March 30, 2013

MacEwan Book of the Year: An Evening With Michael Ondaatje

There's something about book events and author readings/signings that I can't pass up. Last Thursday, Michael Ondaatje (the Canadian author of such books as The English Patient and The Cat's Table - but if you didn't already know that, shame on you!), was at MacEwan University for MacEwan Book of the Year event in which Ondaatje won for The Cat's Table (which I might add, I have not yet read - shame on me!)

{MacEwan Book of the Year}
But here's the thing: as excited as I was to go to this event, I cannot truthfully say I am a big fan of Ondaatje's. In fact, not only have I not read The Cat's Table, but the only book I have read of Ondaatje's is In the Skin of a Lion, and I didn't even like it. But I loved the film version of The English Patient! (That counts for something, right?).  What I am a huge fan of though is books, and without authors, we would have no books (obviously).  Therefore, I am generally not one to turn down an opportunity to meet an author, especially a well-known, Canadian author.  Even if I feel a little bit like a poser in attending. Luckily, I was in good company with fellow-poser's Laura from Reading In Bed, and my mom, Sheri.

I'm no stranger to attending book events, in fact, if there was a frequent-flyer card for this, I would have the gold star membership. You see, my mom was a book publicist for 10+ years, so you can imagine the number of times I was gently-forced asked to attend her client's events. And over those years, I realized that it doesn't matter if you're a fan of the author or not - as a book lover, it's FUN to go to these types of things. While I was thinking about what to write for this post, I started to think about all the author's I have met over the years (stay-tuned for a future post) and how it never gets old or tiring to attend these kinds of events. Authors really are the celebrities of the bookish-world. Seeing and meeting authors evokes the same feelings and enjoyment I get out of seeing my favourite (and even not-so-favourite) bands play live. And the opportunities to meet these celebrities seems to be few and far between nowadays, so who am I to turn down the chance to meet one of them?

 photo shrug_zpsaa943109.gif

But let's get back to the MacEwan Book of the Year night.  I think what I love so much about this program is that it's tradition for the author of the chosen year's book to visit MacEwan campus for an evening of discussion. And luckily for us non-university folk, it's open to anyone who wishes to purchase a ticket to attend!

After Mr. Ondaatje was introduced, he read a few select passages from The Cat's Table. Sometimes at author events, the author just rambles about whatever he/she feels like, but if we're lucky, they will read a few passages out of their book. I say lucky because there's something very intimate about hearing an author read their own words. Only they can truly emphasize certain words and phrases as they were meant to be emphasized and this has often changed my reading experience of the their book for the better. For me, it adds a deeper connection to the story and I love being able to hear their voice as I read their book. I remember this one time where I listened to an author read from her book in her British accent and I then proceeded to read her book in her same British accent. Which is really weird because I can't even speak in a fake-British accent.

{Q&A between Michael and Michael}

After Michael was done reading, Michael Hingston, Books Columnist for the Edmonton Journal, joined him on stage and they conversed in a Q & A, including some audience-submitted questions. I'm terrible at recalling interesting discussion points, but here are a few things I do happen to remember from that night:

  • Michael Ondaatje admitted he's never re-read any of his books after they've been published. While initially I found this fact quite interesting, the more I thought of it, the more it makes sense. I don't even like re-reading my blog posts. Can you imagine re-reading actual books you wrote and are now published and you can never change that one line you cringe at the thought of thousands of people reading? *shudder*
  • When asked how he writes his stories - does he come up with the plot or the characters first? - Michael told us he decides on the time and setting first (ex: France in 1975), then the characters. From there, the story evolves.
  • In response to why don't some of the chapters in his books have titles when others do, Michael simply replied that they don't need titles.

And then of course the best part is saved for last:

{I have to admit, I'm a little underwhelmed by Mr. Ondaatje's signature

Oh yes, and apparently Michael Ondaatje was pretty sexy in his younger years...and if you don't believe me, Laura has proof over on her blog.


  1. To be honest with you, I haven't read anything by Michael Ondaatje, although I do have English Patient on my TBR List. I might read that in the near future and then decide if I'd pick up any of his other books.

    1. I think that's the one I'd like to try reading...before any of his other ones.

  2. Thanks for the shout out!

    I love the way you describe why a reading is special. Even though we have all the words in front of us, there's so much missing - tone, volume, facial expression - and part of the joy of reading is supplying that yourself, but it's so cool to get a glimpse of what an author really meant for us to hear.

    We should try to read The English Patient. I feel obligated now! I think I might watch the movie first, though.

    PS Rick just review The Cat's Table, check it out

    1. Exactly - I know a big part of reading is reading a book in your own way - interpreting how you want - but sometimes that inner glimpse from the author is really neat.

      Haha - I do feel obligated too, to try and read one of his books - I think I'd prefer to start with The English Patient as well. My mom and I were going to rewatch the movie this past Friday but didn't get around to it.

      Also - I did try leaving a comment earlier on your blog but had to shut down my lap top instead...I'll try posting it again! to check out Rick's review - he sure read that one fast!

    2. Yes, he said he read it in one day. That's crazy!

      So I was talking to a friend of mine I hadn't seen in months. Turns out she was at the Macewan thing too, and read the book for an English class she's taking there. First thing she says about it? "He's pretty sexy for a 70 year old." HAHA! Though she thinks that it's because we are in our mid 30's aka sexual prime and are just looking for the sexiness whereever we can get it lol. Anyway, she liked the book, and isn't much of a reader normally, so that's good sign, I think.

  3. I would have LOVED to tag along to this event! I did not know he was Canadian. I've only read The English Patient by Michael Ondjaate (just last year) after having seen the movie awhile ago when it won several Acadamy Awards. For me, this was a book so beautifully written I wanted to read it aloud. At times when I was alone, I did. Because the movie was so aesthetically beautiful (I re-watched this movie several times since I've read the book) I already had the vision of the movie playing in my head so it made the book an easy read for me. I've wanted to read something else by this author. I think I will read the blog mentioned as well as some research before I choose. I hope you give The English Patient a try - book and movie. I'd look forward to know your thoughts.

    1. I remember seeing the movie The English Patient in the theatre with my mom so I would have been about 13! I remember so much from that night - feeling so grown-up for getting to go to a movie like that with her, especially such a long one (which seemed to be more rare back in that day), I remember where we sat and I remember loving the movie so much. I definitely think I will start with The English Patient before I try reading The Cat's Table, but I'd like to re-watch the movie first. My mom has said the same thing - that she found it an easier book to read with the movie vision in her head. So we shall see...!

  4. Looks like this would have been fun! Stupid snow storm. :(

    I have to admit that I've only read ONE book by Ondaatje (The Cat's Table) and it was just okay. Honestly, I didn't see WHY he's so high and mighty. I do want to try more of his stuff ... I have The English Patient and Coming Through Slaughter on my shelf.

    Thanks for the recap!

    1. I can't believe of all the nights for there to be a spring snowstorm, it had to be on that night! We missed you there!

      Did you review The Cat's Table on your blog? *off to search now* Honestly, I don't think I will really like, but I'd like to give it a shot one day. But first, I will read The English Patient. One day!

    2. We all need to read The English Patient... maybe in the Fall? Would be fun to read it together, maybe even watch the movie together. I know my husband won't watch it with me :)

    3. Yes, I love this idea! Might help us "muddle through" if needed :)

  5. I can't seem to "reply" but yes I will look out for your review on that one :)