north vancouver

An interview with local author Alexander Boldizar

Boldizar Jacket Phot 5x5x300dpiTell us about your book, The Ugly.

It’s the story of Muzhduk the Ugli the Fourth, a 300-pound boulder-throwing mountain man from Siberia whose tribal homeland is stolen by an American lawyer out to build a butterfly conservatory for wealthy tourists. In order to restore his people’s land and honor, Muzhduk must travel to Harvard Law School to learn how to throw words instead of boulders.

Boldizar - The Ugly Cover front page only as JPGIt’s a satire of law and society. At its best, it sat at the #2 spot in Amazon’s “dark humour” category between Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, and it’s been generally treated as humour, which has been somewhat surprising. It’s currently a finalist competing against the founder of The Onion for the Indies humour “Book of the Year” prize—but the humour is sort of an accidental by-product. I saw it more as an attempt to create existentialist fiction for the modern era, with the strongest debt to writers like Kafka, Musil and Borges. But I also wanted to make it fun.

If I may be forgiven for quoting a review that picked up on this side of the novel, William Morris, the Emmy-nominated writer for NYPD Blue, wrote in the Buffalo News that “Like a boisterous Borges ignoring the delete key or an angry Celine forced to write in a language he hates, Alexander Boldizar plays with our minds by mixing fact with fiction in The Ugly… Borrowing from every fabulist he knows he turns Conrad’s Heart of Darkness on its head. Kurtz’s “horror” has become Boldizar’s “Ugly”… It’s as if the Harvard Lampoon turned on itself…Kurtz has returned from the jungle and the horror is our institutions.”

I guess any book about the horror of our institutions has to end up absurdist and funny.

kafkaWhy do you write?

I love seeing things from odd angles, simultaneously from the outside and the inside, like a cubist painting that never quite fits together. Kafka once wrote to his father that “Life is not a jigsaw puzzle.”

Writing gives me the opportunity to flesh out crazy perspectives, mismatched puzzle pieces, and crash them into each other and see what happens.

slovakiaDescribe your first ever piece of writing.

I had an intense dream when I was 12, one of those seminal dreams that you remember for a lifetime, that I turned into a short story immediately upon waking up. The key to the story was a passphrase to get out of a trapped situation. I was born in Slovakia and had been in Canada four years by then, but still had frequent dreams growing out of our escape and the six months we spent in a refugee camp. The passphrase was in Czech: Strch prst zkrz krk. It means “Stick your finger through your neck.” It’s a complete, grammatically correct sentence without a single vowel.

herringI didn’t write before that, and nothing after until university, where I wrote for the Red Herring (McGill’s version of the Harvard Lampoon). But it’s remarkable how well Strch prst zkrz krk foreshadowed my entire writing career. Though I do try and use vowels when writing in English.

castleI’ve read your book.  What should I read next?

The Ugly is not the lightest book, and it was inspired by novels that took some work to get through but have stayed with me for decades. If you enjoyed it, then the books I’d recommend are ones you’ve probably already read. The Castle, by Kafka, is probably my favourite book of all time. The Man Without Qualities by Musil is a close second. The Good Soldier Svejk by Hasek. Rhinoceros by Ionesco. Anything by Bohumil Hrabal. Radetzsky March by Joseph Roth. Independent People, by the Icelandic writer Haldor Laxness—the main character there has some similarities to Muzhduk. I remember feeling the sheer weight of the book, of the Icelandic winter, while reading it, but twenty years later I still remember the entire novel. It’s an amazing book.

If what you liked about The Ugly is mostly the humour, then anything by Heller or Vonnegut. Or, something that had never crossed my mind until multiple reviewers made the comparison, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

jjleeWhat local authors do you love?

Depends on the genre, I guess. I recently met JJ Lee at a North Shore Writers Association workshop, and his The Measure of a Man is great. If you like serial-killer thrillers, Jackie Bateman is here on the North Shore, and I really like the way she cuts against the formulas at just the right moment. And I have a young son and was very happy to discover Michael Kerr’s riffs on classic fairy tales. I actually discovered his The Nervous Prince and Other Stories thanks to this blog, so thank you on behalf of both my son and me!

oveWhat is the best book you’ve read so far this year?

This year? Probably A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. Ove is a great, beautiful curmudgeon, and the book is a perfect balance between laughter and tears assembled with a very light touch.

libraryhallWhere can fans find you?

My website points to all the various events, news and social media, but I’m most active on Facebook and Goodreads. I’m also trying to figure out Twitter, @Boldizar, though there I keep getting distracted into sending nasty tweets to Trump. The Ugly is in all the usual places, Indigo-Chapters, Amazon, and the North Vancouver City Library. Just this week I found out that it’s being translated into Czech—I wonder if it will end up in Prague’s Klementinum library? I love libraries, and that’s one of the most stunning in the world.

Thanks, Alex!

If you are a published local author who would like to be interviewed for The Top Shelf, please be in touch!  Email me at


An interview with local author (and NVCL staff member) Michael Kerr

MK-InternetPhoto CroppedTell us about your book, The Nervous Prince and Other Stories.

Well, my book is a collection of short stories, each of which is a modern retelling of a classic fairy tale. I’ve played with point of view – Rapunzel becomes the hairdresser’s story for example – and give lots of allusions to modern considerations such as having Hansel and Gretel search out carbohydrate treats in the forest because their caregiver has put them on a Paleo diet. You might think these kind of twists would go over children’s heads, but that’s partly the point; parents often have to read stories to their children over and over, and I thought the adults should get some amusement out of the deal as well. Besides, children are surprisingly sophisticated in some ways, and often understand more than we adults give them credit for. So they are children’s stories, but geared to an adult audience as well. I think you can tell when you read my book, that I had a great deal of fun writing the stories.

41Q+Z8fVfsLWhy do you write?

There’s something really satisfying about working on a story and having it come together. It’s time-consuming, of course, and I don’t have a lot of time… But as I said, it I get a lot of pleasure out of it. I also really enjoy being part of a writing community and sharing things I’ve been working on. It’s great to see other writers’ works in-progress too and see how they have solved issues and dilemmas with the craft. Plus (at least if people read my work) I get to be part of the cultural conversation we’re all having as we march through life.

hardyDescribe your first ever piece of writing.

I wrote some poems when I was very young, and then in primary school I decided to write a mystery. I think it was grade 2 or 3. I had been reading Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and was certain I could pull off something exciting like that. I wrote in one of those saddle-stitched scribblers. I don’t remember the plot, but the bad guys were caught in the end.

boyindressI’ve read your book. What should I read next?

That’s a tough one. If you’re a younger reader (or parent who wants something with a bit of depth to the fun) I’d suggest David Walliams’ The Boy in the Dress, or Mr. Stink. Another ‘children’s’ book I read recently – one that I just loved – is The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I don’t think I can say enough about how great the Bradley book is. If you’re looking for an adult book that is light and amusing (but with a real human touch) you might like something by Alexander McCall Smith –  The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, or The 44 Scotland Street books.

couplandWhat local authors do you love?\

Douglas Coupland is pretty great. And at the North Shore Writers’ Festival, I discovered a new local writer, Alexander Boldizar, who has a rare talent. I haven’t finished his book, The Ugly, yet, but he has a real gift.

suitableWhat is the best book you’ve read so far this year?

Hands down, it’s A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I reread it this year and it is just so amazing. When I finished, I carried around those characters for days. It’s a 1,500 page novel, and I found myself thinking it was just too short. Thankfully, Seth has written a sequel of sorts, A Suitable Girl, which is supposed to be released next year. I can’t wait.

Where can fans find you?

I’m a Goodreads author, so I have an author page there. I’m also on LinkedIn. But I’m afraid I’m not terribly active in the social media sphere (I don’t think I could market my way out of a wet paper bag). Twitter would work, I suppose – I’m @NVCLMichael

Thanks, Michael!

If you are a published local author who would like to be interviewed for The Top Shelf, please be in touch!  Email me at



North Vancouver Giller Prize Party

LynnCoadyGillerPrizeBeing from the States originally, I am always struck by how fabulously we celebrate Canadian literature here. The Scotiabank Giller Prize is the perfect embodiment of this. It’s like the Academy Awards for books! I love how authors (Authors!) dress up in beautiful gowns and tuxes and walk the red carpet, just like movie stars. I love the pomp and celebration surrounding books (books!) and reading. And I love that the ceremony is broadcast live to the world, just like The Oscars, so that we can all join in the fun.

And this is why I’m super excited to tell you that we are co-hosting our very own Giller Prize Party here on the North Shore!  The event goes down on Monday November 10th at the Lynn Valley Library Community Room. It will be the perfect opportunity to get gussied up and toast your favourite short-listed author during the livestream of the awards ceremony from Toronto. You’ll also have a chance to win fabulous prizes and listen to locals read passages from their favourite nominated books.

Check out the Giller longlist here and stay tuned for the shortlist, which will be announced on Monday, October 6th. The winner will be announced during the awards ceremony on Nov. 10th at 6pm PST.

You can purchase tickets for our Giller Party ($20 each — all proceeds go to the North Shore Writers Festival) here, and find all the event info here.

See you there!


Image of Lynn Coady and Jian Ghomeshi at last year’s Giller Prize ceremony via

Women’s Prize Longlist & Party!

BaileysYou all know Patricia and I get pretty darn excited for literary prizes. But did you know we get downright goofy about the Women’s Prize for Fiction?

Formerly known as the Orange Prize, the award is now sponsored by Baileys (yes, as in the Irish Cream manufacturer, Baileys!) and celebrates “excellence, originality, and accessibility in writing by women in English from throughout the world.” Past winners have included Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Patchett, Lionel Shriver, and Carol Shields.

Patricia and I get so excited for this prize, in fact, that we have decided to host a Women’s Prize Party and contest! The celebration will be held on the evening of Wednesday, June 4th — the day the winner is announced — and will feature excerpt readings from the shortlisted books, drinks and refreshments, and the announcement of the winning book according to North Shore readers. Oh, and fabulous prizes!

For more information on the party and to register, check out our events calendar page.

And here is how the contest will work:

  • As soon as the shortlist is announced on April 7th, you will be able to vote for your favourite shortlisted book through a survey we will create and post on our website.
  • On the eve before the winner is announced, we will tally up the votes.
  • At the party on June 4th, we will announce OUR winner, and one lucky voter will also win a fabulous prize!

In the meantime, we invite you to join Patricia and me in reading this scrumptious longlist of 20 novels, and stay tuned for more on the shortlist, contest and party!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah:A young woman from Nigeria leaves behind her home and her first love to start a new life in America, only to find her dreams are not all she expected.

Margaret Atwood – MaddAddam: Combining adventure, humour, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination that is at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood, and a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.

Suzanne Berne –  The Dogs of Littlefield: A wry exploration of the discontent concealed behind the manicured lawns and picket fences of darkest suburbia. (On order)
Fatima Bhutto – The Shadow of the Crescent Moon: This debut novel chronicles the lives of five young people trying to live and love in a small town in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas close to the Afghan border. Individuals are pushed to make terrible choices. And, as the events of this single morning unfold, one woman is at the centre of it all. (On order)

Claire Cameron –  The Bear: The Bear is the story of Anna and her little brother, Stick–two young children forced to fend for themselves in Algonquin Park after a black bear attacks their parents. A gripping and mesmerizing exploration of the child psyche, this is a survival story unlike any other, one that asks what it takes to survive in the wilderness and what happens when predation comes from within.

Lea Carpenter – Eleven Days: A debut novel–unexpected, tautly written, suspenseful–that touches on some of the most profound questions we have about war as it tells us a haunting story of a single mother, and her Navy SEAL son.
M.J. Carter – The Strangler Vine: Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing. William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. (On order)

Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries: Arriving in New Zealand in 1866 to seek his fortune in the goldfields, Walter Moody finds himself drawn into a series of unsolved crimes and complex mysteries. Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize for fiction.

Deborah Kay Davies – Reasons She Goes to the Wood: Pearl can be very, very good. More often she is very, very bad. But she s just a child, a mystery to all who know her. A little girl who has her own secret reasons for escaping to the nearby woods. What might those reasons be? And how can she feel so at home in the dark, sinister, sensual woods, a wonder of secrets and mystery? (On order)

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Signature of All Things: The best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love traces the multi-generational saga of the Whittaker family, whose progenitor makes a fortune in the quinine trade before his daughter, a gifted botanist, researches the mysteries of evolution while falling in love with an utopian artist against a backdrop of the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

Hannah Kent – Burial Rites: Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her.

Rachel Kushner – The Flamethrowers: Reno comes to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity — artists colonize a deserted and industrial SoHo, stage actions in the East Village blur the line between life and art. Reno is submitted to a sentimental education of sorts-by dreamers, poseurs, and raconteurs.
Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland: Brothers Subhash and Udayan Mitra pursue vastly different lives–Udayan in rebellion-torn Calcutta, Subhash in a quiet corner of America–until a shattering tragedy compels Subhash to return to India, where he endeavors to heal family wounds.

Audrey Magee – The Undertaking: Desperate to escape the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met. With ten days’ leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin, and both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them. When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of Katharina that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad.

Eimear McBride – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing: The story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother who is living with the after effects of a brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and sensual urges of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist, to read A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. (On order)

Charlotte Mendelson – Almost English: In a tiny flat in West London, 16-year-old Marina lives with her emotionally delicate mother, Laura, and three ancient Hungarian relatives. Imprisoned by her family’s crushing expectations and their fierce un-English pride, by their strange traditions and stranger foods, she knows she must escape. But the place she runs to makes her feel even more of an outsider.

Anna Quindlen – Still Life with Bread Crumbs: Moving to a small country cabin, a once world-famous photographer bonds with a local man and begins to see the world around her in new, deeper dimensions while evaluating second chances at love, career, and self-understanding.

Elizabeth Strout – The Burgess Boys: Catalyzed by a nephew’s thoughtless prank, a pair of brothers confront painful psychological issues surrounding the freak accident that killed their father when they were boys, a loss linked to a heartbreaking deception that shaped their personal and professional lives.

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch: A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend’s family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

Evie Wyld – All The Birds, Singing: Jake Whyte is living on her own in an old farmhouse on a craggy British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. Her disobedient collie, Dog, and a flock of sheep are her sole companions, which is how she wanted it to be. But every few nights something–or someone–picks off one of the sheep and sounds a new deep pulse of terror. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumors of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is also Jake’s past–hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, held in the silences about her family and the scars that stripe her back–a past that threatens to break into the present.

Any predictions on who will get shortlisted? I predict Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Clair Cameron, Rachel Kushner, Donna Tartt, Evie Wyld.

JJ Lee and Karen Dodd on Feb. 5th

I am so excited for our next author reading on February 5th! JJ Lee, the sartorial superstar memoirist behind The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit, will be joining us, as will Karen Dodd, one of our most delightful North Shore Writers’ Association members.

JJLeeSmJJ’s book was shortlisted for the 2011 Governor-General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction, the 2012 BC Book Prizes Hubert Evans Prize for Non-Fiction, and the 2012 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize. Whew. Our NVCL Book Club read The Measure of  Man this past Fall and loved it.

KarenDoddKaren is a first-time novelist, who has recently published Deadly Switch: A Stone Suspense. She has also published hundreds of articles, and teaches new and emerging fiction authors how to build their author platform while writing their books. She calls it “building the plane while flying it.”

I hope to see you all there!


Date: Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Time: 7pm, doors open at 6:30 for wine and refreshments

Location: Singh Room, NVCL, 120 W. 14th St.

Free. Register online through our Programs and Events page by clicking on “Sign up.”

New Persian Book & Social Club!

FunnyInFarsiIntroducing our new Persian Book & Social Club!

Starting this October, local Farsi-speaking seniors aged 55+ will have the opportunity to meet twice a month to discuss books, socialize and go on fun outings.

The first meeting is on October 9th from 10am – 12pm in the Singh Room on the third floor of the library, and will be dedicated to introductions and ice breakers. Ehlam, the club’s organizer, will distribute the first book discussion selection, Funny in Farsi.

The other meetings dates are:

October 23rd, November 6, November 20, December 4, December 18, January 8, January 22, February 5, March 5, March 19 (all from 10am – 12pm in the Singh Room).

For more information, please contact Ehlam Zaminpaima at




North Shore Storytelling Project



The North Shore Welcoming Action Committee presents:
The North Shore Storytelling Project

What’s Your Story?
Storytelling helps us understand ourselves and others.
We are super excited to partner with the NSWAC to offer this workshop, which will bring together the North Shore’s immigrant and refugee community to tell their stories of coming to Canada. We’ll be offering free training to participants who want to learn new communication and presentation skills and have lots of fun. And the community will benefit by gaining awareness of the value that newcomers bring to the North Shore.

Who Should Participate?
To participate in the project, you must be:

  • A North Shore resident
  • An immigrant or refugee
  • Able to speak English at an intermediate or advanced level
  • Able to participate in 12 hours of training, and at least 2 public performances over the next 10 months
  • Willing to have your performance video recorded and distributed via social media and other media

What’s the Next Step?
Information Sessions for potential storytellers are being held:

  • Wednesday, July 10th, 7-8:30pm in the G. Paul Singh Room, 3rd floor of the Library
  • Thursday, July 11th, 7-8:30pm in the Children’s Programming Room, 1st floor of the Library

Then What?
Storytellers selected to participate will be trained by Naomi Steinberg, an experienced storyteller, coach, and Executive Director of the Vancouver Society for Storytelling. Naomi has a passion for storytelling. She makes learning to tell stories fun and inspiring.
Following their training, storytellers will share their stories at community events throughout the North Shore.

For more information, visit our events calendar.