Interview with Cordelia Strube


Author picture of Cordelia Strube taken by Mark Raynes RobertsCordelia Strube is an accomplished playwright and the author of nine critically acclaimed novels, including Alex & Zee, Teaching Pigs to Sing, and Lemon. Winner of the CBC literary competition and a Toronto Arts Foundation Award, she has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. A two-time finalist for ACTRA’s Nellie Award celebrating excellence in Canadian broadcasting, she is also a three-time nominee for the ReLit Award. She will present On The Shores of Darkness, There Is Light at the International Festival of Authors Lit on Tour event in Thunder Bay on November 1st.

Shauna Kosoris: You began your career as an actor.  How did you go from acting to writing?

Cordelia Strube: In theatre school I had the opportunity to act in plays by the greats.  In real life I discovered that complex roles for women were rare.  Rather than gripe about it, I decided to try and write some.

That’s so frustrating!  But good for you for actively working to change things.  You started out writing stage and radio plays, with your most recent ones having been written in 1989.  How did you move into novel writing?  

Budget cuts to radio drama meant fewer contracts, and mounting stage plays requires many players all in the game at the same time.  Novel writing requires me, alone, with a laptop.

Do you think you would ever write another play?

If all the players were in the game at the same time.  I love writing dialogue and still, when asked, doctor both stage and screen plays.

Thinking of dialogue, your characters all have very strong voices.  Where do their voices come from?

Life.  I listen, watch, watch and listen.

That’s fair.  What inspired your newest novel, On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light?

I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s, people-watching through the window, and noticed a small boy with an over-sized head. He was gripping his mother’s hand as they walked, both of them ignoring the stares of passersby.  In the mother’s expression I recognized a look all too familiar to mothers a.k.a. if you hurt my child, I will kill you.  There was a grace and nobility about these two seemingly frail people, pushing courageously through their daily grind despite disability.  Once home I googled causes for skull enlargement in children and, shazam, Irwin was born.  Then I started what if-ing, which I do constantly while writing novels.  What if the sick child has a well sibling?  What love and tenderness is left for the well sibling who will always, in the eyes of the mother devoted to the sick child, get better?  How do the well and sick children feel about one another?  I wanted to reveal this complex sibling connection from both points of view, which resulted in two protagonists in a two part novel.

How much of yourself is in your protagonist Harriet?  She struggles in regards to questions of morality and compassion; have you struggled with these same issues?

All my characters live and breath in me, so yes, I live in Harriet.  I have always been an outsider, a non-conformist, a trouble maker.  Not on purpose, I just try to do the right thing.  The hitch is, everyone’s version of the right thing is different.

That’s very true.  I heard you say in an interview that you start with the first sentences of your novels but none of the first sentences in your published novels are the original first sentences you started with.  What was your original first sentence for On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light, and how did it change?

On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light is one of three of my novels whose first sentence stuck.  The first sentence in Milton’s Elements is: Milton sits in traffic picking his nose.  Alex & Zee‘s first sentence is: Zee doesn’t want to go home.  On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light begins with dialogue: “There’s a baby stuck in a car.”

Simple first sentences pull you right into the narrative.  I agree with Brecht who said “Simplicity is so very difficult”.  My goal is to establish what’s at stake for the protagonist asap.

What are you working on now?

I avoid talking about a novel in progress because I never know if it is a novel until I finish it. I can say that it takes a look at the 21st century’s seemingly unending war in the Middle East, and corporate greed. As always with my fiction, the sneaky humour evolves from a varied cast of characters in unpredictable situations. I like to think of my novels, despite their sometimes difficult subject matter, as situation comedies.

I look forward to reading it, whatever it may be in the end!  I’d like to finish off with a few questions about your reading and how it relates to your writing.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I was an avid reader long before I became a writer.  And those authors taught me how to write without me realizing it.  We learn to write by reading.  I had an extraordinary librarian in high school (the librarian in Lemon is based on her) who kept pushing a variety of authors at me, classical and contemporary.  I rarely went to class, preferred to hang out in the library reading the Georges, Austin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Richardson, Hardy, Dickens.  I was, and still am, happiest when either reading or writing a novel.  In theatre school I studied many plays, classical and contemporary, which taught me the importance of conflict in narrative, and that a line of dialogue can convey the essence of a character.  Which is why I continue to prefer dialogue to extensive expository writing.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Reading is subjective.  Narratives mean different things to different people at different times.  Something that resonated with me years ago may not today.  Books find people.  And people find what they need in books.

And what are you currently reading?

I’ve got two on the go: Redeployment by Phil Klay, a vet of the Iraq war.  

His multi-pronged stories jab at that cooked up disaster of a war with humour

and clarity.  I’m also loving Nicholson Baker’s Substitute about his year

substitute teaching in the Maine public school system.  As with Klay,

the darkness of Nicholson’s prose is laced with sneaky humour.  

I need sly wit in what I read and write.

book cover of On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light

Interview with Andy McGuire


mcguire-andyAndy McGuire is from Grand Bend, Ontario, and currently resides in Toronto.  He is pursuing an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph.  McGuire’s poems have appeared in Riddle Fence, Hazlitt and The Walrus.  He will present Country Club at the International Festival of Authors Lit on Tour event in Thunder Bay on November 1st.

Shauna Kosoris: What first drew you to poetry?

Andy McGuire: The money and fame. Actually, I really don’t remember. Whatever it was has become historical fact. My earliest attempts at writing poems coincided with a pretty dark time in my life. The main feature of that time was a super unhealthy disassociation with the world, and myself, that apparently was amenable to a poetic impulse. Maybe that was a poetic impulse, or my poetic impulse, who knows—all I have to go on is the memory of a feeling. It was the beginning of my love of language. The engine is a love of language, poetry is whatever that engine puts in motion. All I know is that for me, that engine only became available, or possible, at my absolute lowest.

If your absolute lowest was the beginning, what is driving you now?

This is a hard question because I spend most of my time writing, and thinking about writing. I only ever step back and consider things like what is driving me now when asked in an interview. The thing that drives my work, besides the supernatural Rube Goldberg machine that pulls the mysterious stops in turn, is a love of language. There you have it, the dull moment of truth. Also, I feel crippling guilt and anxiety if I go more than a few days without writing, without making something, anything, really. Yeah, that definitely drives me also. Guilt, anxiety, and shame. The three amigos in the heart of a classic buzzkill. Inside of any maker—someone who feels an imperative to create—something is a little broken, I think, in a good way.

What is your favourite poem form to write and why?

I don’t have a favourite poetic form. On the one hand, I try not to have too much tension in the reins while writing, and yet I find great value in introducing constraints to a poem in progress. A rhyme scheme, a repeated stanzaic structure; these sorts of formal elements usually reveal themselves during the compositional process. The filmmaker Errol Morris has a theory of art: establish an arbitrary set of rules and follow them. I love that. Even though I’m not very interested in writing sonnets and sestinas (at least at the moment), the reasons why some poets are interested make perfect sense to me. It’s the freedom of a limited repertoire. It makes things sayable. The art of encumbrance often leads to otherwise unavailable aesthetic possibilities. I am sympathetic to the formalist cause, I just find that it doesn’t square well with the eternal pursuit of good times. Several of the poems in Country Club flirt with a formal grandiosity and deploy all sorts of traditional techniques in weird ways. Lately I’ve been writing poems in the form of top ten lists. I have found the form to be incredibly versatile and deeply inclusive. I labour endlessly over these lists, but it’s fun, I get away with a lot. I can say things like This life owes me a death, and Love is an unmarked van, and Maybe cashmere just wants to be left alone, all in the same breath.

What made you start writing poems in the form of top 10 lists?

It happened by accident. I was reading an article about Afghanistan, and the supernatural Rube Goldberg machine pulled some mysterious linguistic stop and suggested the title, Top Ten Stans. So I made a top ten list of preeminent Stans that included Stan Cup, Paul Stan, Stan Park and Afghanistan. It was my first taste of the linguistic slippage that characterizes the lists. I was hooked.

Do you think you’d ever be interested in writing sonnets and sestinas in the future?

Absolutely, maybe, who knows. I may wake up wrecked on a formalist shore one cold New England morning. It wasn’t in the cards of all my old futures. Still, I carry around a little emergency kit with a bag of scotch mints and a list of words like chesterfield.

Earlier you said that formalism doesn’t “square well with the eternal pursuit of good times.”  What exactly do you mean by the eternal pursuit of good times?

I mean the pursuit of pleasure, the diametric opposite of scotch mints and words like chesterfield.

Country Club  examines human passions, such as wealth, power, leisure, and desire.  Which passion did you find the most interesting to explore in poetry?

Several of the poems in Country Club are either about or set in Florida. The reason being that I wintered there one year while I was working on my manuscript. The human passions you mention are hard to parse in the Sunshine State. They kind of come as a package deal. That winter I was living in a private golf course community deep in the heart of retirement country. A few weeks ago Donald Trump held a campaign rally just down the road from where I was. That is where I spent the winter, American Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. The frozen sea within me melted. At that latitude, you would only need an axe when Florida freezes over. Anyway, the culture down there amounted to conspicuous excess, a kind of disengagement from the world. I wanted the Florida poems to reflect in some way the cultural attitudes and postures, the sheer idleness, that gave rise to their occasion. The Florida poems, in particular, were a pleasure to write.

So gluttony and sloth (in Florida)?

That’s a generous way of putting it, but yes.

You’re currently pursuing your MFA in creative writing at the University of Guelph. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far during your time there?

I just defended my thesis, which was a novel, this past summer. I had never attempted fiction before, and I learned that the process of novelistic composition involves way more typing than poetry. The Guelph program has a stellar faculty, and the instructors I worked with—Catherine Bush, Kevin Connolly, Dionne Brand and Michael Winter—helped me in various ways to become a better reader and editor of my own work. The Guelph program really encourages students to take risks in their writing. I bet the farm a few times. For me, that was one of the most valuable outcomes of the program: learning what kind of risks I want to take in my work, and developing my writerly instincts in that sense.

How successful were you during those times you bet the farm?

The point was to try things out, so my experimentations were successful, in that I found great value in taking risks (considered risks, of course) and simply trying out different modes of writing. Hence the novel. If we’re talking about publishing as a measure of success, well, my novel and I are on a break. I was like, It’s not me, it’s you. Sometimes you need to shelve a piece of writing to figure out what it is, what it needs to be.

Other than your MFA, what are you working on now?

I have been doubling down on my second book of poems. It’s going to be a collection of the aforementioned top ten lists. My novel is enjoying the inside of a drawer for the time being. I always have a gaggle of projects on the go—things I should wait to talk about until the second trimester.

Finally, I have a few questions about what you read.  What book, author, poem, or poet inspired you to write?

The authors that have been putting the flames in my fire lately are Adam Phillips and Sarah Manguso. Their sentences are special. Also currently in rotation: Alice Oswald’s Memorial, Emily Dickinson’s collected poems, Jenny Zhang’s Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, Arthur Waley’s translation of the Tao Tê Ching, James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk, and the letters of Groucho Marx.

Those are all authors and poets who are currently inspiring your writing.  Did anyone or any poem first inspire you to write?  

My old friend Graeme Charles read my earliest poems. They would come back to me creased and stained, covered in slashes and burns. He was ruthless, he really cared. He’s the smartest guy I know, and I haven’t seen him in years. Graeme, if you’re reading this, give me a sign, let’s get together.

Is there a book or poem that you think everyone should read?

On the contrary, I would advocate for veering off the beaten path. Read a book written by the trainer of a famous dog. Read The Warren Report. A book about a river, or the greatest art heist in history. An autobiography of a failed lion tamer. I once heard someone say, All reading is counterproductive—a truly stupid thing to say, but an interesting provocation nonetheless. I have gotten the best returns from my most seemingly counterproductive reading. That said, maybe everyone should read Country Club.

So what was the most seemingly counterproductive thing you’ve read?

I guess what I mean is that my reading habits are largely determined by chance. Books lead to other books, and I’ve developed a fairly decent instinct with regard to literary leads. Also, bibliographies, obscure blogs and remainder tables are my best friends. I have found that the most memorable books are the ones that are like portals to weird little alcoves within the world. For example, there’s a book called Letters to Strongheart by a man named J. Allen Boone. Strongheart was the first canine movie star, like, before Rin Tin Tin. He was famous for having apparently cried once in a close-up on film. A little dog tear running down his dog cheek. Anyway, after Strongheart died this J. Allen Boone started writing letters to Strongheart. And so the book is twenty-three letters to a dead dog. The kind of book you might find on a remainder table—my kind of book. That sort of obscure stuff really fills my tank. But also, it doesn’t have to be books. When you value writing as writing, any paragraph, any sentence or line can be as good as the next. Your mom can write a line in a text that sounds like it came from a crestfallen mermaid. Reading is reading, and in the course of a day I read all sorts of things that you probably wouldn’t think contribute or are relevant to artistic work, but there’s always some processing happening on some level. Who knows how these things work. They work, is all, and they’re always working, even when they’re not. I mean, a river doesn’t flip an on switch as soon as someone looks.

Country Club book cover

Uprooted by Naomi Novik



uprootedMany fairy tales involve the woods, often warning young children to stay away because bad things like monsters dwell there. But what if the woods itself was the actual monster?  That’s what Naomi Novik explores in Uprooted. Sure, there are a few traditional monsters ready to drag you kicking and screaming into her malevolent Woods. But it’s not just the monsters that you need to worry about – the very trees are out to get you!


Luckily for the people of the Valley, there’s a powerful wizard who keeps the Woods at bay. All he demands in return is one girl from the Valley to serve him unquestioning for ten years. When the time comes for him to choose another girl, everyone knows he’s going to choose Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. Kasia is the bravest, most beautiful girl in the Valley. But when the time comes, it isn’t Kasia who the wizard chooses. Agnieszka gets whisked away to the wizard’s tower without even a moment to say goodbye to her family. Agnieszka knows she isn’t brave like Kasia is; how will she deal with ten years serving the wizard?


One of the best things about Uprooted is that the book constantly changes. The summary I just gave you is basically what’s on the back of the book. But Uprooted is so much more than the simple fairy tale it starts out as – you’ll never know what to expect next (especially from Agnieszka, who manages to quite literally break all the rules)! And you don’t have to just take my word for how great Uprooted is: it’s won multiple awards in 2016 including the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.
Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight


This is the story of how Phil Knight found his purpose in life, and grew one of the world’s best-known brands around it.  In addition to being the epitome of a successful entrepreneur, Phil Knight is a skilled writer.  I have read many biographies about fascinating people who just don’t have the gift of good writing, so it is a rare treat to get both in one book.

The story starts in the late 1950s when Phil is a fresh college graduate who likes to run.  He weaves a great deal of personal and social history in to the story of his business.  Knight talks about how running wasn’t the common leisure activity it has grown into today.  When he started in the shoe business his market was college, high school and serious track athletes.  He dreamed of a time when people would wear his shoes to the grocery store, or to take their kids to school.  If you own a pair of Nikes you know that dream has come true!

Another key part of the Nike story is Knight’s work networking and working with business people in China and Japan, and how shoe factories evolved. The history of the iconic Nike swoosh is included in this book, as well as the easy to spot bright orange shoe boxes.  One aspect of Knight’s story I found interesting was how he built his core team of trusted colleagues.  His former track coach, who he both admired and feared, was his first business partner.  This man had been tinkering with track shoes his whole life, and was fascinated with the developments that were possible to make his athletes run faster.  Knight engaged others who were keen marketers, savvy negotiators and tireless innovators.



Case Histories by Kate Atkinson



I have been a huge Kate Atkinson fan since “Life after Life”, and so it was that I picked up this older title full of expectation.  I wasn’t disappointed!!  Case Histories is exactly that: the history of 3 cases of retired police inspector turned private investigator Jackson Brodie.  Thirty years after incident of the first case (a missing child), Brodie begins to make connections with case two (young daughter is randomly slaughtered in her father’s law office) and case three (a new young mother finds being a wife and mother not to her liking).  Brodie’s own life overlays the complexities of these cases – he is divorced and has a young daughter with whom he is trying to keep connecting.

Jackson Brodie, Atkinson’s investigator, headlines in 3 more of her novels.  He is a likeable and sympathetic character who gives you laugh-out-loud moments, as well as empathetic head-shaking.   Relationships are at the heart of this novel, not the crimes committed, and the development and interconnectedness of these relationships are what make this a great read. Atkinson is a true architect of story building.  The layers of each story – told from multiple viewpoints and varying points in time – add to the reader’s growing understanding of these relationships, the characters’ motivation and actions as each case develops.  As a result, this is not easy reading and some readers may find it confusing. But the end result is worth the effort, and hopefully you will find yourself, like I, looking forward to Brodie’s antics in book two – One Good Turn.

This title received a 3.5 star rating out of 5 on Goodreads: an online community of readers.

Barb Philp is a librarian with the Thunder Bay Public Library (

Interview with Amy Jones


Amy Jones photoAmy Jones won the 2006 CBC Literary Prize for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2005 Bronwen Wallace Award.  She is a graduate of the Optional Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and her fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories.  Her debut collection of stories, What Boys Like, won the 2008 Metcalf-Rooke Award and was a finalist for the 2010 ReLit Award.  Originally from Halifax, she now lives in Thunder Bay, where she is associate editor of The Walleye.  Follow her on Twitter @AmyLauraJones.

Her debut novel, We’re All In This Together, has been chosen as the Thunder Bay Public Library’s first One Book: One Community title.  Be sure to check out for more information,  and for details about our upcoming events and reading challenges!  She will also be participating in the International Festival of Authors‘ Lit on Tour event in Thunder Bay November 1st.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write We’re All In This Together?

Amy Jones: I always knew I wanted to write a novel set in Thunder Bay, ever since I moved here. I had been working on a few ideas, but nothing really stuck. We had visited Kakabeka Falls quite a few times, and every time I was there I would always wonder if anyone had ever gone over, either on purpose or accidentally. We would come up with scenarios, like, if you fell in here, would you be able to swim to shore? Do you think anyone could survive this? And one day it all just came together and I was like, this is it, this is what I need to write about. It just made sense, that this place that inspired me so much in life would provide me with the inspiration for my first novel.

You always knew you wanted to write a novel set in Thunder Bay – why is that?

For a couple of reasons. One, I really believe in the importance of representation, and I feel like the more books and movies and art that are set in Thunder Bay, or recreate the artist’s experience of Thunder Bay, the better understood Thunder Bay will be. It’s also important for people to see their own experience reflected back to them in art, and the number of people who have come up to me since the book has been published, so excited to read about a place they know, just proves that to me even further. Two, one of the themes I really wanted to explore in the novel is the idea of “home,” and that whole push-pull it exerts on all of us. One thing about Thunder Bay that stands out to me is how rooted people are here, how strongly they are connected to their families, and yet how many people have to leave in order to find work, or for school, or whatever. People want to go out and make their own way, but also the north always seems to draw people back. So it was the perfect place to explore those themes.

That’s very true! When reading We’re All In This Together, one of my colleagues noticed that you name some Thunder Bay restaurants (like Norma Jean’s and Nippers) but not others. Was there a reason for that?  Did you have to get permission to use the real names?

I use real names for places that don’t figure as prominently in the story, but I make up names for places that I don’t want to be beholden to reality when describing. For instance, Barkley’s is based on a specific bar but it’s not exactly that bar, and by naming it something else I can make it fictional, and therefore do what I want with it (no one can argue, for instance, about how “at the real bar, the bathrooms are on the OTHER side of the room!”)

I sure hope I didn’t have to get permission! I think my publisher would have told me.

I’m sure they would have! How many of the houses in your book are based on reality?

Most are based in some reality. I set the Parker’s house quite near my own for the same reason I made Finn and Nicki close to my age: laziness (it’s much easier to figure out years or distances that way!) But their house is not a specific house on Victor Street, it is more an amalgam of a few houses. Same with the house Katriina buys. I take elements I like from each house and put them together.

Remaining true to the way Thunder Bay people speak, your characters say things like “camp” instead of “cottage.”  Why did you decide to use this distinction, especially since your book is being read by people who may not be familiar with Thunder Bay colloquialisms?

It was really important to me to get things “right” about Thunder Bay, especially the feel of the place, the atmosphere, the certain culture. I don’t think any of the references I make are so obscure that people who are not from here wouldn’t understand what they were (or if they are, I make sure they are explained somehow). I remember during the editing process my editor asked me about a character saying that her friend moved “down south.” She thought it meant, like, Florida or the Caribbean (as I did, before I moved here!) But when I explained to her that this is how people from Thunder Bay refer to Southern Ontario, she was like, okay, it should stay.

We’re All In This Together has ten different characters who all get chapters as the narrator.  Why did you decide on so many narratives?

I didn’t really decide on it more than it just kind of happened. The novel began as two short stories, one featuring Finn and the other featuring Katriina. When I realized that there were similarities between the two, I thought, okay, this can be a longer narrative. Then as the story progressed, it became important to me for Kate to have a voice, because I didn’t want her story to be told only by others. Then London pretty much insisted on having a voice, too. After that, it became important to have the others in order to balance out the story, in order to show things from many perspectives. So much of the book is centred around perception, and how we all (especially within families) remember things differently, have different views of the same event. Having the multiple narrators allowed me to explore that further.

Did you have a particular character you identified with more than the others?

A lot of people tell me that they pictured me as Finn, maybe because she is the one who moved away from her family. And I definitely had a lot in common with London when I was younger. But if I were to pick a character I identified with the most, it would be Katriina—her constant over-thinking of things, of wanting to keep everything together for everyone. I find it hard to read over her scenes sometimes, because of that.

Okay, I have to ask – was the idea of the shark in Lake Superior based in reality at all?

Haha, no, it wasn’t! It’s just another of those things we always talked about, whether or not the possibility existed, if it had ever happened. I think I might have seen something on television about it once, probably on Shark Week. It became a joke between me and my boyfriend, because he is really afraid of sharks. And then, like everything else in my life, it just became fodder for fiction.

So what are you working on now?

A new novel! It’s in the very early stages right now, so I don’t want to jinx it, but I definitely feel like I want to keep up the momentum with the novel writing.

Good luck!  Let’s finish up with a little bit about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I don’t think it was just one… when I was a kid I loved to read, and would often invent new endings for books that I felt didn’t end the way I wanted them to (in fact, until I was an adult I always thought the blank pages at the end of books were there so you could write your own endings). When I first decided to try to write as a profession, I read a lot of contemporary Canadian and American short fiction: Lisa Moore, Barbara Gowdy, Annabel Lyon, Lee Henderson, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Aimee Bender, Rick Moody, Amy Hempel, Grace Paley. All of them inspired me in different ways.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I don’t think so, actually. Reading is such a personal thing, and it really breaks my heart when I try to match up someone I love with a book that I love and it doesn’t work. I don’t think there is one book out there that will speak to everyone, but as long as there is one book that speaks to you, that’s what matters.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m on a huge mystery kick, so I’ve been reading a lot of Laura Lippman, Tana French, Megan Abbott. I’ve just started the new Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me. I’m also really looking forward to the new Louise Penny at the end of the month!

We're All In This Together cover photo

Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music by Tim Falconer


Everyone knows him – the child in the grade school choir who is asked to mime along when the class is singing. Or perhaps you are him and you know that you really are a good singer deep down but for some reason others seem not to agree. The author of Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music is author and journalist Tim Falconer, and is both of these. He loves music but has to admit to being a “bad singer” and so he embarked on a journey through the worlds of music and medical science to first get a confirmation that he truly was bad, and then to find out if there was hope to get re-trained and improve. Unfortunately, he turned out to be one of the 2.5 percent of the population that has amusia – he is scientifically tone-deaf. Fortunately for us, he is a great writer and investigator and he is able to take the reader through his personal odyssey to learn what that means, and what there is to know about this phenomena.

It turns out that there is much more to tone-deafness than simply not being able to hit the exact pitch. There is rhythm, timbre, tone, the arch of the melody and other intangibles that he tries to identify through the scientists and music experts he sees. Musicality is not just a function of the voice, or the throat or the ear – it is truly experienced and translated in the brain and it is the brain at fault for the author and others’ inability to reproduce sounds in pitch or to hear when there is a difference.

It is a fascinating book and one comes to really root for Falconer who is so determined to understand his weakness and to become a more proficient singer and ultimately, to sing on stage for an audience.  I won’t ruin the ending for you but I will highly recommend this informative and highly entertaining book which can lead one to a better understanding of why some can sing arias on the stage and others can sing their hearts out (but perhaps only should when they are in the shower.)

To find out if you might have amusia, look for the web-based sites he lists for self-testing.



Angela Meady
Thunder Bay Public Library