Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Dewey Pick - Handcarts

Everytime we do a presentation, people always gawk with amazement at our hand carts and how many heavily loaded boxes we can wheel in, seemingly with ease. This is a rep's secret, but no reason not to share it with everyone. These carts are absolutely amazing - strong, sturdy and they fold up wonderfully - wheels and all - to fit on top of all the boxes in your trunk. They even go up stairs fairly easily. You can buy them at Lee Valley Tools and here's some more information. If you transport heavy items on a regular basis you NEED to get one of these carts - an investment you won't regret.

A Splice of a Rep's life. . .

How does one tackle the absolute tediousness of trying to get out of Toronto during rush hour while already dreading a long drive to Ottawa? Well, if you are the Deweys you just look at the map and find a route you've never taken before. We took Highway 7 which had lovely rolling hills and twisty bends and beautiful colourful countryside. This route took us through Peterborough where we stopped for dinner and a stretch. It's been over 20 years since I was last in this city but what a charming downtown. Thank god all the shops were closed or we'd never have reached Ottawa. But then there is always the trip home. How can you resist wanting to pop into a lingerie shop called I See France? (I see London, I see France, I see - insert name here - 's underpants). We dined at a very cool tapas restaurant called Splice where against our waiter's friendly advice that four dishes might be too much food, we cheerfully defied him and polished off the lot. Then we drove through a lock, and continued on to Ottawa with a beautiful harvest moon shining out in front of us and awkwardly parallel-parked into the very last hotel parking spot around midnight. Now we're off to do a Dewey for a school board and then tomorrow we'll tackle our first sell of the Spring 2008 season.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Curing a Literary Hangover

We apologize for the lack of recent book blogging but most of us are currently mired in our sales conferences for the Spring 2008 books. These usually run for a week or so and we basically don't stop talking about books the whole time. Then there's at least a week prior to sales conference of prep and non-stop reading, and then a week after it for absorbing all your notes and compiling all the sales material to go out and sell. Three weeks of exhausting exhilaration all in aid of finding that perfect 30 second pitch to a book buyer. So the good news is that we'll all have lots of exciting new books to blog about in the future, but bear with us as we recover from our information overloads.
Last weekend, I got home, flopped on my couch and didn't want to leave. So I didn't. And found the perfect solution to a literary hangover - a mini filmfest. I piled all those DVDs I've been meaning to watch into a large pile and chose at whim. I was intending to watch 5 films over the weekend. I ended up seeing 13 with not a dud in the bunch. There is something about popcorn and PJs at 6am that feels very decadent. And these films were all so good; I was completely and happily absorbed through all of them. My favourite "escape" destination is always Paris so first up was Jean-Luc Godard's classic Breathless - a film that will have you making funny grimaces in the bathroom mirror. Avenue Montaigne (a delightful, romantic French comedy) and Truffault's The Last Metro (with Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu) followed. One of the books we discussed at sales conference was Chinese author Su Tong's latest, Binu and the Great Wall. He wrote the novel that the movie Raise the Red Lantern was based on, so that went into the DVD player next (gorgeous cinematography with of course a lot of focus on red). Which led to Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois Coleurs: Rouge. After Breathless, I wanted to see some more experimental film classics, so Ingmar Bergman's Persona was next (I can't even find the words to describe it, but one of the most terrifically stark, disturbingly beautiful films I've ever seen) followed by Cocteau's Blood of a Poet (no, I didn't understand it either, but who cares?). On Criterion's DVD of this film, there' s a fascinating documentary on Cocteau which led me to the only bit of reading I did do this weekend. Cocteau talked at length of his admiration for Raymond Radiguet, a French author who died tragically at the age of 20. His masterpiece is Count D'Orgel's Ball which has an introduction by Cocteau, and is the story of a triangular relationship acted out amidst the superficial French society similar to that portrayed by Proust, but Radiguet does it in only 160 pages. There are quirky characters such as a man who becomes obsessed with the number of commas in Dante. I'm halfway through and loving it. Wars continue to pervade the backgrounds of a lot of upcoming novels so I was inspired to watch three very different war movies. King and Country is a very moving anti-war WWI movie about a deserter on trial. Europa, Europa follows a Jewish teenager through various countries and disguises as he tries to hide his identity from the Nazis. And the BBC recently released a number of filmed productions of Shaw plays, so I watched Heartbreak House with John Gielgud and Lesley-Anne Down. (Zeppelins will play a big part in Russell Banks' new spring novel The Reserve). Then my final three were Good Bye Lenin! (absolutely wonderful but had me in tears by the end), an amusing Irish film called Intermission (Love Actually meets Pulp Fiction) and my one American film on the list, The Prestige (great suspenseful script). Hangover cured, emotional catharsis reached, and I'm ready to go out to sell. Which is a good thing as I hit the road later today.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Knit this. . .

Okay, I'm not a great knitter myself, but here's a great idea for readers who are. Knit the Classics is an online bookclub where members read and discuss books and then challenge each other to come up with their own kniting projects inspired by the novels. Check out these Dante's Inferno legwarmers. Or this 1940s hat to accompany Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. Or this "sniper cozie" for Septimus in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. I'll be curious to see what these talented knitters come up with for their fall picks, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Lots of knitting information and of course good book discussions. (Thanks to the Bronte Blog for pointing this site out.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

To buy or not to buy? This is the answer. . .

Having watched the film again for the first time in ten years and listened to all four hours of the commentary by Kenneth Branagh (with Shakespearen scholar Russell Jackson) on his film Hamlet, I can't recommend this DVD highly enough. WOW! It's like listening in to a masterclass on the play. Branagh knows Hamlet backwards and forwards as does most of the cast (count the number of incredible actors in the film who have also played Hamlet either on stage or screen - there's a funny anecdote about Derek Jacobi uncharacteristically forgetting his Claudius lines because he was remembering Hamlet's) and so his analysis of the speeches and the minor characters is so intelligent, illuminating and articulate. And of course for film buffs there's quite a bit on how certain shots were filmed. But the emphasis is really on the brilliance of the play and Branagh's particular interpretation of it; I certainly wish I'd had this DVD for my undergrad Shakespeare course! The exteriors shots were filmed at Bleinheim Palace, just outside of Oxford, but the photos I've included here are of the real locale - Kronberg Castle in Helsinore in the north of Denmark, which I visited last year. Many productions of Hamlet have been staged in the courtyard that you can partially see in the shot above through the window.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Finally! Hamlet on DVD

Oooh, I've been waiting for this for a long time. Ten years in fact. Last night I just watched the extras which has interviews with some of the cast and some fairly funny trailers from some black and white Shakespeare adapations from the 1930s. I'm looking forward to watching the whole movie twice this weekend - once just to enjoy it and the second time with the commentary on, by Kenneth Branagh (in his introduction he promises daft anecdotes and the odd insight) and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson, author of The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. Branagh is fantastic at doing DVD commentary and I highly recommend that you turn it on for his previous film Dead Again (in which, among other topics, he talks about all the Shakespearean references he subtly threw into his very modern thriller). I already have four other versions of Hamlet in my DVD collection where the title role is played by (in descending order of success) Derek Jacobi, Laurence Olivier, Ethan Hawke and Mel Gibson, and while I think Jacobi makes the best Hamlet, this version by Branagh is definately the best over-all film. Shot at Bleinham Palace and featuring a great cast (Kate Winslet is terrific as Ophelia and likewise Jacobi as Claudius), this is also the only film version that covers the entire play. Branagh's take on As You Like It - set in Japan - comes out on DVD next month. Can one dare to hope that In the Bleak Midwinter, his hilarious comedy about a troupe of misfit actors putting on an amateur production of Hamlet will soon follow? As well as his equally wonderful comedy Peter's Friends? My two VHS tapes are going to fall apart soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fictional retail therapy?

Who hasn't toiled in retail at one point of their working career? During high school I worked part-time as a cashier at a Canadian Tire and I still shudder in horror at the remembrance of their Boxing Day sales. Canadians can essentially be divided into two types of people: those who use their Canadian Tire money on their next purchase (me) and those who hoard it for years, sometimes decades, until they have enough 5 and 10 cent bills to pay for a microwave (every guy I've ever dated). If you fall in the second camp, in retrospective solidarity with the sanity of those poor cashiers and the shoppers in line, I plead with you to spend that fake money when you get to say, $5.00 instead of $500.00. And for god's sake, sort it out beforehand into the proper denominations. Stop the madness! Okay, digression over.
I bring this up because I recently finished Catherine O'Flynn's delightful and heartbreaking novel, What Was Lost. It's deservedly on the Booker longlist and has been an independent bookstore handsell favourite in the U.K. Plus it had an enthusiastic endorsement from Jonathan Coe on the cover, so how could I resist? I don't want to give too much away, but the first part deals with a lonely, inquisitive ten-year old named Kate Meany who fancies herself a detective-in-the-making. She spends a good deal of her time watching people at the Green Oaks shopping mall and recording her observations in her notebook, her trusty stuffed monkey Mickey (named for Spillane) always by her side. Fans of Harriet the Spy will absolutely adore Kate. But then she goes missing. We jump ahead to over fifteen years later. Kurt, a security guard at Green Oaks sees Kate's image on a surveillance tape and Lisa, a manager at one of those huge record superstores finds Mickey hidden behind some pipes in the staff corridors. Their lives curiously intersect as the devasting story of what happened to Kate slowly unfolds. This is a sad, two hankey kind of novel, but broken up by some hilarious (and recognizable) portraits of depressed staff dealing with odd and impossibly demanding customers at the record store. And the writing is just wonderful; teenagers will love this book. It makes me look forward to Douglas Coupland's next novel, The Gum Thief, coming out next month. It is set entirely in an office supplies superstore and is described as, "Clerks-meets-Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?". Can't wait.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Have a Shady Garden? You Must Read This Book!

I just came back from a week's holiday yesterday, and I am already missing my garden! When I bought my house two years ago it needed a TON of work as it had been sitting empty for about ten years. I did the essentials first of course, like having the burst pipes fixed and updating the electrical systems, but what I REALLY wanted to do first was to tackle the overgrown backyard. It was hard to know where to begin: the lawn consisted of thousands of tiny saplings mixed in with foot-tall weeds, and there were no flowerbeds to speak of. After hours of roto-tilling, the lawn was ready for seeding and I had plotted out huge curving flower beds along both sides of the yard. However, with the majority of the yard in partial to deep shade, I was at a bit of a loss to find enough plants to fill in the beds beyond hostas and impatients. Looking for inspiration, I turned to the book Making the Most of Shade by Quebec author Larry Hodgson.

This book has been enormously helpful to me, and I am constantly referring to it. It has everything from how to use a newspaper barrier to help keep weeds at bay in a new flowerbed to five sample shade garden design plans that help you create an instant garden. My favourite sections of the book are the A-Z encyclopedias of the best perennials, annuals, bulbs, ferns, grasses and climbing plants for shade. Each plant is featured in a two-page spread, with a close up colour photo, growing tips, problems and solutions, top performing species, bloom time and more. Every plant that I've put in that Hodgson has recommended has thrived in my yard. With lots of room still for new additions to my garden, this book is going to be accompanying me to nursery for the years to come!

Celebrating Writing From India

With India in the news this week celebrating 60 years of Independence, The Literary Saloon links to a piece from Outlook India about Indian writing in English over the last six decades. The author of the piece, Khushwant Singh, also lists his picks for the most significant novels published during this time. Can't argue with most of his picks which includes Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas, Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. It's also nice to see two Canadians on the list as well - Anita Rau Badami's The Hero's Walk and M.G. Vassanji's recently published The Assassin's Song. Now all I'd like is a tall, cool drink, a front porch with a breeze and all the time in the world to read through this list.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

There was no possiblity of taking a walk that day. Or getting the correct opening page.

I just watched the oddest film version of Jane Eyre, which is quite possibly my all-time favourite book - certainly the one I've re-read the most. The movie was the 1944 Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles version, directed by Robert Stevenson, which I'd never seen before as it rarely came on TV and was only recently made available on DVD. Oh dear, oh dear. I know and accept that films take liberties with the original story but I've never seen such sacrilege with the actual text. The above photo is the first shot of the film, zooming in on the supposed first page of the book while Joan Fontaine reads the first paragraph in voice-over. As any fan will quickly realize - this is not the first paragraph of Jane Eyre; it's not even close. You would think that the screenwriter - Aldous Huxley no less - would have more respect for the actual book. I find it extraordinary that the filmmakers would go to the trouble of creating an entirely new and false first page (various other "paragraphs" of the book are read throughout the movie). The DVD comes with two separate commentary tracks and neither of them mentions this anomaly. And yet, this is one of the most famous opening paragraphs in English literature! And I'm afraid the film didn't improve from there. While some of the cinematography and the lighting was quite stunning, (I've never seen as much mist in any other version) this was a rather foolish adaptation. Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns? Oh please. A much more sinister "take" on Jane Eyre is Hitchcock's 1940 adaptation of Rebecca, also with Fontaine and a much more haunted Laurence Olivier. I'm also rather fond of the 1983 BBC Jane Eyre with Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton who makes a fine Rochester, particularly in the final scenes. I haven't yet seen the 2007 Masterpiece Theatre production.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wild Mary and her Curious successor. . .

Is there any better summer reading experience than to giggle your way through a book? The novels of Mary Wesley have become my new guilty pleasure - God, they are funny. The things that come out of her characters' mouths! Her novels first beckoned when I saw a British adapation of The Camomile Lawn on DVD, based on her novel about the adventures of five cousins during the Second World War (great cast by the way including Jennifer Ehle, Claire Bloom, Toby Stephens and Tara Fitzgerald). Then Vintage U.K. started re-issuing her works with these beautiful new covers. Then I read a wonderful biography called Wild Mary by Patrick Marnham and fell in love with this feisty woman who lived life to the full and seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. The chapters on how she deals with the sudden fame of becoming a bestselling writer in her seventies and eighties, are just so life-affirming and have you cheering her on. Even the blurbs on the backs of her novels make me giggle as in this description of a ten-year old girl from A Sensible Life: "She was a thin, lonely child with huge eyes and an extensive vocabulary of French foul language. " And she's a writer who excels in writing first chapters that absolutely draw you into the story. I just finished An Imaginative Experience which begins with a woman pressing the emergency button to stop a train so she can jump off and pick up a sheep who has fallen on his back. Two male passengers watching become obsessed with finding out more about her. I started laughing and then when I learned what prompted the woman's action I felt utterly devastated. It's this wonderful, seamless blend of comedy and tragedy that joyfully characterizes her work. I also highly recommend her first novel Jumping the Queue about a woman intent on committing suicide until everything goes horribly, comically wrong. Great pet goose in that one.
And if you are already a Mary Wesley fan and are looking for a writer with a similar style and sensibility, look no further than Gerard Woodward. His trilogy about the Jones family that begins with August ( a novel that recounts the summer vacations to the same place in Wales over a number of years), continues with the Booker shortlisted I'll Go to Bed at Noon, and finishes with the recent A Curious Earth (which has one of the best concluding chapters I've ever read - utterly satisfying in how it ties up loose ends coupled with a completely unexpected punch of black humour in the last ten pages) is heartwrenchingly funny and poignant. Hmmm. it's only in posting this blog that I've noticed the similarity in jacket treatment to Mary Wesley. Now that can't be a coincidence...
May both authors long continue to have legs!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Pip, Pip, Hooray!

Let the fall awards season begin! The Man Booker prize longlist is out and I'm thrilled that one of my favourite summer books, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is on it. It's a great list full of new and younger writers. Congrats to Torontonian Michael Redhill who made the list with his novel Consolation which has just been released in paperback. Ian McEwan is the bookie's favourite with On Chesil Beach but don't be surprised if Jones "pips" him to the shortlist. Of the other longlisted titles, A.N. Wilson's Winnie and Wolf, Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost (which has been one of those handseller picks lauded among independent booksellers in England) and Anne Enright's The Gathering all look to be intriguing reads. Shortlist is announced on September 6th.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Buy the CD first? Novel soundtracks...

I don't often go scurrying to the record shop after finishing a book, but two upcoming novels absolutely demand it, especially if (like me) you don't have an extensive classical music library. A former roommate of mine used to mock me mercilessly for having a CD called Opera Without Words, but that was over fifteen years ago and I'm slowly and happily expanding my musical horizons. I'll blog in more detail about these two novels closer to their publication dates, but just to tease you a bit, I have to say they are two of the most exciting and satisfying bits of writing I've encountered all year. Janette Turner Hospital's Orpheus Lost, is absolutely my favourite fall book of the season so far. It's a modern retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth (with the genders reversed) that is also a terrifically sensual love story, a multi-generational tale about how families cope differently with the effects of war, and a contemporary political suspense thriller to boot. We meet Miska, one of the main characters playing his violin in a Boston subway station and not surprisingly, he's playing a piece from Gluck's opera Orphee and Euridice. The music becomes such an integral part of the love story, that I simply had to rush out to buy a CD. The opera was staged and recorded in both Italian and French so choose your language of love and listen to it before reading the book. You have time - it's coming out in October.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a manuscript of Jonathan Coe's new novel The Rain Before it Falls (out this September in England, but we have to wait until March for its North American release) and again, a piece of music becomes a crucial part of this beautifully sad novel about memory, lost loves and generational mistakes. I won't be at all surprised if it hits the Booker shortlist this fall. I can't say too much about it at the moment although parts do take place in Toronto and Saskatoon! But in preparation and to enhance your future reading experience, familiarize yourself with Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne, especially the piece entitled Bailero. Again, I didn't previously know this music but it is an extraordinarily beautiful piece that has gone straight onto my iPOD. (Incidentally, if you used to shop at the now defunct Sam's on Yonge Street and ever wandered into their classical section, that knowledgeable staff member who knows EVERYTHING and is so passionate in his recommendations, is now working just a few doors down in the classical section at HMV, thank God! I shall always be grateful to him for recommending Saint-Saens' Symphonie No. 3 which has now become one of my favourite pieces of music.)
Finally, while on the subject of music, just in case (again like me) you were waiting desperately for the soundtrack to The Lives of Others to be released - hooray - it's now out on CD. And the movie itself, which won this year's Best Foreign film Oscar will be out on DVD later this month as well. Definately check it out if you haven't already seen it. Apart from its wonderful score by Gabriel Yared (who scored The English Patient), it contains one of the best scenes ever shot in a bookstore. To say more would spoil it for you, but I defy you bookloving crowd out there not to shed a tear when you get there. Me, I tear up just listening to the soundtrack.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Lust, Caution

Here's another movie I'm really looking forward to this fall, directed by one of my favourite directors Ang Lee. Lust, Caution is based on a story by Eileen Chang, whose Love in a Fallen City was recently published by New York Review of Books. It's a marvellously haunting collection of short stories about women's lives, loves and desperation in Hong Kong during the interwar years and would be a perfect preamblatory read in preparation for this movie (the story and the screenplay will also be published this fall) which is set during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and Shanghai. You can see the trailer here. The cinematography alone looks lush and incredibly beautiful, not to mention the cheongsams.