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Literary Death Match Toronto – The Violent Sport of Bookreading.

On Tuesday, November 2, 2010 I attended my very first Literary Death Match (LDM). For those of you who aren’t in the know, Literary Death Match is an event raising funds for Opium magazine, that takes place in different cities all over North America (and London, England), involving top local authors in competitive readings of their work.

The host and LDM creator, Todd Zuniga, welcomed the packed room and had everyone laughing from the start with his witty banter. First up was a match between Ibi Kaslik and Andrew Kaufman. New York Times bestselling author Ibi Kaslik (Skinny, The Angel Riots) wowed the audience with a musical performance of a section of her book. Her strong, soulful chops and skilled guitar playing successfully captured the emotion of The Angel Riots.

Going against Ibi Kaslik was Andrew Kaufman (All My Friends are Superheroes, The Waterproof Bible), who read a short story excerpt about his mother. The crowd reacted positively to his humour and charming reading voice.

Right off the bat it was clear that the judges were having fun with the event and while they admired Ms. Kaslik’s Rocky-like entrance and musical talent, it was Kaufman’s maternal themes that won them over. In fact, author and judge Lisa Gabriele (The Almost Archer Sisters) commented that Andrew Kaufman’s piece was a “cross between Woody Allen and Gulliver’s Travels with a Freudian Overload.”

For the second round, poet Susan Holbrook (Joy is So Exhausting) was first and read a poem in which she used text from everyday manuals and rearranged the words. About four minutes into the poem and a full two minutes after everyone else, it dawned on me that Ms. Holbrook was making subtle reference to tampon instructions. Did all the men in the audience get it? I wonder…

Up against Susan Holbrook was Claudia Dey. As with Ms. Holbrook, it was only until halfway through her reading that I realized her book, How to Be a Bush Pilot: A Field Guide to Getting Luckier, was not about flying an airplane the Canadian wild, but about well, bush. Yes, that kind of bush. Her velvety voice and confident reading made me want to check out this saucy piece of literature. Judges Julie Wilson said that this particular reading reminded her of the Super Pickle pop-up book and Lisa Gabriele pulled out another great analogy saying that hearing Ms. Dey read her excerpt “felt like taking a bath in kittens and heroin.” Well said.

Judge Chris Shulgen (Superdad: A Memoir of Rebellion, Drugs and Fatherhood) accurately described this second round battle as a “battle of sexual euphemisms between two writers.” Susan Holbrook ended up winning out and ultimately, Andrew Kaufman took the whole thing in a interactive final round involving audience participation and an amazing game of author-themed Memory.

While not knowing exactly what to expect going to this event (Giant, red boxing gloves? Bikini-clad girls holding signs for each round?), I was left feeling exhilarated by Canada’s extraordinary literary community. I can’t wait for the next one!

By Melissa Allen-Anderson

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    November 7, 2010

    Wow, lively description, made me wish I was there.

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