Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reading Places

Because of my upcoming European trip, I am trying to read a few books set in Munich or Berlin. It makes traveling to a city much more interesting if there is a bit of context in the streets or parks where you walk. Berlin is a city rich with art  - whether, literary, cinematic, performance-based. Munich is less so but there are still several novels set there which I have on my short-term list.

First and foremost is the work of Thomas Mann. His stories and novels often take a real world place and invert it or give it a dreamlike quality: the Swiss sanatorium in The Magic Mountain, the erotic and desolate canals (and beach?) in Death in Venice. Though he doesn't do much with place, his works still feel like they are integrated in a unique way with place.

Looking for Borges in Buenos Aires
It's interesting to me how certain writers need to ground their writing in real life places, that naming streets and parks and specific buildings anchors the setting, gives it tangible real world moments that make readers ( or at least me) want to see the actual corner, the building, the park (Google street view is excellent for this and often highly distracting). Orhan Pamuk does this with Istanbul. Roberto Bolano with Mexico City (among other places). Theodore Dreiser (and Henry James and Edith Wharton and many, many other writers) with New York City. Then there are writers who set their works in real life locations but the settings somehow don't reflect the reality of the city, don't capture its essence: I think of Thomas Mann but also of Kazuo Ishiguro, Borges, Juan Carlos Onetti, Julio Cortazar. These writers create alternate versions of their cities or settings or their writings reflect more internal concerns and they are less interested in the concrete, trees and earth of actual physical location.

Right now I am reading The Traitor's Emblem by Juan Gomez-Juraldo, largely set in Munich of the early 20th century, and sensing how Munich operates in his book makes me really look forward to putting my own feet down there in a few weeks.

If anyone has any good books set in Berlin to recommend, let us know on our Facebook page!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We start our planning...

Yes, it's time to start thinking about 2013 already. Actually, we have four writers confirmed already so that helps.

I am considering novelists, poets, memoirists, essayists and even those who haven't published a book recently (or, in fact, at all). Books are a key part of what we do but they certainly aren't the only reason to bring a guest who has something interesting to say if it fits in line with our programming tracks.

That's all so vague but I have to be careful at this point not to give away too much. We are still very early in the process, naturally, and our planning goes through several revolutions before it starts taking shape in mid to late October.

In the meantime, I am reading and planning a few upcoming trips:

Been reading Taras Grescoe's latest, an excellent book about the damage the automobile has done to cities and our quality of life generally. Also recently read Nelly Arcan's Exit (which was highly readable though I wasn't in love with the narrator's whiny persona), a book about common daily life history called Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst about early life in Canada, Against God by Patrick Senécal, The Sweet Sixteen by Concordia prof Linda Kay (about the founding of the Canadian Women's Press Club - sounds dry but it's actually quite compelling), and of course finding time for reading for fun, naturally. Also was captivated by Gods and Soldiers, an anthology of contemporary African writing, edited by Rob Spillman (of Tin House fame). Read a lot more besides...

And I've got a huge stack of additional books to get through as well in the next several months. Never a shortage of things to read around here!

In terms of traveling, headed to Berlin in a few weeks for The Berlin International Literary Festival, then to NYC for the New Yorker Festival and wrapping it all up in Portland for Wordstock. Busy fall!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

End of our glorious summer!

So our summer is winding down here though you wouldn't know it if you were standing outside in the heat. But soon we will be back in the office full-time, working on our exciting 2013 line up. We have several programming tracks established and a handful of writers confirmed. But that's all I can say at this point.

What I can say, though, is that if you have any idea or suggestion or proposal for our 2013 Festival - the event can be in English, French or any other language though the form should be in French or English - email me by clicking on my photo here and I will send you the form to pitch us an idea.