Friday, June 27, 2008

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears Wins Another Award!

For the second time in three years Emily Gravett has won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for outstanding illustration in a children's book! The book in question is Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears, which was also awarded the 2007 Nestle Children's Book Prize Bronze Medal.
Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears is set up like a journal in which a timid little mouse has recorded all of his fears-from loud noises and the dark, to getting lost (whereamiophobia). The book features a 'nibbled' die cut on the cover, a few (sturdy) flaps, and a great fold out map (The Visitors' Map of the Isle of Fright- which is an island in the shape of a mouse with such features as Mount Apprehension, Drymouth Bay and the town of Little Quiver and Great Wimp). Each time you look at the book you discover another detail in the illustrations.
Gravett is just brilliant, and I've loved each and every one of her books (pictured below). She is able to alternate between simple picture books (Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear, Monkey & Me, The Odd Egg ) and more complex picture books that are packed with innovative and detailed illustrations (Wolves, Meerkat Mail, Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears and the forthcoming Spells).

If you are an Emily Gravett fan, do check out her official website for some fun activities and downloads!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Greetings from Iceland

Only have a few moments online, but this is where I was today - hiking to an ancient glacier behind a glacial lake of deliciously cold, cold water. I'll post more photos later, but this is an extraordinary country, unlike any I´ve ever visited. I've been to Middle Earth and back today and the constantly changing topography is so incredible. Today we drove through the landscape of Njal's Saga and it gave me chills. Tomorrow we hike up to a snowfield in hats and mitts and then change into bathing suits to take a dip in geo-thermal pool.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Two delicious tales of marriage. . .

One of my favourite small presses is Other Press which has a great eye for spotting and publishing really good contemporary international writers and spending the time and money to translate them. We just became their new Canadian distributor this spring and I've really been impressed with the range and talent of their authors. I've been reading many of the new books that I have to sell, but a lot of their backlist is so tempting that I've been steadily making my way through it as well. Here are two wonderful summer reads - one old, one new - that make a really nice pairing as they both tackle the secrets, lies and betrayals within a marriage, although in very different ways.

I knew I would enjoy Françoise Dorner's The Woman in the Row Behind , translated by Adriana Hunter, when one of the quotes on the cover described the book as feeling, "like a riff on an early '60s film starring Catherine Deneuve". The book also won the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman - one of France's prestigious literary awards. But accolades aside, this is just a charming, comical read - even though it traces the destruction of a marriage. Nina helps run a newspaper kiosk with her humdrum husband Roger on the shady side of a Parisian street. She can't help but be intrigued as she watches her male customers furtively reading x-rated magazines, wondering what the appeal is . One day she buys a wig, a black trench coat and douses herself with an exotic perfume. She follows her husband into a movie theatre, sits behind him and, pretending to be a mysterious stranger, flirts with him provocatively. The trouble starts when Roger begins to fall in love with Nina's alter ego and as her jealousy (in essence of herself), grows, she procrastinates on telling him the truth. Nina's predicament is only enhanced by a neurotic mother, a self-obsessed friend going through a divorce with Nina's brother-in-law (who Roger suspects her of having an affair with), and an aching need to connect with the father she has never known. The novel is also very much about coping with death - but honestly, it's extremely funny.

Elizabeth Subercaseaux is a bestselling Chilean writer. Her first novel to be published in English is A Week in October, translated by Marina Harss, and coming out in early August. The novel is narrated in alternating chapters between the thoughts of Clara, a woman dying of cancer, who is reflecting on her life in a notebook, and the reactions to those journal entries by her husband who finds it tucked in a kitchen drawer and can't stop reading it. Among the surprises, he discovers that Clara has been having an affair with one of his colleagues and even more disconcerting - she knows all about the long-term affair he has been having. And then certain details in the journal pop up that he knows can't be true. So what is Clara up to? Is she playing mind games with him? Is this her form of revenge for his affair? And why is she leaving her journal in a kitchen drawer anyways? This compelling mystery drives the plot as the novel calls into question how little we know about the people closest to us and poignantly examines the nature of marriage and what really remains after so many years.

Read the first novel for a private chuckle and perhaps as a warning against taking personal fantasies too far; the second novel would make a fabulous bookclub choice.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

#1 on my list of favourites

I first got hooked on the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series after hearing the author, Alexander McCall Smith, being interviewed on CBC Radio several years ago. Nine books later, I’m still a huge fan, and the lastest in the series, The Miracle at Speedy Motors, doesn’t disappoint. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I decided to go back to the beginning and read the whole series all over again, which I highly recommend doing. I think the books are even funnier the second time around.
It’s been almost ten years since the series began and I had forgotten many of the details about Precious Ramotswe’s childhood, her first marriage to jazz musician Note Makoti, and how she came to own a detective agency. I certainly hadn’t remembered that Mr. J.L.B Matekoni was married, and then widowed, before he met Mme Ramotswe.
My favourite character has always been Grace Makutsi, with her large spectacles, “difficult complexion”, crookedly braided hair, and 97% from the Botswana Secretarial College. Sometimes she can be quite tactless, but that’s why she’s so funny. I can also appreciate Mma Makutsi’s love of shoes, although I’ve never actually had a conversation with mine.
One of the things I enjoy most the about the books is the warm and supportive friendship between Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi, and my enthusiasm for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has also launched a wonderful friendship. One day I was in my local health food store contemplating their very large selection of tea and a woman standing close-by suggested that I try the bush tea. This comment led to a conversation about Precious Ramotswe, who absolutely loves bush tea. It turned out that my new acquaintance, Nancy, lives right across the street from me and now, a few years later, we’re still getting together to drink tea and talk about books. (P.S. Nancy loves The Miracle at Speedy Motors too).

1. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
2. Tears of the Giraffe
3. Morality for Beautiful Girls
4. The Kalahari Typing School for Men
5. The Full Cupboard of Life
6. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
7. Blue Shoes and Happiness
8. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
9. The Miracle at Speedy Motors

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Canadian WWI movie coming this fall. . .

This is my little souvenir from Book Expo Canada. I had a tiny Judy Garland moment, but singing "Dear Mr. Gross" doesn't have quite the same ring as "Dear Mr. Gable..." And of course I'm cherishing this signed photo purely out of my long-abiding interest in the various cultural and literary representations of WWI, and nothing at all to do with the actor in the uniform...

But seriously, Paul Gross was at the show to promote his fall movie Passchendaele which has just been chosen to open the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Gross stars in the movie which he also directed, produced and wrote the script for. It's a story close to his heart as his grandfather fought at Passchendaele and the movie is based on his experiences. You can read more and see scenes from the film at the movie's website. It looks very beautiful, haunting and powerful. The novelization of the movie will also be out in September.

But neither the movie poster or my black and white photo do justice to how very blue his eyes are. Just an observation. . .

Monday, June 16, 2008

Literary travel companions. . .

If you've got a vacation coming up to an exotic place, or you're just heading up to the cottage dreaming of exotic elsewheres, the Guardian has a great article in which writers suggest companion books to take to a variety of great travel spots around the world. You can read it here. It includes David Mitchell picking his favourite books for Japan, Julian Barnes evoking Sicily, Dave Eggers exploring literary Chicago and Colm Toibin taking on South America. Great summer reading suggestions abound.

As for me, I'm shortly taking off for a walking holiday in Iceland. And in preparation for the trip, here's what I'm currently reading/stuffing into my backpack:

I've long been wanting to read the novels of the Nobel prize-winning author Hallador Laxness - I'm in the middle of the wonderful Independent People a novel outlining in stark detail, the many decades in the life of a stubborn sheep farmer. I'm also going to try to read Iceland's Bell - an update of the traditional Icelandic sagas, some of which I studied in school.

For a frequently funny, and completely charming and original take on Iceland, I'm also reading Letters From Iceland by W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice. It's an engaging mishmash of poetry, prose, history and travel pieces, originally published in 1937. I'm on the hunt for a copy of Moon Country: Further Letters from Iceland by Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell, which is an updated homage to Auden and MacNeice, published in the 1990s, but it seems to be out of print.

When I chatted with Alberto Manguel at the recent CLA, he recommended Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth which takes place in an ancient Icelandic volcano. So it too goes into the pile.

And we've just signed up the terrific Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indridason. I've read and loved his previous book Silence in the Grave and next on the list is his latest, The Draining Lake.

One of things that attracted me about Iceland apart from all of its physical beauty, is its literary culture. It has the highest rate of literacy in the world and a thriving cultural and literary heritage. The country publishes more books per capita than even the United States. I've read that they are also huge coffee consumers too (maybe the two go hand in hand). Can't wait to check out the bookstores and libraries in Reykjavik. Stay tuned. . .

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Canadian writer takes the IMPAC prize. . .

Congratulations to Rawi Hage and his novel De Niro's Game for winning one of the richest literary awards - the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, whose longlist comes from nominations by libraries around the world. (Hage's novel was originally championed by the Winnipeg Public Library). You can read more about the award, the shortlist and the longlist (great reading recommendations) at the IMPAC website. Here's a bit from the judges's citation:
Hage offers an explosive plot that is also effective as a meditation on war and its psychological cost. There is no easy resolution, no redemptive ending in this visceral account. There is, however, an uplifting and original lyricism to the writing, one where Hage’s imaginative flair fuses the present horror into passages of poetic intensity. The cadences of the Old Testament are there, as are angry Ginsbergian litanies as well as strong European echoes, especially of Camus’ The Outsider. Remarkably, a dark but rich sense of humour also surfaces in the narrator’s self-deprecating reflections.
Another book to add to the bedside table. . .

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Trolling the aisles of the ivory bookfair. . .

For the last eight days I've been working a bookfair at the Congress - Canada' s largest academic conference - this year held at the University of British Columbia. Apart from getting a bout of food poisoning (I was trying to eat healthy, only to be felled by an organic fruit smoothie - what are the chances?), the conference went extremely well and I had many interesting conversations with professors and students from across Canada and around the world. One of the perks about working this gig is that I essentially get to live in a huge academic bookstore for a week and it's fun to troll the aisles and examine books you don't normally see on the shelves of your local independent.

Books published by academic presses (and small presses too - many of which were also on hand) are certainly not just for readers with multiple degrees. Yes, there are still a lot of books published on esoteric topics with titles and prose that are migraine-inducing, but university presses are also acquiring and marketing many of their books towards a general audience of inquisitive and intelligent readers and are just as likely to publish a book on graphic novels or innovative garden design as they are about the theories of Foucault. And these presses also have some of the best book and jacket designers in the industry - even some of their catalogues feel like works of art. It's worth checking them out if you like to read odd and quirky books. If you live in a city with a good university bookstore - browse their shelves. Or check out the websites of academic presses - many of them have regular e-mail newsletters that you can sign up for to learn about new books in the areas you are interested in. As a small example of the many treasures that are available, here's what I picked up this week:

My first stop at the Congress is always to Broadview Press. They publish very good scholarly editions of classics with great supplementary essays and historical appendixes. They are also terrific at finding long-lost gems, particularly of women's writing. I will always be grateful to them for bringing Francis Marion Beynon's First World War novel, Aleta Dey, back into print. This year I picked up a new edition of Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies, edited by Richard Kelly. I've long wanted to read this Victorian children's book, which according to one of the book's blurbers is for, "everyone who has an interest in the exuberant, eclectic, ecological and erotic aspects of Victorian literature". I also bought Suffragette Sally, a 1911 novel written by Gertrude Colmore and edited by Alison Lee. The novel follows three British women, each from a different class, as they fight for the right to vote.

Over to Playwrights Canada Press where I added to my obsessive collection of literature about the First World War with a new anthology of Canadian war plays. Canada and the Theatre of War: Volume 1 edited by Donna Coates and Sherrill Grace contains the full text of five contemporary plays about the Great War (The Lost Boys by R. H. Thompson, Soldier's Heart by David French, Mary's Wedding by Stephen Massicotte, Dancock's Dance by Guy Vanderhaeghe - my favourite - and Vimy by Vern Thiessen) and three contemporary plays about World War II (Ever Loving by Margaret Hollingsworth, None is Too Many by Jason Sherman and Burning Vision by Marie Clements). I'm not familiar with any of the WWII plays and it will be interesting to compare them with the others. At the time of writing this, Playwrights Canada Press hadn't yet updated their website - but keep checking back and I'm sure they will post information about this book soon; it's hot off the press. I spoke to one of the editors of this collection and she told me a second volume is in the works which will showcase Canadian plays tackling more recent wars.

I am a fan of the prolific academic writer Marjorie Garber who seems to be published by everyone. I've enjoyed dipping into her previous book Shakespeare After All, which is an engaging examination of each of the plays. So over at the Routledge booth, I picked up her latest, Profiling Shakespeare, a collection of essays that explores how previous scholars and biographers have pieced together what they think they know about Shakespeare. It's hard to resist a book with chapters such as, "Shakespeare as Fetish" and "Shakespeare's Laundry List". This should keep me going until we publish yet another new Garber book, Shakespeare and Modern Culture, in December. Also on the lit-crit front, I am always looking to add to my extensive collection of books about Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and Palgrave has helpfully complied with Virginia Woolf Studies, edited by Anna Snaith. This collection of essays is a guide to all the different critical approaches one can use when thinking about Woolf's work; it should help me navigate all the other scholarly books on her that are crowding my shelves.

The book I'll be taking on the plane with me tomorrow is from McGill-Queen's University Press. Mr Charlotte Brontë: The Life of Arthur Bell Nicholls by Alan H. Adamson (a Concordia professor but also a descendent of Nicholls) promises not only interesting biographical detail, but also a look at Arthur's protection of Charlotte's literary reputation after she died.
And finally, the book I was most excited to find was one I actually picked up at the university bookstore. Published by Verso, Red Velvet Seat: Women's Writing on the First Fifty Years of Cinema, edited by Antonia Lant and Ingrid Periz, is a thick, meaty anthology covering every aspect of going to the movies and includes pieces by some of my favourite writers - Virginia Woolf, Rose Macaulay, Elizabeth Bowen, Janet Flanner, H.D., Rebecca West, Winifred Holtby, Katherine Mansfield and so on. There are pieces from women as diverse as Emily Post, Colette and Marie Stopes, and also articles written by women screenwriters, actresses (Lillian Gish), directors, cinematographers and film critics. There is a whole section on women, film and war. I literally squealed with delight when I came across this book - all nine hundred pages of it.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to somehow get all of these books plus the pile of novels (used and new) I bought in Seattle and Vancouver into my two bags and hope they don't exceed the airline weight restrictions. Oh yeah, and I also have to shove in the three new pairs of shoes, some new clothes, a new bag, a box of deluxe tea, a pound of coffee beans, several balls of yarn, the metres of amazing fabric I found at a quilting store today . . .

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What the reviews of the movie Sex and the City fail to mention . . .

. . . is the crucial, and let's face it, rather sexy role that library books play in the plot. There's also an important scene at the New York Public Library. Two Deweys saw the flick last night and were probably the only ones in the audience nudging each other whispering, "that's our book". It wasn't as good as some of the best TV episodes, but it was an extremely enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours after standing on your feet all day at a book fair.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rose Tremain takes the Orange Prize. . .

. . . for The Road Home. I haven't read this, her latest novel, but I loved The Way I Found Her. And she's been nominated for so many awards over the past few years. Nice to see her win. Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna took the Orange Prize for New Writers.

Book Expo Events- H.B. Fenn and Company

Greetings from Vancouver!

The flowers are blooming, the food is fabulous, but more on that later! I thought I should post a list of the authors coming to Book Expo Canada so that anyone planning on attending the show can time their visit correctly to the H.B. Fenn Booth (booth #705).
Listed below are the authors we've got scheduled to sign. I don't know if it is co-incidence or clever planning, but there seems to be a few authors appearing on Sunday whose books would make great Father's Day presents...

On Sunday June 15th

10.00 am- Irene Gammel will be signing her book 'Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic'
11.00 am -Nalo Hopkinson will be signing copies of Brown Girl In the Ring (Canada Reads)
12.00 noon-Sleeping Bear Event - Matt Napier (author of the forthcoming 'I Spy With My Little Hockey Eye') will be signing his book 'Z is for Zamboni'. Todd Chapman will be signing 'D is for Dinosaur: A Prehistoric Alphabet'
1 pm Rebecca Eckler will be signing copies of 'Toddlers Gone Wild: Rants from A Mommy Brain'
2 pm -Peter Edwards will be signing copies of 'Delusion: The True Story of Victorian Superspy Henri Le Caron'
3 pm – Fenn Publishing Event- Scott Morrison will be signing 'By The Numbers'. Johnny Bower will be signing a poster for his forthcoming book 'The China Wall' (Fall 08)
4pmMary Swan will be signing copies of 'The Boys in the Trees'

On Monday June 16th:
10 am - Sidura Ludwig will be signing 'Holding My Breath'
11 am - Rachel Manley will be signing copies of the Governor General's Award-winning memoir Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood
12 noon
- Claire Delacroix will be signing advance reading copies of her new book 'Fallen' and Gregory Lamberson signing copies of Johnny Gruesome
1 pm - Tina Burke will be signing 'Sophie’s Big Bed'
2 pmEmily Giffin- will be signing 'Love The One You're With'