LitBits 20

Holy moly, we’re at number 20 already! And what a perfect day for it. Cold and grey and rainy, perfect for reading a blog and drinking tea and getting lost in a great book or magazine and wearing fleece and cuddling up with pillows and blankets and the lovely warm cat or dog. Ah, I love autumn. Happy October, readers! It’s my favourite month of the year. When else do you get Thanksgiving and Halloween? As Homer Simpson would say, Woohoo!

Something for everyone, then:

1. Most readers who read a book they really love wish for more like it, and there are several sites that allow you to punch in a title and come up with results of similar books. I haven’t found them to be all that accurate, really. Nothing can be as great as an enthusiastic bookseller, a competent library assistant, a book lover friend, even a stranger who asks you what you’re reading. This new site, however, is pretty neat: Booklamp is part of an exploratory project (called the Book Genome) that measures book DNA, so to speak. You can read the short version here, on Giraffe Days, or explore the Booklamp site. Publishers take note: they need your help in promoting your books!

2. Heed my warning, copyeditor and proofreading friends: reading manuscripts can cause death! Is it ironic that these particular manuscripts were medical texts?

3. This is so encouraging to me! I’ve always been under the impression that Canada didn’t care enough about its literary culture. Sure, things are being done, but I always think there could be much more. This week, Project Bookmark Canada started following me on Twitter, prompting me to check them out. Project Bookmark Canada creates plaques to install in the very places that an author writes about in their book. For example, there’s a Bookmark plaque for Anne Michaels’s Fugitive Pieces located in Toronto:

Up Grace, along Henderson, up Manning to Harbord I whimpered; my spirit shape finally in familiar clothes and, with abandon, flinging its arms [to?] the stars.

From Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels, published by McClelland & Stewart. Bookmarked at College and Manning Streets, Toronto on October 28, 2010.

(If you haven’t already read Fugitive Pieces, I highly recommend it. As you can tell, Michaels is a poet, and her prose demonstrates it just as well as her poetry.)

So, “a Bookmark can be found in the exact physical location where the literary scene takes place, so that the visitor can read the story or poem while standing just where the narrator or characters stand.” There are currently six bookmarks across Canada and this fall they’re installing more. Isn’t this exciting? I love it! It’s such a wonderful, supportive idea. I think we definitely need a Purdy Bookmark, an Atwood one, a Shields one…but whoa, when I think of how many of our Canadian authors mention particular sites, we could have plaques everywhere! Better than a multi-coloured moose, I say. No huge surprise to see the member organizations, including the forward-thinking, hand-dipped-in-all-the-pies HarperCollins, and I like seeing small publishers on there as well, but I’d love to see far more on the list.

4. For some reason this week on Twitter it was all about hot guy book lovers. This site is kind of cute: Hot Guys Reading Books. The voyeur in me who cranes her neck at weird angles to surreptitiously see what others around town are reading loves this. But my idea of hot differs from many of the photographers. Or perhaps it’s not the guys in particular but that they’re reading that’s hot? :) (Just kidding, boys. Well, sort of: it is pretty hot seeing guys read.)

5. For the coffee drinkers among you readers (ahem, Jaclyn!), I give you Atwood Blend Whole Bean Coffee. Sold at Indigo and participating cafés, and with an environmental and arts agenda. You can read about the Atwood Blend in more detail here. I’m telling you, the woman is everywhere, it’s amazing. Apparently, she’s got something in this month’s Playboy, too!

6. A bookish site called Pages Worth Remembering posted a tee-shirt image I love, called Why is an owl smart? (You can see the image much better on the PWR site.) First off, I love owls. For Christmas last year my sister and brother-in-law gave me this tee to wear to work. I wouldn’t mind adding this new one to my wardrobe! Whoa, I could really waste time looking up literary gifts. For my coworker who reads mostly classics, I’d get him a shirt that says, “I read dead people.” Ha! Have a look at the rest of the cool stuff at cafepress by typing in “bibliophile” for your search. Christmas is coming, as they’re already starting to say!

7. In the tee-shirt vein, mentioning Margaret Atwood again, and speaking of dead people, here are some dead author shirts, illustrated by none other than Perfect Peggy herself. My favourite is the Shakespeare primary source image, the first one. If you click on accessories and the tote bag, you’ll see the image better. By the way, a while ago I posted where these illustrations came from—“Margaret Atwood gives us a taste of the publishing pie,”—a humorous, interesting presentation on how publishing works.

8. Earlier I mentioned HarperCollins being a forward-thinking publisher involved in many new projects. Recently, I read on Mark Leslie’s blog that they are the first mainstream publisher to “get it,” meaning, to really understand what the changes in the publishing world mean for everyone, including customers, right now. As you’ll read on Mark’s blog, HarperCollins has signed a partnership with On Demand Books, the creators of the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), to provide customers, both online and in stores with the machine, with instant copies of Harper backlist trade should the book not be in stock. Mark, who brought the Espresso Book Machine to the McMaster University bookstore, Titles, writes:

The program will allow any physical bookstore with an Espresso Book Machine the ability to offer thousands of backlist trade paperback titles from HarperCollins to their customers. This means that the vision of walking into your local bookstore only to find the title out of stock and a wait of one to three weeks for that special order to arrive, a thing of the past.

Print on demand is the wave of the present as stores are decreasing inventory to save costs and customers are eager to have backlist books immediately. Personally, I’m not that instant; if the book’s not in stock, I can wait for a publisher’s copy or find it second-hand if it’s out of print. As a bibliophile, I’m all about quality, and the reading experience is optimal when I read from a finished book from the publisher. I’m not knocking Espresso books, by any means, because I haven’t a clue what the quality is actually like, but you’re not going to get the lovely cover in its intended form, or the deckle edge pages. Still, as a bookseller, whose priority is to get you what you want when you’ve asked for it, I pronounce the EBM a dream machine. It’s making a significant difference in the livelihood of indies.

9. I’m a sucker for jewellery—for almost anything literary, really. The Book Keeper is an indie bookstore in Sarnia, ON, which also happened to win bookseller of the year this year. They sell more than books, like any smart indie, and particularly these bracelets and necklaces. My favourite? The Charlotte’s Web necklace. Though the Harry Potter book and train necklace is pretty cute, too. I did contact the store by email to see if it was possible to order the jewellery online since I’m nowhere close to Sarnia, but unfortunately I never heard back.

10. Into the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books? I haven’t read them yet but I have good reason: I prefer to read a trilogy when I have all the books, and until Penguin publishes the mass market copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, so my books can match, I won’t be buying the third one. Until I have that one, I won’t start reading. Anyway. Those of you who are waiting for the American version of the film to come out will be excited to see this trailer! Why they show so much, I don’t know. I almost feel as though I don’t need to see it now, but that’s because I did see the original. Still, this trailer seems to make a bit more sense storywise to me, and it does look pretty compelling, not least because of the actors. However, nothing will substitute for the book, I’m sure.

11. Here’s a pretty neat endeavour, hosted by three blogs called She Known As Jess, The Rest is Still Unwritten, and Eleusinian Mysteries, which are working in conjunction with the Kmart Wishing Tree. The project is You Give, We Give, and basically invites readers to give books, in the lead-up to Christmas, to those less fortunate. Alternatively, you can donate money to buy books. In return, you’ll be entered to win “seriously great prizes.” I love the idea; it’s a lovely gesture. The prizes are a bonus, really, aren’t they? As booklovers, we want to spread the love! There are more details, such as what happens with the books and how they are distributed, what kind of books they’re looking for, etc., on Jess’s site (the link I provided under the project name).

12. Because of the copious exclamation-pointed tweets surrounding Random House‘s phenomenon of a book The Night Circus, I wanted to offer this article on Open Book Toronto, called “The Circus is in Town,” just to calm everyone so we can get something more rational than raving—and for some balance. I can get pretty excited about a book, too, but I don’t trust when everyone acts as though there isn’t anything as awesome as this book, right here, right now. That’s a major feat for a debut novel. What else is going on here, then? I liked Toyne’s article; aside from her personal opinion of the book, she offers perspective, which kindly brings us back from the dizzying heights to more solid ground. Now, I haven’t yet read the book, but I have it (and it is gorgeous, I must say) and plan to read and review it. I’m very curious and the story is certainly appealing. And I’d love nothing more than for the book to live up to the enthusiasm its being met with.

13. I give you The Brothers McLeod, animating Shakespeare searching for play ideas, and his pet pig Francis. Need I say more? Also, it’s these McLeod brothers who have humorously illustrated the cover of the lovely Jen Campbell’s highly anticipated book, Weird Things Customer Say in Bookshops, which I’ve posted about several times before. It’s enthusiastically endorsed by Neil Gaiman and available for pre-order if you live in the UK. I’m not certain when the book will be available for us Canucks, but I look forward to it!

14. I love animals. I’m very close to my dog, Lucy. Extremely close. People-worry-about-me close. So when I come across a post called Literary Pets, I’m on it. Somehow writers who don’t have pets, or don’t want them, make me a little wary. It’s like people without books. *shiver*

Lucy and Me.
This is not unusual.

 15. I’m totally of the mind that we don’t get enough holidays. I may feel this because this is my 15th or so job in this town (for the record, I’ve never been fired and I’ve always left for valid reasons) since 2001, so I haven’t built up holiday time, ever, and usually take off fewer than ten paid holiday days a year. I have been on only two vacations ever, to Malta in 1999 and to England in 2009, and I’m not counting a week or weekend once a year camping in Algonquin (because that’s always work, and usually it’s been with family, which makes it even more work). So now that I work in a bookshop and know there are several literary holidays, you think I can plead some of them and get paid time off? I mean, it’s literary! And educational! And when I’m rested I’m much more pleasant and productive! I’m especially up for holidays 2, 3, 5, and 7. Some of them tell you to celebrate by reading or writing a tidbit, but I think book lovers really ought to get the whole day off to celebrate, you know, Limerick Day. If countries let people take days off when their soccer team is playing in the World Cup, surely we can take a day in the name of art?

16. Speaking of art, here’s my sister Thérèse Neelands‘s latest print, called “Margaret and I, Monday Afternoon.” Maggie is the dog she and her husband rescued off the scary streets of TO, and is so named after my sister’s favourite author, Margaret Atwood. I told you that woman was everywhere, didn’t I?

"Margaret & I, Monday Afternoon," Thérèse Neelands, watercolour, ink on paper, 2011


  1. Didi

    Steph, just a few lines to let you know once again, that I adore your LitBit feature! You find the best stuff.

    You look gorgeous in the pic w/ Lucy. Your sisters artwork is beyond amazing!

    Best regards!


    1. Steph Author


      Thank you! It’s actually quite a bit of work to do up a post like this, but comments like yours always make it worth it.

      Thanks for the compliment. I’ll be honest: that photo was taken hours after I’d got that perm, and that was about 6 years ago now! Also, now I wear glasses instead of contacts. But it’s the best photo with Lucy and me; usually I’m taking the photos so there aren’t really many of her and I together, unfortunately. I’ll have to get the husband on that.

      And I agree with you about my sister. I’m beyond proud of her but I also just love her style!

  2. Love this post, Steph! You’re probably off Twitter now, but I kept tweeting links I got from this!

    1. Love the Book DNA idea, just sad that a lot of the books I put in weren’t on their database yet. Can’t wait till it gets totally off the ground!

    2. Sad :(

    4. Hee. I remember participating whole-heartedly in the Twitter discussions about hot guys reading and hot librarian calendars. :)

    5. I’ve been seeing that Atwood coffee on the Indigo website and I *definitely* want to try it! No idea how it tastes, but I do like trying new types of coffee. Plus, it’s cool to say “I’m drinking Margaret Atwood coffee!” :)

    6. I tried searching bibliophile on Cafe Press, and am now in love with this shirt:,298601405 So perfect for me! :D

    9. I’m a total sucker for jewelry as well! My problem with this site is that I’m not sure which necklace/bracelet I’d want the most. I have my eye on the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Nancy Drew and Shakespeare ones. :)

    Love this post, and I’m already making my Christmas list to send to Santa! ;)

    1. Steph Author

      Jaclyn, your enthusiasm for LitBits makes me laugh, in a good way. It makes me so happy. I’m so glad you get so much out of them, that you’re excited by them. Thank you for tweeting the post plus the stuff you find via the links I include!

      That tee-shirt rocks! It would be a really great work shirt! Or to sell, though perhaps not at NH, since their merch is more controlled.

      Er, yes, I believe you were tweeting quite a bit about hot guys! Ha! They were everywhere, so I’m not sure if I got the link from you or not. Maybe! If so, thank you!

      You and Ellen (below) and I love the Nancy Drew bracelet. It is really hard to pick. I prefer necklaces because the bracelets would probably get in the way and annoy me a bit, but I love the mini books.

      I hope you get everything you ask for!!

  3. I am probably responding to half the things I wanted to on here – opened so many tabs while I was reading the post.

    1) those bracelets are awesome – how much would I like to have a Nancy Drew one? too bad I’m not anywhere near that store either…

    2) I read an article a while ago – maybe from the new york times? – about the night circus and the marketing of it. it was pretty interesting and gave some healthy perspective on all the hype. i mean, it sounds like the book is good and i’m looking forward to reading it, but all this hype of course has its roots in the the publisher’s marketing department, which i think we sometimes forget in favor of screaming, “the next harry potter!!!” I’m looking forward to reading “the circus is in town.”

    3) love love love the sound of project bookmark. i wish they would do something like that around where i live in the states… philadelphia has all these historic markers, it’d be nice to see ones focused on fiction. it’d also help me to find some new books set in the philly/nj area, which always feels sort of abandoned to me, fiction-wise.

  4. Steph Author

    I always wonder if people will actually open the links; it looks like you all do! Thank goodness. That’s why I make sure they open in another window, too.

    I was just telling Jaclyn (above) that I too love the ND bracelet, but I think it would be cool as a necklace somehow, too. More out of the way when I’m trying to type or work. The mini books just do me in. All my life I’ve had something for miniature stuff. Maybe that’s because I’m only 5’1″? :)

    What did you think of Becca’s article?

    That is so excellent a thing to say: that you’d be encouraged to find more literature set in your area: PERFECT. I think that’s precisely what the main goal should be. Contests like Canada Reads, with their appeal for suggestions for books to be considered, works for us to promote lesser-known works as well as popular ones, but Project Bookmarks are right there for ALL to see, for all to access, and as a constant reminder. They truly are cool. I think it would be super cool to be involved in setting them up, somehow.

  5. All hail for the grounding of the circus hype. I’m sorry to say I fell for it, and, honestly, The Night Circus can wait. It’s ok, but I would not rush out to read it. I’m annoyed at myself for doing just that, so want to second your call for some calm. It’s good, perhaps surprisingly so for a first book, but like T.S. Spivet, it’s a book that got a huge advance, huge hype, but failed to wow me.

    1. Steph Author

      Don’t be annoyed with yourself! It’s effective marketing, and it’s natural for us book lovers to fall for it, to want to fall for it, even. I’m glad to hear it’s a good book, and I look forward to enjoying it…without first going into it with sky-high expectations, which may be unfair to the author, who now has to live up to more than she perhaps bargained for.

      That sucks about Spivet. I have it and was hoping it would be great when I finally get to it. At the same time, it goes both ways, doesn’t it, hype and anti-hype. I respectfully accept your comment but will try not to let it affect my reading of the book. :)

      It’s funny saying this as a reviewer! haha!

  6. Marie

    I got to watch the Espresso Book Machine (can you explain to me why on earth it’s called the Espresso rather than Expresso book machine?) in operation at the London Book Fair a couple of years ago and while the speed of it impressed me – (it probably took about five minutes to spit out a ready book) – I was far less impressed with the quality. The cover especially left a lot to be desired, the cover stock being relatively thin and tacky. I thought it would get less tacky when the ink had dried properly but it is is still tacky to the touch all this time later. Thumbs down from me.

    1. Steph Author

      I wondered the same thing about the name! I understand the idea of it being like a coffee machine but think that even though people annoying call espresso expresso, this time, the name Expresso book machine makes sense!

      Anyway, that’s what I expected of the quality. If I were a student needing a text or a person who just wanted to read the book quickly for a class and not keep it or something like that, I guess I wouldn’t care. But as I said, I like quality and that quality enhances my reading experience.

      1. Marie Clausén

        Yes, it’s as if people confuse pressure with speed. An espresso has everything to do with pressing steam and ultimately liquid up through a valve (and is many times far from the quickest or most expeditious way of making coffee) whereas expresso would presumably be a modified form of express denoting speed. I would have thought that this printing machine wanted to show itself to be fast (in fact, instant: here’s the book you wanted made to order) rather than making some complicated and erroneous insinuation that the book had been created using some sort of high-pressure steam technique…? Bizarre, to say the least. :)

  7. This is my first time to your blog but holy moly so many good links! That Project Bookmark has me really excited. My parents moved near Prince Edward Country last year and I thought there was going to be Al Purdy sightings everywhere but didn’t see anything. I truly love the idea. I think I might need to blog about it too.

    1. Steph Author

      Hey Melanie,

      Well, then, your parents are my next-door neighbours, almost! I live in Belleville, just across the Bay Bridge from PEC. You should find the Al Purdy a-frame and memorial stone in Ameliasburg, nearby!

      Glad you love the LitBits, and welcome!

      1. I’ll have to check that out next summer. We did stop by Belleville to check out the Moira river (the name of my 3-year old daughter) but mostly our time is limited to hunting for playgrounds. ; )


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