Monday, February 12, 2007

Ballsy! Recent Canadian Cultural Output That I Recommend

1. Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper's New Conservatism by Paul Wells*

The most readable book on Canadian politics since John Duffy's Fights of Our Lives. (And I'm not just saying that because the last book I read on Canadian politics was John Duffy's Fights of Our Lives.) I raced through the book and was enjoying it so visibly that people came up to ask what I was reading.

My one complaint about the experience of reading it was that I had already read the Maclean's election issue, Wells' columns, his blog and half a dozen reviews, so I spoiled parts of it for myself. This is what happened when I went to see Borat, too, and is my fault entirely.

I finished Right Side Up a month ago, so I'm a little hazy on the details content-wise. I think Matthew Hayday said a good chunk of what I would say in this review. I disagree that it was a mistake to not finish the book right after the 2006 election, though; it was ballsy. Certainly, I found it interesting (and suspenseful) to see what Wells sensed was coming (Dion) and what he didn't (Harper is described avoiding the Quebec as a nation issue; the environment is described as "an esoteric file for many Canadians"); it also helped illuminate how things have changed so quickly and how Harper has adapted to circumstances.

Still, I did enjoy the first third -- how PM and SH became leaders/creators of their parties -- the most, which is not what I expected. My eyes usually glaze over the moment I see the words unite the right, but Wells actually made the subject entertaining. For that reason alone, he was robbed of a Shaughnessy Cohen Prize nomination...

A minor criticism: Sometimes I get the feeling that Wells underestimates the pull of the narrative he is constructing and becomes worried that readers will get bored if he doesn't crack a joke every couple of paragraphs. I appreciate that he's looking out for the readers (how many authors of political books just seem to forget we're there?), but sometimes it feels forced. To wit, describing an Internet panel Maclean's did during the last election, he writes, "It's like a focus group as big as the audience at a Nelly Furtado concert at CNE Stadium. Also the focus group lasts eight weeks. Whereas the Nelly Furtado concert only seems to." This is a particularly clunky example, but I still got the feeling that overall Wells needs to trust himself a bit more. I, for one, look forward to his next tome. (Am I the only one who thinks it will be a biography of St├ęphane Dion?)

Oh, and a quick note to the McClelland & Stewart book jacket writers. "The rise of Stephen Harper - and the tumbling fall of Paul Martin - deserves a dramatist like Shakespeare. Or perhaps a writer like Paul Wells." I know this book was rushed out, but... did you just compare Paul Wells to Shakespeare!?!


2. The Arcade Fire -- Neon Bible.

Oh my gosh, it's good. You may have got the impression reading this blog that I am a hard-core Arcade Fire fan. In fact, I was only lukewarm on them until recently. Back in the day, I used to argue that The Unicorns were the better Montreal band. Ballsy, huh?

But, it's true, once you see them live, they find a special place in your heart. And the new album is right up my alley with a few songs (Black Mirror/Neon Bible/My Body Is a Cage) that I will probably no longer like in a month, because I'm playing them over and over on my iPod.

* Yes, I did briefly post a mini-review of this a few weeks back, but I was rushing out to a play and wasn't happy with it and took it down later. Which prompted an email from Wells asking what I had written. Sigh. The Internet sees all.


Anders said...

The Neon Bible is the kind of album that grew on me slowly, making it the best kind of album. I am now firmly in its clutches and love the three songs you mention, as well as Keep the Car Running, in spite of the title being in direct conflict with my environmental views.

Also their concert changed my life.

Paul Wells said...

I loved that Nelly Furtado line! It came after several pages where I hadn't written anything irrelevant at all. It came as a great relief, just to me.

I believe political journalism should be as self-indulgent as possible. Probably it shows.

Anonymous said...

I find that politics and music don't mix (like, when was the last time a campaign theme song was cool? And don't say U2). And then, by extension, politics reporters and music are absolutely allergic to each other, as you can see from Wells' mistake on the incredible Nelly F. (and his subsequent love for that infantile Fallout Boy boy band). But, to his credit, I find his tastes more mature and palatable than, say, Kinsella.