book-related events

i-cant-keep-calm-its-my-birthday-bitches-66Back forty: n. wild or rough terrain adjacent to a developed area.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this morning—I only know that it far exceeded what I could have imagined. My husband of 11 years woke me up with the best birthday card I’ve ever received. I was ugly crying before I even got out of bed. Then he led me around the house while I found and opened 50 gifts. Forty of them were wee baggies of candy with slips of paper describing beautiful, touching reasons he loves me. I was, still am, overwhelmed by them. It’s really amazing to see yourself the way someone who loves you see you. The rest of the gifts were treats to spoil me with. There was lots more ugly crying in my pjs and tons of bear hugs and so much freaking happiness!

I put 40 years of life behind me today. This was never going to be a big deal—until a couple of months ago when suddenly it was. Before that, I laughed about it. It sounded ridiculous. After all, I still thought I was going to be in my thirties forever, invincible, even.  I look younger than forty, I think younger, I act younger, I feel younger. But as the days passed, I suddenly found myself saying “forty” with emphasis, like this: FORTY. It sounds fat and old and ominous. Rationally, I know it’s not. But now I feel left behind by time. As though it’s passing without letting me do and be and have the things I want now. It’s leaving me in the dust. I don’t want to turn 50 and never have been on a tropical vacation! I wanted things to be different by now! But there’s no point in denying it: you can’t think that the day before. It’s happening whether I’m ready or not.

Over the past few months I’ve found myself questioning everything, unable to make decisions because what I once knew and liked and saw and did no longer hold the same certainty of interest. Whereas I simply went for the things I always went for, because they were me, now I’m not so sure about what I like and want to do and where I want to be. I’m not so sure of who I am. Plus I’m…softer. Just a little. Okay, ten pounds. Anyway, I’m in the process of some major shift (with any luck it will be more than just a gravitational pull of skin). I’m changing. I FEEL IT. I’m in the back forty, that wild or rough terrain adjacent to a developed area (the fifties, seventies, nineties?). This isn’t the time I’ve got everything figured out, even after thirty years. Hang on, Self, you’re in for a bumpy ride (that will likely, hopefully? never end!).

Today, though, instead of grabbing the sick bag, I’ve decided to raise my arms in the air and yell “Yeehaw!” That might be the Jack Daniel’s talking already, but it’s also reflective of the choice I want to make. For this new time to be fun. For the bumps to be so ridiculous I’m airborne and laughing. Hello, 40, and welcome! Let’s be fabulous. Let’s write better stories than we did in our thirties—and publish. Let’s go on that tropical vacation we’ve never had. Let’s help others write better stories. Let’s read more fantastic books out of which we’ll get more because we’re older and wiser and more empathetic. Let’s just do everything, only better, because now we can. Let’s celebrate!

That’s a pretty good segue into what I want to do next. One of my favourite things to do on my birthday is give. It makes me feel good, of course, and I love the anticipation and seeing others happy. I bought my sister and my husband a gift for today. They don’t know it yet (unless they’re reading this post or I’ve given it to them already). Admittedly, neither gift was a book, but that’s only because today I didn’t want to be predictable—to them.

To you, I’m going to be somewhat predictable. First I’m going to list forty books on my shelves that I really love. They’re not all of my absolute favourites, of which I have an insane number, and they’re in no particular order. They’re just forty books I very much enjoyed for various reasons.

Second, one of you will receive a SIGNED (to you!) copy of Sarah Selecky’s superb collection This Cake is for the Party! (Finalist for the 2010 Giller, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Fiction, longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, CBC Bookie Award for Best New Writer, and Globe 100 Best Canadian Fiction). No, it’s not a new book, but it’s a great book. The writing is crystal clean, strong, evocative, and memorable. This book did so much for me, I can’t even tell you, not least of which was to introduce me to Sarah, a wonderful, beautiful, talented woman who has inspired me, hired me, and made me a better person. I’m celebrating with her cake.

To win: comment and tell me your best birthday ever. I’ll pick one of you and let you know you won. And then I’ll send you the book. (If you’d like to comment without entering the contest, you can! Simply let me know you don’t want to enter.)

Thank you all for reading and supporting and encouraging and sharing the book love!

~40-year-old Steph

 Forty Books I Recommend

  1. The Carnivore, by Mark Sinnet (ECW Press)
  2. The End of the Alphabet, by C.S. Richardson (Anchor Canada)
  3. Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (Thomas Allen)
  4. The Bear, by Claire Cameron (Doubleday Canada)
  5. A Blessed Snarl, by Samual Thomas Martin (Breakwater Books)
  6. Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine (Europa Editions)
  7. Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh (Simon and Schuster)
  8. Ablutions, by Patrick deWitt (Anansi Press)
  9. Sandra Beck, by John Lavery (Anansi Press)
  10. Dead Politician’s Society, by Robin Spano (ECW Press)
  11. The House on Sugarbush Lane, by Méira Cook (Enfield and Wizenty)
  12. On Sal Mal Lane, by Ru Freeman (Anansi International)
  13. The Kept, by James Scott (HarperCollins)
  14. The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Riverhead Books)
  15. The Outlaw Album, by Daniel Woodrell (short stories) (Little, Brown)
  16. A Land More Kind than Home, by Wiley Cash (William Morrow)
  17. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce (Anchor Canada)
  18. The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly (Simon & Schuster)
  19. The Beggar’s Garden, by Michael Christie (short stories) (HarperCollins)
  20. Sleeping Funny, by Miranda Hill (short stories) (Anchor Canada)
  21. Mad Hope, by Heather Birrell (short stories) (Coach House)
  22. Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility, by Théodora Armstrong (short stories) (Anansi)
  23. Radio Belly, by Buffy Cram (short stories) (Douglas & McIntyre)
  24. Bird Eat Bird, by Katrina Best (short stories) (Insomniac Press)
  25. The Divinity Gene, by Matthew Trafford (short stories) (Douglas & McIntyre)
  26. A Matter of Life and Death or Something, by Ben Stephenson (Douglas & McIntyre)
  27. And Also Sharks, by Jessica Westhead (short stories) (Cormorant)
  28. All We Want is Everything, by Andrew F. Sullivan (short stories) (Arbeiter Ring Pub)
  29. The Miracles of Ordinary Men, by Amanda Leduc (ECW Press)
  30. Once You Break a Knuckle, by D.W. Wilson (short stories) (Penguin Canada)
  31. Bull Head, by John Vigna (short stories) (Arsenal Pulp Press)
  32. Pilgrims, by Elizabeth Gilbert (short stories) (Penguin)
  33. I Want to Show You More, by Jamie Quatro (short stories) (Grove Press)
  34. Tenth of December, by George Saunders (short stories) (Random House)
  35. We Live in Water, by Jess Walter (short stories) (Harper Perennial)
  36. How to Get Along with Women, by Elisabeth de Mariaffi (short stories) (Invisible Pub)
  37. Welding with Children, by Tim Gautreaux (short stories) (Picador)
  38. The Help, by Kathleen Stockett (Berkley Trade)
  39. Bobcat, by Rebecca Lee (short stories) (Hamish Hamilton)
  40. The Odious Child, by Carolyn Black (short stories) (Nightwood Press)

Shit! Am I at forty already?? (SEE WHAT I MEAN?)

There are so many I missed. There may be some overlap but you can check my reviews page, and also always feel free to ask me for recommendations. I have SO MANY to recommend beyond these forty here.

Thank you again, everyone, for reading! I look forward to your b-day stories!


book-related events

This is a Writers’ Trust press release

Finalists Announced for RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers

Toronto – April 18, 2013 – The Writers’ Trust of Canada is delighted to announce finalists for a literary award that plays an instrumental role in discovering and promoting the next stars of Canadian literature.

The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers rewards writers under age 35 who are unpublished in book form. Alternating each year between poetry and short fiction, the award will be given this year to the author of an exceptional work of poetry. The $5,000 award is supported by the RBC Emerging Artists Project, which invests in up-and-coming artists to help build their professional careers. Two finalists will each receive $1,000.

A jury comprised of the poets Mary Dalton, Phil Hall, and Susan Holbrook read 135 blind submissions and selected three finalists:

Laura Clarke for “Mule Variations”

Laura Clarke is a Toronto-based writer and a graduate of the MA program in creative writing at the University of Toronto. She has published work in The Antigonish Review, Grain, PRISM international,Qwerty, and Freefall. The jury said of her work: “Something both hip and ancient is given full rein: hard limits slurping in the sun, Aristotle and police reports, electric fences and pick-up lines, subway riders with donkey heads. A washed-out sardonic tone delivers a sure push that is humane and celebratory.”

Laura Matwichuk for “Here Comes the Future”

Laura Matwichuk holds an MA in art history from the University of British Columbia and is a recent graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She lives in Vancouver and will be a writer-in-residence at the Banff Centre later this spring. Her poems have appeared in Contemporary Verse 2 and Emerge. The jury citation said of her work: “Matwichuk hangs poetry from the syntactical hooks of the sentence, offering us prose poems that are flexible, slightly surreal, both expansive and focused.”

Suzannah Showler for “The Reason and Other Poems”

Suzannah Showler holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has appeared in many places, including The WalrusHazlittThe Puritan, and Joyland, and she won the 2012 Matrix LitPOP Award for Poetry. She is the poetry editor for Dragnet Magazine and curator of the website Art of Losing ( She lives in Toronto and is working on her first collection of poems. The jury said of her work: “These poems distinguish themselves by the quality of their poetic intelligence. They are astute, linguistically and syntactically adept, and full of sonic energy.”

The winner will be announced on May 28, 2013, at an event hosted by acclaimed poet and past Bronwen Wallace Award winner Jeramy Dodds. The event will be held in Toronto at the Leslie and Anna Dan Galleria at the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, located at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The nominated work of each finalist is available for free to download exclusively on Apple’s iBookstore starting today at

“At RBC, we believe in the power of creative writing to enrich our lives,” said Shari Austin, Vice-President, Corporate Citizenship, RBC and Executive Director, RBC Foundation. “That is why we are proud to support the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, because it helps promising young writers to build their professional careers and fosters the next generation of great Canadian writers.”

“The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award has a stellar track-record of launching literary careers,” said Mary Osborne, Writers’ Trust executive director. “A nomination for this award signifies exceptional potential and gives young writers a boost at a crucial point in their development as artists.”

About Bronwen Wallace

Bronwen Wallace was a poet, short story writer, and mentor to many young writers as a creative writing instructor at Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College in Kingston. This prize was established in her honour in 1994 by a group of friends and colleagues. Wallace felt that writers should receive greater recognition early in their careers and so this annual award is given to a writer below the age of 35 who has published poetry or prose in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies, but has not yet been published in book form.

About the Award

Over 19 years, this award has distinguished 66 young writers with a nomination and many have gone on to receive literary acclaim. Several past honorees have new books out this spring, including Michael Crummey, Shashi Bhat, Natalee Caple, Dina Del Bucchia, and Tanis Rideout.

About the RBC Emerging Artists Project

In 2012, RBC invested $6.2 million in programs that support Arts and Culture in Canada and around the world.The RBC Emerging Artists Project consists of support through sponsorships and donations to organizations whose programs bridge the gap from academic excellence to professional careers in all forms of art.

About the Writers’ Trust of Canada

The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs, including literary awards, financial grants, scholarships, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country.


You can view the 2013 finalists on the Writers’ Trust site.

You can read Bronwen Wallace’s writing, too, but she does seem hard to find, except for the short stories. Try


  • Marrying into the Family – 1980
  • Signs of the former Tenant – 1983 (winner of the Pat Lowther Award)
  • Common Magic – 1985
  • The Stubborn Particulars of Grace – 1987
  • Keep That Candle Burning Bright and Other Poems – 1991

Short stories


  • Arguments with the World – 1992


  • Two Women Talking: Correspondence 1985-1987 – 1994 (with Erin Mouré)
book-related events

As much as the magazines and websites and professionals stress that you must eat breakfast every morning, I just can’t. I’m not ready, I don’t want it. It takes me a while to ease into my day. But everyone argues that you must have nourishment to start your day properly, to jumpstart your metabolism, blahblahblah. Sorry. No can do.

More than ever I’ve been listening to my intuition—literally, here, my gut. It tells me the best time for me to eat is between 10:30 and 11:30, and sometimes even later. I eat when I’m hungry. I used to eat every couple of hours, but that was because I was so restless. Now I’m finding calm and not needing to eat so much.

But I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on nourishment to start my day properly. And if I can’t jumpstart my metabolism, how about jumpstarting my creativity?

A few months ago, I decided to see how many short story collections I had, so I pulled them out from wherever they were, got a bookcase from Greenley’s, and shelved them all together. Not only was this very exciting for me, seeing them all, but it also elicited a kind of Pavlov’s dog response. All that potential in one place. The culmination of a deep and abiding passion for short stories.

But I was also overwhelmed. Lately, the shorter the book, the better, and I’ve been reading more short stories than anything else. But how was I going to read them all with so little time? How would I overcome that feeling of wanting to read them all at once?

Out of this question and the whole breakfast issue, Short Stories for Breakfast was born. In the morning, no less.

On the menu this week
On the menu this week

The first thing I do when I wake up now is pick a book of stories, bring it down into the kitchen, put on the stovetop kettle for lemon water, and then enjoy a short story for breakfast. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t survive without food for breakfast. I’m thriving.

Yesterday morning, I read the excellent and also gut-punching titular story from Jess Walter’s We Live in Water. It’s not the first story I’ve read from the book, and I’ve skimmed through some of the other pages, and I can tell you, this is very good writing. No surprise there. But this is my favourite so far of his books. I love his style, the topics, the theme of “personal struggle and diminished dreams,” the roughness of it all. Walter’s been called one of the greatest young American writers today. I will not disagree. We Live in Water is from HarperCollins, where he couldn’t have a better team of supporters.

This morning, I read two stories because they were somewhat short, called “Flies” and “The Table,” from Paolo da Costa’s The Green and Purple Skin of the World. Da Costa lives on the west coast and has won several literary awards. He was born in Angola and raised in Portugal, and this cultural background enriches his stories. He’s a writer, editor, and translator. This collection is from Freehand Books, also this year, and, well, I can’t help it, but I recommend this one, too. It’s not your usual breakfast, which is partly why I like it so much.

You guys, I feel so great and excited about this new idea. I love starting out the morning this way. I’m getting to read a bunch of authors at once. I’m incorporating variety, which, as they say, is the spice of life.

This is my new reader’s diet. I imagine that not only will my creativity get stronger (had an idea for a NEW short story on my  walk today!), but also my reading muscles will tone, and my writing will become nice and lean.

Stay tuned for literary tweets and Facebook statuses sharing what I had for breakfast every morning. Isn’t that more exciting and appealing than telling you I had oatmeal with cinnamon and slices of banana and chia seeds and hemp hearts? Or granola and almond milk? Buckwheat pancakes with blueberries? I’ve always preferred breakfast foods at supper time anyway.

book-related events

Hey all,

Great things happened today. First, I received an extremely lovely email from a guy named Martin who lives in Switzerland. He wrote to tell me he enjoyed this blog and the reviews and loved the recommendations, and was sad that my reviewing had been infrequent lately.

To be honest, I’ve actually wanted to blog here more than ever since that previous post in which I spilled some guts, but my impending deadlines are currently such that I can’t even take a moment to start a review, let alone finish one. However, things will be back on track soon, and I’ll be able to take off weekends. I have a bunch of books to recommend, and I’m genuinely excited to start frequently blogging again. I visit here once in a while just to look around and maybe tweak something, and I miss being in the saddle! And then Martin’s beautiful email really made me feel like taking care of business once more. Martin, if you’re reading: thank you for making my day.

I appreciate everyone’s patience and your loyalty most of all. There’s little more unnerving for a blogger than to feel that if she doesn’t post every day everyone will leave and she’ll be playing by herself. Sure, I say I write for me, but every blogger knows, deep down at least, that this is about the love of sharing (which I really insist on, much to some people’s dismay and others’ delight) and even some ego on the side, like a cherry on top, about sharing with some skill.

Struggling to finish a deadline today while obsessing over a house on MLS, I ate an entire McCain Ultra Thin Crust Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese pizza. And it occurred to me, on licking my fingers clean and feeling I should unbutton my jeans before something went awry, that I’m such an all or nothing person. Either I blog like ninety or I don’t blog at all. Either I swear off pizza or I eat an entire one. You get the idea.

What I need to figure out is how to do everything. I don’t want to read and thus stop reviewing. I want to do both. Plus write stories, plus get my work done. Seriously, it’s not impossible. I’ve been thinking about this in terms of Bella’s Bookshelves. How does one do it all?

The answer is that I stop saying yes to every bit of work that comes my way. Crazy, right? But sometimes, like lately, I take on too much. Sure I can do it—because I’m not doing anything else (occasionally I watch Supernatural, okay, but come on. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, people!). And in light of some ugh comments lately about bloggers being meh compared to newspaper reviewers and being only appealing to those who are on our side anyway (which may I say is the biggest load of shit I’ve heard in a long time), I’m determined to sort myself out and get tattoos on each wrist to remind me that I AM ENOUGH and I DO ENOUGH, and blog like a woman who has something to say. (Speaking of which, read Julie Wilson’s post. I like it. Even though I haven’t got any interest in reviewing for the Globe. Call me stupid, but it’s not for me.)

NOW. For big news! A long, long time ago, Bella’s Bookshelves was nominationed for the 2012 Canadian Weblog Awards. This is what Ninjamatics said about their announcement of the winners today:

Over the past year, the Ninjamatics’ 2012 Canadian Weblog Awards saw 467 weblogs nominated across 36 categories. Our 51 volunteer jurors worked hard over the course of this January using our ten criteria to judge each of the 467 weblogs in the first round and each of the approximately 180 weblogs in the second round to arrive at our winners. Our jurors have been an incredible group to work with, and I wish I could adequately express the level of my gratitude, because they are what really make these Awards possible as a tool to promote weblogs of quality across Canada.

winner-firstI’m very proud to announce that Bella’s Bookshelves took first place in the category of Best Weblog about Writing and Literature! Thank you mille fois to anyone who submitted the blog for nomination! I’m deeply honoured and even more determined and encouraged to keep this contribution to the literary world going strong.

Thank you so much, all, for reading here, for being enthusiastic about books, and for supporting book bloggers everywhere.

PS. Martin very kindly recommended a book to me today. Here it is:

So after all the inspiration and recommendations from you, this is my recommendation for you: by Nick Healy, It Takes You Over. A fine writer and good stories, from Americas Midwest, from Minnesota.

I’ve added it to my wish list and will procure it shortly.

Happy reading, book lovers! Stay sharp.

book-related events

If you guys are following the book world, you’ll know that Thomas Allen’s titles Whirl Away, by Russell Wangersky, Siege 13, by Tamas  Dobozy, and Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan are all noteworthy works of Canadian literature.

Whirl Away is currently short-listed for the Giller Prize. I gave it a great review because it absolutely deserves one. Superb short stories. I really look forward to reading The Glass Harmonica. Wangersky’s been nominated for or won a prize or two for every book he’s published. He’s in St. John’s, NFLD.

Siege 13 is currently nominated for the Rogers Writers’  Trust Fiction Award and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. One of the stories in the linked collection won the 2011 O. Henry Prize for Fiction. Dobozy lives in Kitchener, ON. I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve sampled some of the writing (it’s on my bedside table), and it’s very good.

Esi Edugyan is a BC writer and is by now a household name in every CanLit aficionado’s house. I read her novel twice. Half-Blood Blues, as you know by now, has been widely recognized as one of the most significant novels in Canadian literature. Here’s some proof:

Winner of the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Winner of the 2012 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize

Winner of the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

Shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize

Shortlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction

Shortlisted for the 2012 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

Finalist for the 2011 Governor General’s Award for Fiction

Finalist for the 2011 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Best Books of 2011: Top 100 Editors’ Picks

A Quill & Quire Best Book of the Year 2011

A Globe and Mail Best Book of 2011

One of the Vancouver Sun’s top ten books of 2011

A San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book

A Historical Novels Society Editor’s Choice for February 2012

One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2012

An Amazon “Best of the Month” Pick for March 2012

Globe & Mail Book Club Inaugural Selection

The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice

I should tell you that I read HBB before most if not all the above accolades happened, and I loved it more than any other book I read that year. Not surprised by the attention it received. Here is my review.

But maybe you don’t care about awards and media hype. Typically, that’s not how I choose what to read, either. So I’m telling you that regardless of what these books have each accomplished in the awards arena thus far, they are, in my opinion, great examples of excellent Canadian writing and storytelling. If you like CanLit, you should enter the contest I’m about to introduce.

Thomas Allen is letting me give away 1 copy of Whirl Away, 1 copy of Siege 13, AND 1 signed copy of Half-Blood Blues to 1 winner. To enter:

  1. Entrants must be Canadian residents.
  2. Follow Thomas Allen ( on Twitter or Facebook ( or both for news of their new books and achievements.
  3. Tweet to Thomas Allen or post on their Facebook page that you’ve entered this contest.
  4. Include the tweet or post in a comment below in which you also predict who you think is going to win this year’s Giller. First person to get it right gets all three books!

Contest closes October 29, the day before the Giller winner announcement. I’ll let the winner know of their good fortune on October 30th. 

Thanks for entering, and good luck!

book-related events

“This first installment of Twain’s autobiography brings us
closer to all of him than we have ever come before.”
-New York Review of Books

“So the Autobiography of Mark Twain, what with being The Dad
Book of the Year and all, is apparently flying off the shelves faster
than bookstores can stock it.”

When even a small indie such as the one where I worked sells multiple copies of a non-fiction hardcover that’s 700+ pages, you know you’ve got a winner. To reach even more people, though, UC Press has published Vol. 1 of the autobiography of the inimitable Mark Twain as a reader’s edition, thankfully much more accessible. What follows here is the promotional text from the publisher (University of California Press), of Mark Twain’s autobiography:

The year 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death. In celebration of this important milestone and in honor of the cherished tradition of publishing Mark Twain’s works, UC Press published Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, the first of a projected three-volume edition of the complete, uncensored autobiography. To the surprise of many, the book became an immediate bestseller and was hailed as the capstone of the life’s work of America’s favorite author.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, Reader's Edition, University of California Press, 2012

In its original form, the book could viewed as a bit “intimidating” for some readers — 700+ pages, significant scholarly notations, four pounds in weight! In response to well-received feedback, and just in time for Father’s Day, the publisher has released AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN, VOLUME 1, READER’S EDITION (UC Press, March 2012), providing the bestselling text in a form that is convenient for the general reader. Here’s what people will love about the new Reader’s Edition:
.       Portable
.       Paperback
.       Written in larger type
.       Without any editorial explanations
.       An exclusive excerpt from Volume 2

Even with all these slimming changes, there is no downsizing in content. In addition to the full, uncensored biography, READER’S EDITION features a brief introduction describing the evolution of Mark Twain’s ideas about writing his autobiography, a chronology of his life, and brief family biographies. Readers will also get an exclusive look at what is to come with an excerpt from the highly anticipated Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2 — a controversial but characteristically humorous attack on Christian doctrine. This updated major literary event brings to readers, admirers, and scholars the first of three volumes and presents Mark Twain’s authentic and unsuppressed voice, brimming with humor, ideas, and opinions, and speaking clearly from the grave as he intended.

To win a copy of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN , VOLUME 1, READER’S EDITION, simply leave a comment. I’ll have the draw on May 31st. A great Father’s Day gift idea!

book-related events

Announcements, announcements, annowwwwuncements! We sold our cow, we sold our cow, we have no use for your bull now!

We four girls and my mom erupted into the above ditty whenever Dad said he had an announcement to make, which was often. So I couldn’t help but think of it now.

Yet this isn’t bull! This is totally exciting, at least for me! It’s great news in the midst of some nerve-wracking brushing up on my Young Driver’s training (yes, for my G status, finally); working on finding a job and getting more freelance work (ideally I would just freelance); and four—FOUR—consecutive days now of the poor dog having such bad diarrhea that the house smells like a sewer when we get home from work, because she can’t hold it in (I wish we could just take off work!). So while I’m cooking up chicken now—which, being a vegetarian, I hadn’t done for nine years—and serving it to her with rice and pumpkin, my excellent husband is steam-cleaning the shitty carpet in the rec room (only place we have carpet, thank goodness). Smartest thing we ever did, buying that mini steam cleaner when she was a puppy.

ANYWAY. Enough pleasantries.

Here’s my announcement, which you’ve already got from the post title but which I’m detailing here: This blog has been nominated for the 2012 Canadian Weblog Awards in three categories: Arts and Culture, Pop Culture and Entertainment, and Writing and Literature. The Canadian Weblog Awards are a juried competition, founded by Elan Morgan (aka Schmutzie), who’s also got several other projects on the go, and who maintains she has “zero cool,”  which is clearly not true. (She has a very interesting bio, too.) From the site:

The Canadian Weblog Awards promote good weblogs of all genres from across Canada year round through regular interviews, articles, and the nomination, judging, and an award process that culminates with the announcement of the top three weblogs in each category on January 31st. The Canadian Weblog Awards are about quality not popularity, so there is no public vote. Each weblog is judged by a volunteer jury against a set of criteria.

For more info on the CWAs, click here.

I’m extremely pleased to be nominated, and as a friend so aptly put it, I’m also thrilled to have the wind put back in my blogging sails with this announcement; I’ve been feeling rather in a bit of a rut lately, questioning my skill at all this, particularly the reviews. So a special mention and thank you goes to Penny Koller, who makes up one-third of the great blog Literary Hoarders and who started the nominations for Bella’s Bookshelves. In fact, these girls were also nominated this year, and in the same categories!

To enter nominations for the Canadian blogs you like—including this one!—follow this link to the Canadian Weblog Awards site and fill out the nomination form. Bloggers will thank you.

This is a great opportunity, too, for me to say a very heartfelt thank you to everyone who reads here, who has supported and encouraged me, who’s sent me books, added to the discussion, and spread my words about the world wide web. This, this wonderful outlet for a great passion of mine, exists because of you. Cheesy, but true!

Thank you.

book-related events

The CBC invited me to participate in the Giller chat this evening from 7–10 and it was my pleasure, even more fun than I had anticipated. Discussion was mostly focused and everyone remained cool (I’ve seen some heated awards talks!).

The shortlisted books on the menu tonight were:

While I have read only two and a half books on the shortlist so far, I still felt confident enough, after sampling the others in order to prepare for this chat, to predict that Esi’s soulful and rich Half-Blood Blues would win. In my heart that’s also what I wanted. I did think David Bezmozgis’s book The Free World could win, too—it seemed a little more Giller, if you know what I mean—though I didn’t prefer his writing to Esi’s. To be fair, I haven’t yet finished his book, and I am enjoying it very much, but it’s not giving me the same thrill Esi’s did. To know what I’m talking about, you can read my review of Half-Blood Blues.

Among authors and readers, bloggers and professional book industry peeps, many interesting points were brought up in the chat leading up to the event, concerning whether or not other awards affect long- and shortlisted books of the Giller, the discussion of content and form, advantages and/or disadvantages of short stories in relation to novels, whether previous nominations would affect deWitt and Edugyan, and whether awards actually matter (going off on the ridiculous initial point made elsewhere that of all the awards only the Giller mattered). We also went off on tangents about dust jackets and The Price is Right, but that was part of the fun. If you’re interested, you can read the Giller chat on the CBC website. It’s rather exciting, too, because we start getting nervous as the time to announce the winner draws near!

Also interesting were the different moods in the introductions to the authors and their books. Ron MacLean‘s intro to Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist was particularly genuine and the most natural; he sounded like a bookseller, not an awards presenter, and I loved him for that. Those intros as well as the author profiles, during which all the authors were quite endearing, were very effective, and one could almost feel themselves being swayed and waffling back and forth in their choice of book to win. I had to remind myself, think of the books, the books! and then, too, I suddenly felt the prize could go to anyone: for how, really, can you pit books against each other? We keep doing it, in contests like Canada Reads and for awards, but when watching the proceedings, it becomes difficult to compare the books, which, this year especially, all offered something so different from their counterparts.

Esi Edugyan wins 2011 Giller Prize for her stellar Half-Blood Blues. Photo by Chris Young for the Canadian Press. Source, CTV News. Click image for further credit.

But then it came time to announce the winner and I remembered what I wanted to happen, and I hadn’t realized how nervous I was, how I was holding my breath, until I actually cheered out loud, sitting alone at my kitchen table, when they announced that had Esi won. Who says literature isn’t exciting?

My warmest, heartfelt congratulations to Thomas Allen, Patrick Crean (Esi’s editor), and to the very talented Esi Edugyan, who at only 33 has shown her quality as a writer. I also applaud the Giller jury for transcending stereotype and choosing a diverse mix of books this year, for recognizing greatness even in the presence of tried and true skill like that of Michael Ondaatje, and for thus freshening up the award image.

For more details, you can read the official Giller announcement. Edugyan will join CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi (who also hosted the Giller gala) on Q tomorrow (Wed.) morning, and CBC Books will make the livestream broadcast available online tomorrow, too.

They say that this winning can bump up a book’s sales by 500%, 100,000 copies in a month. Since Esi’s book is the bestselling of the six shortlisted books at the shop where I work, I’m curious to see what happens, particularly during the Christmas season. I did already have a customer call this afternoon to ask me to put aside whoever won for her to pick up in the morning. She didn’t care who it was, she just wanted the winner.

I have mixed feelings about the awards themselves, I think, and yet I do find them exciting, in spite of myself. In the end, it’s about rewarding hardworking artists who’ve honed their craft to such an extent that they deservedly stand out among the rest; it’s about celebrating great literature, by Canadians no less. And that, above all else, makes me pretty happy.