Superfluous Matter
Books - This is How You Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo and David Malki !

This book is a sequel to the amazing Machine of Death which was released with great success in 2010. Like the original, it's a collection of stories based around a very simple premise: the idea that there exists a machine which given a drop of your blood will give you a slip of paper with a few words describing how you will die. It's always correct but it doesn't give a date and it can be frustratingly vague. The stories are contributed by random Internet people and are selected and edited by a team of web-publishing superheros.

The new book takes the premise in dozens of wonderful new directions and although some stories are less polished than others, most are truly fantastic. The work switches back and forth between hilarious and surprisingly moving very quickly.

I really like the idea of a collection of work all based on a particular constraint. The Machine of Death provides a surprisingly effective vehicle for all sorts of storytelling styles and the issues explored are incredibly diverse. Rather than limit the authors, the constraint opens up huge realms of creativity.

I highly recommend both books. You can download a PDF of the whole first book for free from their website (and an eight-story sample of the second). But I do encourage you to buy the books (in whatever format suits you) as you'll be supporting independent publishing.

Books - Discovering Eden by Alex M. Hall

The guide for my recent canoe trip, owner of Canoe Arctic, was a man named Alex Hall. He's spent over forty years paddling in the Arctic and over thirty of those years leading guided canoe trips like mine. He is widely recognized as the leading authority on the Thelon River and surrounding region.

In 2003 he published a memoir of his experiences and although it is now out of print I was able to get a copy directly from him (signed and dated with a personal note). Upon returning to civilization I sat down to read the book and was instantly transported back to the tundra. Even though I was able to get a good idea of his general awesomeness on the trip, I didn't realize the scope of his experience until reading his book.

His first trip in 1971 was only the eleventh "recreational" canoe trip on the Thelon river. In 1973, he and a friend spent 77 days paddling over 1850 kilometres from the northern border of Saskatchewan all the way to the Arctic Ocean. He's been back and forth on many northern river systems more often than any living person. He has also spent countless hours successfully campaigning against mining companies trying to open up mines in some of the protected areas. This was my guide and at over 70 years of age he's still amazing.

The book is a perfect reminder of my trip and I'm so glad to have a copy. If you're interested in reading it, the Toronto Public Library has a few or if you're lucky I might loan you mine. It's very engaging and almost certainly gives a better feel for the tundra than the trip journal I'll eventually write.


I always say that I want to code up a recipe feature for my blog to make it easy to post the things I cook. I suspect this may never happen, as I never quite have the time. Or, to put it better, I never make that particular task a priority in my life.

So in lieu of that, I'm posting a photo/description of my supper tonight because it was awesome. I picked up a nice piece of sustainably harvested, wild Arctic char at the market today and the Internet told me to make a quick avocado relish to go with it. I pan-fried the fish in ghee after putting some cuts in the skin to help it crisp nicely (I can't tell if fish skin or chicken skin is better, but both are best when crispy and rubbed with salt and pepper). Then I roasted asparagus in olive oil with shallots, garlic, cherry tomatoes, Aleppo chili pepper, turmeric, salt, and pepper. I also roasted some Okinawan (purple) sweet potatoes in freshly rendered, grass-fed beef fat (I roasted some marrow bones on Friday, ate the marrow with a parsley-shallot salad, saved the rendered fat for cooking, and am now turning the bones slowly into beef broth: 36 hours on a slow simmer with an oxtail and some beef neck bones). To drink I squeezed some lemon juice into the bottom of a glass, muddled in some fresh raspberries, then filled the glass with water and let it chill/settle/become awesome in the fridge for a few hours.

As complicated as this all sounds, it was only an hour of work to pull together (not counting the time spent rendering the precious precious beef fat, but that and the stock will be used for many many other purposes). Also, nothing here was tricky. Probably the hardest part is avoiding overcooking the fish, but that is just a matter of practice. I'm still not great with fish, but tonight I nailed it! Delicious!!

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Books - Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (50th Anniversary Edition)

I frequently peruse lists of books with names like, "The 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century" and then I use those lists to inform my own reading choices. It was with such a context that I picked up "Naked Lunch," not really knowing anything else about it.

It turns out to be one of the seminal novels of the Beat Generation. Both Allen Ginsberg (Howl) and Jack Kerouac (On The Road) collaborated with Burroughs to edit and piece together a mountain of notes and half-written stories produced by Burroughs over a decade during which he was mostly in the thrall of opiate addiction (morphine, heroin, codeine, demerol, and more). Apparently the novel is widely considered a landmark publication in American Literature. At publication it was also considered to be extremely controversial both for its subject matter (drug use, violence, homosexuality, paedophilia) and intentionally gratuitous use of obscene language. It was banned in a bunch of places, but the ban was later overturned on appeal based on the testimony of several prominent authors who argued the book has social value and thus is not subject to the laws on obscenity.

The 50th Anniversary Edition contains about one hundred pages of appendices including a rather illuminating article written by Burroughs about his drug experiences that was published in The British Journal of Addiction.

The actual book itself It's a series of chapters that can be read in any order and are only vaguely related to each other. As far as I can tell the paragraphs and sentences of each chapter are only vaguely related to each other as well. Hell, even the words in a single sentence seem to be at odds with each other at times. For the most part I really had no idea what was happening. The only way I can describe it is like a much crazier version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Also, I can certainly see why it riled up the censors back in the day.

I'm not sure that I'd recommend the book (although I suspect it improves on a second or third reading), but if you do read it I highly recommend seeking out the 50th Anniversary Edition. The appendices supply a ton of much-needed context. They also provide a stunning contrast in style to the novel itself. The book is hard to read and follow and then you stumble to the end (without warning) and into the appendices which are written with the intent to communicate information clearly and concisely. They are like a breath of fresh air. So I guess I recommend the book as a way to gain a better appreciation for clearly written narrative and dialogue.

2013-07 | 2013-09