Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Typography is what Language Looks Like"-Ellen Lupton

More on Type! The Vancouver Film School has produced a 90 second film clip on the basics of Typography enititled "Typography is what Language Looks Like". The film references Ellen Lupton who is the super cool author of such great books as Thinking With Type, Graphic Design: The New Basics, and my personal favourite: DIY:Design it Yourself. DIY is a great book for all those alt-crafters who love websites such as Etsy. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

OLA Superconference Author Signing Alert

If you are planning on coming to the OLA Superconference this Thursday February 25th and Friday February 26th, please do stop by the H.B. Fenn Booth (#215) to say hello!

We have two authors signing on Friday. Make sure to come early as we have limited number of copies of each book that we will be giving away!
  • At 10:30, Kevin Sylvester, author of Gold Medal for Weird and Sports Hall of Weird, will be signing copies of his new middle grade mystery novel - Neil Flambe and the Marco Polo Murders.
  • Starting at 12:00 pm, Toronto author Megan Crewe will be signing copies of her teen novel Give Up the Ghost
And as a bonus for our regular blog readers, the first five people who come to the H.B Fenn booth each day of the show with a print out of this posting will recieve a surprise gift!
Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Man From Sweden. . .

Yesterday afternoon I went to a terrific event at the Toronto Public Reference Library where Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell was being interviewed by the CBC's Michael Enright, reading and talking about his new book The Man From Beijing, translated by Laurie Thompson. The event was part of the Appel Salon - an extensive program of lectures and readings being hosted in the library's great new space. They have some really prestigious events coming up - Margaret Atwood, Alistair MacLeod, Austin Clarke, a series of Shakespeare lectures, and the Open House Festival in April and May which has a full roster of great Canadian and international authors. All the details can be found here.

You have to love an author who begins his talk by congratulating Toronto on having such a wonderful library. Mankell is a very elegant speaker - thoughtful, intelligent, honest and with a droll sense of humour. He revealed that the two things he must do every single day are to laugh and to learn something new - a great mantra to live by. He also talked about his work in Africa, where he lives for half of the year, and his involvement in the Memory Book project which tries to create mementos for the many children orphaned at a young age, so they can remember something about their parents. A very moved Mankell recalled how he was initially skeptical about how the Memory Books would work given that so many of the children can't read. And then he met a ten year old girl who showed him her book. It was just a piece of cardboard folded in half with a blue butterfly pressed between the covers. She told him her mother was a woman who loved blue butterflies. Another fact to make one pause; the money needed to eradicate illiteracy in Africa and other developing nations, roughly equals the amount that Europeans spend annually on food for their pets.
I'm about a third of the way through The Man From Bejiing and like some of his other stand-alone novels - Kennedy's Brain, The Eye of the Leopard - this one is global in scope and in its political issues. It opens with the gripping but gruesome discovery of nineteen bodies in the small, northern Swedish town of Hesjövallen, then goes back into the past following two brothers as they are kidnapped from China and forced to work on the national railroads in 1864 Nevada. That state is the site of another recent brutal murder whose victims share the same last name as some of the murdered Swedes. What's the connection? Our "sleuth" this time is Birgitta Roslin, an unhappily married judge who discovers that her mother's foster parents are among the dead found in Hesjövallen and decides to investigate further. I'm intrigued as to how Mankell will pull all the threads together but have no doubts it will be done magnificently.
And there's great news for Kurt Wallander fans - there will be a new book out in 2011 and the BBC is doing six more episodes with Kenneth Branagh in the title role. And yes, Mankell admitted that he very much likes the series.

Friday, February 19, 2010

On CBC's DNTO, Cate Cochrane was interviewed on their Valentine's special about her book Reconcilable Differences: Marriages End, Families Don't. This is a great book for families who are going thru divorce. Gone are the days of mothers getting full custody and dads just visiting on Sundays. The couples in this book have come to the painful realisation that their marriage isn't working but they still want to have a positive family life for their kids. There are lots of great examples of innovative ways for families to remain families despite having to go thru divorce.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Shortlist Announced. . .

The shortlists for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize were announced today. Lots of Canadians in the running - they actually dominate the Best Book category for the Caribbean and Canada region. I'm very pleased to see one of my favourite books from last year - Dragan Todorovic's Diary of Interrupted Days - get nominated in the Best First Book category. Writers from the following four regions are recognized: Africa, Caribbean and Canada, South Asia and Europe, and South East Asia and the Pacific. Lots of great reading suggestions from around the world. For a full list of nominees, click here.

Rick Riordan New Series!

For all of the Percy Jackson fans who have read and loved the series and flocked to the movie of 'The Lightning Thief' that released this past weekend- have you heard about Riordan's new series?

Coming May 4th, 2010 is the first book in The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid, about a brother and sister whose father accidentally awakens the Egyptian gods of old, forcing the duo to run for their lives.

The Disney Book Group is not printing advance reading copies, but the publisher has set up a new series website where you can get a sneak peak at the first chapter.

If you haven't seen it already, you may also want to check out the Percy Jackson official website for wallpaper downloads, activities and more information about the gods and goddesses featured in the series.

If you are coming to the OLA Superconference next week, please stop by the H.B. Fenn and Company booth (215/217) for your chance to win a hardcover boxed set of all five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2009 Cybils Awards Announced

The 2009 Cybils Awards (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards) were announced February 14th. I'm very happy to say that the winner of the Young Adult Fiction Award went to Canadian author Courtney Summers for her book Cracked Up To Be. Congratulations Courtney!
Cracked Up to Be was one of my Dewey Diva picks back in Winter 2009 and many librarians and teachers had the chance to meet Courtney at the 2009 OLA Superconference where she had her very first book signing! The book is also a finalist for the 2010 White Pine Award. If you have a minute, do check out Courtney's webpage for video trailers, chapter excerpts, interviews with the author, and more information about her latest book, Some Girls Are, which just released in January and has already racked up THREE starred reviews (Kirkus, SLJ, and PW).

Also making the 2009 Cyblis winners list in the Easy Reader category was I Love My New Toy! by Mo Willems- part of the excellent Elephant and Piggie series.

Click here for the full list of Cybils winners!

Stephanie Plum Movie News!

One of my favourite series is coming to the big screen!

One for the Money, the first book in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich is finally going to be made into a movie!!! According to an article in Variety, Katherine Heigl (Grey's Anatomy, The Ugly Truth) has signed on to play the lead role of former lingerie buyer turned inept bounty hunter Stephanie Plum.

I'm sure the debate will rage online about the casting, and if you want to get in on the voting for the casting for the supporting characters you can visit Janet Evanovich's Facebook page.

Personally, I would have voted for Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) for the role of Stephanie, as she can do kooky and better fits the physical description of Stephanie from the books. Now, I wonder who they'll get to play Ranger and Morelli??

Best Translated Book Award Finalists announced. . .

They've culled the longlist down to a shortlist (winner to be announced March 10th) and while I'm sorry that my favourite - Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone - didn't make the cut, there are still some terrific books left. In particular, I recommend Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's bizarre and incredible collection of short stories, Memories of the Future, translated by Joanne Turnball. Most of the tales deal in one fantastic way or another with writers and books and I'll bet you've never read a short story in which the Eiffel Tower runs away. Here are the ten books on the shortlist:

Anonymous Celebrity by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão
The Discoverer by Jan Kjaerstad
Ghosts by Cesar Aira
Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Rex by José Manuel Prieto
The Tanners by Robert Walser
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker
Wonder by Hugo Claus

You can read more about the award here and write-ups of the books here.

And congratulations also to Canadian Nicole Brossard whose collection of poetry, Selections, made the Best Translated Book Award poetry shortlist. A full list of the other nominees is available here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Fever!

I spent an incredible amount of time parked in front of the TV set this weekend watching the start of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. I am generally not a big fan of televised sports but the one event I can't peel myself away from are the Olympics, and so much more so when it is being held on our home turf!

I find the whole event incredibly inspiring, for both the human interest stories (I'm sure I was not alone in shedding a few tears when Alex Bilodeau won Gold in Men's Moguls and rushed over to hug his older brother) and the awe-inspiring athletic displays.

I have actually skied down both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, and it took me all day to get from top to bottom of each mountain. Mind you, coming from the relative flatness of Ontario, my downhill skiing technique involves a lot of (steadying) arm waving, screaming (usually when the skis start to head toward a tree), and falling to slow myself down. It boggles the mind that gold-medal winner Didier Defago from Switzerland completed the downhill course in 1:54:31 for the gold medal!!

Isn't our Women's Hockey Team fantastic? I just caught about fifteen minutes of their game against Switzerland yesterday, but during that time, they scored 3 goals and seemed to be dancing around the other team.

I even forced myself to watch the pairs figure skating, which to me is as nerve-racking as watching a horror movie. I even watch it the same way- through my fingers or with an afghan on my head (so I can see through the holes)- all those dramatic falls and near-misses with flying skates...

This is definitely an event I'll want to remember forever. Fortunately, I have the inside track to a perfect memento of the Games! Key Porter Books will be publishing a commemorative book written by The Canadian Press called Canada's Olympic Diary, which will release immediately following the end of the games. It will follow the Olympics day-by-day, covering all of the events, but focusing in particular on the achievements of our Canadian athletes- exactly what I want to remember!

It will also cover the lead up to the games, the torch relay and be packed with amazing photographs.

Go Team Canada!

Monday, February 15, 2010

NYRB Challenge #21: Sail Away. . .

It's been chilly lately, so the thought of sailing on the Mediterranean for an hour or two is what prompted this next choice. Afloat by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Douglas Parmee, was originally published in 1888 and charts a few days in the life of the best-selling author as he sails his yacht along the French Riviera.
Maupassant is quite candid about what to expect right from the beginning:

This diary has no interesting story to tell, no tales of derring-do. Last spring I went on a short cruise along the Mediterranean coast and every day, in my spare time, I jotted down things I'd seen and thought.
In fact what I saw was water, sun, cloud and rocks and that's all. I had only simple thoughts, the kind you have when you're being carried drowsily along on the cradle of the waves.

Of course he's being a bit disingenuous. In his introduction, Parmee suggests that the diary is best read as a work of fiction as it contains, "many entertaining, largely invented stories and anecdotes: in a word, a superb example of his skills as a short-story writer, with an eye as sharp as his brain." Maupassant is fretful when embarking, irritated by the superficiality and boredom of the society he spends most of his time in. His trip is a form of momentary escape and his "eye" delights in the soothing pleasures of nature, the sea, and the moon. He recounts the stories of people he has known or heard about who could easily populate his fiction: the daring escape of a prisoner, the tragic story of a woman who gives up everything for love, only to discover she has been betrayed. He doesn't spend all his time at sea however, frequently going ashore to hike in the hills or visit towns and observe the people. This results in one rather amusing, prideful exposition on French males being the world's best lovers and conversationalists.
Ultimately Afloat - like most travel narratives - is an attempt to hold the world at bay, however briefly. By isolating himself at sea Maupassant can muse philosophically upon the more miserable aspects of life - war, poverty and death - and momentarily escape them. As a writer though, he knows that humanity is the fodder for his work and however much he dislikes society, he can't stay away for long.
This was a nice mini-break from some of the more serious NYRB books I've been reading.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reluctant Readers

On Michael Enright's Sunday Edition, January 24th, there is a great Podcast on Reluctant Readers with author Eric Walters, librarian Brenda Halliday and Orca Book publisher Andrew Wooldridge. It starts at the 42 minute mark and is about 30 minutes long. I had to laugh when they talked about how when a parent gives their kid a book and it is the kiss of is so true. Unbelievably, Eric does 600 presentations a day and sees 125,000 kids every year. The Soundings series, which is for teens has over 1 million in print and has done fantastically well. They are starting to translate them into French.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tesser Between These Two Tales. . .

February is showtime and a bunch of us will be busy for the rest of the week talking to hundreds of school teachers at the Reading For the Love It Conference. Though I don't personally sell children's books, this is the time of the year when I'll devote some extra time to reading them - a delightful task that takes me back to my geeky, bookworm childhood and reminds me how magical reading can be.
And the one book I'll be pitching enthusiastically is Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. This was one of Lahring's top Dewey picks, it was the YA novel that kept coming up on the librarian "best reads of 2009" lists that we posted here in December, and it just won the Newbery Award. It completely deserves all those accolades. In preparation, I read for the first time Madeleine L'Engle's beloved novel A Wrinkle in Time which you certainly don't have to know to enjoy Stead's book, but it makes for a lovely duo of stories, and really, why deny yourself the pleasure? But what impresses me most about When You Reach Me is Stead's ability to pay due homage to a classic without lazily rewriting it; her story is completely original and stands on its own. The two simply share a fascination with time travel and its possible implications, and Miranda, the narrator of When You Reach Me, obsessively re-reads Wrinkle - her favourite book. The plot hinges on a series of strange notes predicting the future that Miranda finds in unexpected places, but the charm of the book rests in the completely normal and human misunderstandings that arise between Miranda and the group of grade six kids she hangs out with. As puzzling as the notes are, Miranda also can't figure out why her best friend Sal has suddenly stopped talking to her, or why she so dislikes a girl in her class, or why her mother dresses so strangely. But all is resolved, comically, happily and yet I had tears streaming down my cheeks by the end. I honestly don't know how Lahring and Rosalyn can read as many YA novels publicly on planes and trains as they do - happy or sad, when they are as well written as this one is, they turn into emotional wringers (in a good way).
When You Reach Me is a lovely, captivating slice of childhood and destined to become a classic in its own right; I hope it reaches as many readers - of all ages - as possible.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Here is something totally fun! In last week's Globe they did a profile on the ubder cool design firm Pentagram. On their website they have a cool quiz: What Type Are You? According to the article, every personality has an ideal font to go with it. Check it out...I am Cooper Black Italic.

NYRB Challenge Books #19 and 20: More Eccentric Brits. . .

I'll admit to feeling initial pangs of unease when I started reading Stephen Benatar's wonderful 1982 novel Wish Her Safe at Home, just re-issued last month by NYRB Classics. It's the story of Rachel and her gradual descent into an untenable fantasy world. She's also a single woman of - ahem - a certain age not too far from my own, who likes to sing Noel Coward songs and loves the movies, particularly the films of Vivien Leigh (long an idol of mine as well). This particular crystal ball was not one I wanted to be looking into. My fears were quickly dispelled however, because unlike Rachel, I certainly would never make a scene in a library or remark to the helpful librarian, "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." But I digress . . .

Rachel Waring's life changes when she inherits a house in Bristol from her eccentric great-aunt. It allows her to leave her dull job and equally dreadful room-mate in London and finally have a place of her own, a real home that she can decorate to her heart's content, even if it uses up all her savings:

There was something inspiriting about the atmosphere of that house in Bristol, the almost human voice which had bidden me welcome there. It had caused a predominantly cautious person nearly to forget that such a quality existed. . . I had spent fascinated hours in one department story after another, gazing at kitchen units, bathroom fittings, track-lighting - oh, at all manner of things! I may still have been a dull woman but before I quit London and while there were still a few people left to talk to, my dullness had at least gone down a different route.
A plaque outside the house announces that a 18th century philanthropist named Horatio Gavin once lived there and Rachel decides to write his biography having found (she thinks) an oil portrait of him and hung it over her desk. Only this starts to fuel hallucinations that Horatio is actually alive in the house, madly in love with her, and when she buys a wedding dress, you know this can only end badly. And yet while she is clearly heading towards madness, one can't help finding Rachel rather lovable, even while simultaneously wincing at every step along her journey She's outspoken and definitely vocalizes every inappropriate thought that comes into her head - often to comic effect. But she hasn't had a happy life and she takes such enthusiastic delight in her momentary financial freedom and the love of her house, that you can't help cheering her on. She has such an eager, naive hunger to be liked and to find the perfect friends who will understand and appreciate her. Think of Sally from Elaine Dundy's Dud Avocado meeting Katherine Mansfield's "Miss Brill". Much as we'd hate to admit it, there's definitely a little bit of Rachel in all of us and this makes the novel one that disturbs as much as it entertains.
The writing is absolutely wonderful; told from Rachel's point of view, her unconsciously deadpan detailing of scenes that outrage her but are horrifyingly funny to the reader, are balanced with the pathos of her loneliness and her feelings of being slighted and ignored by society. This duality is perhaps best illustrated by the two Oscar-winning Vivien Leigh roles that Rachel most identifies with - Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche Dubois; there's one brilliantly written scene where Rachel gets the chance to simultaneously embody the characters of both.

This is hands down my favourite NYRB book of the challenge so far and definitely a Dewey pick for this spring season. I absolutely loved reading it. (And for the record, I only sing Noel Coward songs in the shower).

Caroline Blackwood's Great Granny Webster features portraits of equally lonely and mad women but is completely different in tone (and given the grimness of these lives, I'd rather go the way of Rachel). Honor Moore in her introduction likens Blackwood's writing to "Merchant Ivory from hell". The narrator recalls the time when as a teenager recovering from an illness, she was sent to stay with Great Granny Webster, ostensibly for the nearby Brighton sea air. Only she was never allowed to go to the seaside and since the windows were never opened, the health benefits of her surroundings were dubious at best. Certainly they can not have contributed to improving her mental state. All you need to know about life at Great Granny's is contained in the following sentence:
We used to eat our meals on trays in front of the fire, but the chill of those meals was increased by the fact that for reasons of economy the fire was laid but never lit.
Great Granny Webster, widowed for decades, sits silently in her uncomfortable chair, never talking about her family, and waited on by a long-suffering servant even older than she is. And yet compared to the rest of her relatives - her outwardly vivacious but delusional and suicidal Aunt Lavinia, and her unstable, mad grandmother, imprisoned in a cold, decrepit house - Great Granny is looked on almost with admiration by the narrator, who is really just a lonely girl trying to connect emotionally with her dead father (who often inexplicably liked to visit Great Granny Webster) while being shunted from one unfeeling relative to another. Often trepidatiously compared to Webster herself, when she attends her great-grandmother's funeral, she can suddenly look back and see her as "awesome". Everything, obviously is relative.
If you like your comedy chilled like a martini (and a stiff drink might be the perfect accompaniment to this tale), then this book of morose familial portraits is for you. Wear a cozy sweater for this one. Apparently the novel is quite autobiographical, and it certainly has made me interested in reading more about Caroline Blackwood. She was born into a rich family and married both the painter Lucian Freud (there's a wonderful exhibit of his etchings being displayed alongside Rembrandt's, at the AGO until May) and the poet Robert Lowell (she was living with the latter while writing Great Granny Webster). NYRB also publishes her novel Corrigan which promises to be another black comedy, and Counterpoint is publishing a collection of her short stories this month entitled Never Breathe A Word. The cover shows Freud's painting of her - the same one Robert Lowell was clutching when he died of a heart attack in the taxi cab on his way back to his first wife, the writer Elizabeth Hardwick. And to continue our circular literary journey - NYRB will be publishing Hardwick's New York Stories in May.

Great Granny Webster made the Booker shortlist in 1977 losing out to Paul Scott's Staying On. In John Carey's introduction to Wish Her Safe at Home, he laments that he didn't push harder for it to make the shortlist when he was a Booker Judge that year. Both novels are well worth re-discovering.

Here Comes a Cool Kid's Book. . .

For anyone who thinks that writing and illustrating a children's book is easy (NOT!), check out this YouTube video of Jonah Winter creating the characters in his new picture book Here Comes the Garbage Barge! about a town with too much garbage and a tiny boat trying to find a place to dump it all. Scroll down the book page to find the video.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

All About the Movies. . .

So the Oscar nominations were announced today (yawn) and while I'd love a world in which An Education would take best movie, Meryl Streep would win for Best Actress and Colin Firth for Best Actor - well, we all know that's not going to happen.

Still it's that time of year when I like to read all manner of film-related books. I've just finished William Bell's funny new YA novel, Only In The Movies. It's the story of Jake, a teenager who loves films, especially Casablanca. His dream is to become a screenwriter, much to the chagrin of his father who wants his son to join him in the family carpentry business. He nevertheless helps Jake get into the York School of the Arts where his skills are put to good use building theatre sets. Jake makes friends with a quirky, large-nosed, poetry-writing student named Vanni but falls in love with Alba, a beautiful, budding actress. He enlists Vanni's help in composing love letters to Alba (yes, if the nose didn't give it away, this story contains shades of Cyrano, albeit with an added comic twist) but Alba is in love with the dim-witted but dishy Chad. Lots of teenage angst in this one, but it's an entertaining and quite charming read. Jake works out his problems through writing screenplays, portions of which are scattered throughout the novel, and there's a particularly funny one in which he enlists the help of Humphrey Bogart himself.

For something a little more adult, I'm looking forward to reading Arthur Japin's new novel Director's Cut, out next week. Penelope Cruz nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nod today for her role in Nine, the Rob Marshall musical based on Fellini's iconic film 8 1/2 (and it's worth seeing if you like musicals - it's not as good as Chicago, but I always enjoy watching Daniel Day-Lewis, in pretty much any role he's in and Judi Dench steals the show; her musical number involves the longest feather boa I've ever seen - enough to wrap up all the Dewey Divas and then some!) Japin's novel is based on the last love affair of a director very like Fellini and promises a nice romp through the world of Italian cinema.

Also on deck is a galley of Chuck Palahniuk's new novel Tell-All which is coming out in May. Now, I've never read anything by him before - he frankly scares the heck out of me - but his new book is supposedly a retelling of All About Eve, which is one of my favourite movies (and deservedly won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1950). I have no idea what to expect but I'm fastening my seat belt; it may be a bumpy ride!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Last Year of Tolstoy. . .

On the weekend I went to see the movie adaptation of Jay Parini's novel The Last Station, directed by Michael Hoffman and starring the amazing Helen Mirren, James McAvoy and Christopher Plummer who plays Leo Tolstoy in the last year of his life. At a time when Google and copyright are constantly in the news, and heartfelt tributes to J.D Salinger abound, this story about the battle of Sophia Tolstoy to keep posthumous control of her husband's copyright seemed very prescient. I'm a sucker for movies about writers and though the story was a bit slight and a tad too long, it's still a lovely film to look at and spend some time with. There are great performances from all the leads especially Mirren who gives the indomitable and feisty Sophia all the passion and determination she deserves. After all, this was a woman who not only bore Tolstoy thirteen children but handcopied War and Peace six times! You can see why she was so adamant about keeping the royalties for her family. Do make a point of staying seated through the credits as you'll see some archival footage of Tolstoy and other characters from the film.
Sophia was an avid photographer and if this film piques your interest in her work and life, do check out a collection of her photographs, diaries and writings as explored in Leah Bendavid-Val's book Song Without Words.