LitBits 15

It’s a gorgeous day in the neighbourhood and I’m off work today because I put in extra hours last week. Woohoo! Perfect time to share some more literary tidbits with you.

1. This first one is just a little selfish. It’s a bit of news about me! Broadsheet Magazine (Canadian fiction that’s easy to pick up) is holding a literary fundraiser that I either blogged about or tweeted before so you might already know about it…and I won tickets to go! Which is great! Exciting! Woohoo! Not so great is our pockets are so empty I don’t even know yet how I’m going to get there. They’re totally on crack at VIARail, because the last time I went to Toronto the return ticket was just over $70 and now it’s almost a whopping $170, if I come home on Sat. If I come home Friday it’s $120. Yes, I’m booking less than a week in advance, but really?? This is a mere two-hour ride each way we’re talking here, and you have to buy your food if you can’t make it two hours without. ANYWAY. Far be it for me to argue with VIA, but for sure it’s cheaper to drive. Except that C will have the car for work and I don’t drive the highways yet. This is just another reason I abhor this town and being all the way out here—never mind that I should get my ass going on the G status. MOVING ON (I’ll get to TO): The event is this Thursday, and Sarah Selecky, Jessica Westhead, and Matthew J. Trafford will be reading (and signing my books!), along with publishers like Coach House (and Evan Munday) and Cormorant, and there will be drinks and merriment and schmoozing and major prizes galore. This is where the funds are going:

All funds raised from the event will go towards paying authors for our pilot issue (due out in the fall) and other vital start-up costs (those racks and boxes you pick up magazines from don’t come cheap). Broadsheet will, for the time being, remain an unpaid labour of love for 4 pasty publishing professionals and your gracious help goes a long way toward making it a reality. Please take the time to say hello to one of us at the event–if you don’t know who we look like, just ask sombody else at the party, as it’s likely to be one of our parents.

Tickets will run you $30. Follow this link to get your tickets now.

If you can, please come! I’ d love to meet you but also it’s a really great cause and it promises fun! and prizes! I’ve decided to take my sister with me since we share all this stuff already and I won’t have to be constantly whispering, “And that’s so and so…she wrote…”

2. Readers looking for what to read next, beware! Here’s a very interesting piece I read last week called “What Shoppers Don’t Realize about Amazon Reviews.” (Thanks to Brenna at Lit Musings for calling my attention to it!) Personally, I don’t give a rip whether the reviewer bought the book or was given it free, and I don’t care if they choose not to review books they know will bring them negative ratings. I’m not concerned with what they don’t review. But I care a great deal that what they do review is honest and coming out of a desire to help a reader decide about a book or to share their thoughts on what they just read, rather than reviewing for free books or good status. This is what concerns me most:

For Amazon’s unpaid customer reviewers, the only tangible benefit of their “job”—and the study indeed found that for top reviewers reviewing is akin to a second “career,” a “crossover occupation”—is any free books and products they receive. The way to keep those freebies flowing is to pump out glowing book reviews.

Some 88 percent of respondents reported that most or all of the reviews they wrote were positive. “I don’t want to make waves, and I don’t want to offend the author,” one said. “I’m in the midst of writing a book myself, and I’m thinking it might be prudent not to be TOO overly critical of books that go through the traditional publishing process.”

If they’re not paid, they are going to find other incentives and motivations—which may in some cases work at cross purposes with their primary mandate, to produce honest and independent-minded reviews.

Something for us bloggers to think about, yes? It’s not the first time this has popped up. The way I read this, particularly the second and third paragraphs, is not that they will put up only great reviews but that their reviews might not be totally honest: they don’t want to be too harsh, they don’t want to stir the pot, they don’t want to get “unhelpful” ratings, etc. So they aren’t truly reviewing the book at all then, I think.

I too choose what to review and of course I decide what to say about each book and how to say it: everyone does. But I don’t want publishers and authors to like me or send me free books because I fawn; I want them to like me because I treat the book seriously, fairly, thoughtfully; because I treat reading as a sort of life lesson experience—which is not to say it’s always serious, but it’s not, for me, a sport. In the end, saying only good things when there are also issues or when you didn’t feel that way helps no one—and it’s no secret, I hope, that many bloggers can’t even keep up with all the books they receive, so if they piss off anyone, even everyone, there’s still a good chance they have enough books to keep them going for a while. Getting free books is unarguably awesome, but nothing can match being sent ones that are well suited to you because the publisher has come to understand the real you through your honest reviews.

Generally, if I don’t like the book and couldn’t finish it, I don’t review it, even if I got it for free. Publishers are understanding if they send you a book and you decide not to review it because it’s turned out not to be your thing. (Authors often prefer you don’t review it if you don’t like it.) I’ve been forgiven more than once, and it saves the publisher sending you more books you won’t read. That doesn’t mean I’ll publish reviews only if they’re positive and help sell a book. Even if I have mostly negative things to say yet I did finish the book (this is rare) and I feel I can write something, I’ll publish the review, but it has to be fair and thoughtful, like the positive reviews. So even though I’m not helping the publisher sell the book, they know at least I’m being consistent. The reader might be grateful, even, for the honesty, and thus feel I did indeed help them. And no matter how much I feel I deserve a good book from an author, I still want to take their feelings as well into consideration. It’s all about tact when you’re being brutally honest.

Perhaps most important, though: writing a positive review because you’ll get something out of it, like free books or whatever…not so fair to others, right? I know you guys feel the same way. I read reviews because I don’t want to waste my time on books; I want to cherish my time with them. If a person’s going to waste my time with a dishonest review…for shame. Perhaps Amazon’s solution is to just get rid of the rating system. Not only does it create these problems mentioned in the article, but it also turns reviewing into something of a sport. Forget ratings. Let the reviewer’s writing speak for itself.

3. And now for something completely different! Are you bored and handy? Do you want a book light for your bedside table? My mother always said that reading in the dark would make me blind (and that watching TV would give me square eyes). Since you don’t want to go blind, try making this “not your ordinary book light“! And please take the time to appreciate the title he used for the lamp, as well as the chuckle-worthy introductory bit he wrote.

4. By now you probably know, if you’re a Harry Potter fan like me, about J.K. Rowling’s newest endeavour, Pottermore. Watch the video where Rowling gives you a hint of what’s to come in October. (Doesn’t Harry Potter sound so much better with a British accent?) The site will offer digital audio downloads of the books, a wealth of additional Potter stuff Rowling said she’s been hoarding for years, and, most noteably, the HP books in ebook form. Pottermore is currently the only place through which you can purchase and download the series. Of course, anything this big (there was a huge build-up to Rowling’s announcement about Pottermore, particularly on YouTube) invites criticism, and some are arguing that Rowling’s decision to make the ebooks exclusively available on her site is unfair and unwise. What do you think? As for me, I would download the audio books, because to have them read to me in a British accent would be nothing short of excellent. The CDs are quite expensive, if I remember correctly. As for the ebooks, I readily admit I’m still trying to ignore ebooks and all the relentless news about them. Close-minded, ignorant, or just preference? Obviously, ebooks are affecting me and the indie bookstore where I work, and to pretend they don’t exist is folly. I’m just tired of the hullaballoo is all. I want the whole dealio to plateau.

5. Of all my litbits today, I think I’m actually most excited about this one. Brian Selznick is one of my favourite kids’ authors. He wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which I recommended on video for this town at Christmas (it’s somewhere on this blog!), and on the Advent Book blog last year. The book is a breathtaking work of beauty, both the story and the illustrations, which also, given their cinematic/graphic novel characteristic, tell the story. And now Selznick has a new book coming out called Wonderstruck. Watch the book trailer/interview below.

6. Summertime, and the livin’ is eeeeasy…although I admit it’s actually been a few years since I donned a bathing suit. No kidding! I don’t have one anymore so shorts and an old tee it is, and even then, it’s been a long time since I’ve actually been swimming. It’s unlike me, since I’ve always been a waterbaby, but on the rare occasions we do make it to the water now, it’s either too cold or I’m looking after Lucy in the shallows (wherever we go, she goes). She’s the waterbaby, really. She swims herself lame. I like people watching, though, too, and sometimes it’s interesting seeing their bathing suits. Have a look at these literary greats in theirs. I love how happy Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf look, and the photo of Hemingway kills me. Also the three beat gen boys. And how hot is Hunter S. Thompson? Also: I just realized that at least four of these bathing beauties committed suicide.

7. New book alert: The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma. I haven’t read this book yet but I was checking it out at the store and it looks like one I’d recommend to those who loved Shadow of the Wind and The Thirteenth Tale and those atmospheric bookish kind of stories that came out close together and sent people scrambling after reading them for something similar and just as meaty, rich, and thrilling. “Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time is a page-turner that boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H. G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence.” Sounds right up my alley, that. Maybe up yours, too? (Wait, that didn’t come out right…)

8. My husband is totally not cool with this but for years, since I was a teen at least, I’ve wanted a literary tattoo. I think I’ve decided on text rather than an image, but this is an important, permanent decision, so I want to be sure. I also want to be sure of where, which is to say, somewhere I can see it but not too big in size, not too wordy, and where it won’t look either dirty or shitty when I’m old. No stretching or sagging. I’m thinking inside of forearm or my inside wrist. (And I want to get a small one of my Precious’s name, Lucy. As many of you already know, Lucy is our 8-yr-old boxer, our only child. She is my everything.) Also, I’m nervous. These things cost good money, for one, if you want someone skilled. And I am a copyeditor, so if the artist is in any way dyslexic or illiterate, so help me God. Also, will I get faint or feel like I might vomit? Pain, schmain, I can take that. But feeling lightheaded or nauseated, or even vomiting—not for me. Most say it’s just kind of irritating since you’re being pricked a lot. Anyway, here are two sites, Contrariwise and The Word Made Flesh, I’ve been looking at, just out of curiosity. I know what I don’t want, especially looking at most of these. I also know I don’t want to be cliché. If I see another Vonnegut tattoo I think I’ll scream. I don’t want my ideas to come from what others have. I’m just looking. Have you ever thought of getting a literary tattoo? If so, what would it be and why? I have a few ideas, but nothing totally concrete yet.

Okay! That’s it for this installment of LitBits. I hope you enjoyed at least one of them!




  1. Chris

    Steph, not ink on the forearm or wrist area unless you want to look like a jailbird. Tatoos look great at weddings too! Oh wait, no they don’t.

  2. Amy

    Sigh. I move to Toronto and all the great literary events happen when I’m out of the country on work :) But speaking of that, I posted on Saturday a form, if you are interesting, on getting local area bloggers connected and organizing a meet-up at some point.

    Great collection of news as always. I especially like lamp myself. And will definitely try to make one some day. I’m interested too in the Amazon information, that is shady! I do write negative reviews but usually just the didn’t work for me but these people will love it, or the – beware rape culture / racism / homophobia / etc versions. Or at least I try to!

    1. Steph Author

      Hey Amy,

      Yeah, I’ve always found your reviews fair and honest. Really, I become suspicious if I read nothing but good all the time; I usually feel as though I can’t totally trust the reviewer, then.

      And the form, yes! I’m interested! I think it would be great fun. It’s always just a matter of trying to get there, and timing.

      1. Amy

        Makes sense that you are so far away. Do feel free to fill in the form anyway if you’re interested, we can let you know if we plan anything anyway! Also, thank you for the kind words re: my reviews. I do worry when there is never anything at all critical in reviews that something is fishy – not that negative reviews are required but in one of the multitude of books something must have been less than ideal right??

    1. Steph Author

      This one wasn’t so bitty; I found myself getting kind of long-winded. But I’m really glad you enjoy them.

      That event promises to be fun. I’m taking the camera and I’ll be blogging about it!

      And hey, no problem for the link love. Any time.

  3. Em

    Ooooh! A literary event! Enjoy!

    I totally agree with what you say about reviews. What’s the point if they are not honest? There’s no need to trash a book, but there’s no point saying it’s wonderful if you didn’t like it. However, I would tend to think that people who do that might be noticeable as their reviews must be quite similar…

    A tattoo? That’s something I’ve never wished to have, but I find some quite elegant if they are small and in the right place. Unfortunately, I also find many of them quite vulgar….

    1. Steph Author

      I agree; there are many that I couldn’t fathom having. But I do plan to have mine be anything but vulgar or large! And I don’t plan to have numerous ones willy nilly all over.

      Nothing’s set in stone but I find I can’t help the desire to have one. It’s been there for a very long time.

      Also, C said I should make a correction: he’s not against me getting one, he just has no desire for one himself. :)

  4. I have two tattoos, both of which I keep out of the sun and away from eyes – they only mean something to me :) I don’t find them painful to get; in fact, the second one felt rather like a deep massage and I nearly fell asleep! It was actually really nice. I’d avoid getting it over bone though, that’s when it can really hurt. You want a bit of fat or muscle to cushion it if you can. But you’re right to really research it and find a tattoo artist you can trust. I’d like to get my first one re-inked because I don’t think they did a good job.

    I had a flatmate at uni who was a year below me who had a tattoo on her upper arm of JRR Tolkien’s famous stylised initials. It looked good but was rather wanky; still, guys liked to use it as a means of starting up conversation with her, and frankly, she loved the attention.

    What’s the Vonnegut tattoo?

    1. Steph Author

      The Vonnegut tattoo is And so it goes, or so it goes. It’s everywhere, sometimes accompanied by a star. I mean, it’s true that it resonates for so many people, but I don’t want something so common.

      I was in TO Thurs. evening and Friday morning and afternoon and it looks like it’s more common to have a tattoo than not! It was neat looking at all of them.

      Keeping it out of the sun is another reason I was thinking on the underside of the arm.

      1. Marie Clausén

        The underside of the forearm? You mean where the Jews all got their camp numbers tattooed? Surely not? That is where slaves and inmates (of camps, prisons, etc.) all tend to have a tattooed mark. I think a tattoo would look frightening in that spot. Why there?

        But then, why body modification at all? We change so much through life – after all, the very definition of life is movement and change. Think back to all the things you thought were cool twenty years ago and imagine having those indelibly marked on your body now. Now think twenty years forward (when you will hopefully have changed just as much again if not more) and imagine looking at yourself as modified by a younger, less mature you.

        1. Well, Marie, you don’t have to approve of how other people choose to live but there’s no need to be belittle their choices.

          You’re right that life is about movement and change, but we are marked by the things we’ve experienced in life, in our past; we’re not like newborns over and over again. Should I be lasering off my scars as well? Especially the ones I got from when I was a “younger, less mature me” – a child running on loose gravel? Smacking head-on into a bookcase? Cause I was pretty clumsy. I may be misconstruing your point but it sounded pretty silly to me.

          I won’t deny that I’ve seen plenty of tattoos that I consider to be far from tasteful, or that make me wonder what the person was thinking, but it’s their life and their body and we’re all different. We have fun with modifying our bodies all the time, from hair cuts to piercings to changing our clothes and fashions. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a kind of memento from our past, and when you’ve thought carefully about it (and aren’t drunk), you can have a tattoo that really means something important to you, that holds a great deal of significance – if in twenty years it doesn’t have quite the same meaning as it did at the time, it doesn’t mean that you regret it. It’d be a shame to think of people shunning their younger selves like that, and denying the life that they’ve lived.

          I think we have reached an age where we have more trust in ourselves than that, Marie. It’s not about being stuck with something later on that you thought was “cool” at the time. It’s more about identity and, dare I say it, living. We clearly have different ideas on the subject, and I don’t think you’re wrong in your perspective – it’s right for you. But I respectfully take offence at your attempt to belittle others for their own life choices.

          1. Marie Clausén

            Shannon, the vehemence of your reply indicates alarm, so let me say: do not be alarmed as I have neither the desire nor the means to direct or influence your lifestyle choices.
            Do bear in mind, however that my reply was to Steph – I took care not to reply to you. You are a stranger to me; consequently your lifestyle choices mean nothing at all to me. Steph, on the other hand, is a close personal friend, and my memento vitae was that of a friend to another. Perhaps my mistake was to type it here rather than in a personal email – perhaps this forum is reserved for those who know each other little or not at all. It makes it awkward for me to comment, as I feel I have a lot of backstory to certain questions.

            In the years I have known Steph I have known her to be wildly changeable, fickly – a chameleon. This is part of her charm and a part of her that those who know her well take for granted. There is not a haircut or purchase or career change that she does not end up regretting deeply and painfully. And we, her friends, regret it with her – we are along for the ride. And Steph does in fact like the idea of cleansing, of starting from scratch, of catharsis. We have spoken of it many times – this is a topic brought up e.g. as a result of her disposing of her diaries from her younger days (the very thought of which distressed me) in an effort to cleanse herself of a previous self. But perhaps you know her better than I do and have heard otherwise about these instances?

            I am not expressing my distaste for tattoos in general; I am expressing my doubt whether a tattoo would be a wise and appropriate choice for Steph (the only person of concern here), i.e. for someone who changes her mind more often than any other person I know.

          2. Steph Author


            You’re absolutely right, I do like change and purging (although I never got rid of any of my diaries, having found it difficult to part with them since they are me), and I can be fickle or become bored with things quickly.

            But in this case, I feel different. The fact that I’ve had the idea to do it for years, since I was a teen, tells me something, as well as the choices I’m considering for a tattoo. I know I’ll never regret getting Lucy’s name done, with a little paw print. As Mia died last Sunday very suddenly and Lucy becomes increasingly stiff I find myself unable to bear thinking of her passing. No matter whether we get another dog or not, she will always be my special little girl. I fear her passing more than anything.

            As for getting something meaningful to me, I’ve been considering Rilke for a while, a few different phrases of his resonate with me. I can’t see regretting such good poetry, even if for some reason one day it oddly means nothing to me.

            In any case, I want to assure you, I’ve thought about all this, about my personality, about the future. I’ve seen what I like and don’t. All that’s left is to research where, and to consider finances. Right now, if the tattoo would be expensive, it wouldn’t be wise.

            Thank you for your concern, but as you told Shannon, no need for alarm. :)

        2. Steph Author

          This reminds me a bit of the issue of having children, but the opposite. I’m not going to have a kid just in case I later regret choosing not to have one. What I mean is, possible, not certain, future regret isn’t much on which to base decisions. In that case, too, it is possible to get them removed if one abhors it that much.

          The other thing is I’m not doing it to be cool, or because I think the saying is cool. I’m not looking to tattoo something of the moment, a lover’s name or stars on the side of my face, although if someone wants that, so what? My dislike has nothing to do with it. The way I see it, your argument is based solely on personal distaste.

          Consensual tattooing, as I see it, and I say consensual meaning not forced and to distinguish one from a person involuntarily marked, is a form of individual expression, of making oneself a canvas, whether only one small thing is done or many. I like that idea. To me, it’s deeply personal. This won’t be done, if it does actually get done, without thought or while drunk.

          I can’t imagine, either, even though we do change our minds, of course, that at this point I’m not mature enough in this case to choose something based on deep personal meaning, in that it resonates with me as something that’s been meaningful all my life. It could be something that is important to me in terms of memorial or something meant as a reminder or something that expresses one’s inner workings. This isn’t on a whim, either; I’ve wanted to do this for years. I can’t explain why, it’s just something I’ve wanted to do. No matter what, tattooing isn’t connected only with bikers or those incarcerated or who’ve been in concentration camps, nor is the location meant to be limited to mean certain meanings. To narrow the experience so dramatically ends up being offensive to all those, I suspect the majority, who choose to get tattooed.

          1. Marie Clausén

            Super, if you really want to do it, don’t let anyone stop you: go for it!

            I think you know me well enough to know that I believe in the principle of “live and let live” (as much as in the right to the freedom to disagree).

            I look forward to seeing your tattoo. :)

        3. Steph Author

          Why on the underside of my forearm or wrist? Because I’ve seen ones I like there, that to me look attractive. Because they would be out of the sun there. And because I prefer that spot to the outside shoulder, the back of me anywhere, or my ankles or feet, though I’ve seen tattoos in all those places that were quite nice.

  5. Chris

    Shannon, it’s pretty clear from Marie’s comment that she is not ‘beliittling” Steph’s choice. Steph hasn’t actually made a choice as far as I know. And how do you know how you will feel about your tatoos in twenty years? How do you know you won’t regret them? I know several people who regret getting them and they don’t consider them marks of a lived life but rather foolish mistakes that they would gladly undo. However, unlike a haircut or other modification, they cannot be undone…at least not well. I know Marie well and I know Steph somewhat. I believe Marie is genuinely concerned with Steph’s life and obviously feels that Steph may regret this. Her interest is a as a friend and not a criticism of those who may want a tatoo. I am sure she is quite unconcerned whether a stranger has a tatoo or not.

    1. Steph Author

      I do appreciate Marie’s concern, and yours, and I understand you wish to save me from possible regret. But I assure you that if I do do it, it will be well thought out and rather discreet. And I feel there are worse regrets one can have! I’m not very concerned, myself.

      1. Steph Author

        I think the offense was taken because there did seem to be judgement in the comments. The comparisons to jailbait and Jews also seem drastic and somewhat narrow.

        1. Chris

          Steph, I said jailbird, not jailbait (a derogatory word for underage attractive women). When I worked in probation almost every man who had served time in jail had a tatoo on the inside forearm. It is the easiest place to work on oneself. So it has that connotation for me. However, it obviously does not for you so don’t let that stop you.

    2. Steph Author

      I have to add to be clear: Marie wrote: “Now think twenty years forward (when you will hopefully have changed just as much again if not more) and imagine looking at yourself as modified by a younger, less mature you.” But of course I’ve been doing that. I’m not 17!

  6. Amy

    I didn’t mention above but it seems to be a topic of discussion so thought I’d throw my 2 cents in :) I have two tattoos and absolutely love both. Yes, I’m still younger and may change my mind but with both I thought about it and imagined it there, with the exact design, for some time before getting it done (over a year for each). They both have a lot of meaning to me and while they are semi hidden they aren’t something I am at all ashamed of. I have a third in mind and am still considering it as it is a more visible area. To me a tattoo is a visible expression of what is important to you. Even if you change as you age, if you choose something that means a lot and resonates with you then I don’t think you’d go wrong. Definitely important to think it through though.

    1. Steph Author

      I think I find many tattoos intriguing because they are little windows into people. I like reading why a person got a certain tattoo. Emma Forrest, the author of Your Voice in my Head, gave a talk on her six tattoos and the meanings of them, and while some were done when she was a teen, she does see them as marking points in her life by which she also measures her personal development. I thought it interesting.


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