books

Oh  my God, we’re heading to the vote! As I’m listening, I’m actually on tenterhooks. From the discussion, as I mentioned elsewhere, Good to a Fault seems invisible in the debates and mostly absent from the discussions, and thus is the one, for me, that should be the first to go.

They’re voting…Auugh! And an untimely phone call from work!! On my day off! [cursing]…

Well, okay, I’ve just heard that the votes were handed in and they’re not going to release the result until tomorrow. Cliffhanger!!

So my initial thoughts on today’s discussion, then: better discussion today! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though it’s hard to sort out comments when they talk all at once. Still, the enthusiasm is infectious. I’m really loving Michel’s comments, both in the confessionals and during the competition, especially his point about what a writer once told him: that perhaps the most important words are the ones the author decided not to write. How true with Nikolski!

He was also right in bringing in “humanity and garbage,” two very relevant or current topics. Aside from the threads of fish and geography, which I think are other significant topics, humanity and garbage will be good ones to talk about, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say on them. As I say this I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed by the themes in this book and the volumes they speak. So I loved Michel’s very valid question about what constitutes “deepness” for literature, going on yesterday’s accusations that Nikolski was “thin.” I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

Based on Ghomeshi’s questions, I have to admit that I answered with Nikolski each time: my favourite character, the most (currently) inventive writing, etc. Honestly, I’m trying to be less biased and more open to the other books, which as I’ve said before I also enjoyed, but I keep coming back to Nikolski. It ended up perhaps surprisingly winning on Civilians Read; will it surprise here, too?

Sam’s 30-second defence of the Jade Peony was also impressive. I did love the book very much (I love all of Wayson Choy’s writing) and if Nikolski doesn’t win, the Jade Peony is my second choice. I also loved Sam’s answer to the question regarding the point of Canada Reads and whether or not books have had their day. I agree with her most, I think, when it comes to this.

What’s interesting are the preconceived notions the panelists took in about the books but also we as readers have brought to the competition regarding the books because of their past reception. I’d really love to know how our expectations have changed or if our perceptions of the books have, based on the debates thus far. To see how Charlotte Ashley’s have already changed, see her Inklings blog post on Day One.

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American online giant Amazon has requested government approval to establish operations here in Canada. In consideration of this, the Canadian Booksellers Association has a few things to say and has asked that the government deny Amazon’s request. The press release states:

CBA President Stephen Cribar argues that Amazon’s entry into Canada would detrimentally affect the country’s independent businesses and cultural industries: “Individual Canadian booksellers have traditionally played a key role in ensuring the promotion of Canadian authors and Canadian culture. These are values that no American dot.com retailer could ever purport to understand or promote.”

CBA urges the Canadian government and the Department of Canadian Heritage to continue its support of our unique cultural perspective by placing reasonable limits on American domination of our book market and rejecting Amazon.com’s current application.

With Biblio and other indie shops in mind, I firmly stand behind the CBA. Do you? We’re urged, then, to support them and the preservation of our Canadian culture by writing to our MPs and ministers of culture and industry, and even to the prime minister. I’m conflicted about this, wondering what the point might be, especially since Harper seems too busy for this sort of thing, but one never knows. Better to do something than nothing.

books

Since you can watch or listen to the first day of the Canada Reads competition on the Canada Reads site, it seems redundant for me to give a play-by-play of the program. Instead I will try to add to the discussion.

First off, I still struggle with the choice of books for the competition. Because I believe the point is to recommend the best book of five for the nation to read, I would really prefer to see new Canadian books being given exposure, you  know, so the program could do double duty rather than rehash any hype that preceded. Three of the books for this year’s program were not even from this decade, which means, as one of the panelists said, they’ve “had their day.” One tendency I’ve noticed among booklovers, whether I was working in the library or at Chapters or reading blogs and discussing books with friends, has been to stick with the tried and true successes but often pass off the new voices of Can lit. Only Good to a Fault and Nikolski were relatively new. That said, however, perhaps this would be a different competition altogether, then, and maybe something I could start here on this site instead.

Okay, onto Day One and my impressions. My first surprise was that Nikolski became genderized—the women found it “thin” and masculine, while the men liked it. I’m surprised for two reasons: like Perdita I judge a book by its cover and not once did it occur to me that it might be a man’s book! I loved the colours, the design, the sort of whimsy of it. It’s what made me pick it up in the first place. Also, in the reading of it, I didn’t think of the content as “masculine” or more male centred. There are at least three strong women characters and the story is not something that might be labelled masculine in the same way Hemingway, for instance, has been.

As for the book being “thin,” that comment completely raised at least one of my eyebrows! Contrarily, I thought Nikolski quite multi-layered and rich, ripe with meaning and symbolism as well as substance in characters and details. It was an easy book to escape in. If there’s any sense of “thinness” perhaps it’s being confused with his economy of prose, which I believe to be skilful and suited to the content. In that sense, I agree very much with panelist Michel Vézina that perhaps it is the readers who are not bringing enough to the book, which I’ve hinted at before. Sometimes we want things to be a little too neat, and Dickner doesn’t allow that, which is another reason I loved the book.

Aside from Nikolski, because by now you know my bias, I found the discussion just a tiny bit disappointing. I dislike that everything must be so rigidly timed (I understand why but wonder if they can’t simply allot more time to the program? After all, this is a noteworthy contribution to our arts culture). People are thus challenged to say what they want in an almost frantic manner and consequently often don’t come out with very meaningful or strong commentary before they’re interrupted. At least, so it seemed to me.

However, this was only the first day and everyone is just getting warmed up. I’m hoping for more from each panelist, especially from Pemberton, who has so far been somewhat disappointing, with comments like that referring to the “poor grammar” in Good to a Fault, and a bit unfocused and seemingly more concerned about his performance. However, I think he’s a good representative of Coupland’s Generation X, and I do love his enthusiasm and hope he is able to harness it in an articulate and intelligent way.

As always, my fear is that this will become too personal rather than as objective as they can manage. I mean, I understand how hard that is, since reading is such a personal and emotional experience, but I hope the panelists can stay focused on the goal of defending good Canadian writing and telling us which contributes best to our culture and why, which I think should be foremost, though CBC has labelled this a “fight” and the idea is to be the best at convincing the audience your book is the one to read.

But I keep thinking back to my university days, when we discussed the many elements and layers of each novel, when we learned what Canadian literature means, when we explored and proffered perspectives. I know this is as much a contest of the panelists’ skill as it is of the worthiness of the books, but I hope that they can balance that with the novels’ content to put forth a really good debate series.

Regardless of which book I think should win now, I’d say all five are significant contributions to Canadian literature and, as such, should be read. For more detailed discussion on Day One and for her apt editorial comments, see Jen Knoch’s post on Keepin’ It Real.

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books

I’ve posted about this upcoming contest already, but for those not yet in the know or who may not be paying attention to the date, Canada Reads begins today! Five panelists will discuss five Canadian novels and ultimately decide which book Canada should be reading now.

Although there are several views on these debates and their purpose, I’m personally hoping the discussion will focus on the books’ significant contributions to Canadian literature and less on technical aspects of each book or personal preference. I’m also rooting for Nikolski, even though I think each book is worthy of the competition, and you’ll know why when you read this post and this one.

CBC Canada Reads can be heard March 8–12 on CBC Radio One at 11:30 am and 7:30 pm (3:30 and 8:00 pm NT).

The CBC Canada Reads site’s latest post also lists live chats, Facebook, and Twitter options for those more digitally inclined. And they give a little shoutout to your truly as well! Thanks, Kimberly!

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books

Nominees for the Amazon.ca 2009 First Novel Award have been announced. The prize is $7500.

And the nominees are:

  • No Place Strange, by Diana Fitzgerald Bryden
  • The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon
  • Come, Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant
  • Goya’s Dog, by Damian Tarnopolsky
  • Diary of Interrupted Days, by Dragan Todorovic
  • Daniel O’Thunder, by Ian Weir

The winner will be announced in April in Toronto. All finalists get a $750 gift certificate redeemable at www.amazon.ca.

NB: Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize in 2009. It won the latter. I haven’t yet read this book but from the sounds of it, it’s worth checking out!

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books, reading

KIRBC Civilians Reads panelists

Canada Reads is a well-known CBC program. Perhaps not quite so well-known yet is the Canada Reads spinoff Civilians Read, dreamed up and hosted by an excellent booklovers’ blog called Keepin’ it Real Book Club (KIRBC). This time around (they’ve done it before), five panelists, each pulled from the publishing trade, battle it out over the same five books Canada Reads will begin debating on March 8 on CBC Radio ONE: Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy, Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, Generation X by Douglas Coupland, and Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott. I’m excited about this list of works, mainly because so far I’ve already read 3 of the 5.

As I type this post, I’m listening to a podcast by the KIRBC gang that is exciting because I feel as though I’ve rediscovered a lost piece of my life I’ve long missed. It’s been eons, about ten years or so, since I’ve had any sustained stimulating discussion about Canadian literature among other booklovers, and not only stimulating but intelligent—which you generally do not find in your local bookstore or library club. Wait—let me rephrase that lest I offend anyone: at least, I haven’t found that in the book clubs I’ve joined…and left. What I’m listening to now is the kind of discussion I want to hear in Biblio. It’s very good, well done, but not too serious—a perfect balance. Laughter abounds, and you can really hear the energy in the room. It makes me jealous, makes me wish I was there, but I feel woefully unprepared for such things now, being so out of practice.

Have a listen to the KIRBC podcast (at about 6 minutes in, I think, there’s a little blank air but keep listening, it will catch up) and see what you think. Their discussion has me pondering about not only who might win (I’m rooting for Nikolski, but the Jade Peony is a fave as well), and how best to defend a novel, but about how we might perpetuate this kind of appreciation for literature—particularly Canadian, which to my mind merits our support—by constantly changing the way we appreciate it, by how we voice that appreciation, and by keeping our expression of it interesting, unique, imaginative, exciting, and most of all tempting.

I’ve been thinking about this for Biblio, so that I don’t have a lame book club and so that I can watch those deserving books we discuss and promote fly out our wooden doors, beautifully wrapped in paper and twine, ready to be devoured with a cup of tea.

But I think the KIRBC has a fine head start (especially on unique: check out their YouTube pre-game confessionals in the bathroom, the only room with a closed door!). Stay tuned for more each day as they continue their debate!

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books

Animal Farm. Cover Simon Tomlinson

I’m a huge fan of Penguin books. I love the stuff they print and I love their covers, and I’m especially attached to that age-old cute penguin and the orange. They’ve established quite a household icon, Penguin has, but now they’re turning some of the creative work over to you.

In my literary travels, I came across My Penguin, a site that provides Penguin copies of certain titles for 5 quid (it’s a UK site. I can’t find anything like this under Penguin Canada). The catch is, the covers are blank. You design your own cover.

Magic Tales. Cover Natasha Cheti

I have to say this gets me pretty excited. Doesn’t it sound like fun? And I can totally imagine a section in Biblio but also my own home of special edition Penguins designed by inspired readers. Unfortunately, I don’t know that you can actually buy the books that have been designed and it seems they can no longer accept covers for their gallery. But I don’t think that stops you from buying a title or two of your choice and designing your covers, though.

In my previous post, the Alice cover was illustrated by Design Monkey. Take a look at the other covers on My Penguin here and here. Many of them are excellent! I have too many favourites to mention.

If I was any type of confident artist, and I assure you, I unfortunately have no skills, I’d definitely illustrate my own book cover. Perhaps for the Grimms’ Magic Tales or Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray or Carroll’s Alice. Which would you choose?

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books

Manguel’s personal library from the NYT h/t Alan Jacobs

My library is not a single beast but a composite of many others, a fantastic animal made up of the several libraries built and then abandoned, over and over again, throughout my life. I can’t remember a time in which I didn’t have a library of some sort. The present one is a sort of multilayered autobiography, each book holding the moment in which I opened it for the first time. The scribbles on the margins, the occasional date on the flyleaf, the faded bus ticket marking a page for a reason today mysterious, all try to remind me of who I was then. For the most part, they fail. My memory is less interested in me than in my books, and I find it easier to remember the story read once than the young man who then read it. — Alberto Manguel

Isn’t this picture of Manguel’s collection gorgeous? I’m so jealous! And look, he even has Harry Potter on his shelves! (You can guess all you want what that might mean about him, but instead read this. It’s excellent. Manguel is a man after my own heart and I feel sure he and I would get on famously.)

For a while I had a page on this site where I had planned on posting pictures of readers’ bookshelves. Unfortunately, I haven’t received any photos and I decided to scrap the page to conserve space. That may change as more readers visit this site, though, or if I find a better theme. The voyeur in me really wants to see your photos!

Since I’m into my own library and books, I’m incurably curious about what others are reading and particularly what their own collections look like. When I visit someone’s home, that’s where I gravitate to: their books. I take note of their bookcases, whether shelves on milk crates, Billy configurations from IKEA, antique shelves, or contemporary and unconventional shelves. Then I peruse the collections. I can spend hours doing this, I must confess, though I have only been rude enough to do it at my sister’s house in England.

BBC News Magazine has an article today called “What Does Your Bookcase Say About You?” Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s had the idea of posting people’s personal library photos. I’m also not alone in being interested in other readers’ libraries, of course. Peter Sandico is a bibliophile who feels the same way I do. He has a theory, as well, about what our books say about us. While I wholeheartedly concur that books are an extension of the self, I can’t agree that I display my books because I want people to think a certain way about me (that never occurred to me!)—I display my books because I’m in love with them and enjoy being surrounded by them, and adore looking at them and browsing through them, and because I firmly believe that books make a room. I also agree that our books and the way we shelve them say things about us.

I display my books neatly; they line up nicely at the edge of the shelves. This might be from my Chapters or library days but I think I’ve always done it. It tells you that I like order and neatness, which is very true—er, in most cases. But I also have let go of the control a bit (as in life in general) and whereas I used to organize my books by nationality (Canadian, American, Indian, and so on, though children’s were just all together, and then even alphabetically), I’ve become more lax.

Generally, all the books an author has written are together, but otherwise I pretty much put the books where they fit best on the shelves. Sometimes I care about how they look beside each other; thus I have a bunch of beautiful fat novels together (Kristin Lavransdatter, Anna Karenina, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Historian, etc.). No matter what, though, my little library is completely for me. I feel so strongly about my books, my dear friends, that I couldn’t care less if anyone judges me or my choices negatively. I like what I like for me, not for anyone else—books are after all highly personal belongings—though I admit it is lovely when people compliment me on my collection. It makes me happy.

What do your bookshelves look like? Are they neat and organized or piled willy-nilly on top of each other? Do you have uniform shelves or mismatched ones? Do you put other things on your shelves besides books?

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books

The shortlists for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, awarded to promising new voices and/or exemplary new works of English-language fiction from the Commonwealth, have been announced. The following are those representations only from Canada and the Caribbean. The winners will be announced on April 12.

Mark Collins, director of the Commonwealth Foundation, had this to say about the prestigious award:

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is distinct and unique in that the books that win often have strong insight, spirit and voice about the incredible diversity, history and society of the Commonwealth. The Prize aims to reward the best of Commonwealth fiction written in English and in doing so, spots rising talent and creates new literary figures from the Commonwealth. This is the Prize to watch for tomorrow’s best-sellers. [source]

I’m always excited about shortlists and award winners; rarely am I disappointed in the chosen books. If there’s anything I appreciate, it’s fine literary fiction. On this best book list, there are a few that have been nominated for other major prizes, like the Giller and Governor General’s Award, as well. That’s promising! A hearty congratulations to the authors, as well as a huge thank you for writing these books and contributing to our culture. Without literature of this calibre, we would certainly be lost.

Caribbean and Canada Best Book:
The Winter Vault
by Anne Michaels
February
by Lisa Moore
Euphoria
by Connie Gault
Goya’s Dog
by Damian Tarnopolsky
Galore
by Michael Crummey
The Golden Mean
by Annabel Lyon

Caribbean and Canada Best First Book:
Under this Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell
Daniel O’Thunder by Ian Weir
The Island Quintet: Five Stories by Raymond Ramchartiar
Diary of Interrupted Days by Dragan Todorovic
The Briss by Michael Tregebov
Amphibian by Carla Gunn
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books

This week I received my second birthday gift in the mail. How exciting that is! My birthday isn’t till February 20th (I’ll be 36), but the post, of course, doesn’t know that, and better to mail something ahead of time than too late. (I sent a special edition to my sister in England for her birthday [January 20th] and it still hasn’t arrived.)

My family and close friends know that they can’t go wrong with giving me books, even if it’s for every holiday and my birthday. So one of my sisters sent me Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which has been on my wish list since I read it: I kept giving it to people and never bought it for myself after I gave away my own copy because I felt it would somehow come back to me. Well, it did; it came unexpectedly in the post with a lovely card. I was ecstatic! I love it when people know me so well.

The second gift was also a book, beautifully wrapped in quality paper with a large classic print and encircled with twine. It too had an artful card that accompanied it. Both my sister and my friend are art lovers and they appreciate paper and books as much as I do. The book was Gunnar’s Daughter, by Sigrid Undset, author of the 1928 Nobel Prize Winner Kristin Lavransdatter (which is a fantastic substantial saga, one to hunker down in the winter months with, preferably with Cloudberry tea and on a sheepskin).

I think there’s nothing more rewarding, more satisfying, than receiving a gift that reflects a person’s true understanding of you. If books and paper and art are your thing, may you be forever blessed in the receiving of them, as I am.

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authors, books

Author Yann Martel. photo: guardian.co.uk

Yann Martel, author of the brilliant novel Life of Pi, has a very interesting and extraordinary project on the go. It’s called What is Stephen Harper Reading? Every two weeks, for as long as Harper is prime minister, Martel will send him a new book to read, accompanied by a letter. (I’m extremely jealous!) He’s sent 74 books so far and had about six responses, not one of them from the prime minister himself.

You really should check out this site. It’s simultaneously humorous and not at all funny. You’ll see what I mean. It’s quite thought-provoking, in fact.

I’m thinking this would be a very cool project to take on myself, actually—to read the books Harper’s been sent and Martel’s letters with them, and then actually respond. (I feel all these gratis books (what an ideal gift, yes?) are wasted on Harper, unfortunately, but who knows: maybe he secretly reads them before bed and in between sessions and waits with bated breath for the next package?)

My main point for this post, however late I’m getting to it, is this. I just read the About page, and it made me think of the post I wrote only last night. While it is a very interesting and provoking About page, and the entire script made me feel somewhat perturbed (ironically: it’s about being still but I felt moved to do something, though I don’t know what), here is the paragraph that spoke to me most at this particular time.

On March 28th, 2007, at 3 pm, I was sitting in the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons, I and forty-nine other artists from across Canada, fifty in all, and I got to thinking about stillness. To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by.

Be still and think about that for a while.

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books, tea

Almost every day there’s either a grand or small thing to discourage me from opening Biblio or from thinking the idea of books and tea will work.

Putting aside the relentless news articles announcing the death of yet another indie bookshop, take this, for instance:

I’m sitting in the living room, busy editing an article for CJDS. Beside me are not one but two sidetables on which very attractive books lie. A small shift in position and my ginger lemon tea goes flying across all four books. Two I rescue; they are happily unharmed. But my clothbound copy of The Hobbit and my oh so beautiful Bedside Book of Birds are hit on their bottom edges. No amount of dabbing will help. They rest now on floor vents, where the heat from our furnace was rising but seems to have suddenly ceased as soon as I placed the books there. Already, the Bedside Book is warping.

I want to weep. I admit to having spilled tea on manuscripts I’ve been proofing before. If the spill is major, I reprint and reproof the pages. If only a drop or two or a minor smudge, I write a little “enjoying chai rooibos tea! Sorry!” note with a smiley face. In this case, putting my tea on the sidetable, which is not, of course, unheard of, is obviously asking for trouble if I’m going to decorate those tables with books as well. Going further, perhaps drinks and books in Biblio is a stupid idea! I don’t want to spend my time marking down beautiful books because of damage.

Sigh. Will I have to enforce some rule that customers can’t sip tea and peruse a book at the same time just in case? That would be totally counter to the idea of Biblio!!

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