Sunday, April 27, 2008

And our final destination. . .

We made it to Jasper where the warmest day of our two week trip came on the day we had to go home. But it was well worth the drive and the weather; it was a wonderful and busy library show. Thanks to everyone who came out to our Dewey Diva presentations and to our booths.
Back home now for one day before heading off to sales conference. After talking about books non-stop for two weeks, my mind has temporarily gone to mush, so today it's DVD recommendations as apart from a long afternoon nap, I've been prone on my sofa in front of the television set. When I'm tired and drained, I need something fun and silly but also really clever in its way. Enter a young Maurice Chevalier.

Criterion has recently released a wonderful collection of four Ernst Lubitsch musicals from the late 1920s and early 1930s. These were made before the "moral" censorship codes came to Hollywood and the visual and verbal sexual puns come fast and furious and are fairly hilarious. I've now seen two of them - Love Parade in which Chevalier's military attache character woos and weds the queen of "Sylvania" played by Jeanette Macdonald, only to find that a prince consort has very little power over his wife. In The Smiling Lieutenant, Chevalier plays a Viennese soldier (with a strong French accent) who winks and laughs at his violin-playing girlfriend (a beautiful Claudette Colbert) just as the king and princess of "Flausenthurm" pass by in a carriage (Flausen means silly ideas in German). The princess (played by Miriam Hopkins) believes Chevalier was laughing at her and it causes a bit of a diplomatic incident, made worse when she falls in love with him too. Colbert realizing that the girl, "who starts with breakfast never makes it to dinner" reluctantly gives up Chevalier to the princess but not before giving her make-over tips in the funny number "Jazz up your Lingerie". Honestly, if you are a fan of musicals you really need to buy or rent this set.

Then I turned to an old favourite, but just as goofy. Carefree is one of the ten movies Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together, all of which have crazy, implausible plots, but really who cares? In this one, Astaire is a psychoanalyst who is trying to help his friend's fiancee (played by Rogers) to make a commitment to marriage. Rogers ends up dreaming about Astaire and falls in love with him instead and after many hypnosis crises, all ends happily. This movie has one of the best dance numbers ever as Astaire and Rogers bounce off furniture and twirl all around a clubhouse to "The Yam". Ah, if all of life's problems could be solved just as easily by dancing to songs about vegetables.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

We're going to the birds. . .

I'm hanging out today in an Edmonton hotel preparing for fall sales conference next week. Sales reps literally get boxes filled with catalogue and information sheets on the books, along with manuscripts or excerpts, background information about the authors, reviews of previous books etc. It can all be a bit overwhelming. But one of my favourite ways to prepare and make notes on the new books is to listen to the editorial presentations on the audio CDs that my publishers provide - which is what I am doing this morning. The editors have lived with these books for months and their personal anecdotes and passions can go a long way towards helping us develop our key selling pitches. Plus, they are crucial for getting the reps enthusiastic about reading the books. I've always maintained this energy has to start right from the get-go; if the reps aren't excited by the books then we can't get the booksellers and librarians interested and in turn they won't pass the enthusiasm on to their consumers or patrons. So much about the book business is word of mouth.

We'll be previewing the fall season for you in a few weeks with our picks for must-reads, but in the meantime, I'll tease you with the covers of two highly anticipated Canadian novels, that I'm certainly looking forward to reading - The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews and The Origin of Species by Nino Ricci, both out in September. I'm posting the covers because I think they are both stunningly beautiful but also in honour of my colleague whose love of bird-watching has been badly hampered by the snow we've been travelling through in Alberta this week (sorry, geese and gulls don't count). We have seen some fairly large magpies however.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We made it!

Whew. It was a bit of a white-knuckle ride but we made it safely to Edmonton and in time for our afternoon presentation. Rosalyn was our awesome driver - there were a few scary moments where the snow was blowing so much that visibility was completely nil, but she never lost her cool composure. We were a bit unnerved to see so many trucks and cars in the ditches (we stopped counting after about 40) and so it's been a stressful and rather exhausting day, but the roads do seem much better now and should be fine for driving to our next stop - Jasper. If any of you are going to the Alberta Library Conference, do stop by our booths and say hello. We'll also be doing two Dewey Diva sessions on Friday and hope to see you there and at the keynote talk that evening by Dave Bidini and Guy Vanderhaeghe.
And now I need to soak in a hot bath for a really, really, really long time.

In which we attempt to get to Edmonton. . .

Just got a group e-mail from back at the office apologizing for the air conditioning being on the brink with promises it will be working soon. Sigh.
The snow has stopped in Calgary and so we're off to try and make it to our afternoon presentation in Edmonton. There's a bit of the highway closed due to a jack-knifed tractor trailer but I missed the bit on the news that said which side of the highway was closed. Anyways, if we're late, you'll know where we are. . .

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Winter's Tale. . .

Once upon a time there were three Dewey Divas who travelled around the country spreading the word about great books to librarians across the land. At the end of each day, the Divas were tired and all they really wanted was to crawl into bed with a good book, read for a few hours and then have a good night's sleep. In order to achieve this, they needed comfortable beds and lots of firm pillows for propping up backs against hard headboards. At the first hotel they came to, the pillows were too thin. At the second one, the pillows were a little firmer but too small. At the third hotel there were very firm pillows but not enough of them (one Diva had read about an author who, while on a book tour wrote that the ultimate in travelling luxury was seven frilly pillows in one bed, and she had coveted this experience ever since). In the Kingdom of Alberta the weather turned nasty and all roads to the Northern City of Edmonton were deemed too dangerous to travel on. The Divas were forced to find a castle in Calgary to seek shelter from the blowing snow and the frigid temperatures. Luckily, the good librarians of Calgary had given the Divas three trusty guides - the "Li-bear-ians" pictured above. They came with magical scrolls that read:

On a cold winter day,
I'm tucked in a nook;
I'm not hibernating,
I'm reading a book!

And these guides led the weary Divas to Castle Hyatt where they not only found food and shelter but large beds with EIGHT! firm if not frilly pillows. And the Divas rejoiced and were able to rest and read. Tomorrow they would continue their journey north but they would never forget the kindness and enthusiasm of the Calgary librarians.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Snowbound in Calgary. . .

Just wanted to say hello to my colleagues back in Toronto who are basking in summer sunshine. This is the view outside of our Calgary hotel where we arrived last night to minus 11 temperatures and blowing snow. We had lots of delays at the airport getting in and eventually got transferred to an earlier delayed flight 20 gates away (though to our delight we were upped to business class which got us a hot towel, free wine, more leg room, and a cheese and crackers plate with grapes). Unfortunately our luggage arrived an hour later on the original flight and so it was close to midnight before we checked in to our hotel. We didn't bring any winter boots with us, so we're essentially snowbound today. But we have all the essentials with us - lots of chocolate (courtesy of a raid we did on a Purdy's Chocolate shop in Richmond - we recommend the dark orange chocolate, the chocolate covered marshmallows and the blueberry & almond chocolate bars), high speed internet, and of course lots of books and manuscripts. It's really quite like a slumber party. The hotel doesn't have a restaurant or room service so we'll have to order in a pizza for dinner. There are very comfy beds though and the pillowcases are embroidered at the edges with the words "Firm" or "Soft"; we get two of each which is a nice touch. The snow has muffled any city noises and so if I squint or take out my contact lenses, I can almost believe I've escaped to a cabin in the woods. Almost.

I can recommend two recent YA novels with an Alberta connection. Afrika by Colleen Craig begins on an airplane as 13 year old Kim is excited to be leaving her hometown of Calgary en route to her mother Riana's birthplace - South Africa. Riana is a journalist covering the Truth and Reconciliation trials as the country tries to come to grips with its apartheid history. The tragic and graphic stories that she hears take a toll on Riana's mental health and Kim has to cope not only with her changed mother, but going to school in a new country with very different social and cultural codes. She becomes friends with a boy whose father's killer is soon to testify and together they embark on a quest to discover the truth about Kim's own father, who she has never met. There are many novels available that explore the immigrant experience in Canada, but not that many that focus on second generation Canadians going back to their parents' countries and reconnecting with their roots. This novel fills that void and also provides an interesting portrait of contemporary South Africa as it continues to grapple with its past.

In Porcupine by Meg Tilly, 12 year old tomboy Jack (short for Jacqueline), has to grow up fast when her father is killed fighting in Afghanistan and her mother crumbles under the grief. Jack and her two younger siblings are dumped at their great-grandmother's farm in Alberta. The children have to deal with feeling abandoned by their mother while continually worried that their prickly, elderly relative, who previously never even knew they existed, will turn her back on them as well. This book made me cry quite unabashedly (fortunately not in public). Jack's complicated relationships with her siblings are poignantly written, in particular her attempts to help her young brother Simon who has a reading disability. Childhood shouldn't be this tough and confusing and I think this novel is a very powerful reminder of how quickly and completely a tragedy can break down a family. And it offers hope in personal courage, integrity and love without being saccharine or tying everything up neatly with a pat ending. I don't know if there is a sequel in the works but Jack was definately one young female character I wanted to keep on cheering for.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A website to watch. . .

PEN has put together a new website to focus on international writing, allowing readers around the world to recommend their favourite writers. It's in early stages yet but promises featured books and author profiles. The first featured countries are from the Arab region. Worth bookmarking and checking out from time to time. You can find it here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On the road in Vancouver. . .

After one flight delay, too many cups of coffee, one longish drive, one far too-late-night dinner, and two presentations to the lovely librarians in Maple Ridge (building one Jonathan Coe fan at a time), we're now relaxing at our favourite cozy Vancouver hotel, The Sylvia, located right on English Bay. It was originally built in 1912 and has more charm, comfort and character than any modern steel-and-glass hotel I know, yet is still very reasonably priced
(for Vancouver at any rate) and all their rooms are wireless! We like the medieval knights in the stained glass windows. And they even host a book club! We've gone for a walk along the beach before indulging in a seafood supper. And even though it's quite chilly and cloudy (moreso since Toronto is basking in double digit sunshine this week), there is something about seeing palm trees and cherry blossoms that is very soothing to the soul.

In search of soothing our sweet tooths, we stumbled across Cupcakes, which had just the perfect dessert for us. These come in mini-bite-sizes too in a variety of flavours - a dozen seemed to do the trick with leftovers for the road. Highly recommended as a breakfast appetizer. And now, high on sugar and chocolate, we can settle in for a couple of hours of reading.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Virago. . .

It's Virago's 30th birthday this year and to celebrate they are re-issuing eight of their favourite titles in collector's hardcover editions with these dynamic new covers, so different from the classic green-spined paperbacks, but equally beautiful. Those of us on this side of the pond however, won't be able to get their hands on them - they are being sold exclusively at Waterstones Bookstores in the U.K.

I've been collecting Virago Modern Classics for twenty years now and they've introduced me to so many amazing women writers. Justine Picardie, whose new novel Daphne, traces the period of Daphne du Maurier's life when she was writing a biography of Branwell Bronte (it looks fantastic - I can't wait to read it) has written a celebratory piece on Viragos in the Telegraph and guess what? I'm quoted! (from some comments I left on her blog). I'm in the paragraph just below the one about Jonathan Coe (only my favourite contemporary writer) talking about the reading impact Viragos had on him. So exciting. You can read the article he wrote about it here. And the Guardian has more tributes to Viragos here. Join the love-in.
The influence of Viragos on Coe's writing is most strongly felt in his latest novel The Rain Before It Falls, which is truly one of my favourite books this year and is a lovely tribute to Rosamond Lehmann whose works were brought back into print by Virago. Both writers are terrific at depicting complicated relationships, particularly between women. Pairing The Rain Before it Falls with Lehmann's The Echoing Grove for instance, would work wonderfully in a book club. And honestly, if you've never read anything by either author, what are you waiting for? Fiction doesn't get any better than this.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Deweys go west. . .

We'll be on the road for the next couple of weeks and then caught up in fall sales conferences, so blogging may be a bit light (although we always seem to have adventures on the road that we JUST have to tell someone about, so who knows?) Next week we'll be in B.C. - doing presentations for librarians in Maple Ridge on April 15th, and in Vancouver on April 16th. We'll also be at our respective booths at the British Columbia Library Association Conference starting April 17th, so do stop by and say hello. We're always keen to hear your book recommendations too!
The following week we'll be in Alberta talking to librarians in Calgary (April 21st) then Edmonton (April 22nd) and we'll be at the Alberta Library Conference in Jasper. If you can't make it to our two sessions, then hopefully we'll see you at our booths.

It's a bit of a gruelling schedule but I know I speak for my fellow Deweys when I say that our biggest challenge is always getting the bags checked in without a big, orange OVERWEIGHT sticker being slapped on them. You'd be surprised how many galleys and manuscripts we can cram into the average suitcase - don't worry, we promise to be fully clothed too at all times.

I was recently browsing a bookstore and this travel book caught my eye; I just had to buy it.

Yeah, right.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Reading the World campaign - 2008

Here's a great annual reading campaign taking place in the U.S. that I wish would come to Canada. Booksellers and publishers of literature in translation get together and compile a list of favourites among recently published works in translation in order to promote international writers and introduce them to new readers. You can read more about Reading the World at their website, which includes a full list of the titles chosen, (fiction, non-fiction, classics and poetry are all represented) and starting in June when the campaign goes in full swing, Words Without Borders will be discussing the books, forming book clubs etc. So if exploring some international literature has been one of your reading goals, a great way to start is with some of their suggestions which include:

Life Laid Bare: The Survivors of Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian
King of Corsica by Michael Kleeberg
Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge (one of my Dewey picks, this novel is terrific and unforgettable - an extremely powerful book about two spies and members of the Communist party during the Second World War and what happens when one decides to leave the party and the other stays, living through the siege of Leningrad and then the last days of the war in Berlin.)
The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories: China From the Bottom Up by Liao Yiwu
The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

and even Tolstoy's War and Peace in the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Friday, April 4, 2008

From Trapp to Tolstoy. . .

Having tackled two mammoth versions of War and Peace this year (the book and the 7 1/2 hour movie), I've taken an interest in all things Tolstoy. So I'm quite excited about this movie in the works - an adaptation of Jay Parini's 1990 The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy's Last Year (which we'll be reissuing in the fall). And how is this for casting? Christopher Plummer will be playing Tolstoy opposite Helen Mirren as his wife Sophia. James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti will also star. The movie is in part about the troubled marriage of the Tolstoys. Sophia seems to have been a talented woman on her own account - she bore Leo 13 children, spent a long time copying out his manuscripts and also became a photographer. Last fall, National Geographic published a fascinating collection of some of her photos accompanied by excerpts from her diaries. Check out Song Without Words: The Photographs & Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy by Leah Bendavid-Val for a real glimpse into pre-revolution Russian life.

Speaking of Christopher Plummer, I've been taking him to bed every night (and I certainly wouldn't be the first!) We're publishing his autobiography, In Spite of Myself in October and I am absolutely loving what I've read so far. Can't blog too much about it now, but suffice it to say, the guy can write! I was completely captivated by his descriptions of an imaginative childhood in Montreal, and the chapter on the making of The Sound of Music is absolutely wonderful. This is also a terrific book for any theater lover - Plummer has worked with viritually everyone! I saw him playing Macbeth with Glenda Jackson at the O'Keefe Center when I was a teenager, was completely mesmerized, and have been a fan ever since. I even have a selection of his speeches from Henry V on my iPOD and I'll definately be getting to Stratford this summer to see him in Shaw's Caeser and Cleopatra. A Canadian who has certainly lived life to the highest lees . Honestly, this is going to be THE autobiography to read this fall.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

IMPAC Shortlist announced

The shortlist for the IMPAC award (one of the most lucrative book prizes - 100,000 Euros goes to the winner) has been announced from the longlist of 137 titles submitted by libraries around the world. The list has a wonderful international flair, not surprising since the six judges come from six different countries. The winner will be announced on June 12th. You can read more about this year's prize here. And here are the shortlisted titles:

The Speed of Light by Javier Cercas (Spanish, in translation)
The Sweet and Simple Kind by Yasmine Gooneratne (Sri Lankan)
de Niro's Game by Rawi Hage (Lebanese - but I think we can also count him as Canadian. This book made the Giller Shortlist in 2006)
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones (Australian)
Let it be Morning by Sayed Kashua (Israeli)
The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (Algerian) in translation
The Woman who Waited by Andrei Makine (Russian) in translation
Winterwood by Patrick McCabe (Irish)

I loved last year's winner - Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Happy Birthday Pigeon!

Well, it's official - The Pigeon Wants a.... Puppy! The name of the fourth Pigeon book was top secret until today- the Pigeon's birthday. One very luck boy from Ohio guessed the title and won a school visit from Mo Willems. You can view his winning entry on the Pigeon website.

In his new outing, the self-declared puppy-lovin' Pigeon canoodles, begs, pleads, and demands that the reader give him a pet pooch. I won't spoil the ending for you, but will say that Mo Willems has done it again-created a fabulous book, that is!

Teachers and librarians (in Canada only) can send me an e-mail ( if they'd like a Pigeon Event kit mailed to their school or library. The kit contains Pigeon T-shirt transfers, colouring pages and activities to photocopy and ideas for hosting your very own Pigeon party or storytime.