Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Paul Anka will be signing his highly anticipated autobiography, My Way, and celebrating the release of his latest album, Duets, at the Indigo Eaton Centre store in Toronto, at 12pm today!
Paul Anka 'My Way' Signing
12pm April 16, 2013
Indigo Eaton Centre
220 Yonge Street Toronto, Ontario
T: (416) 591-3622
1). Perusal of a lovely and accessible cookbook.
2). Changing into a suitable frock that may be destroyed/burned/ripped/pureed with mininal sorrow (helllloooo sweats).
3). Attempting to make a spatula & wax paper stand in for all manner of elaborate kitchen gadgetry (melon baller? Flour sifter?).
4). Removal of batteries from ye olde smoke alarm, & pardons asked from neighbours for black smoke/fire trucks on scene.
I'll admit it: I'm a little intimidated by fancy cookbooks. Yes they're lovely, but will my renter's insurance cover the fire damage I am sure to incur from trying the recipes therein?
In that spirit (apprehensive), I picked up Lucy Knisley's graphic novel Relish. Part cookbook, part memoir of growing up with foodie parents with a penchant for experimentation with food, it seemed a safe venture. I happened to thumb to a page that was an entrypoint of complete identification and love for this book, and that was Knisley's secret adoration of a culinary masterpiece:
Yep, you better believe it.
Knisley has love for the marshmallow-laden cereal, something most foodies probably wouldn't readily confess to. As the daughter of two foodies and a lover of exquisite, fresh, lovingly prepared food from infancy, Knisley confesses to an alternative affinity for the prepackaged and the sugary. I totally get this. As a child vigilantly kept away from sugar, I can attest to the siren song of sweet lady Oreo, the forbidden, lusty wiles of a McD's cheeseburger.
This is what makes Knisley's writing on food so lovely: it is the memory and the connection of food that she focuses on and which takes the descriptions from tasty to succulent. It is the idea that any food can be delicious, and even the horrible experiments with food can be a treat if there are people to laugh about it with you. Reading about Knisley's apricot-jam-filled fresh croissant on a Venice stoop, or bushel of strawberries picked for jam in rural New York will in equal parts take you to her memory and take you back in time to your own. To the streetcarts of rainy afternoons, the farmers' markets in the summer sunshine, and everywhere in between.
I devoured this book, and chose a recipe (the first of many I'm going to try!) that evoked my own memories of dusty, sweat-dappled mornings in Mexico with the sea breeze at my back... The recipes and stories in this book are a lovely trip down memory lane. And they're pretty delicious too.
Prep Time: Approx. 20-25 minutes
Fry one tortilla in corn oil until it Heat up black beans and add to
rises. Dab with paper towel to base.
soak up excess grease.
Add salsa... Avocado...
Sour Cream... A 2nd fried tortilla & 2 fried eggs...
Some more salsa, and some TA-DAH! (CHOMP!)
Want to win a copy of Relish? Tell me your favourite food memory in the comments below, and one lucky person will be selected at random to win the book! It can be a serious, delicious, awful, or downright silly memory (like Knisley's story of a friend who created an ill-advised delicacy: lemonade chicken!).
Who doesn't like breakfast for dinner? The other night I pulled out Rachel Khoo's THE LITTLE PARIS KITCHEN and tried my hand at the little egg cup things (aka: Croque Madame muffins or Cheese, ham, and egg sandwich muffins). They were so easy to make and so good! I made simple smashed potatoes to go with. Perfect pair! I found that you can add whatever you like to this recipe. It calls for ham but a colleague of mine suggested using sun-dried tomatoes or even vegan bacon. YUMMERS!
My Egg Muffin
Rachel's Egg Muffins
Can't even tell the difference right?!?
Croque Madame muffins
Cheese, ham, and egg sandwich muffins
Croque Monsieuris essentially a toasted cheese and ham sandwich. Put a fried egg on top and you’ve got a Croque Madame (the egg is supposed to resemble a lady’s hat). What makes the difference between a toasted cheese and ham sandwich and a Croque Monsieur is the cheese—in a Croque Monsieur it comes in the form of a creamy cheese sauce. And boy, does this make a difference!
My version of Croque Madame uses the bread as a muffin cup to contain the delicious cheese sauce and egg. Great as a snack, or have it with a green salad and fries, as they serve it in French cafés.
For the Mornay (cheese) sauce: 1 tbsp butter • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour • ¾ cup plus 1 tbsp milk, lukewarm • ½ tsp Dijon mustard • ½ tsp nutmeg • ¼ cup grated Gruyère or mature Comté cheese (or a strong hard cheese like Parmesan or mature Cheddar) • salt and pepper
• 6 large slices of white bread, no crusts • 3 tbsp butter, melted • 2½ oz ham, cut into cubes or thin strips • 6 small eggs
TO MAKE THE SAUCE: Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and beat hard until you have a smooth paste. Take off the heat and leave to cool for 2 minutes, then gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Place the pan back over a medium heat, add the mustard and nutmeg, and simmer gently for 10 minutes, whisking frequently to stop the sauce burning on the bottom of the pan. Once the sauce thickens and has the consistency of a thick tomato sauce, take it off the heat. Add the cheese (keep a little for the garnish) and taste for seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk. If it’s lumpy, pass it through a sieve.
To assemble, preheat the oven to 350°F. Flatten the slices of bread with a rolling pin, then brush each slice on both sides with melted butter. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with the slices of bread, pressing them in with the bottom of a small glass. Divide the ham between the muffin cups followed by the eggs (if the egg seems too big, pour a little of the white away before using). Put 2 tablespoons cheese sauce on top of each egg, then sprinkle with a little cheese and pepper. Bake for 15–20 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs. Serve immediately.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 15–20 minutes
There was a time, as recently as the 1980s, when storefronts, murals, banners, barn signs, billboards, and even street signs were all hand-lettered with brush and paint. But, like many skilled trades, the sign industry has been overrun by the techno-fueled promise of quicker and cheaper. The resulting proliferation of computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering and inkjet printers has ushered a creeping sameness into our landscape. Fortunately, there is a growing trend to seek out traditional sign painters and a renaissance in the trade.
In 2010 filmmakers Faythe Levine and Sam Macon began documenting the work of traditional sign painters, their time-honoured methods, and their appreciation for quality and craftsmanship.
The first anecdotal history of the craft, Sign Painters tells the stories of more than two dozen sign painters working in cities throughout North America. It profiles sign painters young and old, from the new vanguard working solo to collaborative shops such as San Francisco’s New Bohemia Signs and New York’s Colossal Media’s Sky High Murals.
The accompanying movie, also called Sign Painters, premieres in at The Smithsonian in Washington DC at the end of this month. But like Levine's previous documentary, Handmade Nation, the Canadian premiere of the film will be in Vancouver in association with Got Craft?.
The screenings will take place on Friday June 7th and Saturday June 8th at the Rio Theatre on Broadway, and directors Sam Macon and Faythe Levine will be there to answer questions afterwards. There is limited seating and tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. If you're a fan of lettering, typography, or hand-crafted signs, the film is not to missed!
VANCOUVER SCREENING JUNE 7/8
Doors at 6:30pm | Screening at 7:30pm | Directors Q+A to follow
Rio Theatre, 1660 East Broadway @ Commercial Drive
Tickets & additional information HERE
Screening followed by a directors Q&A
Starting today and each Wednesday from now on, I'll be posting recipes from one of our awesome cookbooks. I plan on cooking up this recipe and posting here, on our blog, as well as on our Facebook page.
If you're interested in winning a copy, follow the recipe below, (printable page here) and post a picture of your finished dish on our page. I'll make a random draw and announce the winner the following Wednesday. Good luck and happy cooking! ~ Danielle
This week I made Thyme-Rubbed Salmon with Shallots and Caramelized Cauliflower "Risotto" from Chronicle Books' ONE PAN, TWO PLATES I realized after all the cauliflower was in the pan I should have chopped them into smaller bits but the end result was super yummy anyways which resulted in no leftovers for todays lunch! The recipe was easy to follow and quick to make.
START TO FINISH
Two 6-oz/170-g salmon fillets, skin removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme (see “It’s that easy”),
plus a few small sprigs for garnish
3 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1/2 head cauliflower, finely chopped
1/2 cup/120 ml heavy cream
1. Pat the fillets dry and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the minced thyme over the fish and pat it lightly with your fingers so that it
2. Heat a 12-in/30.5-cm skillet with a lid over medium-high heat and add 1 tbsp of the olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the salmon to the pan and cook until browned on the first side, about
2 minutes. Flip the fish with a thin-edged spatula and cook the other side until browned, another minute or so. Transfer the fish to a plate. (It will not be fully cooked at this point.)
3. Add the shallots to the hot pan and sauté until they begin to soften, about 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower, 1/4 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper, and
the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and toss to coat the cauliflower with the oil. Allow the cauliflower to cook undisturbed until it begins to brown, about
3 minutes. Flip the cauliflower over, scraping the bottom of the pan with the spatula, and cook, undisturbed, until the other side browns, another 3 minutes or so. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the cauliflower is still a little too crunchy for your taste, don’t worry. Pour in the cream and give it a stir. It will boil almost immediately. Top the vegetables with the fish. Cover and cook over low heat until the fish flakes easily, about 2 minutes longer.
4. Mound the cauliflower “risotto” into two warmed shallow bowls and top it with the fish. (If you’re wondering where the cream went, the cauliflower
absorbed most of it up deliciously.) Garnish the plate with the thyme sprigs and serve hot.
extra hungry? How about a salad of red leaf lettuce and halved grape tomatoes with a splash of balsamic and a glug of olive oil?
it’s that easy: Thyme has woody stems, so it’s best to strip the leaves from the stems before chopping them up into a fine mince. To do this, hold the thyme sprig on the tender end and strip the leaves against the grain (that is, in the opposite direction they are pointing) with your other hand. No worries if the tender tip pulls off; those can be minced up with the str ipped leaves.
March 08, 2013
I recently got to check out the Art Spiegelman exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and it’s put me in an oh-so-excited mood for the upcoming Co-Mix by Art Spiegelman from D+Q (September 17, 2013).
For me, as I suspect for many, many others, Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning Maus was my first introduction to the comics/graphic novel scene beyond the Sunday funnies and a love affair with Gary Larson’s Far Side. Maus was a complete revelation, showing an intersection of images, text, intensity, introspection, horror, sorrow, sardonic wit, and gallows humor. It was different from the literature I had ever been exposed to as a teenager, it was different from any kind of art I knew, and I loved it. It would lead to many a jaunt through stores like Lucky’s Comics on Vancouver’s Main Street and festivals like the comics and indie/zine Word Under the Street in Vancouver.
The Spiegelman exhibit pulls in work from his earlier career with such projects as Garbage Pail Kids, to his work at RAW, to his work on Maus, to his children’s books (yes, he wrote children’s books!), to his infamous New Yorker covers, to his post-9/11 reflections In the Shadow Of No Towers.
If you're still a little on the fence about "this whole comics thing" (insert Mother's disapproving stare *here*), there's plenty for the historian and publishing nerd to enjoy too. In a documentary on Spiegelman playing in one wing of the exhibit, we see a young Spiegelman and his wife Francoise Mouly purchase a printing press and set it up in their New York loft to self-publish copies of RAW. It’s a peek into a gorgeous, lovely window of publishing that is sure to leave you with warm fuzzies amidst the thick clouds of cigarette smoke and 70s bellbottoms.
Spiegelman's work is so sharp: sexual, political, hilarious, absurd, and heavily influenced by art history (I can’t think of many other comic artists who would/could incorporate Picasso’s Guernica in one frame, with a cubist Mr. Potato Head juxtaposed in the next).
Strolling through this man’s career in black ink and colour studies, it’s amazing to see the scope and impact of his career. I can’t wait for Co-Mix to read more! Spiegelman will be attending the 2013 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, so don't miss your chance to see him in person.
In 2011, Canadian writer Hilary Davidson won the Anthony Award for her debut novel The Damage Done. The book also earned a Crimespree Award and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards.
I met Hilary a year later when she came to back Toronto to promote her second novel The Next One to Fall. I was positively taken aback that someone quite so charming and successful spent so much time thinking about how to dramatically kill people! Appearances can be deceptive, apparently...
Now a resident of New York, Hilary is a travel journalist and the author of 18 nonfiction books and countless short stories. You can also find her all over the web, including on Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.
With the release of her Evil In All Its Disguises tomorrow, Hilary (being so nice and all) kindly agreed to answer a few questions for the Raincoast blog about her writing, travel, social media and more. Just remember, however lovely Hilary seems while you're reading this, she is out there secretly plotting something dastardly. Take my word for it...
Do you remember when you first became interested in becoming a writer?
If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll say it’s a lifelong obsession. When I was in elementary school, I won a short-story writing contest in Crackers Magazine. It was called “Ameteafear’s Tomb,” and I blame it for putting me on this dark and twisted path. That, and Nancy Drew books, or course. They’re the gateway drug to crime novels.
What was your first writing job?
Paid or unpaid? I started early, founding a newspaper at my elementary school when I was in Grade Five. In high school, I worked on the student newspaper, which was rather appropriately called The Cuspidor. At the University of Toronto, I worked on a couple of newspapers and interned at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, writing for its newsletter. But it wasn’t until I started freelancing while I was on staff at Canadian Living magazine that I made money from writing. The first cheque I earned was for writing a travel piece about New Orleans’ cemeteries for the travel section of The Globe & Mail.
What was the appeal of travel writing?
I’ve always learned so much when I travel, and I want to share that when I come home. I remember visiting Pompeii and being amazed by the brothels there. They have some very vivid murals on their walls! That was a kind of delightful surprise, and it turned into another travel story for The Globe & Mail. A few years ago, I spent three weeks in Peru, and that gave me a tremendous amount of inspiration, both for fiction and nonfiction. I’m obsessed with Inca history and culture, and my second novel, The Next One to Fall, let me explore that in great detail. Killing a (fictional) tourist at Machu Picchu was an unusual way to show my appreciation, but I was struck by both the grandeur of the site and the danger there when I visited.
Where are you going next?
My upcoming travels are all related to my tour for Evil in All Its Disguises. I start at the Tucson Festival of Books, then hit Scottsdale, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Denver, Colorado Springs, Austin, Houston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Toronto. After that, who knows? Last year, I did a weeklong tour of BC with Ian Hamilton, Robin Spano, and Deryn Collier, three of my favourite crime writers, and we’ve been talking about doing something similar this year, possibly in Ontario. Last year, I was lucky enough to visit Israel and Argentina. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go anytime soon, but I’m dying to visit Cambodia.
How has your journalism informed your fiction?
Being a journalist teaches how to grab your audience’s interest quickly, and it makes you shameless about asking questions to figure out how things work. Even though I’m writing fiction, my books are set in the real world, and I like to get the details right. That’s made me do things like go to a gun range to shoot targets, because I wanted to feel the weight of a gun in my hand before writing about it.
What else inspires your crime writing?
Sometimes things that have happened to me or someone I know have a way of getting into my work. Evil in All Its Disguises is the third book featuring Lily Moore, but it’s a standalone mystery about the disappearance of a journalist in Acapulco. It’s the first time that the scenario for one of my books was directly inspired by real-life events — in this case, the disappearance of a Frommer’s Travel Guides editor who vanished while on a press trip to Jamaica in 2000. The book is a work of fiction, but the circumstances around her disappearance have always haunted me, and I wanted to explore that.
Who are some of your favourite crime writers?
It’s such a long list! Some classic favourites: Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Dorothy L. Hughes, and Donald Westlake. For contemporary crime fiction, it includes Laura Lippman, Walter Mosley, Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, Linda Fairstein, Kate Atkinson, Chris F. Holm, Dennis Tafoya, Jennifer Hillier, Louise Penny, Denise Mina, and Dennis Lehane.
What is your next book about?
It's the story of a wealthy, adulterous couple who go away together for a weekend and are abducted. The strange behaviour of their kidnappers makes one of the victims wonder who they’re really working for. After the couple’s bodies are found—apparently killed in an accident—it's up to the dead woman’s brother and one of the kidnappers to figure out what really happened that weekend.
When can we expect Lily to return? Readers are going to miss her!
I definitely have more plans for Lily! She will be back. My first three books — The Damage Done, The Next One to Fall, and Evil in All Its Disguises — follow her through a short space of time. They’re set just a few months apart. When readers see her again, more time will have elapsed.
Are you still writing short stories?
Absolutely. Short stories let me explore all kinds of characters and voices and scenarios that I wouldn’t necessarily want to follow throughout a book. I also love writing short fiction because it’s helped me reach audiences who wouldn’t necessarily have picked up my books otherwise. I’m up for a Derringer Award right now for a story about a couple whose relationship is falling apart because one of them wants to visit a dominatrix. I’ve got stories coming up in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and in a new publication from Macmillan called the Malfeasance Occasional.
When did you become interested in vintage fashion?
When I was fourteen, I started shopping in Toronto’s Kensington Market, so I got hooked on vintage early. My mom and grandmother were always very stylish dressers, so they inspired me. I love the idea of wearing clothes that have a history — it’s like they have their own stories to tell.
Who are some of your fashion icons?
A few years ago, I saw an exhibit about Elsa Schiaparelli, and I instantly fell in love. Her approach to fashion was just so irreverent and playful. For instance, she designed a pair of glamorous, elbow-length black evening gloves with pointed gold talons attached. They look like bear claws! To me, that’s the ultimate in chic.
You’re very engaged with social media. As a writer do you find being online a help or a hindrance?
The best thing about social media is that it introduces you to a lot of interesting people. The worst thing is that some people mistake it for a megaphone, and they think it’s just a means to publicize their own books. For me, it’s all about the social — I get into a lot of interesting conversations with people, and I was invited to the first-ever QuebeCrime conference thanks to Twitter. It’s definitely a help, but I have to limit myself, because otherwise I’d be online chatting with people all day instead of getting any work done!
When we’ve finished reading Evil In All Its Disguises, what should we read next?
I’m looking forward to reading Brad Parks’ latest, The Good Cop, and Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist, which I’ve heard wonderful things about. My TBR (To Be Read) pile just keeps growing and growing. That’s true for everyone who loves books, isn’t it?
Chris Labonté, Peter Cocking and Richard Nadeau, three former senior managers with D&M Publishers, have founded a new publishing house: Figure 1 Publishing. Together, they bring more than forty years of publishing experience to the new venture, as well as a national network of top-quality writers, editors, designers, and photographers.
Figure 1 will offer organizations and individuals a full suite of high quality publishing services in both print and digital formats, and will distribute their books widely throughout the North American retail market.
Labonté says: “We learned our stock in trade at a publisher that was renowned for quality, and we intend to carry on that tradition in bold and creative ways.”
Figure 1 will focus on a handful of core publishing strands: art & architecture, food & wine, lifestyle, illustrated history and business books. They are working on projects with several clients already, including museums, art galleries, restaurants, and corporations.
“Our goal is to become the premier publisher of high quality illustrated books in the country,” Cocking said. “What we’re doing is different, I think, than anyone now publishing in this country. Think Chronicle Books, or Rizzoli—certainly those are influences.”
Figure 1 is securing U.S. and international distribution and will be distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books, who will also provide sales representation and marketing. Nadeau said that, “Raincoast is a fantastic distributor and we are delighted to be working with them. With their strong nationwide sales and marketing teams, we feel we’ve got the perfect partner.” Figure 1 will publish its first list of titles in Fall 2013.
Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Libraries, Hackspaces and E-waste: how libraries can be the hub of a young maker revolution
Every discussion of libraries in the age of austerity always includes at least one blowhard who opines, "What do we need libraries for? We've got the Internet now!"
The problem is that Mr. Blowhard has confused a library with a book depository. Now, those are useful, too, but a library isn't just (or even necessarily) a place where you go to get books for free. Public libraries have always been places where skilled information professionals assisted the general public with the eternal quest to understand the world. Historically, librarians have sat at the coalface between the entire universe of published material and patrons, choosing books with at least a colorable claim to credibility, carefully cataloging and shelving them, and then assisting patrons in understanding how to synthesize the material contained therein.
Libraries have also served as community hubs, places where the curious, the scholarly, and the intellectually excitable could gather in the company of one another, surrounded by untold information-wealth, presided over by skilled information professionals who could lend technical assistance where needed. My own life has included many protracted stints in libraries — for example, I dropped out of high-school when I was 14 took myself to Toronto's Metro Reference Library and literally walked into the shelves at random, selected the first volume that aroused my curiosity, read it until it suggested another line of interest, then chased that one up. When I found the newspaper microfilm, I was blown away, and spent a week just pulling out reels at random and reading newspapers from the decades and centuries before, making notes and chasing them up with books. We have a name for this behavior today, of course: "browsing the Web." It was clunkier before the Web went digital, but it was every bit as exciting.
(Eventually my parents figured out I wasn't going to school, and after the ensuing confrontations, I ended up at a most excellent independent/alternative school, but that's another story)
Later, I worked as a page at North York Public Library's central branch, in the Business and Urban Affairs department. Working at a library is an unparalleled opportunity to witness the full range of human curiosity, from excited students working on school assignments together to wild-eyed entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams to careful senior citizens researching where to invest their personal savings to supplement their pensions (and lots more besides). All these people were using the library as a place, a resource, and a community. Because that's what libraries are.
And we've never needed that more than we need it today. We've run out of places. What used to be public squares and parks are now malls. Places that used to welcome kids now prohibit them (in England, where I live, some smart-aleck invented a device called "the mosquito," which plays a shrill tone only audible to young ears, used to drive children away from semi-public spaces like the benches in front of stores).
What's more, we're *drowning* in information. Pre-Internet librarianship was like pre-Internet newspaper publishing: "select, then publish." That is, all the unfiltered items are presented to a gatekeeper, who selects the best of them, and puts them in front of the rest of the world. Now we live in a "publish, then select" world: everyone can reach everything, all the time, and the job of experts is to collect and annotate that material, to help others navigate its worth and truthfulness.
That is to say that society has never needed its librarians, and its libraries, more. The major life-skill of the information age is information literacy, and no one's better at that than librarians. It's what they train for. It's what they live for.
But there's another gang of information-literate people out there, a gang who are a natural ally of libraries and librarians: the maker movement. Clustered in co-operative workshops called "makerspaces" or "hack(er)spaces," makers build physical stuff. They make robots, flying drones, 3D printers (and 3D printed stuff), jewelry, tools, printing presses, clothes, medieval armor... Whatever takes their fancy. Making in the 21st century has moved out of the individual workshop and gone networked. Today's tinkerer work in vast, distributed communities where information sharing is the norm, where the ethics and practices of the free/open source software movement has gone physical. Such hackspaces play a prominent role in my own fiction (thanks, no doubt, to the neighborly presence to the London Hackspace, which is directly over my own office in Hackney). In my new novel,
Homeland (the sequel to 2008's Little Brother), my protagonist Marcus discovers the tools of personal and social revolution through his friends at Noisebridge, a real-world makerspace in San Francisco.
At first blush, the connection between makers and libraries might be hard to see. But one of the impacts of building your own computing devices (a drone, a 3D printer, and a robot are just specialized computers in fancy cases) is that it forces you to confront the architecture and systems that underlie your own information consumption. Savvy librarians will know that our access to networked information is mediated by dozens of invisible sources, from the unaccountable search algorithms that determine our starting (and often, ending) points, to the equally unaccountable censoring network "filters" that arbitrarily block whole swathes of the Internet, to underlying hardware and operating system constraints and choices that make certain kinds of information easy to consume, and other kinds nearly impossible.
In the automobile age, everyone was expected to know the fundamentals of how their cars worked. Even if you paid someone else to change your oil, it would take an act of will to attain adulthood in the USA without learning a bit about the mechanics underpinning the signal invention of your era. There were just too many ways that a car could go wrong, and too many ways that your life revolved around cars to rely on the rest of the world to understand them for you.
Now we live in the computer age, and if we thought we relied on cars, we hadn't seen anything. Some people spend so much time in their cars that it's like they live in them. But you literally do live inside a computer -- a modern house, car, or institutional building is just a giant computer you put your body into. And modern hearing aids, pacemakers, and prostheses are computers you put inside your body.
Every part of our lives have been permeated by computers, and these computers have the power to peer into our private lives, to compromise our finances, to shape our political beliefs, to disrupt our families, and to destroy our workplaces. That is, if computers don't serve us, they can (and do) destroy us.
But for people who master networked computers and make them into honest servants, computers deliver incredible dividends. A UK study compared similar families, some with access to the net and others without, and found that the families with net access had better education, were more civically engaged, more politically informed, had better jobs and income, were more socially mobile — even their health and nutrition was better. If computers are on your side, they elevate every single thing we use to measure quality of life.
So we need to master computers — to master the systems of information, so that we can master information itself.
That's where makers come in. One of the curious aspects of computers is that they evolve so quickly that they rapidly become obsolete. That means that our communities are drowning in "e-waste," often sent to developing nations where children labor in horrific conditions to turn them back into materials to be reintroduced into the manufacturing stream.
What if, instead of shipping our communities' "dead" computers to China to be dipped in acid by unprotected children, we brought them to our libraries. What if we enlisted our makers to run workshops at the libraries, workshops where the patrons who come to the library to use the limited computers there were taught to build their own PCs, install GNU/Linux on them, and *bring them home*? People who say that it's dumb to turn libraries into book-lined Internet cafes are right.
Internet at the library should be the gateway drug for building a PC of your own, from parts, learning firsthand how computers work, what operating systems are capable of, and what locked-down devices and networks take away from their users.
Making a PC isn't hard, especially when you get the parts for free. The easiest way to get good at stuff is to make mistakes ("to double your success rate, triple your failure rate"). The best mechanic I know learned his trade by buying $100 junkers on Craigslist and destroying one after another until he got good (then: *excellent*) at it. When you're building PCs out of literal garbage, you can do no wrong. Your failures just end up back in the same dumpster they were headed for in the first place.
Look, we've got more computer junk than we know what to do with and a generation of kids whose "information literacy" extends to learning PowerPoint and being lectured about plagiarizing from Wikipedia and putting too much information on Facebook. The invisible, crucial infrastructure of our century is treated as the province of wizards and industrialists, and hermetically sealed, with no user-serviceable parts inside.
Damn right libraries shouldn't be book-lined Internet cafes. They should be book-lined, computer-filled information-dojos where communities come together to teach each other black-belt information literacy, where initiates work alongside noviates to show them how to master the tools of the networked age from the bare metal up.
My young adult novels always feature kids who build their own tools, in part because the coolest, most curious kids I know are already doing this. But it's also because this is a hobby that's available to anyone. The information is online, free. The raw materials aren't just free, they're worth *less than nothing*, a liability and a nuisance to be rid of. And the dividends are stupendous. Only through understanding the tools of information can we master them, and only by mastering them can we use them to make our lives better, rather than destroying them.
Cory Doctorow will be at the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto on March 1, 2013 at 7:00pm (doors open at 6pm).