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Archive for the ‘Top Five Books’ Category

Steve Venright’s Top Five Books

Posted by art On July - 31 - 2007

Every now and again, we ask a local luminary to enumerate five pieces of literature, or “books,” which have deeply affected or influenced them at some point in their lives. It is our aim to introduce you to an artist, and to give you a sense of his or her tastes, while also providing you with a wealth of interesting literature to explore, in the hopes of raising our national and individual literacy levels to an all-time high.

Steve Venright

Steve Venright is the author of several books of poetry in prose, including Straunge Wunder, The Sleepy Turbine, and the forthcoming Floors of Enduring Beauty. He was interviewed for MONDO’s “Artist of the Week” feature, posted on July 16th, 2007. This is what he has to offer for this week’s Top Five:

Here’s a quick Top Five list with the theme of “revelation” — works that in various ways have opened my eyes and charged my neural circuitry. It’s a non-poetry/non-fiction selection, if you don’t consider the fact that the best works of journalism are somehow poetic and that every autobiography, by the very nature of memory, is to some extent fictional. I’m off on a pastoral retreat and don’t have any of these books on hand, so it’s only their most striking and immediately memorable aspects that I will touch upon.

1. True Hallucinations by Terence McKenna [Harper Collins, 1993]
2. The Stoned Apocalypse by Marco Vassi [Trident Press, 1972]
3. Towers of Deception by Barry Zwicker [New Society Publishers, 2006]
4.The Immaculate Perception by Christopher Dewdney [House of Anansi Press, 1986]
5. Maya Cosmogenesis: 2012 by John Major Jenkins [Bear & Company, 1998]

True Hallucinations is an outlandish psychedelic travelogue, an extraordinary theoretical treatise on the nature of reality, an examination of everything from ethnobotany and shamanism to UFOs and the “transcendental object at the end of time”. McKenna’s trippy and lovable sense of humour, scholarly and experiential wisdom, and ability to tell the story of a bizarre adventure in a fascinating way make this a definite “desert island” selection. As Terence wrote in his inscription of my copy: “Onward to Hyperspace!”

The Stoned Apocalypse is a book that Nicky Drumbolis recommended to me years ago. Now I’m telling you: go find a copy of the 1973 paperback edition with the groovy Herman Hesse-meets-the-porn-division-of-Harlequin cover. “Are you a seeker?” a young Marco Vassi is asked early on in this rambunctious memoir. Well, if you are and you love the idea of an exalted and depraved romp through the orgies, drugs, and singular spiritual disciplines of the late 60s, this is the masterpiece for you. Vassi reflects (I’ll paraphrase) on one of the psychologists he encounters: “He never took acid — a fact I found peculiar in someone who claimed to be interested in the nature of the mind.” My favourite passage is his tremendously moving statement about modern man being a “frightened cloth robot”. (This is cheating, because it’s supposed to be a top five list, but after reading The Stoned Apocalypse, pick up a copy of William Kotzwinkle’s The Fan Man for a hilarious fictional follow-up to the transmutopian hippiedom of Vassi’s reminiscence.)

Towers of Deception is one of many brilliant recent books and anthologies (including Global Outlook’s 9/11: The Greatest Crime of All Time) seeking to dispel the monumental lies behind the official story of “9/11″. Zwicker — who was perhaps the first to tackle this subject on television, in a Vision TV special — focuses on media complicity in the telling of the big lie, and on the almost universal refusal of television stations and major newspapers to present facts other than those sanctioned and force-fed by the neo-con corporate machinery. Okay, that last bit sounds like the ranting of a “conspiracy theorist” — loathe that lazy dismissive simpleminded epithet — but I’m rushing and don’t have time to attempt to emulate Zwicker’s succinctly reasoned and exquisitely poised journalism. Fortunately, the theme of the book necessarily involves analyses of the events of that day in such a way as to leave little doubt that “inside job” is at least a distinct possibility, if not almost a certainty. This is a brave and significant book written with a lucidity and poignancy that should inspire a new generation of truth-seekers.

The Immaculate Perception is one of many Christopher Dewdney books I could single out for praise as a revelatory work, the titles of which alone are enough to expand consciousness by at least three centimetres: Fovea Centralis, Spring Trances in the Control Emerald Night, The Cenozoic Asylum, Predators of the Adoration…. This is an early example of Dewdney’s non-fiction, predating acclaimed works such as 2004’s Acquainted with the Night. Its form is a little different from standard non-fiction, being closer in ways to Dewdney’s own prose poetry: a sequence of fairly short “takes” on the biology and psychology of consciousness. This book is fun in the way that books on neurology for the layperson are fun, but it’s also charged with Dewdney’s numinous observational sensibility. And — like most truly visionary works — it can be really amusing too.

Maya Cosmogenesis: 2012 is primarily a book about Mayan and Aztec calendrics as they relate to our current temporal phase, here at the end of Baktun Thirteen. John Major Jenkins speaks with a voice that’s commendable in its scholarly expertise but also infused with a spiritual curiosity that gives this book its radiant appeal. This is not his most recent work but it may be a good place to start. It has informed other impressive titles that have also dealt with the end of the Maya calendar and our current world situation, among them Geoff Stray’s Beyond 2012: Catastrophe or Ecstasy — A Complete Guide to End-of-Time Predictions, and Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. And — bringing this back to the start — it has an introduction by the great Terence McKenna!

Angela Rawlings’ Top Five Books

Posted by art On July - 23 - 2007

Every now and again, we ask a local celebrity to enumerate five pieces of literature, or “books,” which have deeply affected or influenced them at some point in their lives. It is our aim to introduce you to an artist, and to give you a sense of his or her tastes, while also providing you with a wealth of interesting literature to explore, in the hopes of raising our national and individual literacy level. Enjoy.

Angela Rawlings

Angela Rawlings is the award-winning author of Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists (Coach House Books, Spring 2006), which was featured in The Globe and Mail’s list of top 100 books of 2006. She is the co-editor of Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (The Mercury Press, Fall 2005), a compilation of up-and-coming poets working from a diverse range of influences. As well as being a poet and editor, Angela has been involved in coordinating the Scream Literary Festival, and has taught several successful workshops on poetry and creative writing, including her Poetry Toolbox Workshop for youth. Wide Slumber was recently adapted for the stage. You can read more about that, and about the book itself, at

Angela lives in Toronto.

1. Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Seraphini

This book is best discovered without copious pre-amble. However, the limited edition print runs of this artist-designed book, written in an alien language and illustrating a world eerily similar to Earth, may prove difficult for many readers to track down (or to afford, as copies can cost more than $2,500).

Try your local inter-library loan (Carleton University has been known to share their copy with other libraries in Ontario, as an example).

It’s not as thrilling as clutching the oversized hardcover original, but a kind soul has scanned the book for all to see.

2. When FOX Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai

“I come from an honest family of foxes.”

This opening line commences the story of the fox, the titular character and narrator. Two other narrators flesh out this magical tale: an eleventh-century Chinese poetess and a twentieth-century Vancouver-based student. Lai’s an alchemical author, morphing the everyday into wonder. Prepare to be enchanted.

3. The Policeman’s Beard is Half-Constructed by Racter

“Bill sings to Sarah. Sarah sings to Bill. Perhaps they will do other dangerous things together. They may eat lamb or stroke each other. They may chant of their difficulties and their happiness. They have love but they also have typewriters.

That is interesting.”

Racter is a computer program designed in 1984 to compile syntactically accurate sentences from a wide array of words. The Policeman’s Beard is Half-Constructed is the first full-length book generated by a computer program, compiled by Bill Chamberlain. The prose and poetry in the book are lucid and readable, its programmatic origins not noticeable. The program and book are early forerunners of digital poetics, raising questions of what an author’s function has become (where the human author, relating to Racter, is in fact the computer programmer).

Full text available online through the indispensable

4. Journal by bpNichol

“all these words are only nothing        all these words are only sounds        i dance with the sounds        i sing with the sounds        the sound is all the meaning that there is        the sound is the loving        the sound is the longing        oh god i am so full of sound        i open my mouth and sound escapes        i open my mouth to let the sound escape        my body fills with it        i vibrate with the sound        i hate the words        the words destroy the sounds with useless meanings        the meanings pile up and the sound is lost        i scream with the sound         i live in the sound        the sound flows around me i am lost in it        oh surely this is knowing to live & breathe & celebrate the sound        all heaven is sound        i am caught in the sound        father you named me but gave me no sound        it was a flat lifeless thing this naming”

Depending on your source, you could receive recommendations for any number of texts by Canada’s patron saint of poetry, bpNichol. My personal favourite is Journal. This chameleon-like text blends poetry, fiction, and diary. Its publisher, Coach House Press, describes the book as employing “Gertrude Stein’s technique of using evolving yet repetitive syntax to develop language as a correlative for intense emotional states.”

5. A Humument by Tom Phillips

This treated text is an ongoing project from British artist Tom Phillips, who unveils the story within the story of Victorian novelist W. H. Mallock’s A Human Document. Phillips conjures the spirit of a page through an erasure exercise! Try at home today.



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