Sunday, November 30, 2008

Favourite Reads of 2008 - A Dewey's Picks

Watch this space over the next few days for lots of this year's top ten reading lists from Deweys, librarians and library wholesalers - we hope to give you lots of gift-giving ideas (don't forget to treat yourself as well!) and add to your must-read piles.

Book reps have no sense of real time as far as publishing goes - we're always reading and selling far into the future. So if I were to consult my reading journal and pick the top ten books I actually read this year, there would at least be four that haven't yet been published (now, isn't that a tease - but boy, is there a great literary spring to look forward to, and yes, we'll blog all sorts of previews in January). So, instead I've picked ten novels that were all published (at least for the first time in English) in 2008. It's been a great year for fiction and it was very hard to narrow the list down, but what makes each of these books stand out for me is the author's unwavering attention to crafting an engaging, compelling and original story that still resonates in my memory. Add beautiful writing, humour, unforgettable characters and an imaginative ticket to a world or historical period that I hadn't travelled to before, and it all adds up to a terrific read. So here are my picks (in alphabetical order by author):

The Reserve by Russell Banks
The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe
Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, translated by Lazer Lederhendler
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
The Open Door by Elizabeth Maguire
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
The Homecoming by Bernhard Schlink
Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge, translated by Richard Greeman
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

with an honourable mention to Between Each Breath by Adam Thorpe

My three favourite non-fiction books all happened to fall into the autobiography/biography category this year (more great storytelling!). If you have a biography junkie on your list, I'd highly recommend these:
In Spite of Myself by Christopher Plummer
The Journal of Hélène Berr, translated by David Bellos

with an honourable mention to Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes

A little home cooking in Cobourg. . .

The only thing book reps really dislike about travelling is that often you have to stop for a meal along the highway and the pickings can be pretty slim. We've been spending a lot of time this fall on the stretch of the 401 between Ottawa and Toronto and the 5-6 hour drive necessitates at least one meal stop. And just by chance on Friday night as two of us were coming back from Prescott we found a terrific little gem (we were talking so much in the car, we didn't really notice where we were and just decided to get off at the next exit with a food sign, which turned out to be Cobourg) where we discovered The Buttermilk Cafe on the main downtown street, just opposite the town hall.

Oh bliss - just what a weary, hungry rep longs for - delicious, healthy home-cooking (trans-fat free no less), friendly staff, cosy, shabby chic decor with a sophisticated twist, discreet music in the background that isn't blaring your eardrums and did I mention the food? I highly recommend their French onion soup and they have a buttermilk lemon pie to die for ! Very reasonably priced as well. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I think we've found our new favourite pitstop. And yes, they do very good lattes as well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tis the season - Gift Book suggestions

From now until the end of the year, we'll be posting some nifty gift ideas and also, starting next week, we'll have top 10 reading picks of 2008 from Deweys, librarians and library wholesalers. So keep checking back for lots of great ideas for either the picky or voracious readers in your life, or to add to your own holiday reading list.

Today, I want to highlight some new gorgeous and thoughtful gift books that will provide hours of delight.

Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations by National Geographic. This is for fans of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love and a wonderful companion to last year's Journeys of a Lifetime. This is definitely not just for the religious - it's full of places where you can commune with nature, find a serenity for the soul or just marvel at the incredible architectural beauty of a cathedral or the stillness of a temple. The photography is absolutely stunning! I feel a calmness just turning the pages. Scattered throughout the book are global top 10 lists such as the Top 10 war memorials, or Top 10 Stained Glass Windows or Top 10 Sacred Mountains (opposite a gorgeous photo of Mt. Fuji - a perfect segue into my next pick).

Annie Leibovitz at Work. Her work is iconic and in this book, she writes about the inspirations and the techniques behind her photos, whether she's shooting Hollywood stars, politicians, nudes or the Queen of England. This isn't just a coffee table book with photos, nor a memoir. But for anyone interested in photography or Leibovitz herself, it's an invaluable look into her craft. I love the quote that is part of the jacket:

The first thing I did with my very first camera was climb Mt. Fuji. Climbing Mt. Fuji is a lesson in determination and moderation. It would be fair to ask if I took the moderation part to heart. But it certainly was a lesson in respecting your camera. If I was going to live with this thing, I was going to have to think about what that meant. There weren't going to be any pictures without it.

Odysseys and Photographs: Four National Geographic Field Men by Leah Bendavid-Val, Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Mark Collins Jenkins and Viola Kiesinger Wentzel.
Keeping on the topic of photography, this beautiful coffee table book is almost a chronicle of 20th century photography as seen through the profiles of four men who worked for National Geographic, starting with the black and white photography of Maynard Owen Williams who, "literally invented the personality of the National Geographic field man" and during the first half of the 20the century shot everything from tribal life in Greenland to giant Afghan Buddhas. If you have a budding or avid photographer on your list - do check out the National Geographic Photography Field Guides which are terrific reference books, filled with great tips for improving your shots. Each focuses on a different style of photography and is for use with digital and traditional cameras.
For the birders on your list, there is also a guide to Photographing Birds.

A new take on Shakespeare - Garber looks at ten plays and how they have influenced 20th century culture, "from James Joyce's Ulysses to George W. Bush's reading list". (He had a reading list????) Full of pop culture photos and interesting juxtapositions of historical moments against contemporary stagings of Shakespeare's plays.

And finally, if Shakespeare is too cerebral, there's Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan by Chip Kidd. I'm not a manga or comic book fan at all, but even I think this book is quite cool. This is the first appearance in English translation of a series of strips from 1966 that took the Batman story and developed it for a Japanese audience. The stories were written and drawn by manga master Jiro Kuwata and while the characters of Batman and Robin are clearly identifiable, the storylines and the whole look of the strips are different and quite fascinating. Like a manga book, it's read from the back to the front and the collection includes lots of photographs of Japanese Batman toys and collectibles. A really great gift idea for a comic-crazed teen or that thirty year old friend still living in his parent's basement.
And another suggestion for a graphic work that will appeal to all ages - check out Australian Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia. It's a collection of short, short stories that are all uniquely illustrated (the stories continue in the artwork) and it's quirky, very funny and utterly original. Kids will read it on one level, adults on another but both will equally enjoy it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Awards season in overdrive. . .

Peter Matthiessen won the National Book Award for fiction with his monumental Shadow Country, a completely rewritten one volume narration of three previously published novels - Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River and Bone by Bone - about a serial killer in 19th century Florida.

Annette Gordon-Reed took the non-fiction award for The Hemingses of Monticello, the story of three generations of a slave family owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Costa Book Awards shortlist announced. . .

The Costa Book Awards (formerly the Whitbreads) always have intriguing shortlists. They seem consistently to catch many of those great books that were passed over by other, bigger awards and this year is no exception. There are five categories - novel, first novel, biography, poetry and children's title. The winners in each category then battle each other for the overall Costa Book of the Year. Here are the nominees:
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (I'm thrilled to see this on the list - I wanted it to win the Booker)
The Other Hand by Chris Cleave (note: in North America, this book will be published in February under the title Little Bee).
A Partisan's Daughter by Louis de Bernieres ( a lovely novel that was so overlooked this year - highly recommended!)
Trauma by Patrick McGrath (gripping!)

First Novel:
The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams (published in North America as The Sister)
The Outcast by Sadie Jones (hooray - I loved this heartbreaking book)
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Rosalyn has been raving about this on all year!)
Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney (a quirky war-time love story that doesn't get resolved until many decades later)

If You Don't Know Me By Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton by Sathnam Sanghera
Chagall by Jackie Wullschlager

For All We Know by Ciaran Carson
The Broken Word by Adam Foulds
Sunday at the Skin Launderette by Kathryn Simmonds (surely the best title of the bunch)
Salvation Jane by Greta Stoddart
Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray
The Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd
Just Henry by Michelle Magorian
Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
Category award winners will be announced in January, with the overall award announced January 27th.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A contemporary Icelandic saga. . .

My heart goes out to Iceland which has been so hard hit by economic woes that the country is virtually bankrupt. I had such a wonderful holiday there this summer. Some of you may have read the piece in last Saturday's Globe and Mail about the resilience of the Icelanders as demonstrated through their literature, both historical and contemporary. One of the authors quoted was Bragi Ólafsson, the author of a novel I just happened to have finished reading. The Pets, just released in a translation by Janice Balfour is published by Open Letter, a new venture out of the University of Rochester that is dedicated to publishing international literature in translation. They have a terrific blog called Three Percent (which is, on average, the low percentage of foreign literature that actually gets translated into English annually) which is chock full of news links and reviews about books and authors from around the globe. Well worth checking out.
As is The Pets, a novel about a day that goes terribly wrong for our main character Emil Halldorsson. He has just arrived home after a trip to London and is looking forward to relaxing in his apartment with all the new books, CDs and movies he has brought back (I can relate!). He puts the kettle on to brew some coffee. And then there's a knock on the door and looking out the window, Emil spies Havard Knutsson, an irritating and unwanted accquaintance from his past. Not wanting to let him in, Emil ducks under his bed and hopes that he will just go away. Havard spies the kettle boiling however, and getting no answer at the door, breaks into Emil's apartment through the window and then proceeds - much to Emil's chagrin - to not only make himself at home, but to invite everyone who subsequently telephones Emil, over to his apartment for an impromptu party. The story moves forward hour by aching-limbed hour as Emil desperately witnesses the destruction of his apartment from behind the bedskirt, along with any hopes of a romantic tryst with Greta, a beautiful woman he met on the plane. Interspersed in the narrative are flashbacks to five years previously when Emil and Havard were pet-sitting for English friends with disastrous results. This is quite a funny tale about surviving uncomfortable social situations, the hazards of talking to strangers sitting next to you on the plane and what not to do when you are responsible for looking after small animals.
It's time to read some Icelandic literature - the authors need your krona!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Reader, the movie, the follow-up novel. . .

And in more movie news, the trailer for the film version of The Reader based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink is now available at the movie's website. It stars the fabulous Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes and looks fantastic. Schlink's latest novel, Homecoming will be out in paperback in January - it's a great follow-up to The Reader, also dealing with the emotional upheaval of coming to grips with the German legacy of WWII, as a son tries to find out what happened to his father who never came home from the war.

Twilight Movie Update

A reminder to Twilight fans to be sure to tune into Much Music tomorrow (Saturday November 15th) at 6PM EST. Some of the cast members from the upcoming Twilight movie (Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Rachelle Lefevre & Nikki Reed) will be at Much Music in Toronto for a live Q&A session.

As promised in my previous blog entry about the movie, I have been given some very cool Twilight movie swag to offer our readers- five copies of the Twilight Movie Soundtrack . The movie doesn't come out until the 21st, but the soundtrack is already #1 on the Billboard Top 100 chart, selling a whopping 165,000 copies last week! So, if you are interested in winning a FREE soundtrack of your very own (or would like to enter on behalf of a loved one-I imagine this CD will be on many Christmas wish lists), send me an e-mail at The rules are the same as always (Contest open to librarians and teachers in Canada only, please use Twilight Soundtrack Contest in your subject line, and be sure to include the full mailing address of your school and or library). I'll collect entries until November 28th and will mail out the CDs to the winners then. Good luck!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dewey Movie News!

Those of you who have seen my Fall 2008 Dewey Diva presentation have heard me present the heart-warming story of Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Changed the World.
For those who haven't, here's the scoop. Dewey is a must-read book for any cat lover. It is the true story of a little kitten who changed the fortunes of the small farming town of Spencer, Iowa, and warmed the hearts of all who met him. In 1988, early in the morning after one of the coldest nights of the year, head librarian Vicky Myron and her staff discovered a half-frozen kitten in the overnight book drop box of the town's library. The kitten was revived, and despite having severe frostbite, he showed such a love of people and such admirable character that Vicky take a chance and adopted it as the library cat. Not every cat is cut out for such a job, and not every member of the community likes the idea of having a cat living in a library. The library staff held a public contest to name the kitten, and Dewey Readmore Books was the winner by a landslide. Quickly becoming a favourite of many locals, Dewey seemed to know who needed a cuddle, who needed to laugh and would respond to each patron in kind. As his story spread, more and more people started coming to the library. When Dewey's story was picked up by media outlets across the U.S. and Canada, tourists started coming to Spencer. A film crew came all the way from Japan to film Dewey's antics.
The book is packed with cute cat anecdotes, but it is also the story of Vicky Myron's life- her struggle to survive health problems, an alcholic husband, and later as a divorced single mother on welfare. It is also the story of a small farming community devastated by the farming crisis of the 1980's, when many small struggling family farms were bought up by big corporations who turned huge tracts of land into mega-farms. When Dewey was first adopted, many locals were out of work and in danger of losing their homes. Dewey's presence helped keep the town spirit alive and eventually, in part because of the tourists, new businesses opened and helped to revive the town's economy. I'd definitely recommend keeping tissues at hand while reading this book.
According to the November 13th edition of Variety, actress Meryl Streep has signed on to play Vicky Myron in the New Line Cinema film that is in the works. I imagine that it will be much harder to cast the role of Dewey. There have been numerous 'Dewey Look-Alike' contests on blogs, but I imagine that it will be tough to find a cat 'actor' with the same spunky personality as Dewey. Read the book to find out why!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Forget your troubles, c'mon get happy. . .

All you fabulous, single divas out there - grab your girlfriends and any smug marrieds you know, and go, go, go see the new Mike Leigh film Happy-Go-Lucky. Poppy Cross (and what a character to encounter on Remembrance Day), is a thirty-year old single woman working as a primary school teacher, sharing a flat with a friend in London and absolutely loving her life. She's perky, optimistic, (and yes, sometimes too irritatingly cheerful), but ultimately her positive and caring outlook on life is infectious. The movie is a series of her encounters with the ill-tempered, as she takes driving lessons with a surly instructor, tries to help one of her students who is bullying children in the playground, tries flamenco lessons with an angry, scorned woman, and visits her pregnant, patronizing sister. But it's also a celebration of those quiet, ordinary moments in life that are necessary and joyful - going for a walk, feeling the wind on your face as you bicycle through the streets, taking a rowboat on the lake with a friend or browsing in a bookstore (I went to see this film with a colleague and booknerds that we are, we both nudged each other as the first book that came into view was Canadian author Madeleine Thein's Certainty - this is the British cover).

Sally Hawkins is brilliant as Poppy, awkward and charming, naive and thoughtful - in character through every fibre of her body and Alexis Zegerman as Zoe, her cynical but supportive room-mate also gives a terrific performance. It's so refreshing to see a movie where the female characters aren't all sitting around moaning about relationships. And why would they? Most of the men in this movie are either narcissistically withdrawn, angrily bitter or obsessed with cars and playing video games. But fear not, Poppy does encounter a social worker who seems to be a decent bloke - no surprise that there's a whole wall of books in his apartment. Honestly, if you've been feeling glum about the economy or the fading daylight, this movie will cheer you up no end - one of the best films of 2008! I now need to find a trampoline.
And if you are surrounded by prickly people in your life or at work, you might want to check out this book pubbing in January. How to Hug a Porcupine: 101 Ways to Love the Difficult People in Your Life by Debbie Ellis, promises tips on how to spot a porcupine, end an argument and get your porcupine to pull his or her quills in. We all have people (or customers) in our lives who are harder to love than others - this book will help us to keep smiling.

And the 2008 Giller Prize goes to. . .

Joseph Boyden's Through Black Spruce! And it couldn't happen to a nicer (or ahem, cuter) author. And a great reader - if he's doing an event in your neck of the woods, definitely check him out. Another book to add to my holiday reading pile - I loved his first novel, Three Day Road.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Guess the Giller Winner Announced

While the official results of the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced later this evening at the Gala reception, the results of the annual Guess the Giller contest were announced this morning. According to voters from across the country, Mary Swan's The Boys in The Trees is their pick for the winner of this year's award.
According to the press release, the Guess The Giller was launched in 2003 by Scotiabank together with the Toronto Public Library. This year more than 30 public library systems, 175 bookstores, post secondary schools, literary festivals and over 1000 Scotiabank branches, have promoted the contest to Canadian readers. The annual contest gives participants the chance to win a trip for two to any Canadian literary festival of their choice and an autographed Scotiabank Giller Prize book set, a package valued at $5,000. The winning entrant will be contacted later this month.

The Guess the Giller voters have successfully guessed the real winner for the past three years. I've got my fingers crossed that they are right again this year too, as The Boys in The Trees was one of my Dewey Picks last Winter. I'll be at the Giller Light party in Toronto tonight to cheer Mary on!

Attention Stephenie Meyer Fans!

If you are a Stephenie Meyer fan, I'm sure you have November 21st circled in red on your calendar! This is the date that the highly anticipated movie adaptation of Twilight releases in theatres everywhere. This is going to be a BIG, BIG movie, so you might want to make sure that you have enough copies of the book on hand to handle the increased demand for the book in both public and school libraries.

Here's a (hopefully) useful overview of all of the books available in the series, about the series, and about the movie. For the purists, Twilight is still available with the original cover in both trade paperback (9780316015844) and hardcover (9780316160179) editions. For those who have no objection to movie art, there are media tie-in editions of Twilight available in mass market (9780316038379) or trade paperback (9780316038386) format . There is also a Twilight Movie Companion (9780316043137), which gives all of the background information on the filming of the movie, storyboards, special effects, along with cast interviews and candid photographs. FYI- Often these types of companion books have removable bits, but this one doesn't so libraries can feel secure ordering this one. For those who want the unauthorized 'skinny' on Twilight and the other books in the series, Lois H. Gresh has written The Twilight Companion.

New Moon, the second book in the series is available in either hardcover (9780316160193) or trade paperback (9780316024969) format. Eclipse, book three, is available in hardcover (9780316160209) only at the moment, but there is a paperback scheduled for Spring 09. Breaking Dawn (9780316067928), the final book in the saga released this August and is available only in hardcover.

If you are in the Toronto area and are willing to brave huge crowds of screaming teenage girls, you can try to see the cast of the Twilight movie on Saturday, November 15th. They'll be appearing on Much on Demand at 6 PM. According to the Much Music website, if you want to be in the audience you have to go to MuchMusic today (November 11th)- they'll be giving away wristbands at 5PM.

And keep checking the blog in the upcoming week. I've been promised some movie-related swag to give away...

Libraries nominate their faves - the IMPAC longlist. . .

The longlist for the rich International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has been announced - this is the one where the books are nominated by libraries around the world. It's a large and diverse list (great for early gift ideas) and interesting, I find, not only for the books listed, but where the nominations came from. For instance Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief, gets a nod, not from a Canadian library, but from Barcelona. My favourite - Jonathan Coe - is there with his latest, The Rain Before It Falls, nominated by libraries with impeccable taste in Portugal, Belgium and Greece. Another fave - Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost - is on the list courtesy of Belfast, Liverpool, Birmingham and Toronto and Halifax (YEA!!!!). And the whole world loves Michael Ondaatje - his latest, Divisadero - is also in the running thanks to Winnipeg, Cape Breton, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Poland, Ireland, Florida and Conneticut.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Bear In War Event Update

We had two very successful book launches for the beautiful and moving picture book A Bear In War this past weekend- one in Ottawa at the Canadian War Museum and the other in Kleinburg at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, which is the one I attended.What a great event! There were readings by the two authors, Stephanie Innes (who is the great-granddaughter of Lawrence Rogers, the father in the book who was killed at the battle of Passchendaele) and Harry Endrulat. The book's illustrator Brian Deines had brought along many of his stunning original oil paintings from the book. He also created a display that showed the progress of how the paintings were created from the original concept, through rough sketches, to the finished product. As part of the 'Family Sunday' program run by the gallery, kids were able to make their own little Teddy bears, so there were many little ones there for the reading with their new little toys in tow. The Canadian War Museum had graciously arranged for Teddy to be transported from Ottawa for the event. I knew he was going to be there, but I must admit that I walked right by him at first. Teddy is much smaller than I had originally thought- no bigger than my hand! In the Q&A period after the reading, one of the first questions from the audience was 'What happened to Teddy's legs?'. Well, the answer is they were lost during the war. Teddy is a veteran of the First World War too- he was kept in the Lawrence Roger's uniform pocket during much of the war and one of Lawrence's letters home mentions that Teddy's legs were falling off. I've included a few photos of the event- the art display, Teddy, and the authors and illustrator with 'Teddy' in his display case.

The book has had some great coverage over the past few days, with mentions/features in The Globe and Mail, The Montreal Gazette (this article actually features TWO Dewey Diva Picks- A Bear in War and one of Janet's picks, The Unknown Soldier by Linda Granfield), The Mississauga News, the Just One More Book Podcast (coverage of Ottawa launch at Canadian War Museum) and Savvy

So onto the giveaway portion of this posting! I had three copies of A Bear In War signed by the authors and illustrator at the event, so a few lucky blog readers (sorry- in Canada only) can win a copy of this lovely book to keep for themselves, their school or library! Please send me an e-mail at with 'A Bear in War' as the subject to enter. You must also provide the full mailing address of your school or library to be eligible. I'll collect entries until 9:00 a.m. EST Friday November 21st and will randomly select the winners. Good luck!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime!

One of my favourite picture books published this Fall is the extremely fun Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea.

Perfect for bedtime (or story time) the reader follows Dinosaur (Roar! Roar!) as he faces various challenges through out the day, including a pile of leaves, a big bowl of spaghetti and talking grown ups and 'Dinosaur Wins!'. Eventually he faces his greatest challenge- bedtime. He gives it his best try, but eventually is defeated and falls asleep- Bedtime Wins! With intenselybright illustrations, lots of repetition and roaring, this book will quickly become a favourite with children. Parents using this as a bedtime story might want to start practicing their roars as they'll have to read this so often there is real danger of losing your voice!

Based on the reviews (which include stars from Publishers' Weekly, The Horn Book and The Bulletin of the Center For Children's Books, and being selected as an Top 10 Picture Book of 2008), most people seem to love the book too! So, I was shocked and intrigued by a link on Bob Shea's website that said that fellow author Mo Willems (Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus, the Elephant & Piggie series etc) hated Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime!

Click here to find out why from Willems himself...

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Ants Come Marching

I have to admit, when I first heard about Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War at sales conference, I wasn’t really that interested. However, when I started to make my sales calls to various booksellers and librarians, they were so enthusiastic about this book that I decided to give it a try. It really is a fascinating book, packed full of unusual and surprising facts.
One of the most interesting chapters is “Bee Bombs and Wasp Warheads”. For thousands of years, throwing bee hives or wasp nests at an enemy was a very common strategy of war. The Romans and Greeks both used bee hives to fire at their enemies, which is reflected in the language we still use today: “bombos”, the Greek word for bees, is closely connected to the word “bombard”. The Mayans would create clay containers and set them in places where bees would likely move in, then during a battle they would plug up the holes and start throwing these clay “footballs” at their enemies. During the Middle Ages, all ships carried bee hives or wasp nests as part of their arsenal.
There are also many Canadian historical references in this very unusual book. During WWII, Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian hero who discovered insulin, was a great proponent of biological warfare. The Canadian government wouldn’t give him any money to do experiments, so he collected over a million dollars from the presidents of Canadian companies such as Eatons, Seagrams and the CPR. His team was working on a scheme that would use mosquitoes to spread yellow fever among the Nazis, however, nothing ever came of these experiments.

Recommended Picture Book

I am a big fan of cartoonist Patrick McDonnell, creator of the comic strip Mutts. I was thrilled when one of our publishers, Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, announced back in 2005 that they were going to be publishing his picture books. Each book that we've published since has been unique and now holds a place of honour on my bookcase of favourite children's books: The Gift of Nothing, Art (a Dewey Diva pick back in Spring 2006), Hug Time, and Just Like Heaven. I love the simplicity of the artwork but also appreciate the thoughtful themes that McDonnell includes in each new book- be it finding the true spirit of giving during the holidays or a gentle reminder to help the endangered animals of the world.

His latest release South is an absolutely charming, wordless picture book.
Mooch the cat comes across a little yellow bird who has become separated from it's flock. Offering his paw to the bird, Mooch takes his new friend across the city, countryside and forest, persisting through snow and in spite of fatigue. Eventually the two locate the flock and have to say goodbye. It's a simple story of being a good Samaritan/good friend that makes you feel warm & fuzzy inside. The book's wordless format will encourage creative young minds to tell the story their own way.

Little Brown has created Mutts Storytime kits, complete with activities and a fantastic cardboard standee (pictured below). Quantities are limited, but while supplies last I'd be happy to send one out to libraries (Canada only) upon request! As always, please send me an e-mail at to request and be sure to provide the full mailing address of your library/school library.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Knock on wood. . .

Here's a real delight for readers of all ages. NYRB Classics will be re-issuing a new translation of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, translated by Geoffrey Brock and with an introduction by Umberto Eco (don't you absolutely adore the clever cover?) This is definitely not the Disney version. Edwin Frank, the editor of NYRB Classics, writes about the differences between the two here. This edition also includes a terrific afterword by Rebecca West (a professor of Italian studies at the University of Chicago, not the wonderful - but alas, dead - British novelist) in which she writes about different fiction and film treatments of the original story. And Alberto Manguel is a big fan of this book as well, using it as the basis for his keynote speech at last June's Canadian library conference. You can read about it here - scroll down the piece for the links to his full speech.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New Trend in Biography - Library Gazing?. . .

How much can one tell about a person based on the books he or she reads? For the most part I organize my own home library through a set of self-devised categories, so a complete stranger at a glance could surmise at least a couple of my literary obsessions. If they were really knowledgeable about publishing, they might also wonder why I had a preponderance of books published by the imprints that I sell (hint - we get a lot of freebies at work). If they were a neat freak or a minimalist they'd probably just run screaming from the piles of books on the floor and the doublestacking on the shelves. But since I don't tend to mark up my books with notes in the margins or underline passages, it would probably be very difficult to gain any deep insights into my very ordinary life, just from the titles on my bookshelves (I think).

Oscar Wilde and Adolf Hitler obviously have left a little more of themselves in their books as two new biographies try to demonstrate. Oscar's Books by Thomas Wright is a look at Wilde's life through the books he read and the libraries he created, showing not only how his own writing was influenced by his reading, but how he used books to cultivate his public persona, to seduce young men, and also to sustain him in prison. (It was while he was in Holloway that the entire contents of his beloved library - some 2,000 books - were sadly auctioned for a song to cover his legal bills). I've been dipping in and out of this intriguing biography and it keeps drawing me back. What Wilde and I share (and this is increasingly the case as I grow older), is a love of books also as aesthetic objects. Wright calls Wilde a "book dandy" to distinguish him from a regular bibliophile, because of this passion. And he notes that Wilde often judged a book by its cover, and once quipped: "The public is largely influenced by the look of a book. So are we all. It is the only artistic thing about the public. "

Hitler apparently marked up his books quite substantially. Timothy W. Ryback went through hundreds of his these - now housed in the Library of Congress - in writing his biography, Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life. I suppose it's a little unnerving to think of Hitler as a bibliophile - it's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the improving, empathizing benefits of reading - but perhaps this paradox is the key question of this biography. The Washington Post's excellent critic Michael Dirda reviews the book here and while he has some reservations, he still finds it fascinating.