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U.S. author Gary Shteyngart aggravates Canada’s literary insecurity

Gary Shteyngart. (Image: Gary Shteyngart/Facebook)

Gary Shteyngart. (Image: Gary Shteyngart/Facebook)

Can a country whose most celebrated living writer just won a Nobel Prize still be anxious about its literary chops? The answer, evidently, is yes. The proof is in Gary Shteyngart’s Twitter feed.

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The Weekender: North by Northeast, Russell Peters and six other items on our to-do list

1. NORTH BY NORTHEAST
The rock stars are coming, the rock stars are coming! This weeklong music fest, conference and film festival has a 780-band-strong lineup that includes the Flaming Lips, Matthew Good, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, Bad Religion and Bran Van 3000. This weekend, catch the Canadian premiere of
My Father and the Man in Black, a doc about filmmaker Jonathan Holiff’s dad—and Johnny Cash’s one-time manager—Saul (Friday); the Flaming Lips and friends at a free two-hour show at Yonge-Dundas Square (Saturday); and the oh-so-appropriate (and necessary) Hangover BBQ and Brunch (Sunday). To June 17. $25–$50 (events at Yonge-Dundas Square are free). Various locations, 416-863-6963, nxne.com.

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Luminato 2012 guide: 20 must-see events at this year’s arts festival

Einstein on the Beach (Image: courtesy of Luminato)

Luminato begins this Friday, and it can be a bit of a whirlwind. Everything from a Philip Glass opera about Einstein’s life to a gigantic food festival are on the card from June 8 to June 17, so both mind and body will be nourished. There’s even a huge cast of international guests coming through Toronto, like New York artist Terence Koh and New Yorker editor Deborah Treisman. But there’s so much to do, and we couldn’t possibly see everything, so we’ve created an easy-to-use guide that lists all of Luminato’s best bets.

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Today in Toronto: Pongapalooza, West Side Story and more

Baobab This version of a West African legend uses masks and puppetry to tell the story of a boy born from a baobab tree. The poor kid must find a way to end the drought that has plagued a local village. Remembering to turn off the tap after brushing seems like a snap in comparison. Ages four to eight. Find out more »

How to Disappear Completely Vancouver lighting designer Itai Erdal has created a documentary–style show about the last nine months of his mother’s life, which he recorded through photography and film after moving back to Israel to be with her. Find out more »

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Today in Toronto: New Orford String Quartet and The Book Lover’s Ball

New Orford String Quartet New Orford, made up of current and former principal players of the Montreal and Toronto symphony orchestras, revels in the rapidly changing moods of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15, a work that alternately dances and grieves, without ever losing its grip on a melody that so tugs at the heart. Find out more »

The Book Lover’s Ball
If you’re the kind of person who always waits for the lower-priced paperback or routinely scours bookstore remainder displays for deals, this glitzy black-tie gala might not be for you. If, however, you can see yourself ponying up the steep ticket price for the sake of charity and the chance to mingle with dozens of notable Canadian authors, then it may be time to pick out a tux or dress. All proceeds go to the Toronto Public Library Foundation. Find out more »

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VIDEO: Type Books brings magic back to the written word

As children, we often wondered what fun things happened when our bedroom door closed and adults went about their activities, and we were equally curious about what kind of magic happened at toy stores and department stores when the lights went out. With interest in physical media waning, local book purveyor Type Books put together a stop-motion video showing what happens when the bookshop closes. It’s nothing short of wonderful.

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Why three prominent Chinese-Canadian writers launched a $10-million plagiarism suit against Ling Zhang

A tale of death threats, tarnished reputations and literary jealousy

Something Borrowed

(Image: Daniel Ehrenworth)

The streets near Scarborough’s Confederation Park curve and loop in a vertiginous web. The neighbourhood was built in the 1970s—several blocks of low-lying split-levels and bungalows divided by neatly trimmed hedges and 20-foot pines. The 401 is just a few blocks away, but these houses are quiet and isolated, even prim. Ling Zhang lives here in a large mock Tudor. She answers the door on the first ring, a diminutive woman with full moon cheeks and a bashful smile. At 54, she wears her hair in a wispy, youthful updo and is dressed in a peacock-blue sundress, a simple cardigan and slippers. The house is immaculate. We pass through a large front hall with a formal dining and living room off either side. Matching white leather sofas sprawl across polished cherry floors. Everywhere I look, there are vases filled with flowers in pastel pink and white. They’re all fake, but the effect is cheerful.

In the kitchen, Zhang makes me a cup of tea. Her husband, Ken He, a slight man in a short-sleeved plaid shirt, pops in to say hello—but not much else. Zhang explains his English isn’t great. “Moving to Toronto was a big sacrifice for him,” she says. The couple met in Vancouver, at the church where Zhang, a born-again Christian, was baptized as an adult. They came to Toronto so Zhang could take a job at Scarborough General Hospital as an audiologist. Her husband, who was an ophthalmologist in China, now sells real estate to the GTA’s Chinese immigrant community.

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Today in Toronto: Memphis and Peter C. Newman

Memphis A fictionalized version of Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips—the man who put Elvis on the radio—is at the centre of this show about race relations and doomed love. Find out more »

Peter C. Newman He may be 82, but very little gets by this journalistic juggernaut. For decades, Newman has had his pen primed for just about every topic and trend related to business and politics. Find out more »

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Today in Toronto: International Festival of Authors, Name in Vain and more

International Festival of Authors As usual, the king of Canadian literary festivals goes big, with appearances from boldface names like Ondaatje, Coupland and Toews. Find out more »

Name in Vain (Decalogue Two) André Alexis will need the patience of Job for his latest mission: to write 10 plays, one for each of the 10 commandments. Find out more »

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THE SCENE: McClelland and Stewart launches its imprint, Signal, at the Munk School of Global Affairs

McClelland and Stewart’s first titles: Diplomacy in the Digital Age, edited by Janice Gross Stein; In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood; Arguably: Selected Essays by Christopher Hitchens; Damned Nations: Greed, Guns and Aid by War Child North America founder Samantha Nutt; and The Anatomy of Israel's Survival by Hirsh Goodman (Image: Angela Hickman)

McClelland and Stewart launched its new nonfiction imprint, Signal, on Wednesday night at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto to a collection of bookish personalities and dignitaries, including Sun TV’s Ezra Levant, Janice Gross Stein, Canadian ambassador to France Mark Lortie, Canada World Youth vice chairman of the board Colin Robertson, ambassador and inspiration for Diplomacy in the Digital Age Allan Gotlieb, M&S publisher and president Doug Pepper, authors Margaret MacMillan and Samantha Nutt and chairman of the Charles Taylor Foundation Noreen Taylor. Guests listened attentively as Pepper noted how the imprint will publish books that “tell both sides of the story and then give you the middle ground too.” He likened the books to a great dinner conversation: they’ll offer an argument and a counter-argument, inciting the reader to think and respond. Such a description only made it more appropriate for there to be food and drink—Sun TV’s Levant agreed, joking he was going to turn the evening into a wine tasting, since the outlook was so positive, with so much optimism about the future of book publishing. See who was rubbing elbows with who in our gallery after the jump.

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The List: 10 things former Governor General and author Adrienne Clarkson can’t live without

The List: Adrienne ClarksonThe List: Adrienne Clarkson1| My Filofax
I’ve had it for 26 years, and I’ve never mislaid it. I’ll always keep it, even though I’ve been told I need to have an iPhone 4 or something, which I don’t think I’ll ever understand.

The List: Adrienne Clarkson2| My earplugs
I travel a lot, and I find if I deprive myself of sound I can sleep anywhere. I like the silicon drugstore kind that children wear to go swimming.

The List: Adrienne Clarkson3| My Sony digital recorder
I love taking verbal notes and writing first drafts on my recorder. I can immediately send the file to somebody who will type it up.

4| My go-to bloom
Peonies remind me of my childhood. When I was Governor General, the Canadian Peony Society cloned a peony and named it after me. I think that was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me.

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Battle of the books: the 2011 Giller Prize shortlist revealed

The Giller Prize announced its short list earlier today, featuring six books by Canadian authors nominated for the $50,000 prize. The Giller began in 1994 and celebrates the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English across the country. The selection jury is comprised of Howard Norman, an award-winning novelist and recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Annabel Lyon, also an award-winning novelist and the author of The Golden Mean and All-Season Edie, and Andrew O’Hagan, Scottish-born author and winner of the Los Angeles Times prize for fiction in 2008. The jury was tasked with reading 143 novels before selecting the six books on the short list, and this year’s list includes novels by Michael Ondaatje as well as new writers Esi Edugyan and Patrick DeWitt. Check out the full list, after the jump.

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The Odds: which Canadian has the best shot of winning the 2011 Man Booker prize?

It’s that time of year again, and no, we don’t mean the lazy hazy crazy days of summer—we mean literary awards season. The long list for the Man Booker Prize was announced today, with three Canadians—including one Torontonian—vying for the top prize. The prestigious award—which lands the winner a whopping £50,000—is bestowed every year to a full-length novel written in English by a citizen of one of the Commonwealth nations (or, apparently, Ireland or Zimbabwe). Appearing alongside the three long-listed Canadians are top talents like Alan Hollinghurst, Julian Barnes and Sebastian Barry, chosen from a pool of 138 nominees.

We break down the Canadian contenders (and their odds) after the jump.

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In the ’60s, Marshall McLuhan was Toronto’s most famous intellectual; now, the world has finally caught up with him

In the ’60s,  McLuhan was hobnobbing with celebrities, advising politicians and forever changing how we think about mass media. A hundred years after his birth, the world has finally caught up with his theories

Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan. (Image: Robert Lansdale Photography/University of Toronto Archives)

Nineteen sixty-five was the turning point of Marshall McLuhan’s career—the Annus McLuhanis, the Year of Marshall Law, the heady, vertiginous breakout of McLuhan-mania. It was the year the irreverent journalist Tom Wolfe published a star-making profile of the Canadian media guru in the New York Herald Tribune that repeatedly asked, in Wolfe’s typically antic, hyperbolic way: what if he is right? “Suppose he is what he sounds like,” Wolfe wrote, “the most important thinker since Newton, Darwin, Freud, Einstein and Pavlov, studs of the intelligentsia game—suppose he is the oracle of the modern times?”

In the 40-odd years since Wolfe first posed this question, many others have asked it again and again. McLuhan was right about so many things. Browse his books, dip into any of the interviews he gave, and almost every probing, aphoristic utterance feels preternaturally prescient. Decades before doomsayers decried the Internet’s negative rewiring of the brain, he dramatically outlined the psychic, physical and social consequences: “One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.” He predicted the slow death of magazines and newspapers: “The monarchy of print has ended and an oligarchy of new media has usurped most of the power of that 500-year-old monarchy.” And he foresaw the rise of crowd-sourced news: “If we pay careful attention to the fact that the press is a mosaic, participant kind of organization and a do-it-yourself kind of world, we can see why it is so necessary to democratic government.” McLuhan anticipated reality TV long before it was a glimmer in the Survivor producer Mark Burnett’s eye: “I used to talk about the global village; I now speak of it more properly as the global theatre. Every kid is now concerned with acting. Doing his thing outside and raising a ruckus in a quest for identity.” When, in his bestselling book The Medium is the Massage, he wrote, “Wars, revolutions, civil uprisings are interfaces within the new environments created by electric informational media,” he could have been writing about how Twitter and Facebook shaped the Arab Spring. The world that McLuhan conjured is a world that now looks an awful lot like ours.

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Indigo hosts famous liar (and author) James Frey

Fans of James Frey—or those who are still getting angry (or crying) about the fact that their money was wasted purchasing dishonest non-fiction eight years ago—will be excited to know that the author will be discussing his new book, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, at the Manulife Centre’s Indigo tonight at 7 p.m. Heather Reisman, Indigo’s “chief book-lover,” will be in conversation with the author who made Oprah cry (not that this is unusual), and Frey will be on hand afterward to sign his book and talk to his fans and critics. Despite the graphic cover of his latest novel, we hope there won’t be blood.