Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Milk Toof

I have just got back from sales conference where I have heard about many awesome new books. Chronicle is coming out with a hilarious book called My Milk Toof. This book is based on a blog called My Milk Toof and features the adventures of ickle and Lardee: two baby teeth. I immediately went to her blog and laughed my head off. The book won't be out until March so check her blog in the meantime.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Doris McCarthy 1910-2010

Last week we lost a true Canadian treasure when Dorothy McCarthy passed away. I had the fortune of having tea with her with some lovely booksellers and librarians at her home in Scarborough: Fool's Paradise. It was in celebration of one of her biography Doris McCarthy: My Life...and what a life it was. Although we just had a brief afternoon with her I was blown away by her tenacity and talent. The Globe had a lovely piece about her that you can read.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is Publishing Doomed???

John Thompson, author of Merchants of Culture was interviewed in The Brooklyn Rail about his most recent book. This is a pretty amazing article that doesn't quite allay the fears that the book is dead, but does put the issue into perspective. Thompson says that blaming the e-book for all of the current woes in publishing is a huge over-simplification and the issue is much more complex.

More 2010 Best Book wrap-ups. . .

The Globe and Mail chimes in with their Top 100 here.
The Guardian has their annual round-up asking writers such as Jonathan Coe, A.S. Byatt, and Jeanette Winterson to pick their favourite reads of the year here.
And in case you missed it last week, The New York Times has its Top 100 Notable Books here.

We'll be posting some Top 10 Dewey and librarian picks over the next few weeks. Stay tuned. . .

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Chanukah!

A Chanukah Noel is a lovely story about the childhood of Charlotte Teeple, the Executive Director of the Canadian Children's Book Centre. As a young girl, Charlotte went to live in France in a small town where they didn't celebrate Chanukah. She was quite entranced by all of the Christmas celebrations around her but her family didn't feel it was appropriate to celebrate. Charlotte comes up with a very sweet way to recognize both holidays. Second Story Press has posted a cute trailer on YouTube.

The book is going to be launched this Monday, November 29th 6-8pm at Mabel's Fabels...hope to see you there!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Five Dials: The Quebec Issue. . .

I happily opened my e-mail this morning to find the latest issue of Five Dials.  This is a wonderful free online magazine published by Hamish Hamilton in the U.K.  You can read more about it and subscribe here. There is always an eclectic and interesting group of articles, excerpts and poetry.  This latest issue is devoted to Quebec and features contributions by Madeleine Thien, Gil Courtemanche, Rawi Hage and Leonard Cohen among some international authors.  Editor Craig Taylor sums up the issue, in which a number of  Québécois writers were asked to write on a range of topics:

We don't have to make a great statement about Quebec in this, our November issue, other than definitively announcing we still find Celine Dion's husband's beard a little creepy. In lieu of the grand, we have gathered a wide array of talented Francophone and Anglophone writers who will look at the mushrooms, bears, critics, literature, vocal tics, exotic dance clubs, and maple syrup of this place. We have freshly translated Québécois literature and some beautiful archival work, as well as contributions by Raymond Chandler, Alain de Botton, and David Shields. There is also one article on hockey.
What's not to love?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Guilty Weekend Reading. . .

It's been a bit of a tough week and I'm not moving as fast through Doctor Zhivago as I'd like, so I've taken a break to indulge in some guilty celebrity-peeping.  I recently finished Antonia Fraser's Must You Go?, her memoir of her thirty-plus years living with Harold Pinter, who is one of my favourite playwrights.  Drawn from her diaries and personal memories, it reads a bit like a carefully selected (and edited) whirlwind through their lives, but with lots of interesting name-dropping (if you are a fan of the theatre, there are some great stories).  What does impress is how romantic Harold was, always sending her flowers and writing and reciting love poems.  And it definitely made me dig out some Pinter plays for a re-read.  England seems to excel at successful literary pairings - Michael Holroyd and Margaret Drabble, Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin, Richard Holmes and Rose Tremain to name a few - perhaps because each of these writers mostly excels in a different genre from their partner.

For a look at more torturous literary couplings, I've just started Ivana Lowell's memoir Why Not Say What Happened? She is the daughter of Caroline Blackwood whose own tempestuous life I got interested in after reading Great Granny Webster for my NYRB challenge.  Her father was Ivan Moffat, Hollywood screenwriter and the son of Iris Tree, the bohemian actress and writer who modeled for many of the Bloomsbury painters. Her stepfather was the American poet Robert Lowell.  Ivana's grandmother Maureen was the one that Noel Coward wrote about in his song "I Went to a Marvellous Party".  I'm only a few chapters in, but the book promises quite a lot of aristocratic parties with famous people, much drinking and subsequent bad behaviour.  The New York Times reviewed it this weekend here.

And yes, I also have the latest edition of Hello magazine - the one with Kate and Wills on the cover.  Anyone else think it's rather creepy that he gave her Diana's engagement ring? It wasn't exactly a symbol of the happiest of unions, was it now?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Book Awards

Award News seems to be the theme of today, so I thought I'd add that the winners of the 2010 National Book Awards were also just announced.

According to the NBA website, 1,115 books were submitted for the National Book Awards. , which were whittled down to five finalists in each category. And the winners are...

Fiction: Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (McPherson)

Nonfiction: Just Kids by Patti Smith (Ecco/HarperCollins)

Poetry: Lighthead by Terrance Hayes (Penguin)

Young People's Literature: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction Longlist. . .

Nope, we're not through with prizes yet.  This is the largest prize for Canadian non-fiction ($40,000 to the winner) and it's quite an ecclectic list.  I'm thrilled to see Tom Jokinen and Molly Peacock on it. Here are the books that made the longlist:


On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women by Stevie Cameron
Extraordinary Canadians: Marshall McLuhan by Douglas Coupland
What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past by James Fitzgerald
Sunray: The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard by Valerie Fortney
Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran
Gold Digger: Striking It Rich In the Klondike by Charlotte Gray
Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training by Tom Jokinen
The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delaney Begins Her Lifes Work at 72 by Molly Peacock
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
The Wave: In the Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

Shortlist will be announced in December and the winner on January 31st. 

Bernhard's Prizes. . .

Most of the year's top literary prizes have now been given out but if you're feeling overwhelmed, cynical or a bit weary of the whole circus, then Thomas Bernhard's My Prizes: An Accounting, translated by Carol Brown Janeway, makes for a lovely antidote.

This is not a sour grapes type of book; during his lifetime, Bernhard won all of the top German literary prizes. However his experiences both at the awards ceremonies, the reactions to his speeches, and his musings on the nature and politics of prizes are very amusing. For example, when he won the Georg Büchner Prize (one of Germany's most prestigious literary prizes), he was expected to talk about the famed German writer in his acceptance speech. But while he had the highest respect for him, he felt that there was nothing left to say that hadn't been said before:
We are not allowed to keep talking endlessly about those we consider great and to hitch our own pitiful existence and inadequacies to these great ones with all our efforts and our clamour. It is customary that people when they get a Kant plaque or a Dürer Prize give long speeches about Kant or Dürer, spinning dull threads that extend from the great ones to themselves and squeezing their brains over the audience. This way of proceeding doesn't appeal to me.  . . In short I spoke few sentences. The listeners thought that what I said was an introduction to my speech, but it was the whole thing. I gave a short bow and saw that my audience wasn't pleased with me. But I hadn't come to Darmstadt to make people happy, but only to collect the prize, which came with ten thousand marks and with which Büchner had nothing to do, since he knew nothing about it himself, having died so many decades before there was any idea of funding a Büchner Prize.
Money plays a large, unapologetic part in Bernhard's acceptance of prizes and there are also some entertaining anecdotes about how he chooses to spend the cheques. The most interesting chapter is on the Austrian State Prize for Literature. First he has to constantly correct people and remind them that he won the Small State Prize (for a particular work, in this case, Frost) instead of the more lauded Large State Prize (for a body of work). He's also peeved because the winners of the Small State Prize are usually much younger than he is, and since he despises the Ministry of Culture and Art which is awarding the prize, he feels he's a hypocrite for accepting. However, there is the money:
I'm taking the money, because people should take every penny from the state which throws not just millions but billions out the window on a yearly basis for absolutely nothing at all, every citizen has a right to it and I'm not a fool. . .I don't believe, I said, that I'm lacking character if I take the prize amount from people I bottomlessly loathe and despise, quite the opposite. To compensate for the humiliation of being given the Small State Prize I should be able to take a trip . . . the twenty-five thousand schillings would give me the opportunity to go to Spain, for example, where I'd never been. If I don't take the money for myself and use it to pay for a trip, I said, it will be thrown to some useless person in revenge, who causes nothing but damage with his creations and poisons the air.
Yes, he's grumpy and ungracious at times. But he has a point about the tediousness of being feted by government officials who have no interest in his work, and in one case, don't even bother to greet him at his own prize ceremony.  One official actually walks out during his speech in protest (you can later read the speech at the back of the book).  I wonder what he would have made of the whole Gaspereau Press/Giller Prize controversy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2010 Governor Generals' Awards Announced. . .

Congratulations to Dianne Warren, winner of the fiction prize for her novel Cool Water, and Allen Casey, winner of the non-fiction prize for Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada.  Full list of all the GG winners is located here.

2010 Evergreen Award Announced. . .

Hooray,  Jessica Grant has won the Evergreen Award for her wonderful novel Come, Thou Tortoise. I'm absolutely thrilled as this was one of my favourite Dewey Diva picks. The Evergreen award is part of the OLA's Forest of Reading program, this one voted on by adult library patrons. It would also be a fantastic read for teens as well. Congratulations Jessica!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Anna Sui

Releasing in November, Chronicle Books will be publishing a retrospective on Fashion Icon Anna Sui. It is pretty spectacular; the book will have over 400 photographs. Sui has had an incredible influence on fashion and this book is a true celebration of her reach.
In this video, Sui talks about creating the book. Not only does it look at her work but also provides a sense of the history of fashion
over the past twenty years.

The New Dynamics of Publishing

One of my students recently sent me this talk by Seth Godin. He was the Keynote Speaker at last summer's IBPA's Publishing University. It is a very fascinating talk on where books and publishing is going and asks a lot of questions. It is easy just to listen on your computer while you work. I am a huge fan of Seth Godin...his blog is super cool. I could listen to him read the phone book.

International IMPAC Dublin Award Longlist Announced. . .

It's one of the longest longlists and the winner won't be announced until next June, but the full list of 162 nominees has just been posted.  They come from libraries in 126 cities, in 43 different countries. 42 of the titles are books in translation from 14 languages. 35 of the titles are first novels.  I always like to see which books are nominated by the Canadian libraries - Linden MacIntryre's Bishop's Man and Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean were two titles that received multiple nominations.  You can see the full list of nominations by each library here.  The shortlist comes out on April 12th, 2011 with the winner announced on June 15th.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November Inspiration. . .

One of the blogs I pop over to when I feel the need to get inspired and dream a little, is A Bloomsbury Life. It's written by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, a blogger living in Los Angeles, and I love the photos she posts, her thoughts on creativity and work-life balance, and her love of books and all things bookish.  One of her latest posts is entitled Looking Bookish and is about being inspired by Penguin Classics to knit a scarf featuring her favourite books. She also has some great ideas for knitting sweaters inspired by Howard's End, Middlemarch and An Enchanted April.

This is the book I'm taking home over the weekend to gape at in admiration.  Knitting Block by Block by Nicky Epstein is absolutely gorgeous!  I'm not a great knitter, but I'm totally inspired to try some of these blocks in order to work on new techniques with (hopefully) a minimal wool and time commitment.  I love the idea of sewing together a bunch of different blocks to make a beautiful afghan, or scarf, or using one block and making it the center feature of a cozy pillow. Some of these blocks are so stunning, I think they'd even look terrific framed on the wall (I'd frame them without the glass to allow the textures to pop).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest We Forget. . .

Two timely books to recommend today.  I just finished reading Scott Chantler's new graphic novel Two Generals. It's the story of his grandfather, Law Chantler,  who with his best friend Jack Chrysler, joined the Highland Light Infantry of Canada during the Second World War.  The story covers their intensive training in England for the D-Day invasion (the use - and uselessness - of bicycles as standard equipment issued was a fascinating bit of historical information that was new to me), their landing on Juno Beach and their subsequent involvement in the bloody Battle of Buron, an essential and crucial part of the Allied invasion of Normandy, in which many Canadians lost their lives. It's a very moving story about friendship and bravery, told with honesty and even humour at times, as it also incorporates the daily lives of the soldiers during their training and before the battles. A great book to recommend to high school students.
Another book that is on my to-read list is Diana Souhami's new biography of Edith Cavell, the WW1 nurse who was executed by the Germans for helping English soldiers escape Belgium.  Part of the fascination I had with reading Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, so many years ago, were her descriptions of nursing during that period and the complex and sometimes demoralizing hierarchy in the  profession. And I'm always fascinated by the many stories of women who participated - and in many cases died - during that war.  Thanks to dovegreyreader who alerted me to the book in this post.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Recently I went to visit the new Kids Can Press office in the new Corus Building located on Queens Quay in Toronto. I will let the pictures do the talking...BTW THEY HAVE A SLIDE THAT IS THREE STORIES HIGH...nuff said.

Word & Film Website. . .

Last night, I finally got around to seeing the film of Never Let Me Go, based of course on Kazuo Ishiguro's chilling novel.  I thought it was a beautiful film, very moving and faithful to the book and with some terrific performances by Carey Mulligan and new "it boy" Andrew Garfield in particular.  You can read an interesting interview with Garfield here on Word & Film, a new website that Random House has set up to explore the connections between books and film.  Worth checking out from time to time if you are a film buff.  For instance, you can also see the movie trailer here for the upcoming version of Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

TD Children's Book Awards

I'm just back from the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award ceremony in Toronto. What an evening! I definitely made the right choice when given the option of which awards ceremony to attend tonight. Sorry Giller Light- maybe next year!

The TD Awards boasted delectable appetizers, amazing children's book authors (it was a particular pleasure talking with Arthur Slade, Lesley Livingston, Janet McNaughton and Kenneth Oppel), the chance to catch up with customers I haven't seen in years, fabulous presenters, moving acceptance speeches, then when the awards presentation had wrapped up-glasses of champagne (or coffee for us commuters) and a dessert buffet that featured such treats as apple pie on a stick and cheesecake kebabs.

Several awards were presented over the course of the evening. Here are the winners:

The Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction For Young People:

Vanishing Girl (The Boy Sherlock Holmes Book 3) by Shane Peacock (Tundra)

The Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction:

Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road by Priscilla Galloway with Dawn Hunter (Annick Press)

The Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award:

Timmerman Was Here by Colleen Sydor (Tundra)

The TD Canadian Children's Literature Award:

The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade (HarperCollins Canada)

I am a huge fan of the Hunchback Assignment series and of Arthur Slade in general, so seeing him win the $25,000 prize was a real thrill- the award really couldn't have gone to a nicer person! For more on this award, check out this Canadian Business article.

Congratulations also to author/illustrator Marie-Louise Gay for having her book Caramba chosen as the TD Grade One Book Giveaway, and to the finalists for each award. It must have been a hard decision for the jurors!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

And The Small Press Takes the Big Prize. . .

Congratulations to Johanna Skibsrud and Gaspereau Press - her novel The Sentimentalists has just won the Giller Prize, Canada's largest literary prize.  

But if you've been following the story, it's really tough to buy a physical copy of the book in any store. The publisher prides itself on printing and producing all of their books themselves and they just can't speed up production enough to meet the huge demand.  You can see how they do it in these videos posted on their blog here. Whether this will drive massive sales to the e-book version, or readers will just be patient, remains to be seen.  I certainly want to read it - but only as a physical book. Are Gaspereau to be applauded for sticking to their mission and the quality of their books, or are they just being stubborn and unfair to their author?  The debate continues. Personally, while I do feel fbad or the author (although she has just picked up $50,000 which should keep her going for a while), I do think that Gaspereau's decision is a gutsy one and reminds us in this era of instant gratification and consumerism that some things are worth waiting for. After all, I still have my unread copy of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall still on the bedside table.  Reading isn't just about getting your hands on the latest thing and gobbling it up quickly just to look cool at cocktail parties.  I can wait for a physical copy of The Sentimentalists and at least know that there will be an extra aesthetic thrill to reading a beautifully produced book.  Having said that, I do feel badly for the booksellers - the Giller Prize drives people into the stores and results in a lot of sales right through the Christmas season, and they must feel so frustrated not being able to display a healthy stock of the book. Go to your local indie and place a special order for the book, knowing it may take a while.  You can buy something else while you're waiting.

NYRB Challenge # 46: Three Philosophers Walk Into a Room. . .

This is the longest it's taken me to finish an NYRB Classic for this challenge.  The World As I Found It by Bruce Duffy is a big book with small type. It also deals with complex philosophical ideas, much of which I had to read slowly and mull over.  In short it's a book partly about how people think  - about the world and their place in it - a complicated challenge to convey in prose. Still, I'm glad I persevered right to the end because the novel was also a poignant and fascinating look at three powerful and influential personalities living through turbulent times.

Firstly there's G.E. Moore, a philosopher whose ideas influenced many of the Bloomsbury set including Lytton Strachey, and who is touchingly portrayed as a rather sweet, confirmed old bachelor who unexpectedly finds happiness in a late marriage and fatherhood. Then there's the imposing, self-conscious and egotistic Bertrand Russell, forever obsessing about his love life and constantly insecure about his work which nevertheless brought him fame, if not fortune.  At the start of the novel he's involved in an uncomfortable affair with Ottoline Morrell, the society woman whose house at Garsington served as a salon for many famous writers and artists. Towards the end, he's running his own experimental school and watching his wife about to give birth to another man's child. There are many romantic entanglements inbetween. Into their academic - and personal lives - comes the brilliant yet troubled Ludwig Wittgenstein, who alternatively drives the other two crazy with his curt dismissals of their ideas, and fascinates them with the intensity and genius of his own.  His life story is the most strange and tragic.  He was the son of a rich but tyrannical father, and later on denounced all claims to his family's substantial fortune. His two elder brothers committed suicide, acts that continued to torment him throughout his life as does the guilt he felt over his sexuality. And then there's his obsession with discovering and perfecting the logic behind the language of philosophy and developing a philosophy of language.

It all sounds quite cerebral and deep, and parts of it certainly are.  But Duffy's writing about ideas is balanced by an energetic and detailed narrative prose that is quite engaging. He is equally good at describing with mischievous relish the eating habits of Cambridge dons, and then vividly portraying the horrors of the Eastern Front during the First World War several chapters later. Still, this won't be a book for everyone, although if you do like novels that fictionalize the lives of writers and historical figures, or enjoy reading about Bloomsbury and the cultural mood of these years, do give this a try. I'll admit a lot of the philosophy went over my head though, and I found myself nodding in agreement when I got to this passage:
Ethics was such a misery, thought Wittgenstein. Words were so slippery, and metaphors were all the more so, being instructive in almost equal measure to their power to distort. And in the end, words only evaded: our words could not justify, and further words and actions only muddied our questionable original intentions like a picture that has been too often erased and revised.  No, thought Wittgenstein, good or evil (if those were quite the words) were not to be broken down like salt in a crucible to get at the truth - it was a hollow nugget that clinked into the alchemist's dish. Somewhere, in the process, the spirit escaped.
Duffy's next novel, set for 2011 will be a fictionalized account of the life of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. For a shorter (though still head-shaking account) of some of Bertrand Russell's ideas, try the graphic novel Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis et al.

Monday, November 8, 2010

OPLA Readers' Advisory Picks Their Favourite Reads of 2010. . .

Lots of "best of" lists are already coming out, even with eight weeks left on the year.  I always like the lists of readers best and The Ontario Public Library Association Readers' Advisory Committee has come up with Top 5 Reads from each of its members.  Long time followers of this blog will recognize the names of many librarians who have contributed in the past to my requests for top 10 lists (and we'll continue that tradition in December) and one former Dewey Diva is also represented.  To see all their picks, click here.  Thanks to Only Connect for the link.

NYT Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year!

The New York Times has just released their Top Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books of the year and one of my Dewey Pick's was on it...hooray! Shadow is a beautiful wordless picture book by Suzy Lee who is also the author of Wave.
Other books on the list are:
Here Comes the Garbage Barge
Children Make Terrible Pets
Busing Brewster
Big Red Lollipop
Henry In Love
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Bink + Gollie

Friday, November 5, 2010

Native Trees of Canada

As soon as we heard about this book, we knew we had a winner. Native Trees of Canada was just launched on October 30th, and has already created quite a stir including this beautiful piece in the NYT. The story is quite simple: Leanne Shapton found the original 1917 edition at Monkey's Paw, a used bookstore in Toronto. She reworked the book and made it into this beautiful homage. Enjoy this celebration of Fall and Canada.

Friday Film Fest: Get Out Your String of Pearls. . .

Rosalyn has just given me a copy of a wonderful new biography of Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie, whose novel Daphne, a fictional account of Daphne du Maurier, I loved and reviewed here, a couple of years ago. I'm looking forward to reading Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life; I spent over an hour in bed last night, just looking at all the gorgeous photos and artwork.  It's truly a beautifully designed and packaged book. And the author has a fun blog located here where she's detailing part of her book tour with lots of Chanel inspired photos.

I can't think of a better way to spend a chilly November weekend, then curled up on the sofa in some fabulously decadent silk pajamas with this book, a cup of hot cocoa (pun intended) and DVDs of two biographical films that explore very different aspects of Chanel's life.  Start with Coco Before Chanel with Audrey Tautou portraying the young Coco pulling herself out of poverty, and starting to design thanks to the help of a wealthy lover. Then move on to Coco & Igor that details the affair between the more established Chanel and the struggling composer Igor Stravinsky.  The interior set designs of this movie will leave you speechless - never has black and white looked so beautiful and glamourous. While I prefer the earlier movie, Coco & Igor does try to reproduce on film the opening night of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring and the riots that followed.  For that alone, the film is worth seeing.