Debunk It! How to Stay Sane in a World of Misinformation

Thursday, 19 February 2015
This giveaway is part of the Zest Books Rockin' Blog Tour.

"Most of the people spouting online bullshit sincerely believe that what they're saying is true."
To the point and conversational, the line above best sums up Debunk It! How to Stay Sane in a World of Misinformation, the most recent release by American author John Grant. It's pithy, humourous, and, above all, topical, covering the topics we've heard about, and are continuing to hear about, for months, among them Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, antivaxers, and climate change. All it's missing is a chapter on Brian Williams.

As an avid reader (and sometimes writer) with an interest in politics and issues, I think it's important to make sure my "bullshitometer," as Grant not-so-elegantly calls it, is always on alert. This book is a reminder of just how easy it is to fall victim to misinformation spread by bloggers, newscasters, politicians, and religious leaders.

See below to win a copy of Debunk It! This giveaway is open to residents of Canada and the United States.

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Living Arts: I Read Banned Books

Wednesday, 18 February 2015
This post originally appeared as part of the Hamilton Arts Council's LivingArts series.

I can't remember exactly how old I was the first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I know for sure I was older than 13, but younger than 18. I was a high-school student, and Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was mandatory reading. The book offered a stark contrast to my life in the suburbs in the late 90s, and I devoured it in just a few days.

To Kill a Mockingbird isn't a perfect book, and there are many others that could better teach high-school students about racial segregation. However, it's a book worthy of praise, and one that I could read over and over again. Not everyone shares this opinion. To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged in schools and libraries repeatedly for five decades.

Freedom to Read Week is just around the corner, taking place this year between February 22-28. The annual event "encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Attempts to censor books in schools and public libraries happen today, and sometimes, right in our own backyard. In 1993, the principal of a Hamilton school removed To Kill a Mockingbird from a grade 10 reading list after a parent complained. In 2006, a parent challenged a title in the Burlington Public Library's collection, calling The Waiting Dog, a picture book for kids in grade 3 and up, "vile" and "revolting. In 2007, the Halton Catholic District School Board "ignored the recommendations of its review committee and voted to ban [a trilogy by Philip Pullman] from school." In 2013, a formal complaint was lodged against the Toronto Public Library by a patron who felt Hop on Pop, a classic by Dr. Seuss, "encourages children to use violence against their fathers."

At least book burnings are a thing of the past, right?

In 2012, Hamilton-based author Lawrence Hill was the recipient of the Writers' Union of Canada's Freedom to Read Award. At the time, Greg Hollingshead, Chair of the Union, said "We felt that he deserved this honour on the basis of his reasoned and eloquent response to the threat to burn his novel The Book of Negroes." Hollingshead is referring to a public burning of the book's cover, which took place in Amsterdam in June 2011 by a group that opposed the book's title.

"Burning books is designed to intimidate people. It underestimates the intelligence of readers, stifles dialogue and insults those who cherish the freedom to read and write," wrote Hill in The Toronto Star. "The leaders of the Spanish Inquisition burned books, Nazis burned books."

Artists, no matter the medium we work in, take on many roles. We push boundaries, share original thought, and cultivate ideas in interesting ways. We'd live in a boring world if writers only wrote books to please everyone.

The arts offer teachable moments, and instead of keeping books away from youth, we should do the opposite, encouraging dialogue about them. This Freedom to Read Week, I'm going to reread To Kill a Mockingbird or one of the many other books that have been challenged in Canada or around the world. I hope you do, too.

Hamilton WinterFest

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Hamilton WinterFest kicked off today at Pier 8. The festival, which is in its 37th year, runs February 7-16 at galleries, museums, and parks across the city. Today's WinterFest Kick-Off event included live music (notably Hamilton's Wax Mannequin), art installations, crafts, and a mini film festival, featuring two of my all-time favourite bits of Canadiana — The Sweater and The Log Driver's Waltz. The Brain was also there serving up one of my new favourite beers, Sawdust City's S'more Stout. (Seriously, that's a thing). 

Check out the full WinterFest 2015 event listing here

Before making it to WinterFest, I wandered James Street North. My favourite find was a copy of Lambert The Sheepish Lion at Newold's (240 James Street North). I don't remember the book, but the cartoon was one of my favourites growing up. If you don't know it, don't waste any time! It's on YouTube.

Quotable: An Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Friday, 6 February 2015
“Truth be known, I prefer fiction. I dislike the way facts try to thrust themselves upon me. I’d rather make up my own world. Fictions are less unruly than histories. The beginnings are more engaging, the characters more co-operative, the endings more in line with expectations of morality and justice. This is not to imply that fiction is exciting and that history is boring. Historical narratives can be as enchanting as a Stephen Leacock satire or as terrifying as a Stephen King thriller.

Still, for me at least, writing a novel is buttering warm toast, while writing a history is herding porcupines with your elbows.”

— Thomas King in An Inconvenient Indian, shortlisted for Canada Reads 2015

LivingArts: Resolutions

Tuesday, 27 January 2015
This post originally appeared on the Hamilton Arts Council's LivingArts Blog.

I learned a new word over the holidays. Tsundoku is a Japanese noun meaning "leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled together with other unread books." It's a stunning word, and it, briefly, prompted a New Year's Resolution.

A handful of months ago I bought a house, moving from Durand to Hamilton's Stinson neighbourhood. The move went smoothly, with the exception of one thing. Well, hundreds of things to be exact -- the many books I've accumulated over thirty years as a reader and ten years as a book reviewer.

"I hope you like this place," said my better half, "because I'm not moving these books again for a very long time." Besides realizing that books are a pain to move, I realized another thing. I've never read many of the books that line my bookshelf.

Enter my logical New Year's Resolution. Instead of adding more books to my collection, I should read the books I've been neglecting for years, right? This seemed like an obvious resolution -- for about five seconds.

What writers need is support from their local community, meaning a moratorium on buying books is the last thing I should have. For an arts community to thrive, artists need to feel supported, and they need to be able to support themselves. It's important to buy books, and it's even more important to buy books by local authors.

We tend to look inward when we make New Year's Resolutions. In past years, I've made (and broken) promises to eat healthier, to further my career, and to travel more. I've made resolutions to better myself, but not my community. This year I'm going a different route. I'm going to be more generous with my resolutions, making promises that will support others in the arts community.

I know this sounds expensive. Supporting artists financially isn't always possible, but there are other ways to be supportive. That said, here are my 2015 resolutions.

1. Read more books by local authors, both books I've bought and books from the library.

2. Attend more lit events! Almost every week there are book launches and readings in #HamOnt, and they're often free or pay-what-you-can.

3. Spread the word. I always have good intentions of reviewing local books, but reviewing gets buried on the list of things I want to do but don't.

4. Be vocal! A local writer whose work I've reviewed emailed me the other day, and her encouragement went a long way. In an age of twitter and Facebook, it's often easy to tell someone when you appreciate his or her work. This year I'll do more of that.

There. Now that my resolutions are posted on the Internet, I have no choice but to hold myself accountable and make them a reality.

Happy reading, #HamOnt!

City of Hamilton Arts Awards

Monday, 26 January 2015

A few weeks ago, at the Hamilton Literary Awards, Stephanie Vegh (Executive Director of the Hamilton Arts Council) let us all in on a terrible secret. Last year, there were zero nominations in the category of Literary Arts at the City of Hamilton Arts Awards. Zero. With a wealth of literary talent in this city, that just should not happen.

The 2015 Arts Awards are now open and accepting nominations. Visit for all the information you need. Let's not let another year pass without honouring an established and emerging artist in Hamilton.

Canada Reads 2015

Saturday, 24 January 2015

On your mark. Get set. Go.

Sunday marks 50 days until the CBC Canada Reads debates begin, which means finishing one book every ten days. If you're a slow-ish reader like I am (It took me about two months to read Us Conductors, which is freaking incredible, by the way), this may seem like a tall order. But I've crunched the numbers, and they're not so bad! Thank you Canada and thank you Canada Reads for choosing books that are short, making Canada Reads completely manageable this year. This slow-ish reader appreciates it!

Here are this year's Canada Reads contenders. This year's theme is "books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes, and illuminate issues."

I'm really pleased to see so much diversity on this year's list, and I'm especially thrilled to see a young adult novel (put out by Arsenal Pulp Press, an independent!).
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