Anakana Schofield – Award Winning Author of Bina, Martin John and Malarky

BINA, BINA, BINA is on her way to you

I am happy to report that my third novel BINA – A Novel in Warnings (Bina is pronounced BYE-NA not BEE-NA”)  will be published in Spring 2019.

I look forward to seeing many of you on the road and introducing you to Our Bina. Bina is a novel about a woman who has had eeenough!

I am very grateful for your continued readership and support.



Martin John en Québec

VLB éditeur have published MARTIN JOHN in French in Quèbec! The extraordinary translation was executed by genius Marie Frankland. Merci mille fois à Marie et Annie Goulet (editor) for their passion for language, exquisite attention to detail therein and for the massive amount of hours they put in. It was delightful and inspiring to collaborate with them. Merci aussi a Marie-Josée Martel (relationniste) for her hard work publicising the translation. I really love the cover of this edition. It is a very 1970’s orange.

I did several interviews in the francophone media. Deep gratitude to Manon Dumais of Le Devoir who interviewed me in Montreal and Valérie Lessard of Le Droit for this interview and piece which was published in Le Droit (Ottawa) and Le Soleil (Québec City) last month. I appreciated how thoughtful both journalists were and how they engaged in discussions about the form of the novel when considering the work.

« Le roman est entièrement conçu comme une boucle. Dans la maladie mentale comme dans les cas d’agressions sexuelles, les gens sont pris dans des cycles ; les prédateurs sexuels sont des récidivistes qui cèdent à l’urgence de leurs pulsions. C’était nécessaire que la forme corresponde aux difficiles questions philosophiques que je pose et auxquelles je ne veux pas répondre. Je veux amener le lecteur à affronter sur la page ce qu’il ne veut pas affronter dans la réalité »,

Merci aussi à Mille et un livres for your reading and writing of this piece. Much appreciated.



Updates, reviews, weather

I reviewed Chris Kraus’s Torpor for the Irish Times last week. The novel, her third, published in North America in 2006, has just been published in the UK. I admire Kraus’s body of work and humour and it must be strange to have previously published work reviewed anew. One point that was cut, due to space constraints, related to a reference to Romanian power cuts, which I found fascinating towards the end of the novel. Also, a handy metaphor for the long overdue power cut required in the marriage featured throughout Torpor.  My review is found here

Earlier in the year and last October 2016, I wrote two pieces for the LRB on the fentanyl crisis here in Vancouver. I probably should write another one to update the situation, which needless to say, has not abated and will not abate until we decriminalize drugs. The most obvious and urgently needed response is immediate funding and infrastructure to expand the script heroin program at Crosstown Clinic. Safe injection sites need to open across the country and all possible harm reduction measures immediately implemented. This is a National Health Crisis and our federal government have refused to declare it such because then they’d be legally obliged to save lives. My pieces are here and here

The Goldsmith Prize evening and reading event was great fun. The sausages they served made my Twitter Top 10 Snacks of the Year List. I cannot recall the number that sausage came in at. It’s really a hell of a lot of work to organize that prize and the events, so fair play to those we don’t see who make it happen. And to the jury because reading time is precious and lots of writers serve on juries and must inevitably have to read books (including mine) they’d rather not.  They also must meet and discuss and likewise this takes them from their own writing practice.

Thank you so much to the Republic of Consciousness Prize and all who supported it. I was delighted to be awarded the runner up prize for fiction for MARTIN JOHN. Congratulations to the winner John Keene and the other runner up Mike McCormack and Paul Stanbridge. I greatly admire Neil Griffiths, who set it up, and of course the various small press publishers it’s designed to acknowledge and financially reward for their underfunded, valiant efforts to bring our books to readers who, if it were only left to the mainstream, would never see them. This prize especially draws attention to the shifts in UK publishing. Larger Independent presses are actually conservative in the UK compared to here in Canada. Thus the word “Independent” needs careful deliberation before one draws overly cosy conclusions that it automatically means ambition.  Pas exactement! Naturally readers are our most powerful ally and influence in all these economic matters, because if you buy truly ambitious literary work it means we, as writers, can continue to write it by maybe eating the occasional boiled egg.

I was also blessed to visit Brown University and Fordham University in the US for events. The students were lively minded and had very engaging, probing questions. We ran out of time! I am so sorry not to have had more time to interact with the students and hear about their work and what they are reading.


And now to the weather…. We had the strangest weather event last night. All day the sun shone strong. By evening a wind storm developed, which blew me off my bicycle as I rode into it! That said it doesn’t take much to bounce me off my bike.  The storm involved a great amount of leaf whipping and the redistribution of massive amounts of building site dust since the entire city is still under the condo development juggernaut! All night long the gusts kept up. It’s rare to experience a summer weather wind storm.

Our winter was savagely long this past year. Today I ran into V on the street, a very charming neighbour, I haven’t seen for a long time. “If you wanted to come outside you had to do the flipper walk” she declared of this winter. Now though the city is laced in cyclists (many of whom were probably on the bike all winter because there are stoic cyclists in this city) and it’s a lovely experience to cycle about on the cycle lanes, even if you have few gears and if the wind rises you’ll be hopped asunder! I have loved the bike rides I’ve taken. They are temporarily exhilarating, no matter what the weather is doing. Especially because Vancouver is becoming such a challenging city financially for the poor to live in. It’s quite hideous the growing disparity and moon-bound rents. The bicycle, however, can transport.






I am presently doing events in the UK:

Tomorrow  30 May: I’ll be reading with Yuri Herrera at Burley Fisher Books,400 Kingsland Road, E8 4AA, London at 7pm.

1 June: Waterstones, Cork, Ireland. 6.30pm I am reading with Lisa McInerney & Pat Cotter.

3 June: Listowel Writers’ Week, Listowel, Ireland with Patrick deWitt 7.30pm.


Would like to sincerely thank Eimear McBride who very generously interviewed me last Thursday at The Book Hive in Norwich. It was one of my favourite events and discussions ever about MARTIN JOHN. Also, thanks to the Greenwich Book Festival this weekend, at which I did a splendid event with Alex Pheby and Andrew Harkinson, moderated by the excellent Susanna Rustin. The tour kicked off in Dublin at the International Literature Festival last Tuesday with a great event with Lucy Caldwell.  Thanks indeed to Selina Guinness, our moderator, for her very close & considered readings of both books. Much gratitude to these festivals & bookshops for inviting me & especially to the engaged and responsive audiences at all these events.

Martin John has landed in Holyhead and Dublin + That ankle + Bernhard’s lungs

Three matters upon which to rapidly tap here.

1) This is the finest deployment of a narrative ankle I’ve ever read. No surprise it’s Eileen Myles ankle in her first person piece “On the Excruciating Pain of Waiting for Love.”

“My natural state was so out of control that it had to be medicated almost to death and since I didn’t want to die I had nothing but this, running and sex. I would twist my ankle again and again.”

This ankle captures something so precisely. It captures how the brain does its own thing and how the body attempts to speak back to it or how we push the body to do so. It captures how a person might try to say, no fuck you brain you will not sink me because I am running away from you or is it toward you? Anyway it’s marvellous how that twisted ankle and running and rerunning on it manages to speak to and of humanity and how it is that humanity never entirely recovers from its own ankles.

2) MARTIN JOHN has arrived in Dublin via Holyhead.

John Self very thoughtfully reviewed Martin John in The Guardian. I appreciated his point about trolls and more besides.

The Sunday Telegraph had things to say about him too: Including cinq étoiles.

There’s very little that silences me but Eileen Battersby’s review of Martin John in The Irish Times has managed it. I am quite stunned by this review. My constant refrain inside my rust-inclined brain is that I just need smart readers. I don’t need big prize cheques, just smart, curious readers who engage with literature. I also need time to read and write. Time will come if the smart readers come and buy my books.  The exciting thing about this review * is it might bring some readers. It might bring readers because  … well read it and decide.

(* I realize the role of a critical review is to be an engaging piece of writing in its own right. Its role is not a sales pitch. That’s catalogue and back cover copy. But writers are equally nothing without readers and readers find writers sometimes through reading criticism. I certainly do)

3) To celebrate these reviews I am now going to read Thomas Bernhard’s Wittgenstein’s Nephew. I only recently discovered Bernhard when my friend visual artist/writer Marina Roy (Sign after the X) told me about him and gave me a copy of Extinction. Wittgenstein’s Nephew has to be the greatest literary vehicle ever for a set of lungs. A pulmonary classic!

Bernhard is so funny and grimly particular about the happiness in unhappiness and in this book, the disregarded literary potential in the thoracic. I read some lines in this novel, and even at this early stage of our reading relationship, think ONLY Bernhard could have written this.

“Like Paul, I woke up in a hospital bed on the Wilhelminenberg, almost totally destroyed through overrating myself and the world”

“..or at any rate I would certainly not be the person I am today, so mad and so unhappy, yet at the same time happy”

New Yorker review Martin John!

Merci Mille Fois New Yorker for this Briefly Noted. (Click to enlarge)0744_001

Books of the Year lists amid Madame Bovary weather


Overhead we’ve been in a Madame Bovary weather cycle for 4 days: We began with dreary (gloomy drizzle), we were scheduled for passion (high winds), but instead went straight to regret this morning (Heavy rain & filthy sky slumping down on the mountains) so I predict this weekend we will end this cycle with a weather version of passionate regret! (Wind with flying mud and slugs?)


Underneath the weather challenge, some very nifty inclusions of Martin John on Best Books of 2015 lists in newspapers and other medja.

To wit:

Martin John is No. 1 fiction pick in the Toronto Star’s Top 5 Fiction Books of the Year.

“The Toronto Star’s book reviewers read hundreds of books for our pages each year. So when it comes to choosing our top five books, we turn to them first. There was a wide range of books suggested this year — but the ones below are the ones that garnered the most votes each.

Martin John, Anakana Schofield

Anakana Schofield has hit the publishing world like a storm. This book was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize despite being about an uncomfortable subject: inside the mind of a sexual deviant. Still, our reviewers picked this as one of the top five of the year with comments such as: “Formally audacious and incisive writing that’s also got plenty of heart and quirk;” “admiring the stylistic and thematic risks Schofield has taken with it;” “a novel that mirrors its protagonist’s obsessive and deviant behavior in its elastic prose;” “a case study in mother-son drama where mental illness and an overbearing parent collide … A dark, comic and moving portrait of the guilt, pain and suffering of the mentally ill.”

Martin John is the No. 3 pick in the National Post’s NP99 The Best Books of the Year (includes a perky orange sketch where I have new eyebrows and a haircut)

3. Martin John, Anakana Schofield (Biblioasis, 282 pp; $20)
Schofield’s breakout second novel puts readers in unpleasant places, like the mind of the title character, a mentally unstable man who is a molester and subway masturbator. The power of the book lies in the author’s trust in the empathy of her readers. The funniest, and possibly darkest novel of the year.

Martin John included in Wall Street Journal’s 2015 “Year’s Best Fiction“.

Thank you to Sam Sacks who wrote “Of course, it’s not length alone that produces indelible reading experiences, and some of the year’s finest books succeeded through the poetic arts of compression and omission.Anakana Schofield brilliantly reproduces the obsessive mental landscape of a sex offender in “Martin John”…”

Martin John included in the Globe & Mail’s “Globe 100

Vancouver Sun’s Top 20 Books of the Year,

CBC Books Best Books of 2015,

Toronto’s NOW Magazine’s Top 10 Books of 2015,

Edmonton Journal’s 5 Most Memorable Reads of 2015

Largehearted Boy Favourite Novels of 2015.

Thrilled to sit beside these very strong & diverse novels. Also doubly thrilled because Malarky was one of Largehearted Boy’s favourite novels in 2012. Many thanks to David for continuing to read and support my work and maintain his excellent “music notes” platform.

“Anakana Schofield’s second novel Martin John is a profound, innovative, and poignant meditation on identity.”

Quill and Quire Books of the Year 

Pickle Me This Best Books of 2015

Thank you to all the reviewers & editors for so generously including my novel when there are many deserving works and thank you to anyone presently reading Martin John. I’m very grateful for the engagement, given how precious one’s reading time is.








Giller Prize snaps


With wonderful Cameron Bailey who presented Martin John


12246913_10153234588808683_2081590250302500518_n Samuel Archibald et Genevieve et Ernesto.

With Cúán, Rachel & Jessye. I love this picture because of our footwear!

With Cúán, Rachel & Jessye. I love this picture, in part because of our footwear!


Next post will include the snack report!



In which I contemplate why it might be awkward if I had met or were to meet Beckett & speculate on Rosa Luxemburg and milk

I will soon be appearing at 2 events at IFOA in Toronto. In anticipation of these events and the festival (which is an inspired and wonderful affair that this year features a focus on Catalan writers and poetry) I answered some questions and plumbed some philosophical quandaries and questions of milk consumption.

5 Questions and Answers for IFOA.


IFOA: Your anticipated second novel, Martin John, expands on a character from your first novel, Malarky. Why did you decide to delve deeper into the character of Beirut?

© Tom Delamere

Anakana Schofield: A conflation of circumstances led to this. The first was the cheeky insertion for pure devilment of a single footnote in Malarky that read “See Martin John – a footnote novel” not knowing whether or not I’d ever actually write that novel. I had material that I’d chucked out of Malarky, which initially was a parallel narrative of two mothers and sons.

Then came an urgency to respond to the plethora of reports of clerical sexual abuse during recent years, which I felt left me with no choice but to address some aspect of deviancy, somehow, in fiction.

I guess in both examples “response” was the impetus.

In Malarky, the Beirut/Martin John we met is an endearing man. In Martin John, Martin John has become something other. He departed or reversed (since we met him older in Malarky) very far from where we started with him.

IFOA: In addition to fiction, you also write essays and literary criticism. How are these different forms of writing connected?

Schofield: I’m a reader before I am a writer. My thinking on literature and reading towards what it is I want to write are very much informed by reading and writing criticism. I’m also over interested in very random topics, so essays and the blogs, which I pen for the London Review of Books, help me explore these curiosities. I’m fortunate to have editors who encourage and support my rambles.

IFOA: Your website lists reading, the weather, bird flu and labour history as some of your preoccupations. How do these interests inspire your writing?

Schofield: I suppose they are four quarters of a whole. Basically I have a hearty appetite for what most would consider entirely redundant information. There’s very little that I’m not curious about.

IFOA: If you could meet any author, living or dead, whom would it be?

Schofield, Martin JohnSchofield: I think Rosa Luxemburg. I would like to discuss her cold baths, high consumption of milk and fury with that printer in Paris described in her letters. Then we’d progress to the spindle statistics in Poland and she could educate me on Marxist matters. But mostly it’s the milk that intrigues me. Nietzsche went heavy on the milk. I haven’t checked, but did they both have bad acne?

I think one should be careful of meeting one’s heroes; they may disappoint and sadly are not the only person who ever understood you. They can be tired, short tempered and bad mannered. Apart from the ones who are lovely. All are best met on the page methinks.

For example, if I met Beckett, we would sit next to each other beside a coal shed on uncomfortable chairs and discuss the weather and possibly sigh a great deal. Essentially I don’t need to meet him because I’m perpetually sighing a great deal and have seen plenty coal sheds. Also he’d smoke, which would make me cough, then he’d offer me whiskey and my left kidney wouldn’t like that. It could be very awkward for us.

IFOA: What is the best compliment a reader can give you about your work?

Schofield: To read it or attempt to read it or to read widely. I’ve a few favourite readers: one wrote me a lovely email that said she was going for a walk to think about Our Woman. Another is Bill in Ohio and he took to Google Maps and did all kinds of additional research to understand Malarky. I also rather enjoy the very angry man who wrote invoking the mafia, hookers and my mother in one line. I’m quite acquainted with some of my readers through social media and they are splendidly intelligent, jovial and patiently answer my random queries on things like bad foot pain and weather reports.

Martin John SHORTLISTED for Giller Prize

I was not asleep.

I was awake and walking about trying to get a flu shot. That’s an early flu shot because I very much need to get vaccinated because I am travelling about so much on little sleep until November.

I had decided not to watch any live stream of any book prize announcement since it feels a bit too much like going to the Stocks. I had instructed the teen to take it up with Google and report as needs be.

As I was failing to find an early flu shot at this early hour, the Teen gallantly phoned me to emit a tirade of complaint against the poor web functionality of various literary media sources. He was expounding on how technologically useless such outfits were and was much more interested in assessing the web technicalities of how they were conducting themselves than paying any heed to the matter in question. He concluded his tirade with “if you are wondering why I have no update or information whatsoever that is the reason why”. I joined him by fermenting on my failure to secure a flu shot at one outlet but that I was now marching on in search of other possibilities.

I was precisely by the VGH ER dept when I learned by phone from a friend that my book had been selected for the Giller Prize shortlist. Where are you? She asked. I am trying and failing to get a flu shot.

Today really was some day for a single day and I am deeply grateful for the extraordinary messages of support and kindness that have been flying my way all day long. I don’t quite know what I have done to deserve such outpourings of kindness and celebration and may well be undeserving, but I’ll take it.

What a great longlist, what a great shortlist. You’re only as good as those you nest beside. And that for me includes a long continuum of writers, some of whom may be forgotten, some of whom were insufficiently acknowledged, but all of whom were read by someone, somewhere, including me. And that’s the entire point of literature. That it’s be read and contemplated. So thank you to anyone who reads and contemplates my work or any writer’s work for that matter. Books give way to books the way sentences give way or respond to sentences.

In that spirit, I took to the bed a la Proust with a glass of hot port to help my husky voice and books by Lisa Robertson and Vivian Gornick along with the telephone, which rang and rang and all was well. By night to celebrate, my son and I took a walk by the sea, ate Thai rice & looked at pictures of cats on Reddit who poke their tongues out.

Happy Days.



Martin John nominated for Giller Prize long list –

I was asleep.

Even though it was 8.30 I was asleep.

I was asleep because in the middle of the night I awoke to, what I understood was, an attempted robbery of a sewer pipe from the repair taking place outside my apartment building. Since I’ve been anticipating the ground opening and getting a confirmed peek at precisely how our sewer system looks (I’d notions of a giant Dickensian/Victorian type series of tunnels. Alas, no. Closer to IKEA than Dickens) I had a certain investment in the pipes not being robbed. Leapt from the bed, barefooted it to the balcony, ready to bellow at the robber. I could hear a noisy, ceramic dragging sound. My defence of the lack of an attempted robbery on the sewer pipe at 4am explains why I was fast asleep when apparently it seems the rest of literary Canada was wide awake.

A text arrived from a friend that read




What longlist?


There followed a great deal of donging type notifications on my phone and before I could really comprehend anything my teenage son sent a series of frantic texts about his forgotten school  timetable on the kitchen table and urged me to take a picture of it. Take a picture and text it to me. I could not figure out the camera but took a picture. More texts. Where’s the picture? There was some technical interference as though Pluto was lowering a giraffe between our phone signals and this took some time before I could figure out the 83 notification messages.

The gist of the story is

“Scotiabank Giller Prize jury delivers surprising longlist”

The reason my phone was hopping is because by some strange stroke of a miracle, Martin John is on it. Summarized very well here by Steven Beattie.

“The big winner here, among publishers, is Biblioasis, with three titles represented. The press has been longlisted before, but never quite so robustly, and always for story collections – Kathy Page’s Paradise & Elsewhere in 2014; Clark Blaise’s The Meagre Tarmac in 2011, and Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting in 2010. Light Lifting went on to make the shortlist that year; MacLeod is on the jury for this year’s prize.

Schofield’s nomination is a bit of a coup for the Windsor, Ontario, press: not only is it the first time they have had a work of long-form fiction appear on a Giller list, they managed it with a novel that is highly stylized, narrated from the disturbed, fractured perspective of a sexual deviant. The book is a bold departure from Schofield’s debut, 2012’s First Novel Award winner, Malarky.”

The official announcement including all 12 longlisted titles from a diverse and bold and funny bunch of writers that include Patrick deWitt, Heather O’Neill, Alix Hawley, André Alexis, Marina Endicott and others is found here.


My son and I went to the hairdressers to celebrate. I bought a Vivian Gornick book to celebrate and he scored $9 of pistachios.

I have decided that my spot on this list will be the unofficial universal shared spot, which means it’s shared symbolically by any writer who ever wrote a challenging literary work that they assumed would be the undoing of them and basically had no hope of ever getting on any such list. So there’s a field full of writers sharing it with me. It’s the wireless spot if you like. Maybe you are one of them. Happy Days.

Thank you for all the lovely messages and the warm support. It was a very tough novel to write.

Merci beaucoup. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

See you on the road over the coming months.


Martin John on Globe & Mail 20 Most Anticipated Books you’ll be reading and talking about for the rest of the year list

Merciful hour! What a surprising thing to see Martin John, my impending novel (Sept 15), on this list, in the mighty company of such remarkable writers, especially women writers, like Elena Ferrante, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Atwood, Kate Beaton and rock star almighty Patti Smith. On a list with Patti Smith!

Many books will be published this Fall/Autumn in many languages, in many countries and likewise I share anticipation as a reader who’ll discover new work and engage with it and add to my ever increasing cabbage of reading.


We counted every hour of every day that it did not rain. We had moved to Stage 3 Water Restrictions last Monday. I heard this Niveau Trois news on Radio-Canada French news, while in a ferry queue. Never in all the time I’ve lived here, have I been so acutely aware of the lack of rain, need for rain, and the drought, that was also accompanied by a mad volume of forest fires that torched our province and Saskatchewan during June and July. (More fires in June alone than the entire fire season of 2014)

So, not unlike Kennedy’s death for Americans, I know exactly where I was when this much desired rain started. I was here. 5 paces from this sea, indoors.


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And this what what I was doing when the rain fell.


Dancers Dancing

Last week, Vancouver enjoyed one of my favourite annual festivals in the city Indian Summer Fest. Look at all these splendid human beings dancing. These photos snapped by this very weak photographer on a dying, ancient cellphone testify to two different events. The opening gala, with an electro tabla (sp?) and bhangra DJ set, and the closing event, which celebrated Bombay’s Jazz History through the entry point of Naresh Fernandes book on this history titled Taj Mahal Foxtrot. For the party, DJ Anjali busted out the bhangra tunes.

At the closing event, the young fella in blue had the most extraordinary dance moves, straight out of a Bollywood film. We were very taken with him. Aradhana Seth (who conducted a very fun photography project/ installation as part of the festival) alerted me to his greatness. He told me he was from Lahore, Pakistan and I told him I ate the best eggs of my life in Karachi and his friend of 20 years said things that I now forget because I was so busy telling both of them about those poached eggs. The man in the red or pink coat is our pal Anil, who has the best outfits at Indian Summer Fest each year without fail.

Indian Summer Fest also had a unique event which saw Helen Potrebenko’s novel Taxi! brought home to the city, which was remarkable. More on that to come.

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Muggy drought

We are in, not a weather episode or event, but perhaps have entered a whole new weather dimension. It’s a bit early to tell, but warmer sea temperatures in the Eastern Pacific are, apparently, from what I have read, creating it. We are living what I am calling Muggy Drought. In June we had 14 drops of rain and the temperature was and is hot. Hot by our standards.

For the first two weeks of the month, it was that reassuring azure blue sky that hints at itself each spring and firms her presence and stakes the overhead canopy for summer. For me, it’s an annual demarcation. There she is. That absolute azure. Welcome home! This is our weather. But this June, weeks later, with no sign of any typical moisture, you cannot help but marvel at this protracted azure, yet she’s not the absolute azure. Because the absolute azure takes the odd nap up there and allows for more intermission and mingle. I recall this from my time at the community garden, where your day would be measured by the need and pressure to water the seeds. A day with rain due would mean, phew, I don’t have to water this once.

I’ve been meaning to track this particular system, which has now become, in my mind, perhaps prematurely, a worrying way of weather life we may have to adjust to. It certainly does look that way this summer. The evenings have been quite lovely with very exciting cloud activity, perhaps to meander around staring up at.

Two days ago a detectable change. Humidity. Worse. Humidity is so uncomfortable. Humidity does not suit us. We are not and do not have air conditioning. Air conditioning is such a drain on electrical resources. We do have forest fires. Already fires are burning in Prince George. There have been 123 fires since April 1 in the Yukon. Last year throughout the entire year there were only 23. There are presently 80 fires burning.

While we have the privilege of pondering the possible implications or hints at what this new hot, humid, moisture-less weather may mean for us if it continues, Pakistan has been suffering the most oppressive and vicious heat wave that has taken the lives of 1200 people.  The descriptions of the temperatures are horrific, 43 degrees celsius.

The BBC report contained the following: “They say low air pressure, high humidity and an unusually absent wind played key roles in making the heat unbearable but they do not know why such conditions prevailed at this time of the year.”

You can read the whole report, which notes 2000-3000 deaths in India also, here




Olga Grjasnowa: All Russians Love Birch Trees

My lovely pal Greg sent me Olga Grjasnowa’s novel All Russians Love Birch Trees (Other Press) this week. The novel is translated by Eva Bacon & I greatly admire Ms Bacon’s translation of the original German text and Olga’s novel. The novel is funny and crisp and an insightful, subtle social commentary.

Here are a few snips I enjoyed while walking and reading in the sunshine today:

“The patient died yesterday, we’re finishing off his last cigarettes”


“But my professor was my professor. He sponsored foster children in Africa and India. His multiculturalism took place in congress halls, convention centres and expensive hotels. To him integration meant demanding fewer hijabs and more skin, hunting for exclusive wines and exotic travel destinations.”


“On my third day in Germany I went to school and was promptly demoted two grades. Instead of practicing Algebra I was supposed to colour mandalas with crayons.”

O’Hagan on Bellow’s biography

Over at the LRB, Andrew O’Hagan has written a review on The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-64 by Zachary Leader.

“Bellow had a dark talent for making relationships disagreeable. He disported himself with friends the way one might with enemies, and often, in these years, he appears riddled with enmity, paranoid, full of doubts about loyalty and fears of rivalry.”

“If he hadn’t possessed such a sublime way with metaphor, one might struggle to ignore the fact that he was probably the biggest pain in the arse in the history of American letters

“‘What matters,’ Bellow wrote to Peltz when he complained of being used, is that good things get written …”

I’d like to take issue with Bellow’s assertion to his friend Peltz as it’s such a complete crock of shite and sadly very much the excuse many asshole artists (& beyond) employ to be similarly indulged and excused for being plate glass arses.

Beckett wrote “good things” certainly far superior things to anything Bellow wrote. He did not behave like a total asshole in the process. His letters and biography attest to this fact. Far more important than “good things get written” is treating your fellow human being with some modicum of respect and dignity. For that will follow you just as deeply into the grave as any stack of books you leave behind you.

I think it’s safe to say that Bellow has present day successors and current, active competition vying for the position of “biggest pain in the arse in letters”.

Eduardo Galeano

“Many political writers don’t seem to understand that everything is possible as a subject: a fly buzzing in the air, a lighter, a window, the sound of footsteps. The most important thing is a point of view: Where are you placed? From which point of view are your eyes seeing? From which point of view will you tell us what you are feeling, or what you think? In some ways, Upside Down is a political book; in other ways, it’s not. But one must be careful when discussing these matters. It’s easy to disqualify a writer or an artist, by saying, “Oh, but he’s political.” It’s like saying it’s shit.”


“Open Veins is now considered a classic in Latin America. How many copies have been sold?

I don’t care about that.

Writers tend to care about the sales of their books.

It’s enough that I earn a living as a writer. It’s honest work. I don’t do it to get rich. There are certain things I need to say. But I don’t care about how many books I sell, or where they are on the bestseller lists. I don’t give a damn.”


An old interview in The Atlantic from 2000 with the late Eduardo Galeano read the rest here

This is what happens after you die

MOSAIC publishes weekly features on science and medicine. I particularly appreciated this one by Moheb Costandi.

WARNING: This is not for the faint of heart who don’t have an active, interrogative interest in this subject!

“Most of us would rather not think about what happens to our bodies after death. But that breakdown gives birth to new life in unexpected ways, writes Moheb Costandi. ”

Click here to read entire piece.




Sheep, Finland, & Gay Nietzsche

It would appear that the future of understanding and perhaps thwarting mental decline lies with the help of Sheep. (Proper noun henceforth due their services to humans) This is contrary to the conventional wisdom that sheep are passive creatures of no exceptional use beyond mutton & knitting. Pas vrai!

This study in BRAIN A Journal of Neurology points out that:

With their large brains and long lives, sheep offer significant advantages for translational studies of human disease. Here we used normal and CLN5 Batten disease affected sheep to demonstrate the use of the species for studying neurological function in a model of human disease. We show that electroencephalography can be used in sheep, and that longitudinal recordings spanning many months are possible.”

Scroll down the section marked Surgery for truly great sheep-head surgical descriptions.

The sheep, New Zealand sheep, were shipped in by air. Electrodes were fitted into their brains and necks (?) and they were fitted with a jacket “that carried a paediatric ambulatory EEG amplifier” to record data.

Note: Unlike grouchy, post-op humans who require pain meds, tea and toast: “Sheep recovered well from surgery. Within a few minutes from the end of anaesthesia sheep were eating and within an hour they were standing up.”

They were studied for a number of things one of which was sleep deficit. They were discovered to have five states of vigilance.

This was my favourite sentence (bolded below) in this, obscure but none the less riveting study: “Sheep are ruminants and so spend a significant amount of time chewing previously ingested and regurgitated food. They ruminate when free from threat and almost exclusively while seated.”

You are very welcome. I know your day is made having read this news about SHEEP.



Want to get sober: go to Finland not AA perhaps (or both if unable to get there by tomorrow). This Atlantic piece raises engaging questions.


And finally for varied reading from 2002 New York Times:

Is there a gay basis to Nietzsche’s ideas? by Edward Rothstein can be read here




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