Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Dude sings. . .

One of the best things about being in the book business is discovering everyone's hidden creative talents. When I worked in a bookstore, my colleagues played in bands, wrote poetry, were amazing quilters etc. Let's face it - readers are simply fascinating people with lots more interests and hobbies than non-readers.
For those of you living in and around the Toronto area - mark December 6th on your calender. Our Dewey Dude - David Macmillan - belongs to the Tallis Choir, a chamber ensemble specializing in the music of the Renaissance. Here he is all dolled up, fourth man from the left in the back row.

They will be recreating a Baroque vespers to the music of Handel, December 6th at St. Patrick's Church, 141 McCaul St. Ticket information located here. Deweys will try to behave themselves as they lead the cheering squad.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Going to the dogs. . .

Not that I'm Plummer obssessed or anything, (okay, maybe I am), but I'm probably more dotty about NYRB books, and so when the two combine - well, it's just a very good day. Courtesy of the always entertaining and informative NYRB blog, A Different Stripe are some clips from the upcoming animated film of J.R. Ackerley's classic, My Dog Tulip. You can watch them here. Christopher Plummer plays Ackerley - there's that marvellous voice again. The first clip in particular, is hysterically funny. The film will be out next year giving you plenty of time to read the book first. A must for dog lovers.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Watch an interview with Christopher Plummer. . .

Just back from a road trip to Montreal and Ottawa where I've been having such fun talking up Christopher Plummer's marvellous autobiography In Spite of Myself, to just about every single person I meet. We've just posted a three-part interview with him which you can watch here. In it Plummer talks about why he wanted to write the book as a novel rather than as an autobiography and he muses on the glory days of Montreal, his relationship with his daughter Amanda, his early years at Stratford and why he left Canada. Have I mentioned what a fabulous writer I think he is?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Film buffs rejoice: A brief encounter with two Davids. . .

I've just been to see the first of many David Lean films that will be showing over the next few weeks at Cinematheque Ontario. Their retrospective is in honour of the centennial of Lean's birth and along with screening old favourites like Lawrence of Arabia (which I'm excited to see on the big screen), The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, and Brief Encounter (one of my all-time favourite movies), I'll finally get to see earlier films from the 1940s and 50s that aren't yet available on DVD, such as The Passionate Friends, Hobson's Choice, Madeleine and The Sound Barrier. Lean also did wonderful adaptations of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist (definitely worth renting if you are a Dickens fan - the latter makes one regret he never tackled Wuthering Heights), and they will all be shown in beautifully restored prints. This Lean love-in will also be travelling to Vancouver, so keep an eye out. For a list of books and web resources on Lean's work, check out the British Film Institute site here. For a great overview of Lean's work, read this piece by one of my favourite film critics - David Thomson - that he wrote for the Guardian when the films were playing in London earlier this year.

Thomson has also just released one of my most eagerly awaited books for this fall and though it weighs a ton, it's my constant night-time reading companion. Have You Seen . . .? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films is a collection of mini-essays on films ranging from 1895's L'Arrosseur Arrosse to 2007's You, the Living. Each movie is given one page of witty, knowledgeable, cynical Thomson prose and as he writes in the introduction, his purpose is not to make the reader an expert in film studies (although you could do far worse for a textbook), but, to give you a good time - or a better time than you have been having. And the subtitle gives you a flavour of what to expect: Including masterpieces, oddities, guilty pleasures, and classics (with just a few disasters).

One of these disasters is The Sound of Music in which he begins his write-up by proposing a movie in which a serial killer in a nursing home (and rabid fan of the movie) smothers her patients while singing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain". He goes on: I am a very sick, vicious old man, but writing a thousand of these little recommendations can drive you crazy, especially when I come to a picture that I loathe but which - unquestionably - has to be in the book, if only because millions of the stupid and aggrieved will write in to the publisher . . .

It's a testament to Thomson's writing that even when I vehemently disagree with him he's still so much fun to read. And of course the book includes many films (most of them available on DVD), that he absolutely adores. Here he is on Vertigo which he calls a test case: If you are moved by this film, you are a creature of cinema. But if you are alarmed by its implausibility, its hysteria, its cruelty - well, there are novels. Or on Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep: It's pretty clear that, on first impression, no one could make sense of the Chandler plot or care about it. If Hawks was right, you just made each scene so damn interesting no one bothered, and then at the end you eliminated several people and had your guy and his girl upright but writhing, like the smoke from two cigarettes.
You get the idea. Endlessly fascinating, full of film trivia, Hollywood gossip and a fan's passion for the movies. I can think of no better lifetime project than to (slowly) work my way through his recommendations. A great gift idea for film buffs along with his terrific reference bible, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. And if witty and insightful film criticism is your thing, I also highly recommend Anthony Lane's collection of film (and literary) essays, Nobody's Perfect.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Award shortlists. . .

There's always a lot of Canadian coverage on the shortlists of the Governor General's Literary Awards so I won't regurgitate any of it here. If you haven't seen the lists of the nominees for the multiple categories, you can read them here. I'm happy that the list differs quite a bit from the Giller - it's always nice for as many authors to get some recognition as possible. I'm particularly happy to see Chris Turner's The Geography of Hope get a non-fiction nod as his book was a Dewey pick of mine last year.

And I do hope that people take a look at one of the categories that doesn't get as much attention as fiction and non-fiction - the Translation from French into English category. Here's a great way to be introduced to some Francophone Canadian authors you may never have read before. I'm thrilled that Lazer Lederhendler, who translated Nicolas Dickner's charming and funny novel Nikolski is on the list. It was one of my favourite novels of 2007. The Deweys have just come from booktalking in Montreal where Nikolski is set, and so Quebecois literature and our hopeless inadequacies in speaking French are weighing heavily on our minds. The other nominees in this category are:
Jo-Anne Elder for translating Béatitudes by Herménégilde Chiasson
Liedewy Hawk for translating The Postman's Round by Denis Thériault
Paul Leduc Brown and Michelle Weinroth for translating The Making of Nations and Cultures of the New World by Gérard Bouchard
Fred A. Reed for translating Orfeo by Hans-Jürgen Greif

Hooray for translators!

And in other award news, the shortlist for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize has just been announced. The nominees are:
The Story That Must Not Be Told by Kavery Nambisan
Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
Brothers by Yu Hua
The Music Child by Alfred A. Yuson

The winner will be announced November 13th. All these titles are currently unavailable in English translation but look for the winner to have English language rights snapped up by somebody. Brothers by Yu Hua will be coming out at the end of January, 2008. Last year's winner was Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong, translated by Howard Goldblatt.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The White Tiger wins the Booker Prize. . .

Congrats to Aravind Adiga who wins the Man Booker Prize with his debut novel, The White Tiger, a novel that takes a look at the economic reality of modern India through the eyes of its villian narrator. The Guardian has more here, with one of the judges likening the novel to Macbeth. I'm disappointed for Sebastian Barry (my pick) but Adiga's novel definately sounds intriguing. And it has the added heft (in my view at least) of having been one of Eleanor's Dewey picks this spring - which is when I first heard about it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Crafty Titles for Halloween

I know it was Thanksgiving this past weekend, but my mind wasn't really on turkey- all I could think of was Halloween!

Maybe it was because of the full moon, but I know that my obsession started in the checkout line at the grocery story when I spotted a Pillsbury Halloween special publication ($5.50 CDN on newsstands). On the cover was the most adorable appetizer EVER- Halloweenies (cocktail wieners wrapped in Pillsbury Crescent Dinner Rolls so that they resemble mummies, then served with a mustard dip). They are called Crescent Mummy Dogs on the Pillsbury website, but I much prefer the name Halloweenies-it must be the kid in my surfacing, but I can't say 'Halloweenies' without giggling! I decided I had to have a Halloween party, just so I could serve these.

I also turned to two other books for further inspiration for the party. Both are packed with ideas for food, crafts, and decorations: so many you’ll want to add this to your collection (personal or library collection) as you’re bound to want to refer to it for years to come. A Ghostly Good Time: The Family Halloween Handbook by Women’s Day Special Interest Publications is a paperback which is a very economical $11.99. It has decorating ideas and projects for both outdoors and indoors. There are also instructions on making costumes for both adults and kids, including a few children's costumes that can be re purposed next year using a few tweaks to create a brand new costume. This book also includes recipes for snacks both sweet and savory, instructions for crafts party favours and fun games you can play, like 'Pin the Spider on the Web'.
Matthew Mead is Style Editor-at-Large for Country Home Magazine. His book, Matthew Mead’s Halloween Tricks and Treats is a hardcover which will stand up to repeat borrowing. This book contains sections on treats (both home-made and time saving ways to ‘personalize’ store-bought items) for parties for kids or grown-ups, decorations (a nice mix of simple projects and more complicated ones). The patterns for the crafts are included in a separate section at the end.

The photography in both books is great and you are bound to find lots of ideas in each!

A Very Plum Plummer. . .

Today is the day! My favourite, absolutely favourite book of the year hits the store shelves and I can now blog about it in full. So whether you are a Christopher Plummer fan or not, here's ten reasons why you need to read his memoir In Spite of Myself.

#1. I already knew he was a great actor (I've seen him on stage 5 times now over the last 20 years and his terrific recording of speeches from Henry V is on my iPOD), but the real, pleasant surprise was how good a writer he is! This is not some ghostwritten celebrity bio knocked off in a couple of weeks. Plummer has spent years writing this book and he is a great storyteller. His memoir is entertaining, very funny, forthright, wistful, and filled with passages of writing that are so beautifully crafted. So read it first of all for the writing.

#2. And then read it for the life! Plummer has definately lived his to the lees. What I loved about this book was how unabashedly honest he is about his huge ego, his arrogance, his drinking, his admission that he was a horrible husband (at least to his first two wives) and an absentee father. He certainly not only sowed his wild oats but harvested them and had them for breakfast every morning - at one point I stopped counting the euphemisms he uses to denote yet another love affair. And yet the generosity and love he shows towards the people - both famous and not - who he learned his craft from, and who helped him in his career is endearing. (He's been with his third wife now for decades, so he definately settles down in the end.)

#3. Plummer paints a portrait of a lost Montreal from the 1930s and 1940s that will enchant anyone who loves that city. The book begins and ends in the city of his youth. Though he currently lives in Connecticut, he is still a proud Canadian.

#4. If you are a theatre lover, you MUST read this book. Plummer has worked with just about every major player in Canada, the U.S. and England - from Lawrence Olivier, Michael Caine, Claire Bloom, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards Jr., to William Shatner, who was his understudy for Henry V. Many of the best stories involve people behind the scenes - costume makers, theatrical agents, set designers, playwrights. The stories are juicy, hilarious, sometimes sad and poignant, but always brimming with enthusiasm and gratitude for being a part of this crazy world. Plummer has always had the utmost respect for the actors' craft - this is a guy who turned down a huge multi-year Hollywood contract with David O. Selznick because the Stratford Festival had offered him the part of Hamlet. There's also some wonderful material here about the beginnings of Canada's Stratford Festival.

#5. If you love Shakespeare, Plummer has played all the major roles and his insights into how he (and the many directors he's worked with) approached the characters is fascinating. The BBC has been busy lately, digging through its archives and putting some of its treasures on DVD. I'm hoping that they find 1964's Hamlet at Elsinore with Plummer playing the melancholy Dane actually at Kronberg Castle, widely believed to be the inspiration for Elsinore. Michael Caine (who played Horatio in this production) has publicly stated that Plummer's Hamlet is one of the best he has ever seen. Plummer calls it one of the "wettest", as Caine couldn't stop crying as Horatio held the dying Hamlet in his arms.

#6. If you love the movies you'll get a kick out of the antics on film sets that Plummer relates. There's a whole chapter of course on The Sound of Music which Plummer dubbed at the time S & M. It will certainly make you look twice at the butler. And if you want to know why Peter O'Toole taking a break from filming Lawrence of Arabia, popped into Plummer's dressing room, and promptly pulled down his pants, well, you'll just have to read the book.

#7. While Plummer paints a golden age of theatre and film that has sadly disappeared, take heart that at least one thing has improved over the years - elevators. The number of nasty elevator accidents that take place in this book is distinctly uncanny.

#8. There are some warm and fuzzy dog stories.

#9. One of the things that contributes to Plummer's marvellous way with words is undoubtedly the fact that he's a big reader and has been all his life. The memoir is peppered with literary influences from Stephen Leacock to Nabokov.

#10. He's a Canadian treasure and one to be very proud of. And he's busy working more than ever. Hmmm - wouldn't this make the perfect holiday gift?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Carmindy Event Update

It was such a pleasure to meet Carmindy, the author of Get Positively Beautiful this past Wednesday. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, she was in Toronto to promote her book and did a book signing at a Sephora store. I am still cursing myself for forgetting my camera at home in the rush to get downtown. If you can believe it (and you should), Carmindy is even prettier in person than on the program What Not To Wear. It was evident she genuinely cares about her fans, as she took time to talk to everyone in the line, and had something nice to say to everyone. When my turn at the front of the line came, we chatted briefly about the book's focus on teaching women to stop being so negative about their appearance using the techniques in the book. We both agreed that it is a particulary important message for teens- it is amazing how bad experiences early in life can flavour our opinion of ourself much longer than they should!

So, now to the giveaway portion of this posting! Are you a teacher or librarian in Canada who is a Carmindy fan or works with teens/women to help build self esteem? If so, send me an email at - I have five copies of the book to give away. Please include the full mailing address of your library or school mailing with your e-mail. I'll add a comment when the five copies are spoken for!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio takes the Nobel Prize. . .

Who you may well ask? Yes, I hadn't heard of him either - but that' s because so little of his work has been translated into English. University of Nebraska Press publishes two of his works in translation, a collection of short stories, The Round and Other Cold, Hard Facts and the novel Onitsha. The BBC has a good overview of his work here. Since the Deweys are off shortly to Montreal and Ottawa, I'll definately be checking out the French language bookstores for a tome or two. In particular, Ballaciner, described as a personal essay about the history of the art of film looks very interesting. And now, we'll wait to see if the Nobel win is enough for a publisher to take on translating the rest of his work. . .

Looking for a great children's book for Remembrance Day?

I recently received a sample copy of the picture book A Bear in War by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat (published October 2008 by Key Porter Books). I had been given colour spreads to sell with, but the finished book really blew me away. The artwork is really lovely, and it is written with a poignancy that will move you to tears. The book is based on a true story. In 1916, Aileen Rogers, a ten-year-old girl from East Farnham, Quebec sent her beloved stuffed bear Teddy in a care package to her father Lawrence, who was fighting on the front lines in Belgium with the First Canadian Mounted Rifles during the First World War. Along with many other Canadian soldiers, Lawrence was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele. Teddy was discovered in the pocket of Lawrence's uniform and was returned home to Aileen and her family. Teddy was eventually donated by the Rogers family to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where it is now one of the most popular exhibits. Co-author Stephanie Innes is the great-granddaughter of Lawrence Browning Rogers.

The story is told from the point of view of Teddy, which helps to personalize the experience of war for children. The book gently reinforces the importance of always remembering the sacrifices made by so many Canadian soldiers in wartime. The art is a mix of beautiful soft paintings by Brian Deines and photos of memorabilia, including letters and family photos from the Rogers family, newspaper clippings, a recruitment poster, and Lawrence Browning Rogers' war medals.

Key Porter is doing two launches for the book- one in Ottawa at the Canadian War Museum, and the other at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg (just north of Toronto). Here is the information about the events for those who would like to attend:
  • Ottawa: 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 8, 2008 at the Canadian War Museum, LeBreton Gallery. The Teddy exhibit will be moved to the LeBreton gallery for the event. There wll be a reading by the authors, during which the pages of the book will be projected onto a large screen. The museum will have their WWI historian on hand to talk about the exhibit. Kid-friendly refreshments will be served following the presentations.
  • Kleinburg: 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM Sunday, November 9th, 2008 at the McMichael Gallery, in connection with the gallery’s Family Sundays program. Author readings will occur at 1:30 and 2:30 and illustrator Brian Deines will conduct art workshops throughout the day. There will be activities for children and kid-friendly refreshments will be served. The Canadian War Museum has generously offered to arrange for Teddy to be on hand for the event.
Teachers and others looking for supplementary material on how to use A Bear in War in curriculum and Remembrance Day programs should also check out the official website for free downloadable lesson plans and activities created by co-author Harry Endrulat. Part of the royalties from sales of the book will be donated to the Royal Canadian Legion's Dominion Command Poppy Trust Fund. FYI- The Legion's website also has a great teacher's guide for Remembrance Day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night. . .

With a nip in the air and the daylight hours shrinking, I've lately been drawn to Ghost Stories. This delightful hardcover anthology has been my bus reading for the last little while. Published by Everyman, the book has all their usual high production standards (creamy, acid-free paper, lovely font and that elegant ribbon bookmark) but they've shrunk the size to just a little bigger than an average mass market. This makes it perfect to carry around in a purse - I can even slip it into the inside pocket of my jean jacket.
The stories are varied and alternatively scary and humourous. It starts off with Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Body Snatchers" about a medical student in charge of procuring specimens for dissection, and includes other classics such as Guy de Maupassant's "The Horla" and W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw". And I never get tired of re-reading Katherine Mansfield who is represented here with "The Daughters of the Late Colonel" a story so desperately sad and yet so uncomfortably funny. Some wonderful new discoveries have been L.P. Hartley's "W.S", Eudora Welty's "Clytie", P.G. Wodehouse's "Honeysuckle Cottage" and Ray Bradbury's "Another Fine Mess". M.R. James' "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" will having you looking at your bedsheets in a different way and also has my favourite opening paragraph:

'I suppose you will be getting away pretty soon, now Full term is over, Professor,' said a person not in the story to the Professor of Ontography, soon after they had sat down next to each other at a feast in the hospitable hall of St. James's College.

I think I'm in love with the short story again - I can't wait for January when Everyman's Pocket Classics (this new, smaller hardback format) publishes Love Stories.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2008 Scotiabank Giller Shortlist is Announced!

The shortlist for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize was announced this morning. The five finalists were selected by jury panel comprised of author Margaret Atwood; Liberal MP, Foreign Affairs critic and author Bob Rae, and author Colm Toibin. According to the official website, the shortlist was chosen from 95 books submitted for consideration by 38 publishing houses from every region of the country.

The five books on the list are:

The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan
Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
Good to A Fault by Marina Endicott
Cockroach by Rawi Hage

Monday, October 6, 2008

Make Yourself Over This Month!

One of my guilty pleasures is watching the TLC show 'What Not To Wear'. It's packed with great advice for 'fashion-challenged' souls like myself. One of my favourite parts of the show is when the participants get their hair and makeup done, so I was very excited when I learned that we had books coming this season (from separate publishers) from both the hairstylist (Nick Arrojo) and the makeup artist (Carmindy) from the show. Both just came out and are great resources for anyone looking to make some changes to their looks.
Great Hair by Nick Arrojo. While I was on holiday last week, I had eight inches of my hair chopped off, so this book came very handy in preparing for the 'big day'. Arrojo opens the book with a section on getting to know your hair, the basics of hair care, how to shampoo, condition and dry your hair properly and what shampoo and conditioner is right for your hair. Read this section even if you think you know it all already- I didn't realize that the way I was towel drying my hair might have been contributing to the frizziness/breakage problems I'd been having. He suggests great styles for fine, medium-smooth, thick and curly hair types- why they work for the model's hair type and face shape and how to style it. There are chapters on how to find a hairdresser, how to style your hair at home (what products are best for what purpose, how to use them, tools you'll need, how to do the perfect blow out, how to combat frizz, how to use a flat iron, diffuser, curling iron etc.), colouring your hair, problem hair & solutions, and a separate section on the special concerns of ethnic hair.

Get Positively Beautiful by Carmindy. This book covers all of the basics of beauty, starting with getting readers to focus on ditching negative self-thoughts and showing us how to highlight the qualities that make us all uniquely beautiful. There are chapters on playing up your eyes, your skin, cheekbones, or lips, and Carmindy takes readers through basic techniques, products and tricks of the trade. There are chapters on the basic tools you'll need, essentials for your makeup bag, & how to change your beauty routine according to the season. There is a 'Carmindy Fan Q&A' page in each section of the book from fans of all ages from across the U.S. and Canada, and (of course) a makeover section. I love the positive focus of the book-which is also why I would heartily recommend this as a YA crossover as well. She includes a picture of herself at age eleven when she was chubby, wore braces and had a bad perm, and writes about how she let the comments of others affect her self-image for far too long.
Carmindy will be in Toronto this week to launch her book. We are having a book launch at the Sephora store located at 131 Bloor Street West on Wednesday October 8th from 7-9 pm. City TV will be covering the event. She will be appearing live on Canada AM at 8:40 on Thursday October 9th. While she is in town, she'll also be doing interviews with Metro News and LouLou Magazine, taping an episode of CBC’s Steven & Chris show, and she's also taping an interview with Entertainment Tonight Canada.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fabulous Fall Reads from Around the World: My Dewey Picks for Fall 08. . .

If you've been reading any book news or book blogs in the last day or so, you will inevitably have come across the literary brouhaha over the remarks made by Horace Engdahl, secretary of the Swedish Academy that awards the Nobel Prize of Literature (which should be announced shortly). You can read the full story here, but the gist of the controversy is Engdahl's claim that, "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining." The comments were made in the context of Engdahl explaining his theory for why most of the past winners were European.

Now, I love literary spats, so following the debates and impassioned defenses of American literature has been very entertaining - and has more than once led me to adding another writer to my neverending to-be-read list. My own personal opinion is that it's impossible and rather naive to sum up any country's literary culture so succinctly, (though it's certainly a surefire way to get publicity) but if his comments do make readers stop and think about the last time they may have read (or not) a work in translation and decide to expose themselves to some international writers outside of their geographical comfort zone, well then, that would be terrific.

I've always been a fan of reading writers from different countries because I love travelling and there's no better way to explore a country than through its literature. And my Dewey picks have always reflected this. But in light of this debate, as I was putting together my list of favourite fall reads, I was taken by how difficult it is to determine what exactly constitutes literary nationalism anyways. For example - Michel Faber's latest book, The Fire Gospel is on my list. Faber was born in the Netherlands, grew up in Australia and now lives in Scotland. So is he Dutch? Australian? Scottish? Dutch-Scottish? Or how about Randa Jarrar? She was born in Chicago and now lives in Ann Arbor. But she grew up in Kuwait and Egypt before moving back to the U.S. and her new novel, A Map of Home completely reflects her Arab heritage and experiences. If she's American, she's certainly not isolated or insular. We are all - writers and readers alike - such a wonderfully complicated, ever-changing, marvellously messy mixture of all of our accumulated ancestral and literary influences. Isn't that what cultural globalization is all about?
However if anyone is counting, my list includes two Canadians (one of whom lives in the U.S.), a Kiwi, a Norweigan, a Swede, four Brits, one German (who lives in Austria), one Hungarian, one Russian and the before-mentioned Faber and Jarrar. The important thing is they have all written wonderful (and wonderfully different) books that I can't wait to get out on the road and book talk about. I should add (because I represent a lot of different publishers, some of whom have their own distinct websites separate from Random House) that I'll be also be plugging Damon Galgut's terrific novel The Impostor (he's from South Africa) and the moving Journal of Hélène Berr (she was French). For those who won't get a chance to see the Deweys in person, do check out our lists posted as they become available, on the right hand side of the blog. Lots of great reading recommendations for you and your patrons - no matter where you hail from or live.