Savy Tips For Reading In The Hot Tub

reading in a hot tub

I’ve got a secret. One I suspect I probably share with many..

“I like to read in the hot tub..!”

reading in a hot tubYes I know, it’s not much of a secret. It’s just I can’t help feeling a little embarrassed by the show of consumerism.

Anyway my highbrow morals and intentions go out the window when I sink into my inflatable hot tub with the latest read.

Both hot tubs and reading are relaxing activities. When your body and mind feel relaxed then you really can immerse yourself in the words before you.

As a freelance writer I move around a lot and my financial situation is up and down. That’s why I bought a coleman hot tub. They are really quite cheap and you can pack it up and move it with the rest of your furniture.

An inflatable spa works perfectly for my situation. I can enjoy a good soak in the hot tub and read and read. Reading when relaxed is the “best”. If I have deadlines and need to get lots of reading done, the hot tub provides the right environment. I swear sometimes I can read twice as fast when I am in the spa.

Water and books don’t naturally go together and for that reason many people have never experienced the joy.

Luckily, in this crazy consumer world there are plenty of options to help you safely read in the hot tub. Take a look at these ideas. They are all tried and tested options.


Buy a waterproof eReader

waterproof ereaderA waterproof eReader is the easiest way to enjoy a relaxing experience reading in your bubbling spa. They are built to get wet. You can splash them with water and even submerse them below the surface. Great for kids who also might like to read in the hot tub. The Kindle Oasis is a popular model while the Kobo Asura is one of the cheapest.



Use a waterproof case for your eReader

ereader waterproof caseYou can retrofit your existing reading device and make it water resistant by buying and fitting a waterproof case. Such cases will withstand drops of water and the occasional accidental dip in the tub. Not as worry free as the totally waterproof kind. But cheap and a good option. All designs allow for easy control. Keyboards and navigations buttons are all accessible. It’s a good idea to read some reviews before buying anything. Make sure the product lives up to expectations by finding out what others think.


Listen to Audio Books

audio booksListening to audio books is a fantastic hands-free way to read and enjoy books. Most popular titles are also on offer in audio form.. You can download them at online retailers like iTunes, Barnes & Noble. Some hot tubs have a built in sound system which makes listening to audio books even easier.


Buy an AquaReader

aqua readerAn aquareader is a floatation device designed to keep your book safely above water. An essential hot tub accessory that will safely house your reading device or old fashioned book keeping them dry and positioned at a comfortable reading height.


Read books incorporating DuraBooks technology

durabooksDurabooks is a book binding technology that utilises synthetic paper that is waterproof and almost indestructible. This technology is eco friendly and the material can be recycled an infinite number of times. Unlike regular paper which can only be recycled a handful of times.



My preferred method is simply just to go for it.. No gadgets to mess with and it’s nice to feel the paper between your fingers.. (sorry no you know I prefer real books!). I always have a small towel nearby. It helps to keep your hands dry. I generally don’t read when the bubbles are on in the hot tub. To much water is disturbed and reading safely is much more difficult. Probably wouldn’t be so hard if I was using a waterproof reader.

Shopping is a chore for me, luckily all these items can be easily purchased online from places like amazon, ebay and walmart. My portable hot tub came from these guys

Making Time In Your Life For Books

making time for books

making time for books

When I first graduated from university and entered the big, scary world of adulthood, it was quite a culture shock. Apart from the usual horror of discovering your years as a student are suddenly, and alarmingly, over, and the reality of needing to go out a get a J.O.B sinks – or rather, is aggressively thrust – in. What really struck me is how little time I had for doing the things I enjoyed.

I was suddenly caught up in a tide of fellow adults, getting up early, going to work, sitting at a desk all day until the commute home, arriving back and being totally knackered. The weeks zoomed by and I felt like I didn’t have any control over my life because I had no time for myself, to do what I enjoyed. And I, like many people, was a voracious reader.

I’ve always loved books and there I was, no longer reading any – particularly horrible having just spent four years at university studying lots of them. I felt like I was slipping out of touch with the book world, and even my list of must-read classics lay untouched.

I decided things needed to change, so I started consciously making time in my life for books. I took certain measures and slowly but surely, I got back into reading, I made sure that I was reading everyday and had exciting piles of “to be reads”. All was good.

But What About You?…

Well, I still felt something a little lacking. It got me thinking, and then it got me Googling – always a bad move people! – and then, because my googling wasn’t especially fruitful, it got me thinking again.

There must be plenty of other people out there feeling the same as me.

You must love books too, or you wouldn’t be here. But do you read as often as you would like? Do you get through as many books as you want to? Or do you end up cramming all your book time into a two week holiday in the summer? I know how it feels! It’s so frustrating.

So I want to help you out, and show you how to make space in your busy life for books.

But not just that, to make life even easier for you  I will help you choose books to read, so you don’t have to cut into your precious reading time. You’ll also find useful background information, character analyses, details of themes and imagery all to help you read and understand these books in greater depth.

Welcome to The Town Crier!

It’s your complete guide to literature and all things bookish, and aims to guide you along the path to book Nirvana.

Just as its name suggests, this website is aimed at encouraging thoughtful discussion and a love of reading – or, most likely, reigniting your love of reading.

You’ll get tips on how to make more time for reading in your hectic life. You will discover a whole exciting range of genres and styles of books – including some you might never have dared try before. You’ll get honest, in-depth reviews so you can make your book buys with ease.

Hugh Garner’s Waste No Tears

Hugh Garner’s Waste No Tears
Hugh Garner’s Waste No TearsToronto in the year 1950: abortion is illegal, women routinely die at the hands of alcoholic surgeons and the mob blackmails the survivors. It may not sound like “Toronto the Good,” but there’s still no shopping on Sundays and people need a liquor license just to buy a drink.

Before Garner’s literary classics and his 1963 Governor General’s Award for his short stories, there was Waste No Tears, published in 1950 under the pseudonym Jarvis Warwick. It’s about a womanizing alcoholic who winds up caught in a net of seduction and blackmail as he descends into Toronto’s criminal underworld and onto skid row. Vehicule Press’s Ricochet imprint has been releasing out-of-print Canadian crime novels since 2010. So far, Ricochet has released three David Montrose novels starring Montreal’s hardest drinking private eye and Al Palmer’s Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street. Ricochet finally comes to Toronto with its 2014 release of Waste No Tears, Hugh Garner’s “book about the abortion racket.” Hugh Garner is better known for his Depression era classic Cabbagetown and The Intruders, about Cabbagetown’s gentrification in the 1970s.

As Toronto often does in popular culture, the city went unnamed and unspecified in Garner’s book. By comparison, Montrose’s contributions to Ricochet’s catalogue are proudly explicit about Montreal. Seventy years later you can still point out the apartment building on Cotes-des-Neiges Boulevard that becomes the scene of a murder in Montrose’s Crime on Cotes-des-Neiges. Garner makes a few oblique references to Toronto. The lake and the harbour are the dominant images in the city he describes. Garner’s choice of pseudonym, Jarvis Warwick, is a reference to the Warwick Hotel on Dundas and Jarvis where Garner frequently drank and where he sets Waste No Tears’s climactic (but inevitable) betrayal.

By the novel’s end, the narrator is a broke and homeless lush. He is routinely kicked out of bars and gets arrested for panhandling. He’s jeered at and abused in public as he succumbs to his addiction. In some ways Waste No Tears is an early precursor to Maggie Helwig’s 2007 novel Girls Fall Down. In Helwig’s book, Toronto is struck by an epidemic because of its maltreatment of the homeless, vulnerable, and mentally ill who are pushed off of the streets and into the ravines. By 2007, Toronto has no true skid row to “harbour the outcasts of the city,” though there are still panhandlers in front of the bars and bistros on Front and Jarvis.

In her introduction to Ricochet’s Waste No Tears, Amy Lavender Harris writes “it is Hugh Garner’s softback novels … that reveal how skinny is the line that separates ‘Toronto the Good’ from its seedy shadow. It’s a line drawn exactly along Jarvis Street.” Since 1950, the downtown east side from Jarvis to the DVP has gone from Garner’s “Anglo-Saxon slums” to a checkerboard of gentrified neighbourhoods, public housing projects, and low-rent high rises. However, in the city of Rob Ford and Brian Shin, addiction and crime are perfectly at home in Nathan Phillips Square and in middle class Markham as well as on Jarvis Street.

In 2014, Toronto is more obsessed with its image as a “world class city” than its moral reputation.  Ricochet’s release of Waste No Tears comes at a critical moment of Toronto’s self-evaluation. A group called Extend Last Call Toronto claimed in March that, “[a] change would elevate Toronto’s status as a ‘world class city’ and points out that Chicago and New York have 4 a.m. last calls.” Meanwhile, recent exceptions to Toronto’s strict 2 a.m. last call have been made for Nuit Blanche, Olympic hockey games, and New Years Eve. The rhetoric around liquor consumption in Toronto is based on the dichotomy between a wide open, “world class” city and the city’s puritanical, provincial history. As Toronto tries to reconcile its uptight image with the realities of metropolitan life, Garner reminds us that “Toronto the Good” wasn’t any cleaner in 1950 than it is today.

A Review of Bourbon & Eventide by Mike Spry

mike spry

mike spryMike Spry’s Bourbon & Eventide may be the saddest book of poetry to launch in Canada this year. With both wit and tenderness, this 56-page collection strings together tercets to tell the story of a relationship falling apart from the beginning. Bourbon & Eventide continues some of the same themes of obsession and disappointment tackled in Spry’s first book of poetry, JACK, with a focus and economy that compresses a novel’s worth of narrative into 168 lines. Spry, whose poem “The Follicular” appeared in The Puritan Compendium I, is making failed romance his own undisputed poetic territory.

Many of Spry’s poems end in the bleak punch lines that let the reader know this relationship was dead-on-arrival.  Fortunately, Spry carefully balances his jokes with a nostalgic lyricism. Where his last lines are longer and more sombre, he creates a tranquil kind of despair. At other times, a punch line buried in the middle of a poem becomes an occasion to reflect on how sad it is to be the butt of the poet’s joke. 

In spite of their brevity, these poems don’t move rapidly. They hang around in the reader’s mind like the lachrymose memories they briefly indulge. For example:

Everybody told her to move to Brooklyn, so she didn’t.
Instead she went west like Alger, dreaming of the Pacific,
but only made it to Toronto, slowed by the false promise of hope.

Spry exposes this couple’s pet language and the embarrassing details of their sex life. In their domestic vocabulary, “‘Cocktails’ were ‘adult beverages,’ / ‘hangovers’ were known as ‘daytime,’ and ‘having sex’ was ‘apologizing.’” I’m reluctant to call Spry’s two characters dysfunctional, although he exploits their faults for the sake of humour. Both of them drink too much. They work odd jobs at the fringe of the creative class. He cheats. She is a kleptomaniac. The poems morbidly foretell the relationship’s demise every several pages. The woman in this story frequently makes oblique references to a lack of commitment, dissatisfaction, and disappointment, while the man remains unconvinced of his ability to keep her interest. Bourbon & Eventide is heavy with the inertia of failure. These characters know they’ve screwed up, but they don’t know what to do about it.

The male counterpart is poor in bed and helpless with the realization that he has failed as a romantic partner. In the end, even his sterility abandons him.  The woman, on the other hand, is hyperbolized to the edge of disbelief. She teaches English “with falsified credentials” and “served time for attempted robbery.” The eleventh tercet suggests that Spry is playing with the trope of the manic pixie dream girl:

The colour of her hair was Midnight Disappointment,
and its pixied frame lit her face in a shining brilliance.
‘When this ends,’ he thought, ‘she’ll be all I know.’

Each poem is an enclosed picture of a love affair going awry that builds on character tropes and histories. A persistent return to a meditativBourbon & Eventidee voice and subjects like the seasons, departures, and domestic life make Bourbon & Eventide sad and haunting. Its narrative shows the foresight and patience of a talented storyteller. Spry shows a great sympathy for his characters, if only because he has been cruel enough to make them so bad at love. Spry knows how to make a reader laugh at his characters’ despair and turns the misty-eyed subject matter of a breakup into a book that moves artfully between dolour and lampoonery.Each poem is an enclosed picture of a love affair going awry that builds on character tropes and histories. A persistent return to a meditative voice and subjects like the seasons, departures, and domestic life make sad and haunting. Its narrative shows the foresight and patience of a talented storyteller. Spry shows a great for his characters, if only because he has been cruel enough to make them so bad at love. Spry knows how to make a reader laugh at his characters’ despair and turns the misty-eyed subject matter of a breakup into a book that moves artfully between dolour and lampoonery.Spry deliberately describes her with fey-like attributes and associates her with the natural elements, such as summer, grass, and pastoral settings. Unlike the manic pixie dream girl who “teaches broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures,” she indulges and worsens the male character’s bad habits, such as drinking every night and not caring about other people’s orgasms. She is a cynic and a shoplifter. The impulsiveness that defines MPDGs have real consequences. She has both an abortion and a criminal record. The promise of her otherworldly magic is always dispelled. She is more like a goblin dream girl who leads her partner off the beaten path but into the bog.

Toronto Reading Series: Exploring a Rich Ecosystem of Literary Performance

Toronto Reading Series:

The First in a Series on the Toronto Literary Reading Scene

Toronto Reading Series:A writer need never be idle in Toronto—almost every night features great readings and events. This means a curator or host needs to set his or her particular event apart from the others. This results in an affable competition, with Toronto readings co-existing in a diverse cooperative ecosystem.

To ensure that each reading series is unique, hosts attempt to attract spectators by claiming a particular hosting style, a venue and an organizational approach to their literary vision.  They do this because they know there can be more to readings than simply providing a platform for book promotion or a place for writers to network – because the reading is a genre in itself.  

Despite that, not all writers pay attention to the performative element of their reading. We’ve all attended readings where writers have been underprepared, not having rehearsed or chosen materials beforehand. This is largely out of a host’s hands, and everyone can have a less than stellar performance due to nerves or an off night, but writers should understand that they are performing—and the audience is attending (or should be) to see a great show. Thankfully, writers want to be read, so have a natural reason to perform well, but hosts can also research to make sure they have quality performers. And a series itself—through reputation and past performances—can encourage quality performances.

When I founded The Emerging Writers Reading Series, I was working against the more traditional sit-down-and-frown reading series models, trying to bring in readers who were technically sound, but who also brought energy to their performances. But our Toronto ecosystem needs many different types of readings to thrive. There are big fish and small fish, and some readings that straddle different reading boundaries.

Choices of readers, format, venue, introductions, frequency and length of readings, etc., all contribute to the unique atmosphere of an event. Some series, like Write Club, are reminiscent of a competitive rap battle, whereas Pivot is a smaller, intimate reading frequented by both established and up-and-coming writers and poets. The open mic sets the standard in reading accessibility—the audience is performer and performer audience. Art Bar uses this to straddle different spheres by having it follow established featured writers. This is one strategy to bridge tones and audiences, to merge established and emerging talent, and to remain both accessible and excellent. But doing everything in one series isn’t possible, so hosts have to make choices, and audiences benefit from the resulting diversity.

Over the next few posts, I’ll profile reading series in Toronto, talking to their hosts and curators about their considerations when putting on a reading, as well as their opinions of the reading scene in general. I’ll start by talking to Edward Nixon of Livewords, Jacob McArthur Mooney of Pivot, Alicia Merchant of Write Club, Liz Howard of Avant Garden, and Chris Graham of Amazing New Stuff.

These select Toronto reading series are different, but they work together. They promote each other, expose new talent to each other, and help cultivate a healthy literary scene from the ground up. It’s an exciting time to be part of this literary community. So check it out.

Call for Submissions: Comics in Literary Culture


comicsAs comics continue to gain increasing prominence as legitimate books, journalism, and writing, what role do they play in literature?

In Canada, graphic novels and comics most often fall under the same guidelines for written works in terms of grants, publishers, reviews and literary magazine submissions, yet many literary journals (The Puritan included) and publishers still reject graphic content solely based on its format. Most comics are published by a handful of specialty publishers and many readers, critics, and teachers still consider the medium to be beneath them or a sort of genre fiction. The fact that many comics creators come from backgrounds in the visual arts also underscores this disconnect.

How do comics creators then fit into the literary landscape in Canada or internationally? What does it mean to hold visual works to the same standards as written works? How should Canadian literary culture change to better accommodate writers/artists working in less traditional media?

As the guest editor for The Town Crier blog for February, I’m excited to bring together a month of coverage on the place of comics and graphic works in the lit scene and literary criticism of graphic works. I’m a comics creator, write,r and editor who has self-published, published work in Canadian and international comics and literary journals for over a decade, and worked in the media for eight years.

I am interested in seeing works of or about comics criticism, interviews, comparative reviews, and works dealing with issues of intersectionality in comics criticism (personal stories from minority writers included).

Completed submissions should be articles of 500 words and up, or short graphic pieces (length to be discussed individually).

Topics I’d be particularly interested in seeing submissions on include:

feminist comics criticism
race in comics
articles on comics culture in other parts of the world (international submissions encouraged)
comparisons of comics culture in Quebec and the rest of Canada
graphic reviews/ graphic criticism

Elections Canada: Politics on Our Bookshelves

canada elections
canada electionsToronto felt more political than ever this election season. After a tumultuous year for the city, its mayor, and its voting public, we’re all feeling conscious of the changing political landscape—whether that breeds excitement, anxiety, or outright dread. To better navigate our rocky political landscape, it’s now necessary to stay informed beyond the typical breaking news stories and catchy headlines, and there is no shortage of great books that have been written by or about politicians and their ideas.

More and more social events are spattered with policy debates and everyone you know is either a Party volunteer or has been annoyed by one knocking at the door. This tension will likely increase as environmental catastrophe draws near and as daily social and economic injustices continue to press on the collective conscience. While our sense of political urgency means voter turnout is still nowhere near 100 percent, it still seems that our city (and province) is becoming increasingly concerned with current events and that we are still willing to engage our critical faculties.

Hopefully we’re not too browbeaten by the Ford Nation saga that we’ve exhausted any interest in higher levels of government.

By the time you read this, voting day will have passed, but to help you digest the results of the provincial election, I’ve drawn up a list of some important books on politics that might deserve a place on your shelf.

Crazy Town by Robyn Doolittle

Many are familiar with Rob Ford’s escapades, and most who don’t like him are sick to death of hearing about him. His term expires in October and if you want to supplement the inevitable media circus with some more entertainment, check out this book written by one of three journalists to have reported on his infamous (first) crack video.

My Journey by Olivia Chow

Olivia Chow’s memoir deals with her arrival in Canada from Hong Kong, her marriage to the late Jack Layton, and her very successful career in politics, which currently finds her in Toronto’s mayoral race. Christie Blatchford tore Chow’s book apart as a shameless attempt at “legacy-building” but she forgets how, in a way, Chow has to treat her politics with utter seriousness and grandiosity. It is a very big deal that a non-white immigrant woman is one of the most common household names within the Canadian political world, and contributions such as Olivia’s work toward a future where the existence of prominent female politicians is no longer seen as a “big deal.” Hopefully, Chow will inspire more diversity in Canadian politics, but until then, I refuse to believe that stories like hers have already grown tiresome.

Speaking Out Louder: Ideas That Work for Canadians by Jack Layton

I sympathize with the growing concern that the strongest hope for the NDP fizzled out with the passing of Jack Layton. His efficacy as a charismatic public figure is hard to match. When Stephen Harper cashes out and takes his big-oil money with him, someone will have to step up to take his place. Many people hoped that would have been Jack Layton. But through the efforts of Chow and many others, the NDP is still a prominent force in provincial and federal politics. As the millennials continue to grow into voting age, it’s plausible that the party’s progressive politics will continue to attract more supporters (if they summon the initiative to hit the polls). Anyone interested in the NDP should pick up this book written by its biggest figurehead and see what Layton had in mind for Canada.

The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006– by Paul Wells

Many people would be surprised to hear that Canada’s Prime Minister is one of the most powerful titles one can have in politics, even more powerful than the President of the United States. While the U.S. has been and still is a global mega-power, the Canadian Prime Minister is actually able to do more as an individual than the American President. Since the beginning of Harper’s lengthy stint as leader of our federal government, the Conservative golden-boy has exercised his influence extensively. Wells looks at the Prime Minister’s many years at the top in this acclaimed book; you can read an excerpt of it here.

Paikin and the Premiers: Personal Reflections on a Half-Century of Ontario Leaders by Steve Paikin

TVO has been home to many beloved personalities such as Polkaroo, the Reading Rangers, and Steve Paikin. The journalist and television host has had a very successful career reporting on politics and has even moderated electoral debates. If you need to brush up on your civics—but resent the bland dosings of poli-sci you received in middle school—pick up Paikin’s book and learn from the man who has logged more time with Ontario’s political personalities than anyone should be required to.

But if you’re looking for a more pumped-up approach to Ontario politics, listen to this rallying cry from The Dope Poet Society’s front man. At the end of the video, also performs his head-turning hip-hop hit, “Fuck Mike Harris.”

Writing the Body

Kids in Triage

Post-Cartesian Crises and Aesthetic Drag

Kids in TriageIn a matter of days I’ll be publishing my first book—a poetry collection called Kids in Triage. That this first book turned out to be poetry and not prose is a surprise to me. That this first book takes the body as its subject; that this encounter with the body manifests in emergency, rupture, domestic disturbance—interrogations of consciousness—does not. It’s been a creative flashpoint for me for as long as I can remember, and the centre of many Life Questions (often stemming from experiences with depression and other forms of mind-body insurgency). Writing Questions, it turns out, are just Life Questions in aesthetic drag.The body, as theme, is also so capital C Classical that it makes my eye teeth ache. Yet here we are. Because I inhabit one and so do you and it’s the palace and/or prison within which our respective consciousnesses mark out their mortality. If I could write about anything else I would. I just haven’t found anything else. Every story, poem, or grocery list’s detailing of daybreak, computer code, or canned coffee will always be underpinned by the body. Or more specifically, the mind-body bond, that fraught relationship between cogito ergo and actual sum.

I’ve never been someone who identified seamlessly with her own body but I’ve always been someone whose experience of the world has been strongly mediated by the physical. An academic-seeming passage of philosophy can send me on a crying jag. The arc of a boxing workout can work through me—structurally, rhythmically, viscerally—like a good short story. And while I probably couldn’t describe the detailed physical appearance of a character in any piece of fiction I’ve written, I could certainly tell you what it feels like to be in their body, how things register from behind their eyes.

An obsession with embodied consciousness is not a unique thing among writers. So many tangled wires run outward from that hub, conducting stories into the world. Having arrived with the baggage of skin and bones, via biologies and geographies and economies pre-marked by history’s passes, our physical selves are the intersection of countless forms privilege, power and subjection. How we speak, how we move, how we dress, what we ingest … all betray us in our connections to a larger social and historical world. In curating a month-long series on writing the body for the Town Crier, I wanted to pick up this conversation with others for whom the mind/body thread of inquiry also runs deep.

What do writers talk about when they talk about the body? You’re going to to find out. Look forward to essays, interviews, and conversations from: Sonnet L’Abbé, andrea bennett, Roxanna Bennett, Kris Bertin, Lisa Bird-Wilson, Eric Foley, Susanna Fournier, Kim Fu, Mike Hoolboom, Canisia Lubrin, Susan Perly, Naben Ruthnum, and Vivek Shraya. And keep an eye open for brand-new spring books across genres from Kris (Bad Things Happen), Lisa (The Red Files), Kim (How Festive the Ambulance), Mike (You Only Live Twice, with Chase Joynt), Susan (Death Valley), and Vivek (even this page is white), as well.

To May’s contributors—dynamic writers and artists from across the country who made space for these discussions and meditations in their often-hectic schedules—I extend my most sincere thanks. Your perspectives, articulacy, and humour have wowed me. It’s been the best kind of welcome into the world of writing books.

Author Note: Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham ThammavongsaSouvankham Thammavongsa is the author of the story “Mani Pedi,” featured in Issue 30 of The Puritan. The story follows a tomato can boxer who has to leave the sport or inevitably suffer brain trauma. After drifting through several menial jobs, his sister recruits him for her nail salon. As his sister tells Raymond, “… they didn’t leave Laos, a bombed out country, in a war no one ever heard of, on a raft made of bamboo to have him scooping out ice cream or frying cabbages with old grease oil.”

Thammavongsa read part of “Mani Pedi” at The Puritan’s Black Friday launch party this past Friday at Toronto’s Monarch Tavern. The winners of the Thomas Morton Memorial Prize for Literary Excellence were announced (see The Puritan for details), short stories were read, and then there was dancing. The Puritan sends out its thanks to all the readers and listeners who came out to Black Friday.

Here, Souvankham Thammavongsa tells The Town Crier a little bit about the writing of “Mani Pedi.”

Town Crier: Do you have any interesting factoids you’d like to share about yourself and/or the story?

Souvankham Thammavongsa: Mitch Chuvalo was my high school History teacher. I went to York Memorial, which is on the corner of Keele Street and Eglinton West in Toronto. Mitch Chuvalo is George Chuvalo’s son.

Town Crier: What was the story influenced by?

Souvankham Thammavongsa: A few things:

My brother. He wanted to start a sign-making business like my father. He was going to call it “Chick-A-Dee Signs” and the slogan was going to be: “We do signs! Cheap! Cheap!” It was something my father said at the shop whenever someone came in the door. At first it was,“We do signs!” but then people would ask him“Cheap? Cheap?” and so after a while my father started to say “We do signs! Cheap! Cheap!” to get to the point. My brother’s slogan for his business was something that always stuck with me. My brother became a welder and it was just too good to not be in the world somewhere.

I was reading a New York Times report on nail salons. It was about the women who work there and why they stay. The kinds of health problems workers had and the chemicals and conditions they were exposed to.

There’s also watching Manny Pacquiao fight. He looks like my father. It’s too close. I can’t stand to watch a man with my father’s face get punched in the face.

I thought it would be fun to write a female character and have her not worry about being nice and kind. A woman who didn’t believe in the power of true love, but to give that to a man to believe. I also wanted to get you to love her too, as she is. It was fun to write her dialogue.

Town Crier: Tell us the best thing you’ve read lately.

Souvankham Thammavongsa: “One Arm,” by Tennessee Williams. It’s about a boxer who loses an arm and still has to use his body to make money by becoming a prostitute.

Souvankham Thammavongsa’s story “How to Pronounce Knife” was shortlisted for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Author Note: Anna Leventhal

Anna Leventhal

Anna Leventhal wrote the story “L’Horloge” for the Summer Supplement, “À la prochaine fois”: 1995 and Literature in Post-Referendum Quebec” in The Puritan Issue 30. The story is set in a retirement home in Laval in the 21st century.

Anna LeventhalI wasn’t sure at first how to approach writing about the ’95 referendum. I was a teenager in Manitoba at the time and don’t have any personal experience of it to speak from; I could have put myself in the shoes of someone who did, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to write about the repercussions of the referendum (and separatism in general) in terms of Quebec national identity today, and what that means, if anything.

I decided the best way to do that was to write as an outsider. My previous stories set in Montreal were insiderish, to a certain extent. Even though the characters were a mix of Quebecois and from elsewhere, there was a general feeling of insularity, maybe even cliquishness—a sense that everyone belonged in some way to a broad, shaggy, but still cohesive civic structure, even as they often felt estranged or alienated from it. There was a shared vocabulary or set of touchstones that were maybe obscure enough that they felt like they came from, if not an “authentic” Montrealer (whatever that means) then at least from a fairly successful sleeper agent. For this newer piece, I took a bit of distance and used a narrator whose perspective is that of another kind of person who’s a big part of the “Montreal experience”: an anglophone emigre who stops here for a bit on her way to somewhere else. For a lot of people, especially young anglophones, Montreal is a kind of Neverland, a sandbox they play around in for a while until they mature and get on with their lives. And it’s a place that’s so thick with myth, so brimming with the ideals and expectations of generations of people with very different backgrounds, it can be hard to figure out what it really is. Of course, the Neverland thing is part of the mythology too.

Anyway, the narrator of this story is one of those people who kind of knows she’s just passing through, and she’s sifting through layers of other people’s identities and their ideas of what Quebec is, and their expectations of it, their demands and pleas and resignations. To me that’s what the referendum is about: your expectations of what a place can be, your highest hopes and brightest ideals, which are always bound in some way to your fears and darker impulses.

The Horloge residence itself is inspired by a trip I took to Laval. The building is a real place, though I never went in, only had it pointed out to me from a car window. I liked the idea of writing a Montreal story that mainly takes place in Laval. It’s very un-Richler, un-Roy, un-O’Neill. It’s not gritty or urban or diverse or picturesquely desiccated. It’s not even actually Montreal. I also wanted to capture those situations that are both too intimate and somewhat alien, where you don’t quite have enough information to figure out what’s going on; all you have is inference, conjecture, and half-caulked guesses. A care home in Laval seemed as good a place as any to do that.

Originally from Winnipeg, Anna Leventhal lives in Montreal and writes fiction and nonfiction. Her first book of short stories, Sweet Affliction, was published by Invisible Publishing in spring of 2014, and is available in bookstores across Canada, and online. You can follow her on Twitter at @annalevz.

Kisses of Acadian and Gobs of Québécois

Denise Duhamel

Denise Duhamel Denise Duhamel When Megan Draper sang “Zou Bisou Bisou” on Mad Men, American television took some bite out of the Parti québés’s political rhetoric. Denise Duhamel’s poem opens with Jessica Paré’s iconic moment. “Zou Bisou Bisou” appears in Issue 24 of The Puritan and name drops a number of Anglo Canadian actors in Hollywood whose Canadian nationality may come as a surprise. Her focus is that trenchant subset of Canadians, the French. Denise Duhamel herself belongs to the Québec diaspora in New England. Despite growing up with many Canadians on screen, Céline Dion was, for Duhamel, the sole Québécoise on the airwaves in the era before Jessica Paré and Régine Chassagne.

In 1968, René Lévesque described Québec as the only survivor of a French America:

“We are also heirs to that fantastic adventure—that early America that was almost entirely French. We are, even more intimately heirs to the group obstinacy that has kept alive that portion of French America we call Québec.”

Lévesque and Duhamel leave out the fact that French America is and always was multiracial, and that it incorporates vastly different migration histories. Even if we set aside the problems of a strictly Caucasian francophone identity, there are more to be found in Duhamel’s poem.

Denise Duhamel embraces a part of the francophone spectrum north of the border. The last line of her poem lists a variety of Canadian dialects, “Today I want to sing it all—Brayon French, Québécois, Chiac, Joual, Michif. Little kisses of Acadian.” That phrase, “I want to sing it all” boldly announces a Whitman-esque inclusiveness. However, Duhamel includes Québécois in a list of small and marginal French dialects and creoles, some as small as Michif with only a few hundred speakers. With seven million speakers inside and outside Québec, Québécois French may look small from the outside. However, the French language is the sole official language in the province, spoken by a majority and institutionalized in both politics and business.

Duhamel’s narrative of an isolated and invisible French culture in New England is the same narrative the Parti québécois used to justify stricter language laws and their Charter of Values. That ex-premier Pauline Marois promoted institutionalized discrimination out of a fear that outside cultures and languages threaten to make Québec’s language and culture disappear is worth noting. The PQ’s narrative of cultural extinction relies on the invisibility of Québécois language and culture. For the first time possibly ever, an intelligent and cosmopolitan Québécoise character exists on an American TV show. Mad Men emphasizes rather than hides her francophone family and explores the uncomfortable relationship she has to her father’s Quiet Revolution values.

Duhamel may only be naive to equalize Québécois with “little kisses of Acadian,” where French culture is all but eradicated in New England and Louisiana. Canadians, on the other hand, need a more complex perspective on the role of French in North America. French in Québec is neither a menace to anglo- and allophones nor an endangered language in the dreaded “sea of English.” Institutionalized racism and restricted access to education, on the other hand, are a menace to everyone in that province, not only non-francophones.

Jessica Paré’s character on Mad Men is not far off from many young francophones today who want to learn English and travel to, and do business with, the world beyond the Rideau Canal. René Lévesque’s speech recognized, in 1968, that Quebec’s isolation in the world is over. While that isolation helped Québec survive as francophone in ways that Louisiana and New England did not, it is not an isolation that anyone but Pauline Marois’s PQ wanted to recreate. One sometimes sees the slogan, “Québec, un nouveau pays pour le monde” hanging from balconies in Québec. It may send shivers down anglo spines, but the sentiment may be nobler than that. The phrase promotes a Québec that is confident enough in its language and culture that it can engage freely with the rest of the world. A strong francophone majority that has taken control of its own government, economy, and political destiny does not need to fear Arabic, Creole, or even English, or that any of the languages and values of the rest of the world will render them as lonely as rootless as Denise Duhamel.

We can compare Megan Draper to Denise Duhamel’s lost culture narrative. Megan Draper leaves a comfortable upper-middle class life in Montréal for New York and makes the decision to assimilate into Anglo-American culture. In one episode she mentions that she despises Montréal’s old and haunted housing stock and prefers her modern Upper East Side apartment. To her, Québec is oppressive, old, and provincial. On Monday, Québec rejected Marois’ race baiting, fear mongering, and her vision of an isolated Québec as old and provincial. Despite the last year and a half, Monday’s poll suggests that Québec is a place prepared to accept Arabic, Creole, and maybe even English.