HUMOUR IS ONLY one of the flavours in The Brick Reader (Coach House, 336 pages, $ 2 2.95 paper), a handsome anthology of material culled from the literary journal's past six years by Linda Spalding and Michael Ondaatje. The mix is deliberately eclectic: interviews, longish essays - including a fascinating account of T. E. Lawrence's military strategies - memoirs, and fiction. The flab-free interviews feature several writers who are proving to be essential contemporary reading: Don DeLillo, Grace Paley, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Alice Munro.
Exploring The Brick Reader is like wandering around a neighbourhood of engaged, industrious writers who take their craft and its issues seriously. Spalding and Ondaatje are members of that international community, of course, and it's clear that several of the pieces here are the result of their close personal links with the likes of Russell Banks, Leon Rooke, and Richard Ford.
A few selections are too thin to merit inclusion. Alberto Manguel's brief memoir of Borges reads like a leftover from a literary machine always working overtime. But more typical are the rich remarks delivered by Russell Hoban in a piece called "The Bear in Max Ernst's Bedroom." Of Ornette Coleman's style, he writes:
His music was strange, squawky, Proustian, elliptical, he called up a dark and smoky tohu-bohu, a kind of friendly chaos in which his musical sentences trailed off into three dots, disappeared around the dark side of the moon and came back, renewed like the corn god in the spring...