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Book Reviews

Attack of the Copula Spiders and Other Essays on Writing

by Douglas Glover

Novelist and short story writer Douglas Glover, author of the novels Elle (winner of the 2003 Governor General’s Literary Award) and The Life and Times of Captain N., among other works, has earned his bread – as so many authors do – teaching writing at the university level. Such work can be soul-deadening, especially in what Glover refers to as the post-literate age.

Some of the pieces in this latest collection began life as lecture notes, and it is clear that Glover has few qualms about being tough on his audience. “When,” he asks despairingly, “was the last time you read a work of literature more than once? More than twice? When was the last time you forced yourself through a difficult work that seemed initially unreadable to you though you knew its greatness by reputation? Don’t answer.”

Yet he can also assume an almost intimate tone of optimism and hopefulness. His essays do not “aspire to completeness…. Though I tend sometimes to speak with the authority of an enthusiast, this is hardly meant to be Holy Writ. What I want is for would-be writers to listen to what I say and then read great stories and see how the models I propose play out in practice.”

Glover practises what he prays for in others. His own prose is clean and polished, thoughtful and intriguing, accessible yet serious. He is less conversational in tone when preaching to the choir in a series of long essays, many of which first appeared in The New Quarterly, about contemporaries he admires, such as Mark Anthony Jarman and – especially – Alice Munro. (Some non-Canadians, such as the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, are on the list as well.)

Thoughtful and erudite books such as Attack of the Copula Spiders are always useful as roadmaps for developing better readers and writers. Now if we could only get the world to read them carefully.