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Marginalia: A Cultural Reader

by Mark Kingwell

For any Canadian who reads about culture or politics, University of Toronto philosophy professor Mark Kingwell is a household name. From his essays on television in Saturday Night, to his cultural columns in Adbusters, to his books (Dreams of Millennium and Better Living), Kingwell has done an admirable job of combining philosophical discourse with journalism, simplifying the former and smartening up the latter.

All the more reason Kingwell should publish a collection of his shorter works. The 37 pieces comprise six sections with the headings “Beginnings,” “Politics,” “Screen,” “Speed,” “Thinking,” and “Books and Two Endings”; they cover everything from kissing to designer Eric Gill, and Tarantino’s movie Reservoir Dogs.

What makes the book different from other similar collections are the marginalia – comments Kingwell has added in the margins. These range from the very pedagogical (“This tendency to dichotomize is a favourite target of post-modern critics…”), to the informative (“Poe was born in Boston, but died wretched and penniless in Baltimore”) to the personal (“Obviously I have some kind of hate for this Tyler Brûlé guy”) to the amusing (“That may have been the year I gave up drinking for Lent, 40 days of deprivation that ended with John and me sprinting down the road at midnight on Holy Saturday to catch the last call at the Tropicana.”). Most of these are worth reading, but some are self-indulgent. One essay refers to a woman that he tried to kiss on the cheek, only to miss and kiss her ear. “Her name was (and is) Marie Adams; she’s the older sister of my high school buddy David Adams, and this happened on a train platform at King’s Cross in London,” he adds in the margin. With all due respect to Dr. Kingwell, so what?

The essays showcase Kingwell’s unique scholar’s insight, lively writing, political sensitivity, and sense of humour. The marginalia are fun, but they’re not necessary.