Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Black Bottle Man

Black Bottle Man is a genuinely spooky read. Set in the 1920's dust bowl Prairies, it is about a trio of families, two of who, are desperate for children. A black bottle mysteriously appears with instructions on what to do if they want to succeed in their desires. Of course it is too good to be true and they have (un?)wittingly sold their souls to the Devil. When the Black Bottle Man comes to collect his due, he makes another deal with them...he won't collect as long as all the male members of the family keep moving every 12 days. Rembrandt, is the teen in the book who must accompany his father and uncle on this who seemingly impossible quest.
Great Plains is a publisher based in Winnipeg; and their teen fiction has really taken off. If you want to hunker down with a good old gothic page turn, i would recommend Black Bottle Man.

Just For Laughs. . .

The shortlist for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has just been announced. This literary award definitely has the best and most creative of prizes - the winner gets champagne, the complete Everyman set of P.G. Wodehouse and a Gloucestershire Old Spot pig is named after the winning book.

Here's the shortlist:

Solar by Ian McEwan (his funniest book for sure)
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (love the packaging on this - three volume paperbacks in a slipcase)
Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray
One Day by David Nicholls (coming out in June in Canada - I loved, loved this romantic comedy for fans of Nick Hornby or the movie 500 Days of Summer)
From Aberystwyth With Love by Malcolm Pryce (this looks terrific - a funny murder mystery set on trains)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

NYRB Challenge #29: Moravagine. . .

I was a quarter way through Morvagine by Blaise Cendrars, translated by Alan Brown, and I was not at all enjoying this story. A doctor had helped his patient escape from an insane asylum, only to indifferently watch him murder and rape dozens of women. But I persevered to the end, and the book somewhat redeemed itself due to the quality of the writing and the intellectual scope and audacity of some of the ideas the novel explores.

Moravagine is set during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Raymond the doctor, fascinated by the psychological mind of the criminal, follows Moravagine through a global whirlwind of adventures from revolutionary intrigue in Russia and an escape among barrels of sauerkraut, to a strange sojourn in Texas, a hallucinatory journey through the South American jungle and then back to Europe and the battlefields of the First World War, only to end up in another asylum, this time for the soldiers who have gone mad. Moravagine also takes a solo trip - at least in his mind - to the planet Mars.

Along the way there are expositions on a number of philosophical and historical ideas about science, democracy, evolution and in particular the alienating effects of automation and industrialization on daily life. The world and its people are constantly viewed in the cold, ugly, monotonous and dangerous language of machinery which perfectly foreshadows the novel's culmination in the war, "when the whole world was doing a 'Moravagine'". Have you ever read a description of the moon rising like this one?
The moon, rifled like a cannon-shell, seemed to shoot from the sudden smokestack of a factory as if from the mouth of a howitzer.

Cendrars - who inserts himself as a minor character in the novel - also suggests that Moravagine may just be his own unshakeable "double", raising the interesting question about a writer's relationship to their characters. In a postscript to the novel he writes:

With time I began to notice that this Other appropriated all that had happened to me in my life and that he exhibited all the traits that I could observe about myself. . . I had raised and nourished a parasite at my own expense. By the end I no longer knew which one of us was plagiarizing the other. He traveled in my stead. He made love in my stead. But there was never complete identification because each of us was himself - myself and the Other. A tragic tête-à-tête, proving that you can only write one book or the same book several times. It is why all beautiful books are alike. They are all autobiographical. It is why there is only one literary subject: Man. It is why there is only one kind of literature: that of the man who writes.

There's an extra layer of intrigue with this passage. The postscript reads as the chronology of how Cendrars came to write his novel. Paul La Farge's very good introduction suggests that any personal detail revealed by the author should definitely be taken with a grain of salt as Cendrars also liked to embellish his life with fictional details.

So, while Moravagine is not among my favourites in this challenge - too self-indulgent at times and the misogyny is often uncomfortable to read - I can see its literary merits, and it makes an interesting metaphoric counterbalance to the idea that the years preceding WWI were a gentle, innocent period. I was trying to think of a contemporary comparison to Cendrars - Bret Easton Ellis perhaps?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Arthur Ellis Nominations Announced

Nominations for the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award , celebrating the best in Canadian crime fiction, were released yesterday evening by the the Crime Writers of Canada.

In the Best crime novel category, the nominees are:

Nominees for Best Non-fiction Crime Writing:

In the First Novel category, the nominees are:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Doubleday Canada)
The Cold Light of Mourning by Elizabeth J. Duncan (Minotaur)
The Weight of Stones by C.B. Forrest (RendezVous Crime)
A Magpie's Smile by Eugene Meese (NeWest Press)
Darkness at the Stroke of Noon by Dennis Richard Murphy (HarperCollins)

In the Juvenile category the shortlist includes:

Not Suitable for Family Viewing by Vicki Grant (HarperCollins)
The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)
Haunted by Barbara Haworth-Attard (HarperCollins)
Homicide Related by Norah McClintock (Red Deer Press)
The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade (HarperCollins)

Nominations were also announced in the Best Crime Short Story category, Best Crime Book in the French language, Best unpublished first crime novel (aka The Unhanged Arthur). News courtesy of the CBC ...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eaarth Day Part II. . .

One of the consequences of having destroyed enough of our planet to warrant a new name, argues Bill McKibbon in his new book Eaarth, is that we will have to start thinking more locally in terms of food and energy. You can also add entertainment to this list and tonight I saw the perfect example of how art can go global without leaving the carbon footprints.

I went to see the National Theatre of London's production of Alan Bennett's new play The Habit of Art, as it was screened live to hundreds of movie theatres around the world. What a terrific idea this is - and it completely works on a big screen. You are still seeing a live performance in a packed house, with some of the best actors in the world (and close-up so you can see every nuance and twitch in their faces), and you don't have to wait years until the play finally hits your city. And it was a terrific and immensely enjoyable production set during a play rehearsal of an imagined meeting between an elderly W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten, years after they worked on a failed opera together. The acting was superb, the writing witty and insightful about poetry, music, and of course the theatre, and I didn't have to get on a plane. Just before the play began, the audience was treated to some snippets of a documentary that will be airing in Britain in the fall about the friendship between these two artists. They quoted from a poem of Auden's that completely circles back to Bill McKibben. It's called "Doggerel by a Senior Citizen" and its first stanza goes like this:
Our earth in 1969
Is not the planet I call mine
The world, I mean, that gives me strength
To hold off chaos at arm's length.

I'll be reading some more Auden tonight and I'll be buying myself a copy of Bennett's play very soon. The next live performance in this series will be shown on June 28th when the National Theatre's production of Dion Boucicault's London Assurance will be filmed. This stars one of my all time favourite British actors Simon Russell Beale, along with Fiona Shaw and Richard Briers. I can't wait.

Happy Earth Day, or Should That Be Eaarth Day?

Eaarth: Making a Life On A Tough New Planet by longtime environmentalist Bill McKibben should be essential reading for every citizen. The first half will completely depress you as the author outlines all the irreversible damage we've done to this planet, mostly over the last fifty years. We have so changed the chemical and physical composition that it even needs a new name, hence "Eaarth" (if you drag it out long enough I think it sounds like a cry for help). The second part suggests what we need to do, not only to slow down the process of global warming but to adapt to the changes which have already happened and are here to stay. There's a very good interview with McKibben at The Walrus website. You can read it here. He also talks about the organization he helped found - 350.org - so called because scientists estimate that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is a safe level for humans (we're currently around 390 parts and it's increasing). Check out their excellent website and get a copy of Eaarth either for yourself or to press especially into the hands of teens and students. We're relying on them!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beatrice & Virgil & Yann. . .

So Yann Martel's new novel Beatrice & Virgil is out and drawing very polarized reviews! People either love it or hate it and are quite passionate either way. Some of the negative reviews have focused on how Martel deals with the Holocaust in his novel. I think they may be missing the point. I'm in the "love it" camp, mostly because I think he was very successful in illustrating just how difficult it is to write about such a horror. And the novel actively forces the reader to question how this could be done - if at all. Yes, it will make you uneasy; good writing often does that. But for precisely these reasons, I think it makes a terrific book club pick, and also a good YA crossover book for teens who have read Markus Zusak's The Book Thief or John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

The great independent bookstore Powell's has posted a Q & A with Yann Martel - of particular interest is Yann's own recommended list of five great books dealing with the Holocaust.

The Baby Boomer's Poet Laureate

Ted Geisel, better know as Dr. Seuss, was born in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts, not far from a bustling street named Mulberry. Ted attended Dartmouth College and later acknowledged that he learned more from working at the student newspaper than in his classes. One night he was caught drinking on campus, and because this was the time of Prohibition the punishment was severe. He was expelled from college and lost his position as editor. Since he desperately wanted to continue his involvement with newspaper he came up with the pseudonym “Seuss” (also his mother’s maiden name) which later evolved into “Dr. Seuss”.
After a brief stint at Oxford University, where he met his wife Helen Palmer, he became a graphic designer and eventually developed a very successful career in advertising. Many of his characters like the Grinch, Horton and even the Cat in the Hat can be seen in his ads. During the WWII he worked at Warner Brother in Hollywood and created educational films for enlisted men. He learned a lot of about educating, while also entertaining. At Warner Brothers, Ted worked alongside Munro Leaf, The Story of Ferdinand.
Ted wrote his first children’s book while on a ship crossing the Atlantic. During a ferocious storm he needed a distraction and wrote the first draft of And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The story was rejected 17 times before finding a publisher. Several years later, his editor at Random House made a bet that Ted couldn’t write a book using only 250 key words, and as a result The Cat in the Hat was created.
I’ll send a free copy of Theodor Seuss Geisel by Donald E. Pease to the first person who can successfully answer this question: What is the title of the last book that Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A World Without Planes. . .

Writer and philosopher Alain de Botton, who last year was appointed writer-in-residence at Heathrow Airport and will be publishing a book on his experiences this fall, probably could write a sequel just from hanging out there this week! Instead, he's written a piece for the BBC musing on a world without planes. You can read it here. Travel, he writes would obviously be slower, but, "if one of our key motives for travelling is to try to put the past behind us, then we often need something very large and time-consuming, like the experience of a month long journey across an ocean or a hike over a mountain range, to establish a sufficient sense of distance. "
I'm seeing a slew of recent non-fiction books focusing on slowing down, shutting out the digital world, turning off the media, contemplating the world around you, seeking out silence and space to think and reflect. Ironically, one of the places where I felt most at ease and relaxed was in Iceland on a fabulous walking holiday I took two years ago. I feel sorry for the thousands of travellers that are experiencing a real monetary or anxious distress at not being able to get home or away, but hope that those who have found themselves in a place for longer than they intended, take this unusual "gift" of time and unexpected jolt to the routine, and are making the most of it.

Orange Prize Shortlist. . .

And then there were six. The Orange Prize shortlist was announced today. I think it's going to to go to Hilary Mantel whose Wolf Hall has been gobbling up every prize in the literary firmament (I'm determined to finally read it over the summer), but you never know with prizes. I've only read Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs, which I loved, but I'm intrigued by Monique Roffey's novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle and Rosie Alison's novel about a young girl evacuated during the Second World War also looks like a great read.

Here are the contenders:

The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
The winner will be announced June 9th.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Canadian Library Association Awards Announced!

In case you missed the press announcements- yesterday, the Canadian Library Association announced the winners of their 2010 Book Awards.

The winner of the 2010 Young Adult Canadian Book Award was Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins). The Honour Books for 2010 are The Gryphon Project by Carrie Mac (Puffin), and The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade (HarperCollins).

The winner of the 2010 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award was one of Janet's Dewey picks from last year: Perfect Snow by Barbara Reid (North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada). The Honour books for this award are Timmerman Was Here, (Tundra Books), illustrated by Nicolas Debon and written by Colleen Sydor, and You’re Mean, Lily Jean, (North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada), illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton and written by Frieda Wishinksy (and also one of Janet's picks!).

The winner of the CLA Book of the Year for Children Award for 2010 is Watching Jimmy by Nancy Hartry (Tundra Books). The two Honour Books for this award were Vanishing Girl by Shane Peacock (Tundra Books) and Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson (HarperCollins).

Have I Got a Book For You!

Ros and I just did a presentation at the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board for TL's. Imagine my delight when two of the give aways were Melanie Watt's books! Have I Got a Book For You! came out last Fall and introduced a brand new character to her canon: Mr. Al Foxworthy. This book is especially hilarious for all of us book reps as it speaks very much to what we do. The subtext teaches kids about buyer beware which is always a good thing. Her very playful ending will leave you in stitches.

NYRB Challenge #28: Classic Noir. . .

Sometimes the movie version is almost as good as the book.

The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, first published in 1946, is just plain fun to read, especially if you are a fan of tough talking, cynical crime noir - in books or movies. George Stroud is the alcoholic editor of Crimeways, part of the Janoth Publishing Empire. His personal life is a mess and things don't improve when he has an affair with his boss's mistress Pauline, and goes out with her to bars and antique stores. Janoth sees a man leaving Pauline's apartment one night but it's too dark to see him clearly. Yet finding the man becomes extremely crucial after Pauline is murdered and Janoth realizes the mystery man could identify him as the murderer. He assigns George the task of finding the man, who is of course, none other than himself. Things come to a suspenseful head one night as George is trapped in his office building as witnesses keep coming ever closer to his office.

The first movie adapation appeared 1948 and it's a classic noir film (it was remade in the 198os as No Way Out). I love the first version. It features a terrific cast - Ray Millard as George (he's far more decent in the film) and Charles Laughton as the egocentric Janoth - and the sets, black and white shadows and music all contribute to the perfect atmosphere. And the film makes much more literal use of actual clocks. In the novel, the "Big Clock"is a metaphor for the working life and even more metaphysically for how George resigns himself to the world around him:
In short, the big clock was running as usual, and it was time to go home. Sometimes the hands of the clock actually raced, and at other times they hardly moved at all. But that made no difference to the big clock. The hands could move backward, and the time it told would be right just the same. It would still be running as usual, because all other watches have to be set by the big one, which is even more powerful than the calendar, and to which one automatically adjusts his entire life.
One other thing I loved about the novel was its use of multiple narrators. George tells most of the story, but there are other points of view - from Janoth, from George's long-suffering wife Georgette (and they even have a daughter named Georgia!), other colleagues, and (possibly my favourite), Louise Patterson, an eccentric artist and free love advocate whose painting could implicate George.
This line also made me laugh at how everything old is new again. George is talking about an indepth feature that the magazine has spent a number of weeks researching. Here's how he sells it to the new managing editor:
'We want to bring out Funded Individuals. In cartoon strips. We'll dramatize it in pictures. . . Nobody reads, any more. Pictorial presentation, that's the whole future. Let Emory go ahead with Funded Individuals in a new five-color book on slick paper.'
For other NYRB noir-movie combinations, check out Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household which was turned into the movie Man Hunt, directed by the great Fritz Lang and starring Walter Pidgeon and a very cocky Joan Bennett. Or the newly published Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham which was made into film with the same title, starring Tyrone Power as a carnival hustler.

Deweys Are On Twitter!

Join the Dewey Divas on Twitter! We will be tweeting Dewey presentations live where we have access, and retweeting our fabulous followers. Watch this space for updates!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NYRB Challenge #27: The Inverted World

I do not read a lot of science fiction, but I have enjoyed the titles that NYRB Classics has published in this genre. I read The Chrysalids back in high school which led me to a frenzied John Wyndham binge, and both Tatyana Tolstoya's novel The Slynx and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's collection of short stories Memories of the Future , were fascinating reads, and could be classified at least as speculative fiction. So I was looking forward to picking up Christopher Priest's The Inverted World, not least because I enjoyed the movie The Prestige which was based on another of his novels. And once again, NYRB did not let me down.

This was a terrific, intriguing tale, even if it gave me an unpleasant flashback to calculus class (always my worst subject in high school). Helward Mann has lived in Earth - the city, not the planet - all his life. As he comes of age, and after swearing an oath of secrecy, he becomes an apprentice to the many Guilds that run the city and has to rotate between them, working a few weeks with each. This allows him to actually go outside of the city where he becomes obsessed with watching the strange way that the sun rises and sets. Most importantly his new responsibilities show him that his city is always on the move. Literally. Resting on huge wheels, it is constantly being pulled forward on tracks which are then dismantled and reassembled ahead of the city - all in a massive effort to get ever nearer "the optimum", whose geographical importance proves crucial to the city's survival. The Guilds are responsible for laying the tracks, building bridges over rivers, surveying the territory ahead, and bartering with the impoverished local people for labour and their women (the city has a population problem, particularly when it comes to giving birth to girls). But it is only when Helward travels "down past" on assignment to return three women to their village that he encounters the full horror of why the city needs to keep moving.

To write any more would be to give away at least two major and very enjoyable (if eerie) plot twists. Suffice it to say this is a novel full of suspense but also a poetic examination of perception, not just visual and spatial, but also in terms of storytelling (the sections are sometimes intentionally narrated in the first person, sometimes in the third) and time and its effects. Any initial head shaking over the science and mathematics - don't worry, it doesn't detract at all from following the story- is explained in the afterword (and I was very glad it was an afterword and not an introduction, as it's hard to talk about this book without spoilers). A very enjoyable read.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shortlist for the Orange Prize for New Writers . . .

I'm really excited to see Evie Wyld recognized on this shortlist for first works of fiction. I loved After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, one of my Dewey picks from last year. It's a very powerful novel about the effects of war on three generations. She'll be up against Irene Sabatini for her novel The Boy Next Door and Jane Borodale for The Book of Fires. Previous winners of this award have included Canada's own Karen Connelly for The Lizard Cage, along with Diana Evans, Naomi Alderman, Joanna Kavenna and Francesca Kay.

Monday, April 12, 2010

IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist Announced. . .

One of the richest literary prizes (where books are nominated by libraries all over the world) has just announced its excellent shortlist. Too many good books on it to call a frontrunner. The eight books vying for IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize are:

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
In Zodiac Light by Robert Edric
Settlement by Christoph Hein
The Believers by Zoë Heller
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin (The North American title is Out Backward)
Home by Marilynne Robinson
The winner will be announced on June 17th.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Where The North American Poets Meet. . .

Spring has definitely arrived and so I've been immersing myself in poetry and the (fictional) lives of poets this weekend.

New Canadian Library has just published a really terrific anthology: Canadian Poetry 1920 to 1960, edited by Brian Trehearne. It covers a literary period that I really love when writers were experimenting with modernism - a characteristic that influenced Trehearne's inclusion of poets for this collection. As he writes in his afterword: "in their common reaction against Romanticism and its legatees, and in their commitments to modern poetry's possibilities of profound newness - for newness could be profound in and of itself in this period - they make up one great movement in Canada's cultural history".

Some of the selections will jolt you right back to high school (E.J. Pratt's multi-voiced "The Titanic" and Earle Birney's "David"), and any English university student will have come across many of these poets in Canlit courses: A.M. Klein, the wonderful Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Avison, John Glassco, Irving Layton, Raymound Souster and James Reaney just to mention a few. There are nice selections from two of my favourites - F.R. Scott and P.K. Page whose poem "The Stenographers" seems particularly appropriate to read on a Sunday night. I've also been introduced to some poets previously unknown to me - Louise Morey Bowman's "The Tea Kettle" turns that comforting image on its head, and Patrick Anderson who writes of skiers on Mount Royal during WWII in "Winter in Montreal":

and I said: Can you tell me? Is this Canadian
to ski - I mean, to dare so silently
with nothing in front and blue behind like a railway?
I waited for his answer but it was
wafted away in the sanitarium snow
where the skiers flushed like the hectic tubercular
schussed down the fever of their feathery pillow.

There are poems from across the country and (again, why I like this period so much) many of them are set in cities. They deal with all aspects and descriptions of Canadian life (and the weather) but also are set against global events during this period - the Depression, WWII, the Holocaust, the Cold War. A wonderful book to keep by the bedside table and regularly dip into.

I was reminded of F.R. Scott's satirical poem "The Canadian Authors Meet" (yes, also included) when reading Lore Segal's delicious Lucinella. This novella is part of Melville House's exquisite Art of the Contemporary Novella Series which publishes or brings back into print little gems such as this from around the world. Originally published in 1970, this very funny story follows a bunch of poets, a literary critic, the editor of a poetry magazine, Zeus and Hera, and our main heroine at three different stages of her life (sometimes all present at once), during their jaunts at a writer's retreat, an academic symposium and several boozy parties. Their egos, insecurities, idiosyncrasies and libidos are all on display and fair game not only for endless gossip but as fodder for their work. Yet, despite the facade of friendship in this cosy circle, it turns out that not only do most of them not like each other, they don't even - GASP - read each other. And while it's clear they should never marry each other, they yet need each other and stay connected - right to the end. I couldn't stop laughing all the way through this marvellous unpoetic ode to the messiness of everyday life and love.

Friday, April 9, 2010

NYRB Challenge #26: Lucky in Love?. . .

Whew! If you thought the matrimonial machinations in Jane Austen's world were intense, then welcome to the busy social-scheming world of 1930s and 40s New York as depicted in Letty Fox: Her Luck by Australian writer Christina Stead. Just add more adultery, abortions, booze, and trips to Reno, and less clothing and inhibitions.

The novel traces the life of the precocious Letty and her younger sister Jacky through their adolescence and early twenties, and neither girl has much sense or sensibility. Letty is observant and street-smart, a self-proclaimed communist, who is always reading and trying to improve herself while caught up in the love affairs of all the careless adults around her. Her unhappy mother Mathilde mopes through the whole novel - her husband has definitively left her for his mistress and she refuses to give him a divorce and move on herself. Letty is influenced by both her strong-willed grandmothers - the unsympathetic Grandmother Morgan, an independent businesswoman, always looking to set up a new hotel and find a husband for her beautiful daughter Phyllis, and the complaining, slightly senile (but with many secrets) Grandmother Fox who must nevertheless be tolerated as she's rumoured to have left $5000.00 to Letty and Jacky in her will. Grandmother Fox is a wonderful recurring comic character - a scene that runs for several pages in which she tries to get someone to buy her a chicken is priceless. Letty's childhood is very much dominated by women; she sees her father infrequently and though charming, clueless, philandering uncles occasionally make an appearance, it's usually when they are on the run from their current or ex-wives looking for money. This is an unreliable world of multiple affairs and break-ups, where marriage is not seen as the culmination of finding a worthy life partner, but as an increasingly competitive and sophisticated - though short-term - strategy for financial survival:

Mathilde was bitter in lament over the wickedness of the world, but the rest of the women were openly discussing the profit of the alimony game, which now took on complications that they, in their simple, old world ways, had never suspected. They had simply divorced men and lived modestly on men's labours during their respectable lifetimes; but here were brilliant female gamesters unmarrying and remarrying, seizing parts and profts. The women were as shocked as huggermugger sidewalk traders are at the bold feats of speculators and profiteers on the exchanges.
And though one hopes things will be different for Letty who does do her best to educate herself and find work in order to be independent - she writes some very funny advertising copy for a dress shop - she already has a string of affairs and one broken engagement by the time she is twenty. Letty has the misfortune to fall in love - and lust - with almost every guy she meets, leading to both comic and tragic adventures. Her life may be a saga of exhaustive madcap and this novel is probably two hundred pages longer than it needs to be (Letty is barely 25 by the end of it), but you can't help laughing at - and with - our heroine: "Some people I know say I have bounce, I am preposterous, I elbow people out of my way and am out for myself. I am . . .but at least it doesn't impose on anyone; I am who I am, and I make my way in the world." Throughout her romantic romps she retains her sense of self-deprecating humour along with a strong sense of self, and the relationship with her beseiged father - one of the more positive in the novel - is charming. Her signature at the end of her letters sums her up perfectly: Letty Marmalade (always in a jam).

This is definitely for readers who love Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love or Love in a Cold Climate, and as with those novels, this is also partially autobiographical. Bolters certainly abound in both.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Two for the Future. . .

Two new books have just crossed my desk and both are tempting me this weekend, but oh, I have such a huge pile of reading on the go at the moment. Still, if you have patrons who have read and loved Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood, or Ian McEwan's recent Solar (or are too far down on the holds list), these two new books set in the future might appeal.

Robert Edric's last book, In Zodiac Light, a novel about the last years of the WWI poet and composer Ivor Gurney, was a Dewey pick of mine, so he's a writer I'm always keen to read. Salvage is set in England, one hundred years in the future where climate change has led to increasing problems with toxic soil that threatens the population as the rains come. The main character Quinn is a government auditor, trying to assess a proposed site for a new model town, but comes up against all sorts of corruption and secrets.

All That Follows by the very talented and original writer Jim Crace, is also partly set in England, just a few decades into the future and involves a jazz musician forced into a moral quandary surrounding a hostage taking. Asylum has a very good review of the novel here.

Publisher said/Librarian said. . .

Only Connect points me to a very good article from Library Journal about the current challenges and frustrations of publishers and librarians, and how often they are at cross-purposes. As a library rep, I frequently see both sides and I absolutely concur about how often publishers forget this very important market, not just in terms of sales but in building readers and the excellent word of mouth recommendations that librarians offer every day. Not to mention that they are tremendous readers themselves. And as the article notes, they know that "Our most avid readers are connoisseurs of the midlist." It's exactly for these reasons that the Dewey Divas were formed and why for the most part, we don't focus our book talks on the bestsellers.

I also had to chuckle at the opening lines of both the editor and librarian overviews of their jobs:

"The next person who tells me, 'Gee, I wish I could read books all day at my job,' is going to get a punch in the nose, seriously."

Ahem. I've heard that one too. But no, we do all our reading in our spare time.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Scrabble Scuffle. . .

Mobylives has this report on the rules of Scrabble changing to allow proper nouns, apparently to entice more teenagers who can think of more rappers with a "Z" in their name, than words, to play. Not so, says the Wall Street Journal - the company is just introducing a new type of game called Scrabble Trickster that will have all sorts of new rules. Not only will you be able to use proper nouns, but also spell words backwards.

You could always play it the Dewey Diva way. No proper nouns, but for every word you create, you get a bonus point for being able to use it in a book title. Three extra points if you've read the book, but everyone else around the table who has read it also gets three points. This is also a great way to discuss books while you're playing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

NYRB Giveaway winners. . .

A big thanks to everyone who entered this contest for writing to me directly or leaving comments and recommending your favourite NYRBs. I have several of them now on my to-be-read-for-this-challenge list and I loved hearing about your own passion for this terrific line of books. I wish I could pick everyone as a winner, but alas, I only have so many prizes to give out. I decided however, that in addition to the overall winner who will get the NYRB bag filled with a selection of books and galleys, I would pick two runner-up winners who will get a Dewey Diva bag filled with some galleys and one NYRB book. So congratulations to. . .

. . . the overall winner who is Tara from Ottawa. The two runner-ups were from the comments - Isabella and Jenn - can you e-mail me at mscott@randomhouse.com with your addresses and I will pop your prizes into the mail.

Winners of Canada's Book Design Awards Announced. . .

The Alcuin Society which judges design excellence in Canadian books has announced this year's winners of its awards in the categories of Children's, Limited Editions, Pictorial, Poetry, Prose Fiction, Prose Non-Fiction, Prose Non-Fiction Illustrated and Reference. Not a surprise at all to see so many winners from Gaspereau Press which publishes absolutely beautiful books on the most lovely tactile paper. I'd also like to congratulate my colleague C.S. Richardson for his win in the Prose Non-Fiction Illustrated category for the design of Graham Gibson's The Bedside Book of Beasts. Full list of all the winners and links to the books can be found here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Uncommon Reader

I was visiting my favourite local bookstore on the Danforth, Book City , and was recommended Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader. What a absolute gem! It is a very short novella about the Queen who late in life, aquires a taste for reading. Her new addiction overtakes her life and puts the court's nose very much out of joint. "What she was finding was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do". This quote from the book pretty much sums up every readers life. The ending is delightfully impossible.