Today in Giller fluff

Until the winner is announced, it’s going to be daily fluff on the Giller shortlist. But some of it is still fun to read. Today’s investigative gem is on the tired, festival-stage question of what “place” means to the author. Where the books themselves are like fine wine, these quasi-articles are like boxed plonk. Tastes of laziness and cookie-cutter plastic, but it’ll still get you drunk! Enjoy. (Go team, Newfoundland!)

PEN vs India

A lot of the bigwigs behind PEN, including The Peg and Rushhour, are putting their weight into this issue with the British/India author stripped of his citizenship because he was being “un-Indian”. I have to say, I’ve let my PEN membership lapse over the years in part because I find a lot of their activism lacks nuance and can occasionally work against social progress by clinging to outdated absolutes around expression and freedom of speech, but I can support this.

Rushdie, Pamuk and Atwood were joined by 260 other writers, journalists, artists, academics and activists, along with PEN America, English PEN, and PEN International, expressing their “grave concern” in a letter to Modi about the move. They are calling for the Indian government to reconsider and “ensure that Aatish Taseer has access to his childhood home and family, and that other writers are not similarly targeted”.

Oxford’s secret Dead Poets Society for women, circa 1912

I hope there are still many spaces and gatherings like this, but ones that are secret for the fun of it, not because they need to be to escape patriarchal persecution. (How the frig does LitHub get so many good articles? How do they pay people? Do they want to hire a Canadian editor? My questions are endless.)

The group was named by its best-known member, Dorothy L. Sayers, who would go on to be a famous detective novelist and popular theologian. Let’s call ourselves the Mutual Admiration Society, she suggested, because that’s what people will call us anyway. The name both captures the spirit of the group and misrepresents it. They supported each other boldly and emphatically: no false modesty or feminine shame here. They were willing to be relentless and did not insist on being liked, crucial qualities for taking advantage of the real but tenuous space they had to work within. But they were the exact opposite of the simple echo chamber of praise that the name could imply, in its pejorative sense. They were critical, and they were at odds. They fell apart and came together again, over the course of decades and remarkable careers that ranged from birth control advocacy to genre fiction, from classrooms to the stage.

Nerds: Earth inherited, saved from dragons

The meek and nerdy are now the bold and mighty. D&D has surged these last five years or so, largely because of a new, more accessible rules set and the (surprising to me) rise of live streaming (among other things, including celebrity admissions of fandom). People now willing to sit and watch a bunch of cosplaying nerds have a great time for 2+ hours at a time on Twitch, then go out and want to try it themselves. Who could have predicted this? What time to be alive. 12-year-old me would like to crit a few bullies in the nads for all the pain they put us through in ’83. Roll for initiative, jocks (and save versus my continued, but mighty, scorn).

(I started playing again about 5 years ago after 25 years off, mostly as a way to bridge the gap between our youngest and eldest children, and I even wrote an article about it for the Walrus. I now teach workshops to parents on how to play with their kids. Imagine sitting around a table for hours having a laugh over an exercise in shared story-telling. No phones, no computers, lots of eye-contact, pretending to be elves, and laughing. It’s the creamy middle ground between introversion and extroversion.

“Safe” old dead white guys

As we’ve learned, our shocked faces lit by the flickering light of the dumpster of our friendships and loyalties on fire in front of us, guys tend to be garbage. My pal Mark and I talk about this sometimes. We’ll mention a friend or colleague or celebrity’s name and say, Jesus, hopefully we don’t find out anything shitty about THIS one… This article offers three old dead white guys that can still be safely read without worrying you’re enabling the racist patriarchal combine… They THINK. Personally. I think I’ve had enough of old white guys…. wait. That’s me. Meh, still….

The easy remedy is to check out works by, you know, not dead old white guys. But also, not every dead old white guy is a shithead who should be ignored and/or forgotten (again, we think). And while a major lesson of #MeToo is that the “great guys” are also just as likely to be private shitheads, there are, by my count, at least three old white guys (all of whom are alive!) who are still “safe” to read (again, for now).