Wednesday, June 30, 2010

NYRB Challenge #34: One To Read During the World Cup. . .

The choice of Envy by Yuri Olesha, translated by Marian Schwartz, as my next challenge choice was dictated somewhat by this post on NYRB's own blog, pointing out that part of the book contained a soccer match between Moscow and Germany. As the World Cup team I was supporting (Switzerland) failed to advance, but Germany was still a contender, I thought it would be a timely read.

And the soccer match may be the most ordinary thing that happens in this novel.

First published in 1927, the object of envy for the protogonist Nikolai - a young, disaffected, arrogant and lazy drunk - is Volodya, a handsome, talented soccer player who is like a son to the business man Andrei, a man proud of developing a very large and cheap type of sausage. Andrei has taken in Nikolai, given him a few odd jobs, and offered him a temporary refuge on his sofa - but only until Volodya returns from visiting his family. And Nikolai feels this slight keenly, enhanced by his conviction that Andrei's beautiful niece Valya is intended for his rival. Then there's Andrei's crazy brother Ivan who has supposedly invented a complicated machine called Ophelia that will destroy his brother's financial empire.

This is post-revolutionary Russia where the citizens are not only trying to adapt to a new political reality, but also to the cold culture of modernity where mechanics overrides human emotions. As Ivan rants to Nikolai:

The millennia are like a cesspool. Floundering in the cesspool are machines, pieces of iron, tinplate, screws, springs. . . A dark and gloomy cesspool. And glowing in the cesspool are rotten stumps, phosphorescent mushrooms - fungi. These are our emotions! This is all that's left of our emotions, from the flourishing of our souls. The new man comes up to the cesspool, tests it, climbs in, picks out what he needs - a piece of machinery will come in handy, a nice wrench - and tramples the rotten stump underfoot, crushes it.

The emotions - the most prevalent of these being envy - are expressed in a series of mostly hallucinatory dreamlike episodes and the slightly surreal stories that Ivan relates to Nikolai while drinking. On occasion the fanatasical language also infiltrates and poetically elevates some of the more pedestrian activities:

It was early morning. The street was jointed. I moved from joint to joint like a bad case of rheumatism. Things don't like me. I'm hurting the street.

There's not a lot of plot to this short, often comic novel - it could almost be summed up as one man's search for a decent bed for the night - but I enjoyed reading it as another interesting European perspective to set alongside - for example - German expressionism, in attempting to describe or predict the future effects of technology and machines, so prevalent in many artistic endeavours during the 1920s and 30s, and the inspiration for many of the science fiction novels that followed.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Listening to Ray Bradbury. . .

Last week I spent four hours on the train in conversation with Ray Bradbury.

Well, not exactly. But it felt that way after reading - cover to cover - this fabulous new collection of interviews conducted by his biographer Sam Weller over the last decade. Bradbury will turn 90 this August and Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, just published by Melville House is a worthy tribute.

I should mention that I'm not one of Bradbury's avid fans (although I may well become one now). Like many of us, I'd read Fahrenheit 451 in high school but only a handful of short stories since. But - like Bradbury - I am a film buff and my initial motivation for reading these interviews was, quite frankly, to indulge in some old Hollywood gossip and find out what he thought of Francois Truffault's movie version of Fahrenheit 451, which despite being often panned by diehard Bradbury fans, I think is quite an interesting film. (Bradbury by the way likes the film, with reservations - we both agree it has a terrific score by Bernard Herrmann).

I got plenty of the film anecdotes I was looking for, (Bradbury wrote the screenplay for John Huston's Moby Dick and has some good stories about working with the fabled director) but so much more. Bradbury is just a great storyteller, even in an interview, and his incredible energy, bluntness, encyclopedic memory, and love for life and writing is completely infectious. From his childhood meeting with a carnival performer called Mr. Electrico who sees in the twelve year old Ray the spirit of his best friend who died in WWI, to riding the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland with Charles Laughton who was doing Captain Bligh imitations, to his current views on education, public transportation, architecture and the Internet and e-books (all of which I was nodding in agreement), Bradbury's voice entertained, made me laugh and above all inspired. (Pair this book with the recent Everyman edition of The Stories of Ray Bradbury and you have the ideal graduation gift). Here is he is on being an optimist:
Well, if you're not going to be an optimist, you better not go on living. I mean, if you start every day saying, "I'm gonna lose," what kind of a day is that? . . . But I don't believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behaviour. That's a different thing. If you behave every day of your life to the top of your genetics, what can you do? Test it. Find out. You don't know what you can do. You haven't done it yet. So that's optimal behaviour. And when you behave that way you have a feeling of optimism. There's a difference. Not to be optimistic, but to behave optimally. At the top of your lungs, shout and listen to the echoes. You must live life at the top of your voice!
And one of his tips for would-be writers:
I tell people, "Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them." When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.
I could quote on and on as my dog-eared copy will attest. If you are one of his avid fans, Bradbury divulges the inspiration behind many of his stories and novels. You'll also discover which movie he believes to be the best science fiction film of all time, who he would have picked over Gregory Peck to play Captain Ahab, and why he thinks Edgar Rice Burroughs is the most influential writer in the entire history of the world. The book is also beautifully designed with photographs of Bradbury's various collections of books, toys and other cultural memorabilia scattered throughout. Like its subject - this book is a treasure.
Sam Weller is currently on tour with the book - along with Bradbury himself! You can read about it on Weller's blog here. Look for some upcoming posts by Bradbury too.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer Reading Piles. . .

Summer's here and with the G20 in town, I'll be holing up in my apartment this weekend with a stack of reading and a bag of marshmallows, trying to pretend I'm actually at a cottage up north. But for book reps, this is that small wedge of time (fall 2010 selling's done and I have a few weeks until I have to think seriously about Spring 2011) when one can indulge in catch-up pleasure reading and also tackle that covetous category - other publishers books! (not that I don't do that regularly, but I feel less guilty in the summer). If you're heading on vacation and looking for recommendations for your own pile, I've posted my summer Dewey picks of nine great reads over on the sidebar, or you can read them here. To this list, I'd also enthusiastically add Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews by Sam Weller, which I'll be blogging about in more detail next week when the book releases. Added to that, here are 10 books that are calling out to me from my own pile of to-be-read pleasures - my M20 if you will.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. I've been reading stellar reviews of this but this one convinced me to add it to the pile.

Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker. I heard about this one from Rosalyn and it sounds absolutely wonderful. Two policemen try to solve a crime in a small English village by reading all the letters stolen from a postbox.

Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner. A few years ago I read Claire Bloom's memoir Leaving a Doll's House - the bits detailing her affair with Burton were far more interesting to me than her subsequent relationship with Philip Roth. I can only imagine what this book digs up! The perfect beach read (well, I'm not going to the beach, but I can stick an umbrella into a glass of orange juice and have that near to hand).

The Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh. Beach is perhaps the most famous bookseller of all, the founder of Shakespeare & Company and responsible for publishing Joyce's Ulysses. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in a time when independent bookstores and a vibrant reading culture were so much more revered than now.

Speaking of books, I love novels set in the book industry - the more satirical the better - and so I have these three on the pile:

Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz
Bestseller by Alessandro Gallenzi
Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer (this also promises "thug librarians")

My summers are always filled with lots of theatre from the Shaw Festival to the Fringe, so I'm eager to read Nightwood Theatre: A Woman's Work is Always Done by Shelley Scott (no relation, but we did once work together in a bookstore). I've seen some terrific productions by this theater company where many Canadian women playwrights and actors first started (including Ann-Marie Macdonald). I'm sure this history will be a fascinating read.

I have a bit of a train fetish and Object Press, a tiny publisher based in Toronto has recently published In the Train by French writer Christian Oster, translated by Adriana Hunter. It promises to be a humourous love story.

And finally, I always try to tackle one big classic over the summer. This year it's Dostoevsky's The Idiot to complement the Akira Kurosawa retrospective that is currently on at Cinematheque (the Japanese film adaptation was quite stunning, if a bit strange).

Hope all of you have piles just as wonderful and enticing. Happy reading!

NYRB Challenge #33: Short Stories to Make You Glad You're Single. . .

Having now read a number of NYRB Classics for this challenge, I can attest that while the range of books is quite extensive, the editors do tend to disproportionately favour books that are either set in New York, feature unhappy characters dissatisfied with their lives, or are written by someone once married to the poet Robert Lowell. The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick is a perfect example of all three.

I've read and can recommend Hardwick's two previous books, the novel Sleepness Nights and Seduction and Betrayal, her collection of essays on women's literature. This collection contains thirteen stories written from 1946 to 1993 and they follow the lives of characters who are personally or professionally adrift, but any attempt to make a change, or embrace a new relationship inevitably ends in failure. Two of my favourites are "Evening at Home" which wonderfully details the complicated ambivalence towards place and the past as a woman returns from New York to visit her family in Kentucky, and "The Final Conflict" which charts an uneasy relationship between a bored employee at an antiques shop and one of his customers. And indeed, if there is a common theme running through these tales it's the unfulfilled nature of mediocre relationships. One character in "Yes and No" looks back nostalgically at a previous boyfriedn and muses on "the pleasure we have all received from someone we imagined 'not quite good enough' for us". However the bulk of these stories do not bear this out. Characters flit in and out of affairs with partners that they really don't like or respect, through boredom or apathy and then feel trapped and cheated. Here is how one woman describes her husband of ten years:

Arthur was an awkward piece of furniture, which could be neither overlooked nor easily renovated, although Clara had often tried the latter . . .Sometimes Clara would gaze at her husband with appalling supplication, dreaming that they might collaborate on a brilliant work of some kind or that she might discover an "ideal" by which Arthur would be made fascinating and distinguished. But nothing could be done with him; he went right on whisking out his colored handkerchiefs and telling pointless anecdotes in a voice of hilarity.

The marriage does not last but it is Arthur who - perhaps not unexpectedly - is the one to leave, precipitating Clara into another unsatisfactory affair through jealousy, insecurity and humiliation. Perhaps the most happy relationship occurs in "The Bookseller" and it's the one between the bookseller and his books.

So these stories aren't exactly uplifting, but they have an honesty - both gentle and cutting - that was very appealing. I would recommend this collection for fans of Mavis Gallant or Mary McCarthy.

(As an aside, I was amused that one character reading in bed, is immersed in Victor Serge's The Conquered City. NYRB will be reissuing this novel in November. I'll certainly be reading it because I loved Serge's novel Unforgiving Years about Communist spies during WWII.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trillium Book Awards Announced. . .

Ian Brown's The Boy in the Moon, his moving memoir of raising his disabled son has just won the 2010 Trillium Book Award, awarded to the best book written by an Ontario writer. Karen Solie wins the Trillium Poetry prize for her collection Pigeon, adding it to her Griffin Prize earlier this month. More info about the award and its winners is located here.

Are You Going to ALA This Weekend?

I had the pleasure of meeting my counterparts in the library and academic departments at HarperCollins U.S while I was in New York earlier this week. They were kind enough to meet with me just days before ALA, which I truly appreciate knowing how crazy things can get leading up to a big conference!

So if you are heading down to Washington for the ALA Annual Conference this weekend, please do take the time to visit their booths at the exhibit hall and say hello from Canada.

HarperCollins Children's Books is located at Booth #2512. In addition to free galleys, book giveaways, and promotional materials, you'll have the opportunity to meet some of HarperCollins biggest and rising children's book stars. They'll have almost 30 authors signing in the booth over the course of the show, including Avi, Mo Willems, Jon Scieszka, Doreen Cronin, and Lincoln Peirce, the author of one of my favourite books from my Spring 2010 Dewey Diva list, Big Nate. For the full list of authors that will be at the kids booth, click here.

HarperCollins Adult Books is located at Booth #2513. They too have full schedule of author signings at their booth, including Dennis Lehane & Adriana Trigiani. Visit the booth to see the complete schedule!

If you are looking for information about what is new and hot on the HarperCollins U.S. Fall 2010 list (and can't wait for the next Dewey Diva show), the HarperCollins Library Marketing Team are doing two Title Preview sessions on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Convention Center in Room 147A. Light refreshments will be served (and I've heard that galleys are plentiful at these events).

Adult Titles are presented at 10:00- 11:15AM
Children's Titles are presented at 11:30- 12:30 PM

Won't be attending ALA this time around? The children's department has just started a new blog called The Page Turn. They'll be blogging and Twittering from the show, so you can follow all of the fun! The adult marketing team has a blog called Library Love Fest where you can catch up with ALA news and more.

To Kill A Mockingbird 50th Anniversary

I wanted to chime in about the upcoming celebrations for the 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird.

In addition to the event at the Toronto Reference July 8th that Maylin mentioned in her post yesterday, HarperCollins Canada and the Toronto Entertainment District, in partnership with TIFF, are presenting a free outdoor screening of the Oscar-winning film.
It will be held at Metro Square (King St West between Simcoe St & John St) on Wednesday July 7th at 9:00 p.m. Click here for more information!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Events at Toronto Public Library. . .

I love the new event space at the Toronto Reference Library and they have some great events coming up in July when the city gets back to normal after the G20. On July 8th they'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, with film director Clement Virgo and singer-songwriter Dan Hill; on July 14th, one of my favourite authors - David Mitchell - comes to town to talk about his fantastic new novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and July 29th will see Carl Hiassen being interviewed by Linwood Barclay about his latest satirical romp, Star Island. Full details here.

2010 Miles Franklin Award Winner. . .

Australia's Miles Franklin Award is an annual literary award very similar to Canada's Giller (and if you've never read Franklin's own novel My Brilliant Career or seen the movie adaptation with Judy Davis, you should rectify that immediately!) and this year, the award went unexpectedly to a crime novel - Peter Temple's Truth. Read more about the award here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

E-Reader Chic. . .

Okay - this is too cool. I know one of the main drawbacks to reading on e-readers (at least for me) is the inability to easily make notes on the text. Well along comes Moleskine with this very beautiful case for the Kindle that allows for refillable notebooks tucked on the left. And don't you love the elastic band mimicking their popular cahiers? Hmmm - I wonder if they'll make them for Sony Readers. Read more on the Moleskine blog here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Betrayed : The Legend of Oak Island

Christopher Dinsdale has just won the 2010 Writers Award which comes from the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. CM Magazine said of this book it is "the Davinci Code for adolescents. The novel is skillfully written...with scenes of action and advebture. Christopher Dinsdale may become the Dan Brown for the pre-teen set".

This is the second time he has won this award which is quite an honour!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2010 Impac Dublin Literary Award Announced. . .

Hooray! The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, translated by David Colmer, has just won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, one of the richest book awards in the world (Bakker wins €100,000 and Colmer also garners €25,000 for his translation). I haven't yet read this, but it's been recommended to me by so many people who really loved it. And of course I have ultimate faith in the librarians who nominated this for the longlist in the first place. Hopefully this win will put Bakker on the literary world map (among those who don't already avidly read and love international fiction where he is well known), in much the same way the IMPAC prize helped Per Petterson's profile when he won for Out Stealing Horses.

Measle and the Wrathmonk

The Train Set of Terror chronicles the adventures of Measle Stubbs. He’s an orphan who has a mean and nasty guardian, Basil Tramplebone, who happens to be a wrathmonk (an evil wizard). Measle hasn’t had a bath in years, cuts his hair with an old kitchen knife, and he’s always very hungry. Poor Measle is also very lonely living in the big, old creepy house which Basil owns, and his only pleasure is going up to the attic to look at Basil’s elaborate train set, which he’s not allowed to touch.
One day when Basil is out, Measle turns on the power and plays with the trains. When Basil finds out, he’s so infuriated that he casts a spell on Measle and shrinks him to the size of one of the small figures on the train set. Now that Measle is only a couple of inches tall, he sees that the other figures aren’t really plastic, they’re actually other people who have also made Basil angry – a noisy neighbour, a travelling encyclopedia salesman, a girl scout selling cookies and others. By accident Basil Tramplebone also changes himself into a cockroach and he chases the little people all over the train tracks. There’s also a bat that lives in the attic rafters who causes quite a bit of mayhem. After many scary, but exciting, adventures, Measle and the others finally escape the train set and become life size again. Along the way Measle proves to himself that he’s actually very smart and courageous he finds out that he’s not an orphan after all. I loved the off-kilter, and at times dark, British humour and the funny black and white illustrations that accompany the story. This book is the first in the Measle Stubbs’ series and book two, The Funfair of Fear is also available now. These books are great for kids eight years old and up, and will appeal to fans of Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl.

"Stink is what Ogilvy does best.
This is a book that smells superbly foul"
Michael Rose, The Guardian

Some Fall Movies to Look Forward To. . .

I'm already getting excited about the fall movie versions of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version. Both the trailers look great and each film has a fantastic cast. The trailer for Never Let Me Go, starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, Sally Hawkins and Charlotte Rampling looks incredibly chilling. Check it out here. Barney's Version stars Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike and Minnie Driver and promises to be quite hilarious. You can watch the trailer here. Hopefully both films will be coming to the Toronto Film Festival.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One Day. One Perfect Summer Read. . .

Today one of my favourite reads for summer goes on sale - David Nicholls' One Day. I wish I could accurately convey the complete charm of this story which dissects the lives of Emma and Dexter and how their relationship changes over twenty years. The story progresses more or less chronologically, with each chapter providing an illuminating snapshot of every succeeding July 15th. The two first meet in the form of a rather drunken encounter after graduation, and over the years they stay in touch as friends, even though Emma has more romantic - and lustful - hopes. As the years pass, we watch their careers and love lives fluctuate, and are privy to all the frustrations, jealousies and hurts that accompany any long term relationship. And only towards the end will we discover why July 15th is such an important date in their dual histories. One Day is one of those reads you just let yourself tumble into; it's romantic, funny, emotional (you'll need the occasional tissue), and sprinkled throughout are wonderful film and music references that will resonate with anyone who spent their formative years in the 1980s and 1990s. Nick Hornby or Jonathan Coe fans - this is definitely a book for you! Teenagers would love it.

I've been a fan of David Nicholls ever since becoming hooked on a wonderful television series called Cold Feet that he wrote for. It was a British "Thirtysomething" but much wittier, and there was such a warmth and humanity about the characters, especially when they screwed up, that you couldn't help falling in love with them while laughing at their follies. This same warmth is spread throughout this novel. If you enjoy the British humour of Richard Curtis movies like Four Weddings and A Funeral, or if you're a fan of last year's couple flick 500 Days of Summer, you'll really enjoy this novel.

A film is already in the works scheduled to release next year. Anne Hathaway is starring and while I can't really see her as Emma, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief if they keep the setting of the film in England and don't Americanize it, as so much of the self-deprecating humour really relies on a British sensibility. Jim Sturgess however is perfect as Dexter. The director is Lone Scherfig which bodes well - she directed An Education, one of my favorite movies from last year. To get a flavour of the book, you can watch various chapter trailers on the book's website here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Thought Bubble

I have always been a big fan of Amy Krouse Rosenthal...her series of kid's picture books ( Little Pea, Little Hoot, and Little Oink) and of course Duck! Rabbit! (check out the clip on You Tube) are total faves in our household.
Recently she gave a Ted Talk at Waterloo entitled 7 Notes on Life which is a lovely piece that uses the 7 notes in music as a jumping off point to discuss her philosophy.
I was most impressed by her Thought Bubble she produced with the Smart Bubble Society. It is a very sweet piece that talks all about KINDNESS. Make sure you watch to the end...tears sprang to my eyes.

NYRB Challenge #32 - When Art Becomes An Obsession. . .

The Unknown Masterpiece by Balzac is probably one of his most famous short stories (although I hadn't previously read it). It's paired here in this NYRB edition with "Gambara" and both are translated by Richard Howard. In the first story, two painters become obsessed with seeing the work of a third - the unfinished painting of a beautiful woman supposedly so lifelike that the work of art outshines the model. But Frenhofer, the master artist in love with his creation - quite literally - refuses to show his masterpiece to anyone until enticed by an offer from one of the other painters to lend him his beautiful mistress as a nude model. What the two painters eventually see on the canvas is perhaps as shocking (but different) as the revelation in Wilde's Portrait of Dorian Gray.

"Gambara" also deals with artistic obsession, but in this case the art form is music. A wealthy Italian noble encounters a beautiful woman on a Parisian street and tries to integrate himself into her life. He becomes intrigued by her impoverished husband Gambara, who is convinced he has written a magnificent opera on the life of Mohammed. Throw in a mad cook - also devoted to his art - and this is a rich and troubled stew of passions and complexes.

In these two short works Balzac's character portraits explore in multi-layers, not only the artistic temperament, but also how the life and personality of the artist can be just as emotionally and aesthetically admired as the art that is created. He also examines notions of beauty and the inevitable connections between art and love. The informative introduction by Arthur C. Danto puts "The Unknown Masterpiece" into historical and artistic context. I'm now keen to see the movie adaption, La Belle Noiseuse, by the acclaimed French director Jacques Rivette.

Surprise Upset at the Orange Prize. . .

I didn't think any book would beat Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, but Barbara Kingsolver has done it - The Lacuna takes the prize. The Guardian reports here.

World Cup, World Lit, and a Giveaway. . .

The flags are jauntily flying on the cars, and the bars and patios are getting ready! I love living in Toronto when the World Cup is on - no matter who wins or loses, there's always a street party made up of fans of all teams. And as this great sporting event gets set to captivate the world, there's no better time to engage in some world literature for your summer reading. I spent last night with the latest issue of The London Review of Books (my slow reading magazine of choice - I can spend hours with certain issues, reading it cover to cover including the publishing ads and of course the witty and literary personals at the back), and the publication is sponsoring a World Literature Weekend on June 18-19th. I wish I could be there to attend some of the great events, but their website has also posted a number of articles, profiles and reviews about the authors attending - a great resource to get some good international reading suggestions. You can access it here.

Meanwhile, I'm halfway through a terrific new Spanish novel, Learning to Lose by David Trueba, translated by Mara Faye Lethem. It's set in modern day Madrid and follows four intersecting main characters as each deals with losing different aspects of their lives, both the tangible - a job, a family member, a soccer game, virginity - and the deeper, personal loss of fragments of self-identity. A grandfather becomes addicted to a young prostitute while his wife recovers from a broken hip, despite his shame and the impact on his dwindling savings that the visits entail. His son Lorenzo is losing his grip on everyday life, filled with guilt and fear after murdering his former business partner. His daughter Sylvia, a young teenager who has "the desire to desire" is searching for the perfect man to fall in love with. And it just might be Ariel, the Argentinian soccer player who has joined one of Madrid's professional teams but is having trouble adapting to the bigger league and dealing with the very vocal Spanish fans. The writing and pacing is completely drawing me in and it's a very sexy read - perfect for the summer and to read alongside the World Cup, as you get an insider's peek into the world of elite soccer teams.
I have a couple of galleys of this novel to send to any Canadian reader of this blog. Just send me an e-mail at with your address, and tell me which team you are rooting for in the World Cup. I'll put all entries in a hat and draw out a winner. The contest is open until noon on Friday, June 18th.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Promoting Humanity Through Art. . .

Rosalyn and I have just returned from working the bookfair at the Congress for Social Sciences and Humanities - Canada's largest annual academic conference. This year it was held at Concordia University in wonderful Montreal (and trust me, if you have to spend 9 days in a row at a conference, Montreal is THE city to do it in!). While the show can be fairly exhausting at times, I have always found Congress quite exhilarating, and intellectually stimulating; I have great conversations about books with professors, grad students and other publishers, and I was delighted to find many NYRB groupies among them. For that week the bookfair also becomes Canada's largest bookstore, showcasing not only academic books (many of which would appeal to a broad reading public) but many from the smaller literary presses as well. I love to visit the booths, browse through catalogues and yes, I can never resist picking up a few books for myself. I'll blog about some of my discoveries and upcoming books in a few days, but first a nod to the other thing I love about Congress - the talks by influential thinkers, writers and artists.

Reza is an Iranian photographer, now living in Paris, who has worked as a journalist for the last thirty years covering Afghanistan, Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. His talk which was part of a day devoted to Human Rights, was very inspiring. Not only did he relate the stories behind his incredible photographs - all included in this stunning collection War + Peace - but talked about the importance of bringing humanity to areas of the world devasted by war or famine. As an example, he talked about a four month project in which he and some volunteers took photographs of 12,000 African children who were displaced orphans, in the hopes of connecting them with perhaps an uncle or a grandmother. The photos were exhibited in refugee camps and the project reunited 3,500 children with a member of their extended family. He's helped Afghani women start up their own radio station, and Afghani children their own magazine written by, and for, themselves. He talked about the importance of bringing education into the home and said that he judges a country's level of civilization by the percentage of their gross national product that governments spend on education. The book has an introduction by his friend Sebastian Junger and it would make a perfect visual companion to Junger's recently published War.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Librarians do Gaga

This is spectacular! Janet sent this to me...please share! Finally a Lady Gaga video I don't mind my daughter watching. It was created to get everyone in the spirit of the NYC Libraries hosting a read in to help restoration of funding to their local library systems.