Saturday, June 30, 2007

Walk this way. . .

Going to sell in Oakville always gets me into trouble; I inevitably have to check out the stores on the main street. In one shoe shop window there was a display of MBT (Maasai Barefoot Technology) sandals that completely drew me in. I'd been thinking about getting a pair of these Swiss shoes for some time (a colleague of mine swears by them), because I'm so undisciplined about going to the gym; walking is really the only form of exercise I thoroughly enjoy. These MBTs promise that I'll burn three times as many calories while walking, will reduce wear on my knees, work unused leg, stomach, and buttock muscles, improve my posture and help reduce back pain (something book reps are always worried about - do you know what a full set of fall catalogues weighs? Now lug about 20 sets of them into a group presentation). They are certainly the only pair of shoes I've ever bought that comes with an instructional DVD. The basic idea is that you walk on an inner pivot that mimics walking in sand. The one thing I've had to get used to is walking with my head up straight and looking into the distance instead of at the ground (for the maximum benefit). This reminds me of my favourite bit of advice in Mireille Guiliano's bestselling lifestyle book, French Women Don't Get Fat. I'm paraphrasing, but in her section on posture, she tells you to pretend that you are in a crowded Paris train station looking for your lover in the fog. It's a great diet book - you can eat bread.
So trying to look Parisian-chic-with-a-touch-of-stately-Maasai-warrior in my baggy workout clothes, I went this morning for a one hour powerwalk. The shoes are immensely comfortable on the soles and are very quick to get used to. I got back feeling quite smug and fit, took a shower and settled on the couch with a book. And then it hit. When I got up, my butt was sooooo sore! But obviously the shoes work and it's an exercise regime I can certainly commit to. I'm determined to walk regularly in them all summer and try to lose ten pounds. Stay tuned.
If you are interested in the Maasai (yes, I really can turn any topic into a book recommendation -it's the old bookseller in me) you can turn to a recent biography of Denys Finch Hatton (the adventurer played by Robert Redford in the movie Out of Africa). Too Close to the Sun by Sara Wheeler traces his experiences in East Africa during the early part of the twentieth century, describes how the First World War was fought there, details Finch Hatton's affairs with the writer Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen and the aviatrix Beryl Markham, and looks at how the area and its inhabitants' way of life (including the Maasai) were destroyed by the encroaching Europeans.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Washington round-up. . .

Just some bits and pieces of recommendations if you are heading to Washington D.C. anytime soon. I was recently there for the American Library Association conference and could easily have spent a week just going to the museums alone.

Hotels/Shopping: Washington has a great metro system that is fairly cheap and very easy to use, so if you visit the city try and get a hotel around Dupont Circle. It's only a half hour walk to downtown but the area is teaming with all my vices - bookshops, shoe shops, tea shops, Thai restaurants, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and lots of coffee outlets. Definately check out Kramerbooks, a great independent bookstore that also has a restaurant/bar in the back. And here's a strange similarity to Sasktoon - both cities have statues of Gandhi. Here's Washington's version on Massachusetts Ave just west of Dupont Circle.

Art galleries/Museums: Oh, there are so many and most of them are free which is great for dipping into. Given my limited free time, I was powerwalking through the National Gallery of Art, The National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian American Art Museum and just missed the last tour of the Library of Congress. One of my favourite visits was to the Phillips Collection, America's first museum of modern art and housed in the 19th century home of the collector. I love seeing art in a domestic setting with paintings over fireplaces and in little nooks and crannies. In particular I really liked the paintings of Canadian born Maurice Prendergast and it was interesting to see some of the work of Rockwell Kent (who redesigned the Modern Library colophon, illustrated their edition of Moby Dick and was the subject of Canadian novelist Michael Winter's The Big Why.)

Restaurants: Thai food is my favourite and I had a terrific meal at Thaiphoon, located a few blocks north of Dupont Circle. It blends traditional Thai food with a bit of a modern twist. I highly recommend the honey ginger duck with mushrooms and scallions on a bed of steamed spinach. Add some steamed rice and ask for a side order of peanut sauce. Yum! For excellent lattes and breakfast pastries, Washington has several Corner Bakery Cafes. I first discovered this chain in Chicago when I used to attend Book Expos and though their selection has diminished over the years, they are still a great place to take a book and indulge in a caffeine fix.
Theatre: Check out Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre company. They have a great theater space right downtown with a tiny bookstore and cafe that is open on production nights. I saw Sarah Ruhl's new play Deadman's Cellphone which is having its world premiere and I loved it - witty lines, profound observations on contemporary life and beautiful and unexpected staging moments. At intermission I immediately went to buy the play and also a collection of her previous work. One of these, The Clean House will be part of Toronto's Canstage line-up this fall/winter. It was great to wander around the foyer of the theatre and look at posters of past seasons - this company has put on a number of plays by Canadians - Ann-Marie Macdonald, Daniel MacIvor and Jason Sherman just to name a few. Made me very proud.

And Julie Andrews: She's been an idol of mine ever since I was a kid so it was a bit of a thrill to attend a talk by her at ALA. It started with a video montage of various film and theatre clips which was extremely enjoyable to watch since I'm such a fan of her work, but I couldn't help feeling it was a bit out of place at a librarian conference. Especially since it was almost thirty minutes long (about ten minutes longer than her subsequent talk) and it made it hard to take her seriously when she voiced her irritation at often being dismissed as simply a celebrity author. Still, her latest children's book looks like fun. The Great American Mousical follows the adventures of a group of mice living beneath a theatre as they plan to stage their own show. Julie will be the chair for American Library Week in 2008.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Foto op...

If you are planning a trip to Washington, D.C. you MUST make time to visit the National Gallery of Art. They have a terrific exhibit looking at experimental photography in Eastern Europe during the interwar years. It contains absolutely stunning and thought-provoking images superimposed on each other, a series of very clever and surreal photo montages, a lot of fascinating photographs exploring the nature of machines in modern society, the devastation caused by the first world war and the menacing encroachment of the second. It was spectacular! Of course I bought the accompanying book, which I highly recommend if you can't make it to the exhibit in person. It's a great companion to Undercover Surrealism which I bought after seeing the exhibit in London last summer. I spend a lot of time in art galleries when I travel and this was one of the most fascinating exhibits I have ever seen. It was based on a journal created by Georges Bataille in the 1920s to comment on the contemporary post WW1 world through the most interesting and obscure juxtapositions of cultural artifacts. I spent hours in the gallery reading almost every word on every single specimen card. You can read more about the exhibit and see some of the images in the Guardian's archives here. But treat yourself and your coffee table and buy a copy of the book too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On the road in ... Washington, D.C.

I'm here in scorching Washington D.C. at the American Library Association conference - the biggest one in terms of attendence in their 100 year history. It's been a busy show but today is the last day (usually a slow one) so we're spelling each other off for some free time away from the booth. There is going to be a huge rally by librarians (and bookmobiles) around Capital Hill this morning to promote the need for funding for librarians. I'm going to try and catch it en route to the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Despite the heat and humidity, Washington is a great city for a conference - the Convention Centre is located right downtown, the metro is terrific (half an hour after getting off my plane, I was at my hotel) and most of the museums are free which allows quick dipping into those rooms that are of interest. More to come along with photos, hearing Julie Andrews talk, the best place to buy shoes and books and the best Thai restaurant in town!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Can't see the mystery for the trees?

This article from The Rap Sheet blog really made me laugh. Book reps often groan about the covers of books and how often the same stock images are repeated by different publishers with varying success. There is no doubt that design trends run through cover treatments; for example there was a time when shoes dominated and not just on chicklit. Then eyeglasses. And then suitcases. One trend I personally loathed and which seems to have thankfully dissipated was the crop-a-person's-face-in-half (either vertically or horizontally) look. But I've never thought of trees as being particularly sinister until I read J. Kingston Pierce's clever and interesting deconstruction of the covers of numerous recent mystery novels that all use trees as their focal points. He divides the trees into four categories: anthropomorphic trees that invoke human-like monsters, bleak and desolate trees, trees as villians, and mysterious trees.
Now I'll have guilty nightmares where these scary trees gather around my bed threatening me with bad things if they get cut down for another reprint of The Da Vinci Code.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

And yet another award...

Meg Rosoff has just won the Carnegie Award for children's writing for her latest novel Just in Case. This prestigious award is chosen by a panel of U.K. librarians. You can read more about the prize here. I haven't yet read Just in Case, but I absolutely loved Rosoff's first novel, How I Live Now for its originality, its complicated human relationships and the ending (which of course I won't give away). Though it was originally published as a YA novel, it's one of those crossover books that totally appeals to an adult audience. But my recommendation comes with a dire warning - once you've read it, you'll go into a bit of a reading funk, trying to find a follow-up that even comes close to being as satisfying. We'll be publishing Rosoff's new novel, What I Was next February.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction...

Rajiv Chandrasekaran has won this year's Samuel Johnson Prize - the largest literary prize for non-fiction - for Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone - his look at how the U.S. has surreally and ludicrously "reconstructed" Iraq and made plenty of money doing so. You can read more about his win here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mysteries to make you laugh

Ideal summer reading is catching up on my mysteries but this weekend I really wanted some humour as well. Lucky for me that Vintage U.K. has just re-issued three of Edmund Crispin's wonderfully droll novels featuring the eccentric Oxford Professor Gervase Fen. These were written in the 1940s and 1950s and I read his most famous, The Moving Toyshop, giggling all the way through. A poet has discovered the dead body of an old woman in a toyshop at night, but when he summons the police in the morning, the corpse is gone and the toyshop has now become a grocer's. Naturally the police think he's barmy and moreso when he teams up with Prof. Fen to try and solve the case. It's ingenious and enjoyable plotting, but it will also appeal to readers who love academic satire or bookish references. When this learned duo get themselves into tight places, such as being locked up in a cupboard, they don't panic, but instead play intellectual games such as "Unreadable Books" to pass the time. Or they'll switch to "Detestable Characters in Fiction" while discussing the case in a pub. One of the suspects is even a Janeite. Give Crispin a try - he would be a wonderful author to press on fans of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series, or even of Dorothy Sayer's Gaudy Night. Two other Fen mysteries - Holy Disorders and Love Lies Bleeding have also just been re-issued.
Or for something completely different, you could try Leonie Swann's Three Bags Full, in which a flock of Irish sheep - of varying levels of intellectual ability - have to solve the case of their murdered shepherd. The humour in this one resides in how the complexities of the human world are viewed through the eyes of the sheep. Certainly one of the more original mysteries you will read this summer.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

And the IMPAC Award goes to...

It certainly is the year for international fiction and now Norway is in the spotlight. I love the IMPAC award because all the books are nominated by libraries from around the world. Per Petterson is not a writer I've read before (although I will do so now) but Out Stealing Horses was getting a lot of buzz even before today's announcement.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reading Around the World

Hooray, Chinua Achebe has won the International Man Booker Prize, an award given every two years celebrating a writer's body of work. You can read more about it here. Achebe's best known work is Things Fall Apart. As the summer holidays approach and you find yourself dreaming about traveling, books are a great way to live vicariously and explore a country's history and culture. For great suggestions, check out New York Review of Books which specializes in publishing literature in translation, or check out Words Without Borders, an online site dedicated to international literature. You can also check out the blog My Tragic Right Hip - this blogger (and Canadian book industy type) has set herself a goal of trying to read 52 books from 52 different countries this year. You can follow her reviews and suggestions here (scroll down to the bottom for her full list). She's already on Book #32 which is pretty darned impressive.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Great reading online

I know I should probably be blogging about the last two days at Book Expo but I'm completely talked out. It was a busy bookfair and great to see so many librarians and library students enjoying themselves. To be honest, however, all I want to do now is flake out on my comfy sofa with a good book or pop an interesting film into my DVD player. To that effect, I steer you in the direction of BookForum which has its latest edition posted online here. The theme is Fiction into Film and there are some great articles to read, including one where several writers recommend the best film adaptions of novels. Look also for an interesting interview with Andrew O'Hagan, author of Be Near Me, and a review of the posthumously published Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski. Margaret Atwood also just wrote about this book and her friendship with Kapuscinski here. This is a book I very much hope to read over the summer.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Where we're reading now...

Sometimes we get so caught up in exploring new places that we forget to appreciate what's in our own backyard. For the last two months I've been so busy being on the road, I decided this sunny Saturday to leisurely walk around my own vibrant city - book in hand of course - and visit some new sites. First stop was down by the lake to check out Toronto's newest "beach". Okay, so it' s more like an adult sandbox, but there are these huge yellow umbrellas at regular intervals offering ample shade and since there's always a nice breeze off of the water, it's the perfect place to plunk down in the sand (or in one of the many deck chairs on hand) and read. The view is lovely and while it's hardly the French Riveria, at least one can momentarily forget about the wall of high-rise condominiums behind this beach, hiding the lake view from practically any other spot in Toronto.
I'm currently finishing up Mary McCarthy's Charmed Life about a group of pretentious, irresponsible, melodramatic, would-be artists in a small rural New England community and a woman who has just returned with her latest husband and is thrown into the company of her former husband. These characters are thoroughly detestable and I'm loving this novel as I do most of McCarthy's work. Not only is it extremely funny, but McCarthy never shies away from intellectual discussions in her work, completely at ease with having her characters sit around and discuss the differences between Racine and Corneille or the story of Berenice versus Dido with a little bit of Hamlet thrown in. Just marvellously entertaining stuff.

Next it was off to check out the new flagship store of Umbra, a Canadian design company known primarily for its distinctive trash cans and innovative picture frames. Their products have been available in houseware stores across the country, but now they've opened their own two story emporium to showcase their full line of items - they have everything from sheets to furniture to interactive clothing (one t-shirt comes complete with a needle and thread attached, to connect the various dots on the shirt). It's also partly an art gallery as well. Located on John St. just north of Queen. You can hardly miss it.

Perfect store decor for a Dewey Diva isn't it? God, I love this city!

Friday, June 8, 2007

The art and pleasures of bookselling

Last night four of us Deweys were on hand to toast the career of a dear friend of mine who is retiring at the end of the month after nearly 30 years in the book business. I worked with Nick Pashley for nine years and consider him my mentor; he taught me everything I know about the book business, showed me by example how bookselling is truly an art, and inspired a real love in me for the industry. With all of its various quirks and frustrations - uncooperative computer systems, never-ending piles of catalogues, finicky authors and rude customers, long hours and little pay (no one ever becomes a bookseller to make money), the rewards can sometimes seem few and far between. But they remain surprisingly humble: having a book in stock that a customer has desperately been searching for, or putting a great book into someone's hands and having her or him return to tell you how much they enjoyed reading it. That's truly the best feeling in the world. Nick is one of the wittiest people I know (if you are a regular reader of the U of T Bookstore Review you will be familiar with his funny and perceptive book reviews and columns) and the messiest - the tottering piles of books, catalogues and stray bits of paper in his office is legendary (and inspiring)! He is also an author -try and get your hands on a copy of his wonderful book, Notes On A Beermat. He plans to spend a good deal of his retirement reading in various pubs in Toronto. You'll recognize him when you see him - he'll be the guy in the corner with a pint and a copy of a P.G. Wodehouse or Iris Murdoch novel. It feels like the end of an era - but it was a wonderful party filled with dozens of fellow booksellers, reps, editors and other industry types paying tribute to one of Canada's most-loved trade buyers.

I was thinking of Nick while reading Lewis Buzbee's memoir The Yellow-Lighted Bookstore. This lovely little book is in part a history of bookselling and part a series of meditations on being both a bookseller and then a publisher's sales rep in the days before chain stores and internet commerce. For those already in the business, it's a timely reminder of why we love our jobs; for those curious about the industry, it's a great introductory primer and an ode to the physical bricks and mortar bookstore.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Double Orange Prize winners!

And the winner of the Orange Prize is.....

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie! I'm just thrilled - not only is she the youngest woman to win this annual award but she had tough competition on the shortlist, up against Booker winner Kiran Desai, Anne Tyler, Rachel Cusk, Xiaolu Guo (we're publishing her shortlisted novel this fall) and Jane Harris. Plus the book is fantastic. There's been a wonderful resurgence of books by African writers being published in the West in the last few years, but not that many by women. This novel deals with the Nigerian civil war in the late 1960s through the eyes of a houseboy, two sisters and their very different partners. You can read more coverage at the Guardian. Also check out Adichie's first novel, Purple Hibiscus and you can read an online Q & A where she answers questions about both books here. There's always a lot of controversy around the Orange Prize being open only to women, but I'm all for it. Of the many literary prizes out there, this consistently has the most interesting long and short lists. I'm constantly being introduced to great international writers that I would perhaps never have heard of without the attention that this prize gives them. Just check out the list of previous winners, shortlists and longlists here and see how many names are now some of your favourite writers.

Also congratulations to Karen Connelly who won the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers. Her novel The Lizard Cage was one of my Dewey picks a few seasons ago (it was published earlier in Canada) a profoundly moving novel about a man imprisoned for protesting against the government through his songs, and how he endures his solitary confinement, helped by his relationship with a young boy. One would think that not much could happen in a novel set for the most part just in a tiny cell but I found this story completely enthralling. And I promise you that after reading it, you'll never look at a simple ballpoint pen the same way again.

This is one of those days when I'm so proud to be working for the company responsible for publishing these two terrific writers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

First came the book, then the TV series...

Two series that I count among my guilty reading pleasures have been adapted and are coming to TV this Fall- James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series and Cecily von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl series. The Women's Murder Club is coming from ABC, and the Gossip Girl series will air here on CTV. Check out the trailers for each- they look great!

Too cool, or should that be hot?

I have a fascination with hotels, and this project is just so interesting. A hotel in London, England, partnered up with some design students to create interesting objects and installations to enhance a customer's hotel experience. This is my favourite - a bedtime story printed out on a blanket with several layers so as you "turn" the pages, you actually are piling extra layers on yourself. Wouldn't that work wonderfully for a ghost story? You can see more pictures of this project here.

Book Expo Canada Authors

As promised, here is the list of authors appearing at the H.B. Fenn booth (#705) during Book Expo Canada.

Sunday, June 10
11 AM–Noon: Ralph Mellanby, the man behind Hockey Night in Canada, will be signing advance reading copies of his new book Walking with Legends.
Noon–1 PM: Alafair Burke will be signing copies of Dead Connection, her latest electrifying thriller.
1 PM–2 PM: Vanessa Craft will be signing copies of her debut novel, Out of Character.
1 PM–2 PM: Chantel Simmons will be signing copies of Stuck in Downward Dog.
2 PM–3 PM: Massimo Marcone will be signing copies of In Bad Taste?
3 PM–5 PM: Don’t miss your chance to meet international bestselling author James Patterson at his first ever Book Expo appearance. He will be signing copies of his latest Women’s Murder Club mystery The 6th Target.
5 PM: Join us to celebrate H.B. Fenn and Company’s 30th Anniversary with cake and champagne.

Monday, June 11
10 AM–11 AM: Canadian duo Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout will be signing copies of their new book The Black Sheep.
11 AM–Noon: Join Sleeping Bear authors and illustrators Lovenia Gorman, Melanie Rose, Janet Skirving, Mike Ulmer, and Susan Tooke as they sign copies of their latest children’s picture books.
Noon–1 PM: Toronto playwright Sean Dixon will be signing copies of his new YA book The Feathered Cloak.
Noon–1 PM: Carol Matas will be signing copies of her latest book Past Crimes.
1 PM–2 PM: Canadian ER doctor Dan Kalla will be signing copies of his latest medical mystery Blood Lies.
2 PM–3 PM: Meet Hugo and Nebula Award winner Robert J. Sawyer as he signs copies of his latest bestseller Rollback.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

No duds here

The New York Review of Books has just re-issued Elaine Dundy's wonderfully funny novel Dud Avocado, but their edition is not available in Canada (you can still get the Virago edition here though). However, thanks to Maud Newton, who got permission, you CAN read Terry Teachout's introduction to the NYRB edition here. There is also a link to a fun interview with the 85-year old Dundy. In the intro, Teachout compares Dundy's writing to another favourite author of mine - Dawn Powell. If you've never read this incredibly witty and perceptive woman, you are really missing out. I highly recommend her New York novels, in particular Turn, Magic Wheel and The Locusts Have No King. Perfect summer reading for fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary McCarthy, or Dorothy Parker (both Dundy and Powell are funnier and without the mean streak).

Monday, June 4, 2007

And now come the travel photos....

Some photos from Saskatoon. Above is a shot during my daily walk to campus across the bridge. You can see a bit of the university poking up behind the bridge.

And then this is on the bridge looking back at the city. The building that looks a bit like a castle is the Bessborough Hotel. My hotel was across the road. And finally below is a shot of the statue of Gandhi in downtown Sasktoon. It was a great Congress but I'm happy to be home after a long stretch on the road. Next up is Book Expo this weekend!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Long days...

Though we're a few weeks away from the equinox, it feels like the middle of summer here in Saskatoon. The morning light starts pouring through my hotel window at 4:30am and since I wake up automatically with natural light, I'm wide awake by then. Last night I went out to see a play by a local theatre company. Great play, unfortunately badly acted - or overacted I should say. There's no reason to shout out your lines at the top of your voice to an audience of 15. Shouting doesn't give much room for character inflection either. But the best thing was coming out of the theatre at 10:20pm and being able to walk back to the hotel while being engulfed in a gorgeous sunset. I stood on the Broadway bridge and glanced over at the lights on the University bridge reflected in the Saskatchewan river and thought that if I'd had a few drinks in me AND my contacts fell out into the water AND I squinted - for a few seconds, I could imagine I was in Paris. But to be honest, I haven't really found any reason for Saskatoon to be called the "Paris of the Prairies", although it's a lovely city in its own right.
It's day 9 on the road and I'm ready to go home. Feet are hurting. I found myself scanning all the crumpled clothes in my suitcase wondering if I could find anything to match my comfortable lime green running shoes and still look professional.