Monday, May 31, 2010

What Happens When Book Reps Go To See A Movie Like Sex and the City 2. . .

. . . instead of looking at the clothes or the shoes or maybe the guys, (okay, maybe Aidan) - we look instead at the books. Well you can't help it when you sell all of them (I didn't stick around through all the credits to see if Random House got an acknowledgement). But in case you're curious:

Samantha's bible for dealing with menopause is Suzanne Somers' Breakthrough.
Miranda's guide to the customs of the Middle East is Kuperard's UAE - Culture Smart!

When Carrie can't get to sleep, she's reading Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate.

And Charlotte? Well, I didn't quite catch any glimpse of the book on the kitchen counter, but I'll bet the recipe for those cupcakes she was making came from this.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

NYRB Challenge #31: An Earlier Passage to India. . .

Original Letters from India by Eliza Fay is the account of several nerve-wracking voyages from England to Calcutta made by this indomitable woman near the end of the 18th century, and recounted in letters sent home to her sisters and friends. Her first trip was accompanying her husband who hoped to make his fortune as a barrister in the Indian city and the description takes up the majority of this book as the entire journey takes twelve months and eighteen days. Harrowing adventures are recounted along the way - the precariousness of going over the Alps on a mule, the dangers going through Egypt and sailing down the Red Sea, and the horrors of being imprisoned for several months in Calicut by Hindu rulers waging war against the British.

Throughout the trials and tribulations, Eliza keeps her wits, her eye for detail, and her plucky spirit. She reminds me a bit of Katherine Hepburn playing Rosie in The African Queen. Some of her predicaments are quite funny. Fearing capture and confiscation of their goods, she and her husband hide their papers and valuables among their clothes. Three watches are hidden in Eliza's hair with pins stuck in them to stop them from ticking but, "one of the pins however came out, at the very time I was set on shore. Never shall I forget what a terrible sensation the ticking of the watch caused! I think had it continued long, I must completely have lost my senses."

Unfortunately her husband was no Charlie Allnut or Bogey. Eliza quickly finds him cowardly, foolish, vain and his stupidity often adds to her distress. His nonchalance in being punctual for one of their boat connections forces them to take undue risks through choppy waters. His wife notes wryly that this is, " a common practice with most people who have brought themselves into difficulties by their imprudence and who seek to regain by obstinacy, what they have lost through folly. Pity such cannot always suffer alone." The marriage did not last and she separated from him a few years after their arrival in Calcutta - accelerated no doubt when he fathered an illegitimate child.

Undaunted as a single woman forced to be financially independent, Eliza makes several other voyages between England and India, trying to start a millinery business. These are longer sea voyages around the Cape of Good Hope and the number of shipwrecks and other nautical disasters she recounts give a vivid portrait of how difficult and brave it was to travel during this period when various European wars would sometimes intrude on their safety along with the life-threatening climate and its attendant diseases. It didn't help that she also encountered captains who believed it was bad luck to have women on board. Yet despite her occasional cattiness (or perhaps because of it), you can't help cheering Eliza on. She had a lot of spunk and courage. This is an entertaining and eye-opening slice of social history dotted with perceptive portraits of the people she encounters. The engraving above is from the frontispiece of the original 1817 edition, showing Eliza wearing Egyptian clothes. Unfortunately she died the year before publication, penniless in Calcutta at the age of sixty.

The annotations are by E.M. Forster who also contributes an introduction; he convinced Virginia and Leonard Woolf's Hogarth Press to publish an edition in 1925. While he admires Eliza and acknowledges that her account of events is fairly accurate, he also has no qualms about pointing out her character faults and poking some fun at them. His footnotes are sometimes as entertaining as Fay's letters. Despite her constant complaints of ill health, Forster notes that:

From various passages it is clear that our heroine was of the hungry type. People who write long letters often are. . . She ate and ate till the end - asparagus, pork, tunny, turtle, preserved peaches, ghi.
As Simon Winchester writes of the letters in his introduction: "Shelley would have been proud. And Jane Austen, just shocked, shocked."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stanley in NYC!

Linda Bailey's beloved character Stanley made the leap from page to stage this May debuting on Manhattan Children's Theatre's stage in New York City. Stanley's Party was adapted from Stanley's Party and Stanley's Wild Ride. There is a fun clip on You Tube from the production entitled Doggie Dance. Below are some pictures from the play. Enjoy!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Take the Slow Train. . .

Maybe this was an odd choice of book to read on an airplane, but it certainly made my recent trip out to Calgary fly by.

On The Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys by Michael Williams is part travelogue, part fond, nostalgic look at the great days of British steam trains, and an entertaining profile of the many Britons who still devote their time, and in some cases significant money, to their obsession and love of railways.

The "Slow Train" refers first to a philosophy that mirrors the global Slow Movement, where, as Williams writes, "the journey becomes a moment to relax, rather than a stressful interlude imposed between home and destination. Slow travel re-engineers time, transforming it into a commodity of abundance rather than scarcity." It also recalls a 1963 song called "Slow Train" by the British comic duo Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, written during the year when over 4,000 miles of track and many local stations were permanently shut down under the reign of Richard Beeching - a short-term solution to funding problems. The song was an ode to all those old, local railway stations that would no longer be in use. Fortunately, despite the cuts, some of these were saved after public protest and still exist today, although many communities still don't have any access to service.

Williams picks his favourite slow train journeys around England, Scotland and Wales, and certainly makes you want to go out, buy a BritRail pass, and pootle along. They range from the short - the picturesque St. Ives Bay line along the Cornish coast, just four and a quarter miles long - to the "Deerstalker Express" from Euston to Scotland. He'll tell you why London tube trains are running on the Isle of Wight, which route travels around "Dolly's Nipple", and which viaduct the Hogwarts Express rumbles over in the Harry Potter films. Along the way he gets out at some extremely deserted yet still functioning stations, and meets an assortment of odd, yet passionate guides to the local history and topography. One of the most intriguing journeys, and one I certainly will take next time I'm in London, is a trip around the city itself on the North London Line, from Stratford station to Richmond. It was also the route that experienced the first murder on a British train, back in 1864. Grisly details also come in the form of descriptions of various train accidents and in the number of deaths involved during the incredible engineering projects building the tunnels and bridges that in its heyday, allowed the train to dominate the British landscape. Many of us fell in love with trains through books or the movies - as a child I was hooked on the Thomas the Tank Engine series and Brief Encounter remains one of my favourite films - and this book is filled with nods to the frequent absorption of railways into British culture.

Reading this book had me daydreaming about a future trip to England which only intensified when I got back from Calgary to find a copy of Great British Walks: 100 Unique Walks Through Our Most Stunning Countryside by Cavan Scott on my desk. I really like the format of this guide. Each walk gets a double-page spread. On the left is a written description of the walk, helpfully pointing out sites of interest at various stages. On the right is a blow-up of the ordinance map for the area with the route clearly marked out. Length both in distance and time is indicated along with the level of walking difficulty. The walk on Chesil Beach has just been added to my bucket list.
And I think you can get to the start point of many of these walks by train.

Have a great long holiday weekend. Get out on the bike. Take a long walk. Spend some time with friends and family and sink into a comfy chair and finish those one or two or three books you're currently in the middle of. Those at least are my plans.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Troubles takes the Lost Booker!

I can't tell you how pleased I am that Troubles by J.G. Farrell has won the Lost Booker contest, instituted to recognize books from 1970 that, due to a scheduling snaffle, weren't eligible for the Booker Prize. What is especially nice about the win is that it was voted on by viewers instead of a jury and it won handily with 38% of the vote. Troubles, part of Farrell's Empire Trilogy that includes The Siege of Krishnapur (which also won the Booker) and The Singapore Grip, has been my favourite read so far in my NYRB Reading Challenge (here's why) and I can't recommend this book highly enough. The Guardian reports on the win here. Hooray - this has completely made my day.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Book Lover's Treasure

The Oxford Companion to the Book includes two volumes (housed in a beautiful slipcase) that cover the history of the book from ancient to modern times, but also the history of manuscripts, printing, libraries, collecting, bookselling, editing and even e-books.
There are over 5,000 listings in the A-Z reference section and short definitions are given for terms such as blad, conger, rectos and breviary. Well known printers, publishers, authors, illustrators and librarians are also listed. In addition there are 50 essays on topics as diverse as “The European Medieval Book” “Paper”, “Children’s Books”, “The History of the Book in Germany” and “The History of Illustration and its Technologies”. The scope of these essays is truly international and they are accompanied by almost 200 b&w illustrations.
It’s easy to lose yourself in these books for many hours at a time and you’ll learn lots of fascinating facts about books and the publishing industry. Any bibli0phile would love this set. At one Dewey Diva event someone suggested that this would make a fantastic gift for a retiring librarian.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Supernatural Tour

Paranormal fiction for teens is all the rage these days. With so many great authors on our list writing in this genre, the fantastic publicity and marketing team at HarperCollins Canada has put together a Supernatural Tour later this month!

Coming soon to a bookstore near you (well, if you live in the GTA) are Lesley Livingston, Aprilynne Pike and Kim Harrison!

If you are in the area and are free on one of the following evenings, please come by and meet these fantastic authors!

And now for the contest part of this post!


If you live in the GTA and are available on Tuesday May 25th for lunch, I'm hosting a draw- appropriately called:


Prize #1- Lunch with Lesley Livingston, Kim Harrison and Aprilynne Pike Tuesday May 25th at 12:00 pm, plus a set of all six books for you to have signed.

Prize #2- A set of all six books, signed by the authors

Contest Rules:

  1. You must be a teacher or librarian, located in Canada, to enter this contest
  2. You must live in or near Toronto to be eligible to win Prize #1. The lunch will be held in Toronto and transportation to and from the lunch is the winners responsibility.
  3. Prize #2 is open to any teacher or librarian across Canada. Books will be shipped to the winner, who will be selected randomly from all entries.
  4. To enter, please send an e-mail to with 'Supernatural Tour Contest' in the subject line. You must include your school or library mailing address, plus a phone number where you can be reached.
  5. Contest ends FRIDAY MAY 21st, 2010 at 9:00 a.m. The winners of both prizes will be notified that day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NYRB Challenge #30: In Which a Lot (Or Nothing) Can Change In One Week. . .

Skylark by Hungarian writer Dezső Kosztolányi, translated by Richard Aczel, was originally published in 1924. The plot is simple and takes place over just one week as the 35 year old Skylark, the only child of the Vajkays, goes away to visit relatives. And at the end of the week she returns. The lives of this family will probably continue in much the same way, but a little heartache will definitely linger longer with the reader.

The parents have led simple, rather restrained lives of boring routine. They rarely go out except to church and this week without their daughter initially seems long and empty until they go to a local restaurant for lunch and suddenly get absorbed into the social life of their town and its inhabitants. Their entire world starts to open up and this is accompanied by a corresponding change in the descriptive language of the novel that exuberantly celebrates the senses. Sunshine makes everything glitter; gypsy bands are suddenly heard in the distance and most of all, the smell and taste of food is incredibly enticing (reading this novel has definitely prompted a recipe search for Hungarian vanilla noodles). The Vajkays go to the theatre, the father reunites with his old friends, gets drunk, gambles, stumbles home early in the morning and comes to some rather disturbing but very honest truths about his feelings toward his daughter. And then Skylark comes home; for her the week has also resulted in some harsh revelations about herself.

The joy of this book is definitely in the writing, which delicately balances the comic, the sentimental, the stifling and the despair. It asks tough questions about kin and kindness, self and self-deception. A good companion read would be Stefan Zweig's The Post-Office Girl for a similar story of being trapped in an unhappy and frustrating life. I was also strongly reminded of Leo McCarey's very moving film Make Way For Tomorrow. It's a completely different story about grown children finding their elderly parents a burden, but the emotions are similar, as are the themes of obligation and communication (or lack thereof) between the generations.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Having One of Those Days?. . .

Thank God it's Friday!
If it's been a tough week, take a moment and have some fun with this Bad Days in Literature quiz. Why I got a perfect score on this challenge, I have no idea!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dan Clowes in Toronto

This week's Eye Weekly cover is graced by Dan Clowes; the graphic novelist who has written Ghost World and Art School Confidential. His latest book Wilson will be launched at TCAF tomorrow. This book was one of my Dewey picks. This is a free event at Toronto Reference Library. Another cool Clowes piece of of info is that he has designed the latest book bag for The Strand Bookstore in New York City. We can't buy it here but you can you can order from their website.

An Agent Visits a Bookstore...Hilarity Ensues

An Agent walks into a bookstore...this piece from Shelf Awareness is very funny. Literary agent Dan Lazar decides to spend a day in a real live independent bookstore to see what happens. His take on life at an indie is hilarious...and he gets a true understanding of how books are handsold in a wonderful store and what really matters to buyers and readers. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

In Which Literature Goes to the Dogs and Other Animals. . .

I just finished reading the manuscript of Andrew O'Hagan's delightful new novel The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe - it'll be published in Canada in the fall, and will definitely be one of my Dewey picks. Yes, the book is narrated by a dog (but he's a very intelligent, philosophically observant one, not cutesy at all) and I usually stay far away from this type of book. But as Jessica Grant's equally funny Come, Thou Tortoise has taught me, I shouldn't be pre-judging talking animals until I hear what they have to say. And as O'Hagan outlines here in an interesting essay for The Guardian, there's a long and rich history of animal narrators in literature. He also explains why the novel opens in Charleston, the famous home of Bloomsbury painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (another reason I find this book so intriguing).

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cool Display

This Thursday Type Books in Toronto will be launching Kenk, a graphic novel about the notorious bicycle thief Igor Kenk. Kenk was arrested in 2008 and over 3,000 bikes were found in his possession. The New York Times has called him "the world's most prolific bicycle thief". Craig Small, who is working on the companion movie to the graphic novel, put together this amazing window.
There has been a huge amount of buzz and controversy around this book. Richard Poplak the author has done an incredible job of presenting a balanced work on a very difficult subject. Nick Marinkovich is the illustrator behind this work...I saw a video on how he put them together and was pretty impressed.
For details on the Book Launch click here.

On the Road Again. . .

Just back from a fun week out in Alberta doing Dewey presentations in Calgary, Lacombe, Edmonton and at the Alberta Library Conference in Jasper. And we even managed to escape the snow in Calgary! Many thanks to all the terrific librarians and library staff who hosted us and came out to hear us (and especially to those that had to drive long distances).

We thought we covered a lot of the province in one week, but check these guys out! Unfortunately we had to leave the conference before their presentation, but The Shanachie Tour consists of three Dutch librarians who are visiting libraries around the world and documenting their findings on video and on their website. Their tour stops in Calgary here. What a fun project.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

2010 Edgar Awards

Happy News! Marc Strange's Body Blows has been awarded Best Paperback Original by the Mystery Writers of America. For a complete list of the award winners check out The Edgars. I was at my local Book City where they had the local hero's book prominently displayed on the counter.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

One for the silly file!

This was just sent to me...had to share it!