty down home gummy crunch of a question mark?