There’s an old saying that goes something like “In Hamilton, there are two seasons: Winter, and construction.” Well, we’re pretty far into winter, and we think it’s a good time to celebrate!

Winter in the Hammer is a charming time. The pier transforms into a skating rink; the local waterfalls take on a magnificent aura; there’s tobogganing around every corner (shh, I think this is still illegal in the city…). It’s really quite lovely.

But, it’s also cold. Really, really cold. Especially if you’re around the wind tunnel that is Main St. And it’s usually fairly icy. Of course, by “icy”, I mean a solid layer of ice covered by a few solid inches of snow. That part of Winter in the Hammer isn’t quite as pleasant.

That’s why February is the perfect time for Winterfest! Put on by Tourism Hamilton, Winterfest 2017 is a celebration of the city of Hamilton and the beauty of the season. With events taking place all over the city, from Pier 8 to the Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology and everywhere in between, there’s something for everyone!

Here are four reasons to attend Winterfest:

Enough hibernation

It’s been a relatively tame winter, as far as Hamilton is concerned. But, still, it’s only natural to spend some time hibernating in your warm houses with your Netflix (or, in our case, a great book!) and hot chocolate. But spring is almost here, and it’s time to show winter that we’re not going to be afraid of it any longer! So, strap on your boots, wrap up your scarf, and head down to one of the many awesome events happening throughout the city.

Community

For those of you paying attention to Hamilton recently, the city has undergone a renaissance of sorts. The responsible party? The incredible community we’ve established here. Whether you’re an artist, a scientist, an entrepreneur, a student, or a tourist, this event, much like the city, has something for you. Hamilton is an experience unlike any other, so it’s time to get out there and experience it!

Beauty

For years, Hamilton was known as the Steel City (among other, slightly more offensive nicknames). Recently, however, that moniker has started to be replaced with something along the lines of “Art is the New Steel”. James St. N, Ottawa St., and Locke St. are all cultural hubs that come to mind when one thinks of Hamilton. Beautiful shops, art galleries, fantastic restaurants, and more now define Hamilton. Couple this culture with the beauty of the natural landscape, and you have the recipe for a city that’s worth celebrating.

Heather O’Neill

Time for a shameless pitch: As part of Winterfest, gritLIT is hosting a night dedicated to the literary arts that has a little something for everyone. Writer? Come try your hand at our flash fiction contest, which will be judged by award-winning authors Gary Barwin and Marnie Woodrow! Poet? Or, perhaps, a writer that isn’t too fond of competition? Take part in our Haiku station! Not really a writer but want to check it out anyways? Well, we also have a trivia station! Plus, we’ll be officially announcing the gritLIT 2017 author lineup!

Above all else, though, we have a special surprise in store for all you avid CanLit readers and lovers of the written word out there: Award-winning author Heather O’Neill (The Girl Who Was Saturday Night; Lullabies for Little Criminals; Daydream of Angels) will be doing a special reading from her brand new book, The Lonely Hearts Hotel!

Winter Tales is on Thursday, February 9th from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at The Staircase Theatre on Dundurn St. Tickets to the event are $10 and are available online or at the door.


Winterfest is an annual celebration of Hamilton and winter put on by Tourism Hamilton. For more information, visit their website or follow @CityOfHamilton on Twitter.

 

Written by: Kenzie Barry, gritLIT co-op student


These have been trying times across the world. With the election of Donald Trump, there has been a marked shift in the way that international relations  have been discussed, especially by those in the Arts & Culture business. With news arriving that Trump’s administration plans to slash funding to various Arts programs throughout the United States, it’s not difficult to understand why artists have started pushing back. Writers have been no exception. Most vocal (and popular) has been Stephen King, but others have joined in on questioning his legitimacy and policies, among other things. Here are a few Canadian authors that had strong reactions to the American election.


Kelley Armstrong

“I have land in the Yukon & I joke it’s to fulfill my lifelong goal of becoming a hermit. This morning, that doesn’t seem like a bad idea.”

Allison Baggio

“Let’s all use this as motivation to personally practice as much kindness, acceptance and tolerance as we possibly can. (RT if you will!)”

Shauna Singh Baldwin

“Seems we hired some unskilled laborers to run the White House.”

Dave Bidini

“trump is a wake up call, so let’s wake up. let’s be better at canada than ever before, ok?”

Scott Chantler

“Congratulations to Russia, ISIS, Hitler’s ghost, and that Duck Dynasty family on getting the president you wanted.”

Lynn Coady

“Realized I can’t watch #HouseofCards anymore; central premise that u need to be a Machiavellian genius to take the Whitehouse is now a joke”

Trevor Cole

“You know, America, we in Canada will watch Don Cherry on TV. Some even get a kick out of him. But we’d never elect him to lead us.”

Wayde Compton

“Trump, the oxycontin of the proletariat.”

Lauren B. Davis

“There is an invitation today: Don’t despair. Reach out in radical mercy to those feeling justifiably frightened. We’re here. #YoureNotAlone.”

Amy Jones

“AMERICA. WHAT IS HAPPENING.”

Guy Gavriel Kay

“My suspicion is every time Trump does or says something even slightly decent, everyone will scream, ‘Look! Look! He’s normal!’”

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

“Sane America, tell us what we can do to support you.”

Stephen Marche
“I guess this is what history feels like. It’s nauseating. I hate it.”

Written by Lindsay Ryan, Events Coordinator


We all know that prose comes in various shapes and sizes, right? Then why do we typically think of “good writing” as novel-length features or some kind of hard-hitting short stories featured in The New Yorker or some other famous literary magazine? Sometimes, the best writing comes in the tiniest of packages. Take Flash Fiction, for example.

Flash Fiction, or post card fiction, is quickly becoming a popular form of literary art.  Typically, the story will only consist of a few hundred words and distills the narrative down to its core.  More and more, it is becoming a part of the literary landscape. Room Magazine now offers a Short Forms Contest where the maximum entry is 500 words.  There are also many online zines that specialize in genre flash fiction and an online international Flash Fiction Challenge. 

Since Flash Fiction is so new and can be interpreted in so many ways, there are no real literary rules or guidelines regarding the form. Some nomenclature exists around various word lengths, but flash fiction is an umbrella term that covers anything shorter than conventional short fiction, typically set at 1500-6000 words, depending on the publication.

Writing these kinds of short narratives can be challenging considering the word limit, but can also be freeing.  The story may only be a snapshot, or a slice of life.  Ideas can be explored that may otherwise be lost in a larger narrative. Short does not necessarily mean simple. Like novels, plays, etc., the space can be used to deliver a stunning piece of art, a comical repartee, or at the worst of it, navel-gazing dribble. Because of the limited word count, the author must convey complexity of character, narrative, and theme without the luxury (or the burden) of space to develop these concepts in the reader’s mind. Like postmodern poetry, flash fiction occupies its space economically. 

Perhaps it was inevitable that this art form would emerge in our digital age where we can only spare a few minutes to read or write a few hundred words at a time. It would be easy to dismiss Flash Fiction as a lazy millennial’ s form. But, I prefer to think of it as taking a microscope to something and viewing it through a very tight and focused lens, like macro-photography where the beauty of a beetle is exposed where it would otherwise be lost.

Written by: Kenzy Barry, gritLIT co-op student

fullsizeoutput_2143

For one week in April, we are graced with the presence of extraordinary authors from all over Canada. You must wonder, what are they up to now?

Gary Barwin, who has been a part of the gritLIT festival a total of four times, is having a fantastic year. He was a finalist for two major literary awards, the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Prize, both for his book Yiddish for Pirates. Barwin’s first reading of his famous novel was at gritLIT 2016.

Our friend Emma Donoghue has also been recognized for her literary talent; she is nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her book The Wonder. Described as “a thrilling domestic psychodrama” by The Guardian, The Wonder is a must read.

2013 gritLIT reader Madeliene Thien has also had an amazing year!. Thien’s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing just won both the Scotiabank Giller Prize and The Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and it was a finalist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. The novel tells the story of a young girl and her mother who welcome a Chinese refugee into their home.

Steven Heighton read his book Afterlands at gritLIT 2003. He is another winner of the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Poetry for his book The Waking Comes Late. This philosophical book of poetry should be on everyone’s book bucket list.

Michael Helm’s novel After James has made the shortlist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. The Globe and Mail describes Helm’s novel as “-entertaining, apocalyptic and complex”. As always, we suggest you give it a read.

And, finally, two-time gritLIT presenter Cordelia Strube has just won the Toronto Book Award for her novel On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light.

Congratulations to all of our gritLIT authors on their well-deserved success!

 

sgplogo

As you may or may not already know, the day has finally arrived. After what seemed like ages and ages of waiting, the Scotiabank Giller Prize announcement is tonight! And we can’t be more excited. The judge’s certainly have their work cut out for them, as the six books nominated for the prize are truly great works of fiction. “But wait,” you say. “I’ve been too busy and haven’t had time to read all of the books this year, so I have no idea what they’re about! I don’t even know which ones are nominated! Whatever will I do?! Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Without further ado, here is our round-up of the books nominated for this year’s Giller Prize, in alphabetical order (of course) to avoid looking suspect!


13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl – Mona Awad

13-ways-mona-awad-220

From the dust jacket: “Growing up in the suburban hell of Misery Saga (a.k.a. Mississauga), Lizzie has never liked the way she looks—even though her best friend Mel says she’s the pretty one. She starts dating guys online, but she’s afraid to send pictures, even when her skinny friend China does her makeup: she knows no one would want her if they could really see her. So she starts to lose. With punishing drive, she counts almonds consumed, miles logged, pounds dropped. She fights her way into coveted dresses. She grows up and gets thin, navigating double-edged validation from her mother, her friends, her husband, her reflection in the mirror. But no matter how much she loses, will she ever see herself as anything other than a fat girl? In her brilliant, hilarious, and at times shocking debut, Mona Awad simultaneously skewers the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside their physical appearance, and delivers a tender and moving depiction of a lovably difficult young woman whose life is hijacked by her struggle to conform. As caustically funny as it is heartbreaking, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl introduces a vital new voice in fiction.” (Penguin Random House)

Yiddish for Pirates – Gary Barwin

yiddish220

From the dust jacket: “Set in the years around 1492, Yiddish for Piratesrecounts the compelling story of Moishe, a Bar Mitzvah boy who leaves home to join a ship’s crew, where he meets Aaron, the polyglot parrot who becomes his near-constant companion. From a present-day Florida nursing home, this wisecracking yet poetic bird guides us through a world of pirate ships, Yiddish jokes and treasure maps. But Inquisition Spain is a dangerous time to be Jewish and Moishe joins a band of hidden Jews trying to preserve some forbidden books. He falls in love with a young woman, Sarah; though they are separated by circumstance, Moishe’s wanderings are motivated as much by their connection as by his quest for loot and freedom. When all Jews are expelled from Spain, Moishe travels to the Caribbean with the ambitious Christopher Columbus, a self-made man who loves his creator. Moishe eventually becomes a pirate and seeks revenge on the Spanish while seeking the ultimate booty: the Fountain of Youth. This outstanding New Face of Fiction is filled with Jewish takes on classic pirate tales–fights, prison escapes, and exploits on the high seas–but it’s also a tender love story, between Moishe and Sarah, and between Aaron and his “shoulder,” Moishe. Rich with puns, colourful language, post-colonial satire and Kabbalistic hijinks, Yiddish for Pirates is also a compelling examination of mortality, memory, identity and persecution from one of this country’s most talented writers.” (Penguin Random House)

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue

wonder-newcover-220

From the dust jacket: “A village in 1850s Ireland is baffled by Anna O’Donnell’s fast. A little girl appears to be thriving after months without food, and the story of this ‘wonder’ has reached fever pitch. Tourists flock in droves to the O’Donnell family’s modest cabin, and an international journalist is sent to cover the sensational story. Enter Lib, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, who is hired to keep watch for two weeks and determine whether or not Anna is a fraud. As Anna deteriorates, Lib finds herself responsible not just for the care of a child, but for getting to the root of why the child may actually be the victim of murder in slow motion. A magnetic novel written with all the spare and propulsive tension that made ROOM a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels—as a simple tale of two strangers who will transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil in its many masks.” (HarperCollins)

Party Wall – Catherine Leroux, trans. Lazer Lederhendler

thepartywall-220

From the dust jacket: “Catherine Leroux’s The Party Wall shifts between and ties together stories about pairs joined in surprising ways. A woman learns that she may not be the biological mother of her own son despite having given birth to him; a brother and sister unite, as their mother dies, to search for their long-lost father; two young sisters take a detour home, unaware of the tragedy that awaits; and a political couple—when the husband accedes to power in a post-apocalyptic future state—is shaken by the revelation of their own shared, if equally unknown, history. Lyrical, intelligent, and profound, The Party Wall is luminously human, a surreally unforgettable journey through the barriers that can both separate us and bring us together.” (Biblioasis)

Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeline Thien 

do-not-say-we-have-nothing220

From the dust jacket: “Madeleine Thien’s new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations–those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise. At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow’s ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai’s daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story. With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.” (Penguin Random House)

The Best Kind of People – Zoe Whittall

bestpeople_whittall_220

From the dust jacket: “What if someone you trusted was accused of the unthinkable? George Woodbury, an affable teacher and beloved husband and father, is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school. His wife, Joan, vaults between denial and rage as the community she loved turns on her. Their daughter, Sadie, a popular over-achieving high school senior, becomes a social pariah. Their son, Andrew, assists in his father’s defense, while wrestling with his own unhappy memories of his teen years. A local author tries to exploit their story, while an unlikely men’s rights activist attempts to get Sadie onside their cause. With George locked up, how do the members of his family pick up the pieces and keep living their lives? How do they defend someone they love while wrestling with the possibility of his guilt With exquisite emotional precision, award-winning author Zoe Whittall explores issues of loyalty, truth, and the meaning of happiness through the lens of an all-American family on the brink of collapse.” (House of Anansi)


So, who’s going to join the ranks of André Alexis, Lynn Coady, Joseph Boyden, Alice Munro, and Mordecai Richler? Tune in to CBC at 9pm to find out!

PATTI RANDAZZO BECKETT is a visual artist and, in past life, has been an arts administrator, bookkeeper, and bon vivant. Currently, she spends her time divided between painting, working on her daughter’s farm, travelling whenever the need compels, and entertaining friends and family with lovely food and good wine.

When first asked what was on my night table I was actually hanging out in Key West at the annual Key West Literary Seminar — The Dark Side. Needless to say, after this week I have a ton of new stuff on my nightstand. I just finished Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Meanwhile, what I left at home were some books by Scott Card and numerous food magazines.

After attending KWLS, I’ve been inspired to re-read Scott Turow (a very entertaining speaker) and to read Alexander McCall Smith, more of Flynn, Hiaasen, and Gibson.

When I arrived home, books were waiting by the above authors, courtesy of Amazon. It would be tough to pick out which books I enjoyed most from this year’s group of writers. Gillian Flynn is dynamic. I love her ability to get inside her characters’ heads and come across as completely believable in whatever character voice she is writing, male or female. Carl Hiaasen is hilarious! His detective stories are filled with crazy South Florida characters, none of them perfect, all getting involved in some antic which more than likely will be illegal. He reminds me of Elmore Leonard.

Ah, winter. White earth, frozen lakes, dark, endless nights. When viewed from the middle of February, this season can feel like a cruel joke. A harsh, bleak penalty for some sin we’ve committed. The beauty of freshly fallen snow and the wonder of ice crystals forming on windows begin to lose their charm. The pure, white blanket enveloping the landscape becomes a slippery hazard to tread upon carefully and to shovel from our driveways if we want to get to work. And we wonder how we’ll make it till Spring.

We’ll make it, I promise. I have a trick that works. What you must do is this: light a fire, pour a drink, choose any Russian book off your shelf. Or choose Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. Open to page 20. On a mid-winter’s night, Patrick has followed a moth outside, taking with him his kerosene lamp. He wades through the snow, fascinated to find a moth at this time of year, and sees flickers of light in the distance like fireflies through the trees. He makes his way across the field towards the river and the blinking light, hearing the laughter of men. Loggers from the camp. Closer he sees that the men are skating, holding bunches of cattails set on fire, playing some kind of game. He stands on the bank, watching in silence, mesmerized. The skaters chase each other, trying to tag the next man, gliding, racing, falling over with laughter while their flaming reeds light up the ice. To Patrick, the scene is beautiful. “Something joyous. A gift.”

Picture it. Sip your drink. This will get you through winter.

Another trick, employed by much of the world at this time, is distraction. All eyes on the athletes at Sochi, we forget about our own lives. Every four years I watch the skaters and the skiers, their bodies twisted into impossible forms, and wonder what it’s like to be an athlete at this level. How does it feel to push yourself to such an extreme? Put another log on the fire, sit back in your chair, open Angie Abdou’s The Bone Cage. On these pages you will follow two Olympians, a wrestler and a swimmer, whose lives are defined by sport. Punishing, exhausting, self-absorbed lives focused on a single, ultimate goal. What about afterwards? What happens then? Or imagine this: you sacrifice the best years of your life to the brutal routine of elite training – and don’t make the cut. In Swimming Studies, Leanne Shapton uses beautiful prose to tell a heartbreaking story of the dream she never quite attained. Lastly, for those who crave the worst kind of distraction, try waiting for Carrie Snyder’s debut novel, Girl Runner. The Hamilton-born author will tell you the story of a gold-medal winner, looking back eighty years. Wait for it.

The games have just begun. For all the athletes who are there, or were once there, or might have been: we’re watching. Go Team Canada!

ANNE SIMPSON is the Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer-in-Residence for McMaster University and the Hamilton Public Library. She is a poet, novelist, recipient of multiple awards, including the 2009 Dartmouth Fiction Award (Falling), the 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize (Loop), and the 1997 Journey Prize (“Dreaming Snow”).

My night table always has a tower of books on it: two wonderful novels, Middlemarch by George Eliot, which I read every few years, if only for the brilliant character of Dorothea, and the contemporary Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, with its exuberant language and rich cast of characters. Both hold the pith of life within their pages.

I always have to have some poetry on hand too—Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s Griffin Prize-winning Heavenly Questions is elegantly simple, yet deeply complex. Above all, it is moving, as Schnackenberg charts her beloved husband’s dying days in a hospital, while her imagination soars from Archimedes to The Mahabharata.

And I usually have some non-fiction on the go: The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis (CBC Massey Lectures) has been a discovery. We may be aware of the speed at which plants and animals are becoming extinct, but few realize we are losing human cultures, and languages, at an ever-increasing rate. This book of thoughtful essays by Davis, a Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist, who is the National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, is a jewel.

image by jen jones

Let me introduce myself. I’m someone you might have met one day, at a café on Locke Street or James Street North or South, who quite possibly bumped into you with a steaming hot coffee, spilling it all over your sweater sleeve because I had my head down in a book. I might have been at that part in The Dinner(you know, by Herman Koch) when he’s about to lose it in the bicycle shop because the owner called his eight-year-old son a punk. I had to know, steaming coffee or not, if he could manage his rage or if this scene held the key to the story. I had to know and so I walked right into you, scalding your wrist and mine too (so sorry).

Or maybe I said hello to you at the farmer’s market, squeezing December’s clementines side by side on a Saturday morning. You might have been the one who was telling me that you’d found the perfect stocking stuffer for your wife, who was at the gym right then doing Pilates (good for her). She worked with x-rays at St. Joe’s, or with radiation equipment, and you’d got her a pair of kid leather gloves, caramel brown to match her coat, so she’d be warm when she had to work the night shift. I smiled and nodded, but you lost me at St. Joe’s. The image of a hospital, of doctors and nurses in scrubs, and of blood filled my mind. It took me back to the evening some weeks earlier, to my first fire this winter when my brother came over for a whisky sour or three and we listened to Lawrence Hill’s Massey Lectures on the CBC. Blood: The Stuff of Life. Blood red oranges. Clementines.

But maybe we’ve just seen each other in passing. Out on the trails, at a movie, in the new Hamilton Store. If I think about that too long, it seems a pity because I’d really like to meet you. I’d like to sit down and talk to you and ask you about last year. I’d like to listen to your resolutions for this coming year. What will you do in 2014, now that you know better? Eat less, drink less, exercise more? No, tell me your real resolutions and I’ll tell you mine. Here’s a hint, but no more than that for now: it involves Joseph Boyden, fresh air, and a birch tree.

Happy New Year and welcome to the Bibliophile blog.