My Summer 2015 Reads

by Sean on September 23, 2015

in Fiction, Film, Worth a Read

It’s been an incredibly busy summer so far. I’ve been working with some great new clients and will be sharing more of my creative work in the future. As always, I still carve out time to read as much as I can and try to stay on top of what’s new in the publishing world. Here are some of the books I checked out in the past few months.

Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi

boysnowbird My first experience with Oyeyemi. For such a young writer (younger than me, anyway), she’s definitely got the hang of staying productive—not to mention staying consistent in her critical successes. In 2013, Granta called her one of the Best Young British Novelists.

The writing in Boy, Snow, Bird is clean and engaging, but I found the book a bit disorienting. It’s hard for me to narrow down the source of this. I think it’s something to do with characters’ physical movements through scenes and environments, as if some crucial details are missing that would make the flow a lot smoother.

Oyeyemi may be doing this on purpose (I’d have to read more of her to know that). There’s a stark contrast between how the narrative unfolds when we’re inside a characters’ mind and when we’re following them through the world. Because of this, I’m lukewarm on the book.

Loitering: New & Collected Essays
by Charles D’Ambrosio

LoiteringI’ve read some of D’Ambrosio’s short stories before in The Dead Fish Museum, so I didn’t really need to hear much hype before I was convinced to check out this collection of essays. That said, I was definitely pushed over the edge by Philip Lopate’s glowing review of the book.

And yet, there’s something missing here. It’s definitely not the quality of writing—D’Ambrosio is solid, if a little too busy, on the page. He’s at his best when his sentence construction is more straightforward, which isn’t often enough. There are a couple of essays that really shine (“This is Living”, “Salinger and Sobs”) and others that just make you feel sad for the depth of D’Ambrosio’s personal struggles over the years. This book just doesn’t add up to anything that’s worthy of pushing on your friends.

I could totally see individual pieces showing up on reading lists for creative nonfiction courses, but as a whole, these essays are the kind of work that you read one time or when you’re required to, not because you’re in any great need for the experience they offer.

The Days of Abandonment
by Elena Ferrante

Days of AbandonmentWho can possibly avoid Ferrante’s name lately? She’s verging on becoming a publishing phenomenon, and that’s partly due to her refusal to engage with media (a tactic she has remained committed to since the beginning of her publishing career). Ferrante is a kind of enigma in today’s world, and that’s pretty much why I was interested in checking out her work.

While it’s the author’s Neapolitan novels that have received the most buzz, The Days of Abandonment is the book that caught my eye. It feels like it was written in a burst of anxious rage. I’m a slow reader, but this took no time at all.

The basic gist is that a late-30s woman is abandoned by her husband and left to raise their two kids on her own. However, it’s not the daily chores of life that wear her down, but her self-destructive nature. She is her own worst enemy and we follow her down the rabbit hole of second-guesses and self-doubt. The narrative is pretty simple, structurally speaking, but the book is unlike any other that I’ve read recently.

The Elementary Particles
by Michel Houellebecq

Elementary ParticlesI’m constantly wondering whether I like Houellebecq as a novelist or just like watching a car crash occur on nearly every page of his books. He makes me cringe whenever he writes about women-as-objects—something he does often—but he’s also a novelist with some big ideas. It’s a very hard balance for me as a reader.

In The Elementary Particles, the majority of the misogynism is bound within the perspective of a damaged character—and that somehow makes it more palatable, since it’s easier to find a character repulsive and continue reading rather than openly suspecting the novelist himself is a monster. (Not that any of that absolves Houellebecq.)

As a writer of “big ideas,” there are many on offer here—though most will be familiar to anyone who has read Houellebecq’s later books, The Possibility of an Island and The Map and the Territory (both of which are superior). It can be pretty slow going in some sections. That’s because Houellebecq is guilty of using scenes between characters as an opportunity for pontificating in long droning thoughts. People in this book don’t engage with each other on a meaningful level… though that may be the very point he’s trying to make.

Edward Hopper "Summer Interior"

Full Stop recently published my essay on grief-themed books from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Paul Auster, and Joan Didion.

“Why did you want to write about such a heavy subject?” you may ask. Well, I’m not altogether sure what compelled me to write this piece. The idea hit me the moment I looked over at a stack of books sitting in front of my (poorly undermatched) bookcase: Knausgaard’s first volume of My Struggle, Auster’s Invention of Solitude, and Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking were bunched together at the top.

It struck me as odd that they shared such an intimate topic and I found myself thinking about exploring it further. After a bit of brainstorming, I pitched a feature essay to Full Stop and got the green light – which led to a lot more brainstorming, writing, and rewriting.

I’m pretty satisfied with the result. Let me know what you think!


Just before spring arrived this year, The New York Times quietly changed its movie review policy. Instead of reviewing everything that got a proper release in a theatre (in Manhattan) for a certain amount of days (at least a week), they decided to branch out and include films that are finding new ways to reach viewers through video-on-demand platforms or direct-to-video releases.

However, in incorporating a whole new subset of cinema, they’ll be going against the tradition of reviewing everything from big distributors. The message here is that instead of reviewing a film because it’s being shared with people via the traditional theatrical release model, The New York Times will now review what they deem to be reviewable in its pages.

It’s a bold move away from big money, so that’s somewhat reassuring—distributors can’t buy their way into the pages of one of the biggest newspapers on the planet anymore. It’s also bold because it puts a lot more onus on the critics to be tastemakers. They’re not just critiquing the whole funnel of movie releases (again, in Manhattan), but siphoning out the specific “releases”—the jury’s out on what constitutes a release now—and offering their take on it.

Here’s how A.O. Scott, the lead film critic for The Times and the dude in the above photo, explained the new approach in a recent interview:

“We always try to err on the side of [giving] a movie attention. It’s better to risk running a review of something worthless than to risk overlooking something worthwhile. That’s ultimately a subjective judgment, of course, but we do our best.”

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody offered an eloquent take, wherein he waxed poetic about the nature of cinema and how The Times‘ new policy is a move in the right direction.

“With coverage expanding to on-demand and online releases, the clutter—and the demands on a movie critic’s attention—will only increase. The changes in critical coverage make critical judgment all the more crucial.”

I’m excited to see what qualifies as a title worthy of review now, as The New York Times has long been a home for great writing and critical discussion (even if I disagree with their take on some films from time to time).

3 Reasons Why I Love Freelancing

by Sean on March 22, 2015

in Copywriting

Cafe Freelancer

I’ve been a full-time freelance copywriter for three years now, building on three previous years as a staff copywriter in a private post-secondary institution. In a traditional agency environment, those six years may have led me to a senior copywriter position by now. So why don’t I seek out a full-time position somewhere?

1. Focused Productivity
It’s hard for writers to be incredibly productive in office environments. We communicate best through the written word, so face-to-face meetings aren’t always the best forum for expressing our ideas. I also love being able to commit to intense writing sessions where I can start and finish a difficult task without any interruptions. It results in my clients getting better work – and getting it faster.

2. Hunger is Exciting
The thing that prevented me from jumping into freelance life earlier was fear – that I wouldn’t be able to find consistent work or that I’d miss the stability of an office. But I’ve since learned that this is what keeps me hungry. There’s no room for complacency in a freelancer’s life, and I love that sense of responsibility. It keeps me on my toes and ensures that I treat every point of contact with a client as a chance to prove my value to their organization.

3. Stronger Creativity
This is the big one for me. Since I started freelancing full-time, I’ve noticed that my creativity is much freer. I’m producing better ideas in higher frequency because I can sustain my creative thinking over longer periods. I carry my clients’ issues around with me wherever I am during the day, and that provides a ton of opportunities for “eureka” moments.

My freelance client list is constantly growing. Check out this tab for information on what I do and the organizations I work with.

My Winter Reads

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I’ve been so busy with work this winter that my reading is falling behind. I know this because my teetering stack of unread books is starting to become structurally unsound. It’s worth noting that the books I’m carrying around with me lately are sometimes literary magazines. After years of buying lit mags (or “supporting” them, […]

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Changing Direction in 2015

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2014 was a strange and surprising year, both professionally and personally. A few projects that mean the world to me went in – shall we say – unique directions I hadn’t anticipated. And yet, my career as a freelance copywriter has continued to rise well beyond my initial expectations when I arrived in Toronto in […]

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There’s No Denying John Oliver is a Journalist

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There’s been some debate about John Oliver’s somewhat-dubious claims that he and others, like Jon Stewart, are not journalists. He stresses that they’re comedians and everything they do on their shows is in the service of comedy. Here’s a quote from Oliver that appeared in a recent New York Times piece: “We are making jokes […]

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Dumping Money on the Didion Doc Kickstarter

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Readers of my blog probably how much I love Joan Didion– I’m sorry, what? You don’t? Dude, come on. Okay, so now that we all know how much I admire her writing, then you’ll understand why I had to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign (embedded below) that seeks to produce a documentary about her life. At the […]

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The Story Behind My Icon

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Most of the people I know primarily through online communication – including many of my freelance clients – identify me by my icon (pictured here). Of course I am much more than a peachy, red-bearded, plaid-wearing dude, but those elements are undeniably true to my physical character. This image appears everywhere from this website to my profiles on Twitter […]

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Your Move, Chief (RIP Robin Williams)

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This one hurts a little. Robin Williams wasn’t just some celebrity comedian whose name everyone seemed to know. His natural gifts as a performer and well-demonstrated desire to try new things made him an artist worth watching. A kind of chaotic spirit who possessed deceptive quantities of discipline to produce more moments of brilliance than […]

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