Too Many Books In The Kitchen

I'm Michael Hingston, books columnist for the Edmonton Journal (new columns every other Friday).

My first novel, The Dilettantes, was just published by Freehand Books. Here's everything you might want to know about it.

Other topics under discussion: podcasts, strange sodas, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Moby-Dick.

Email me, if you like, at hingston [at] gmail [dot] com. I'm available for hire and I like free books.


Favourites: 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013
What I Read: 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 (so far)

All Reviews /
All Interviews /
All Columns

Mark Abley (1)
Henry Adams (1)
Chris Adrian (1)
Charlie Ahearn (1)
César Aira (1) (2) (3)
André Alexis (1)
Rona Altrows (1; interview)
Jonathan Ames (1)
Kingsley Amis (1)
Martin Amis (1) (2) (3)
Karen Armstrong (1)
Margaret Atwood (1)
Jane Austen (1)
Paul Auster (1)
Tash Aw (1)
Todd Babiak (1) (2; interview) (3; interview)
Chris Bachelder (1; Q&A)
Jacqueline Baker (1; interview)
Nicholson Baker (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Rosecrans Baldwin (1)
Jesse Ball (1)
J.G. Ballard (1)
Julian Barnes (1)
Kevin Barry (1)
John Barth (1)
Arjun Basu (1)
Elif Batuman (1)
Samuel Beckett (1)
Robert E. Belknap (1)
Katrina Best (1)
Otto Binder (1)
Laurent Binet (1)
Mike Birbiglia (1)
Heather Birrell (1)
Caroline Blackwood (1)
Andrej Blatnik (1)
Roy Blount Jr. (1)
Boethius (1)
Roberto Bolaño (1) (2)
Mike Boldt (1; interview)
Jacques Bonnet (1)
Jorge Luis Borges (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Grégoire Bouillier (1)
Thea Bowering (1; interview)
Tim Bowling (1)
Stephen R. Bown (1; interview)
C.P. Boyko (1; interview) (2)
Inge Bremer-Trueman (1; interview)
Bertram Brooker (1)
Grant Buday (1)
Nellie Carlson (1)
Raymond Carver (1)
Adolfo Bioy Casares (1)
Michael Chabon (1)
Marty Chan (1; interview)
Dan Charnas (1; interview) (2)
Corinna Chong (1)
Chris Cleave (1)
Lynn Coady (1; interview) (2) (3; interview)
Douglas Coupland (1; interview)
Buffy Cram (1)
Lynn Crosbie (1)
Amanda Cross (1)
Nancy Jo Cullen (1)
John D'Agata (1)
Mark Z. Danielewski (1)
Diana Davidson (1; interview)
Don DeLillo (1) (2)
Charles Demers (1; interview)
Kristen den Hartog (1)
David Denby (1)
Helen DeWitt (1) (2)
Patrick deWitt (1; Q&A) (2; Q&A)
Marcello Di Cintio (1; interview)
Nicolas Dickner (1) (2)
Dave Eggers (1)
Alison Espach (1) (2; Q&A)
Percival Everett (1) (2)
Jim Fingal (1)
Anne Finger (1)
Meags Fitzgerald (1; interview)
Jonathan Safran Foer (1; interview)
Kaitlin Fontana (1; Q&A)
Cheryl Foggo (1)
Mark Frauenfelder (1; interview)
Jim Fricke (1)
Bill Gaston (1)
Marie-Louise Gay (1)
David Gilmour (1)
Malcolm Gladwell (1)
Misha Glouberman (1)
Adam Leith Gollner (1)
Manuel Gonzales (1)
Adam Gopnik (1)
Emily Gould (1)
John Gould (1)
Lee Gowan (1)
Linda Goyette (1)
Gwethalyn Graham (1)
Amelia Gray (1)
Chris Hadfield (1; interview)
Daniel Handler (1; interview)
Adam Haslett (1)
David Hayward (1)
Alan Heathcock (1)
Steve Hely (1)
Aleksandar Hemon (1)
Lee Henderson (1; interview)
Kira Henehan (1)
Lawrence Herzog (1)
Sheila Heti (1) (2; Q&A) (3) (4)
Jessica Hiemstra (1)
Miranda Hill (1)
Nick Hornby (1)
Robert Hough (1)
Sean Howe (1)
Mary-Beth Hughes (1)
Maude Hutchins (1)
Neamat Imam (1; interview)
Isol (1)
Harry Karlinsky (1) (2)
Esmé Claire Keith (1)
A.L. Kennedy (1) (2)
Etgar Keret (1)
Ross King (1; interview)
Chuck Klosterman (1) (2; interview)
Ryan Knighton (1)
Jane F. Kotapish (1)
Louise Ladouceur (1; interview)
Sarah Lang (1; interview)
Annette Lapointe (1)
Grant Lawrence (1; interview)
Nam Le (1)
Perrine Leblanc (1)
Fran Lebowitz (1; interview)
Shelley A. Leedahl (1)
Alex Leslie (1)
Lawrence Lessig (1)
Jonathan Lethem (1) (2) (3) (4)
Adam Levin (1)
Michael Lewis (1) (2)
Naomi K. Lewis (1; interview) (2; interview)
Tao Lin (1) (2; Q&A) (3)
Ewa Lipska (1)
David Lipsky (1) (2)
Sam Lipsyte (1)
Erlend Loe (1)
Lisa Lutz (1)
Janice MacDonald (1; interview)
Pasha Malla (1; interview)
Ben Marcus (1)
Adam Marek (1)
Clancy Martin (1)
Lisa Martin-DeMoor (1; interview)
Zachary Mason (1; Q&A) (2)
Colin McAdam (1; interview)
Tom McCarthy (1)
Franklin Davey McDowell (1)
Yukari F. Meldrum (1; interview)
Herman Melville (1)
Laurence Miall (1; interview)
David Mitchell (1) (2)
Lorrie Moore (1) (2) (3) (4)
Horacio Castellanos Moya (1)
Haruki Murakami (1) (2) (3) (4)
Michael Murphy (1)
Billeh Nickerson (1; interview)
Jason Lee Norman (1; interview) (2; interview)
Dorthe Nors (1)
Benjamin Nugent (1)
Andrew O'Hagan (1)
Michael Ondaatje (1; interview)
Daniel Orozco (1)
John Ortved (1)
Patton Oswalt (1)
Boris Pahor (1)
Chuck Palahniuk (1; interview)
Orhan Pamuk (1)
Amanda Petrusich (1)
DC Pierson (1) (2; Q&A)
Hannah Pittard (1)
Padgett Powell (1)
Thomas Pynchon (1) (2)
Jennifer Quist (1)
François Rabelais (1)
Nathan Rabin (1)
Kadrush Radogoshi (1; interview)
Ross Raisin (1) (2)
Simon Rich (1; interview) (2) (3)
Edward Riche (1)
Ringuet (1)
Santiago Roncagliolo (1)
Adam Ross (1)
Nicholas Ruddock (1)
Salman Rushdie (1)
Karen Russell (1)
Richard Russo (1)
Mike Sacks (1; interview)
Daniel Sada (1)
Laura Salverson (1)
José Saramago (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
George Saunders (1)
Elissa Schappell (1)
Anakana Schofield (1)
Salvatore Scibona (1)
Will Self (1; interview)
Carol Shaben (1)
Leanne Shapton (1)
Mikhail Shishkin (1)
Gary Shteyngart (1; interview)
Norm Sibum (1)
Katherine Silver (1; Q&A) (2; interview)
Zadie Smith (1) (2)
Lemony Snicket (1; interview)
Carrie Snyder (1)
Muriel Spark (1)
Dana Spiotta (1)
Kathleen Steinhauer (1)
Cassie Stocks (1; interview)
Cordelia Strube (1)
Alan Sullivan (1)
J. Courtney Sullivan (1) (2)
John Jeremiah Sullivan (1)
Miguel Syjuco (1)
Justin Taylor (1) (2; Q&A) (3)
Rob Taylor (1; Q&A)
Lysley Tenorio (1)
Lynne Tillman (1)
Ken Tingley (1)
Miriam Toews (1; interview)
Wells Tower (1)
Matthew J. Trafford (1)
Neil Turok (1)
Ellen Ullman (1)
Deb Olin Unferth (1)
Jean-Christophe Valtat (1)
Richard Van Camp (1)
Padma Viswanathan (1; interview)
Jorge Volpi (1)
Sarah Vowell (1)
David Foster Wallace (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Russell Wangersky (1)
Mélanie Watt (1)
Teddy Wayne (1; interview)
Chris F. Westbury (1; interview)
Colson Whitehead (1)
David Whitton (1)
Ian Williams (1)
John Williams (1)
D.W. Wilson (1; interview)
Kevin Wilson (1)
Michael Winter (1)
James Wood (1)
Molly Young (1) (2; Q&A)
Vlado Žabot (1)


"Comic Sans" (The Incongruous Quarterly)
"'No Fear' T-Shirts Based on Board Games" (McSweeney's)

"The Men in the Mirror"
"Moby-Dick; or, My Favourite Book"
"The Pop-Culture Annotated 'Lord's Prayer'"
"Tumblr Recommends"

Field Notes: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Death In A Tenured Position



SYNOPSIS: Raymond Carver’s landmark 1981 collection of bleak, gritty, sparse stories about the life of the blue-collar American male.

CONDITION: Bought used from Value Village in September.

THOUGHTS: About time, right?

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two times I’ve listened to podcasts about Raymond Carver short stories, and zero times that I’ve actually sat down and read the stories themselves. This was long overdue. After reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, though, I’m surprised to report that one of my preconceptions about Carver’s writing has been completely validated.

Namely, the fact that I have a nearly irresistible urge to make fun of it.

Why is this? I blame the titles. They’re so no-nonsense, so surgery-with-no-anaesthetically masculine that they cross over, almost instantly, into self-caricature. “Tell The Women We’re Going.” Following the titular story with a final one called “One More Thing.” And, my favourite, “After The Denim,” which sounds like a really great Springsteen concept album.

Of course, the characters stomping through the territory are similarly grizzled and un-self-conscious. These are men who steal ashtrays and hurl things through windows. They get drunk in broad daylight. They think a lot about making their point. These men are unmistakably from a generation that is not my own—for lack of a better term, they’re like a fleet of dads.

I don’t know the whole story behind Carver’s relationship with his editor, Gordon Lish, aside from the fact that Lish basically seized editorial control: chopping stories (sometimes nearly in half), changing character names and endings, and adding brand-new elements. So I can’t say for sure who has done what here, or to what effect.

But if we think of fiction anatomically, Carver’s stories (bearing Lish’s heavily felt co-sign) have some of the strongest skeletons I’ve ever seen. You can press down as hard as you want—and in many ways, that’s precisely what the world is doing to these characters, for a host of undefined reasons. They won’t break. The structures are immaculate.

The uniformity of tone doesn’t really bother me, either, though I think Carver is at his best when these man’s men are viewed through fresh, curious eyes. Many of the stories feature a long-suffering wife or best friend as the foil, and I don’t think these quite connect as hard as the ones featuring, for instance, a travelling salesman (“Viewfinder”), a young son (“The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off”), or even passersby on the street (“Why Don’t You Dance?”).

And thank god that Carver (or Lish) has the decency to put a story featuring a redemptive view of parenthood, “Everything Stuck To Him,” after the one where a baby is literally torn in half.

This latter instance is the one time Lish put his red pen away too soon. We get it: angry parents destroy their kids. You don’t have to go all King Solomon on us.



SYNOPSIS: Part of her Kate Fansler series of literary mysteries, the pseudonymous Amanda Cross’s 1981 novel about the mysterious death of the first female professor in Harvard’s English department.

CONDITION: Bought used, for a dollar, from the new Untitled Bookshop in Edmonton.

THOUGHTS: In my ongoing devotion to the campus novel, I will leave no stone unturned. Somewhere along the way this slim mystery novel made its way onto my master list, and when I saw it among the stacks at a recently opened used bookstore here in town, I knew what I had to do.

I’ll admit I have a hard time getting past things like that horrendous cover. Are those tree shadows meant to be ominous? Then again, any book can look like garbage once it’s gone through the mass market paperback machine.

Better still, Death in a Tenured Position turned out to be exactly what I needed: a quick, wry, charmingly ridiculous whodunit. (Especially considering that I was coming off of reading a punishing Holocaust memoir—more on that tomorrow.)

The novel takes place in the late 1970s, in a world that will make even the mildest progressive’s heart skip a beat. The women’s movement has just started to take root in academia, but the boys’ club that is Harvard’s English Department will have none of it: it takes an anonymous million-dollar grant to force them to hire even a single female professor.

At least until she gets murdered. This is the fracas that academic-turned-private-detective Kate Fansler gets dragged into, and the way the case unravels, with dashes of wit and high-minded reference points (most mysteries don’t come equipped with Gertrude Stein epigraphs and arguments over Joan Didion essays), I wonder if Jonathan Ames didn’t have something like this in mind when he came up with his story and subsequent TV show Bored to Death.

Granted, Death in a Tenured Position isn’t a comedy, but there’s a looseness to the story and an awareness of the rules of the genre that makes for very satisfying reading. The strains of political correctness (or what passed for it, anyway) are put to particularly good use. Heaven forbid you get accidentally lumped in with the “libbers”—it’s the equivalent of waking up one day with a Crips logo tattooed across your eyelids.

And sometimes those rules seem to get thrown out the window entirely. For instance, why is Kate’s husband out of the country, doing philanthropic legal work in Africa, for the entire book? There’s a scene where I think she sleeps with her old college crush, but it has nothing to do with the story and is never even alluded to again. There’s no way to know for sure. But I did a little detective work of my own, and really: “Come to my place, we’ll drink whiskey and I’ll play you a song on my guitar”? In college-speak, how does that not mean sex?

Nov 15, 2010
blog comments powered by Disqus