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!




photo by tataanne

Tonight is pizza and movie night. Pretty much every Friday is. And I don’t know if it’s the slight but energizing change in weather or my deep homesickness for England (even though I’ve visited there only once and only for two weeks, last October), but I’ve been in the mood over the last few days for Harry Potter.

So tonight we watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (for the third or fourth time), even though I briefly wondered if we should save it for just before the first part of no. 7 comes out in November. Meh. I can watch this one repeatedly. It’s my favourite of the franchise thus far, and I found myself yet again coming away with an overwhelming desire to pull down the books.

There are only two people I know who tried the Harry Potter series and didn’t like them, claiming they seemed unoriginal. I vehemently disagree, especially since I’ve read the books and watched documentaries on Rowling and read a few other things besides, and they read maybe the first book. I mean, of course as an educated woman Rowling borrowed, as do most authors. Tolkien borrowed, too. But the books are her own and I find very little fault with such imagination, not to mention feat in attracting millions of readers. I respect that people have different tastes and I believe they are entitled to their opinions, but the two anomalies I speak of are my sister in England and my mother. I can’t help but take this a bit personally. I shake my head and can’t hide my disappointment.

from LIFE online

It’s hard for me to pinpoint what exactly I love about the Potter novels. The rampant brilliant creativity that reveals Rowling having fun? The mélange of myth and legend, and other grown-up things that give the books more depth? Is it the writing itself? The background knowledge I’ve acquired surrounding the author, her writing process, and the books? Perhaps the Englishness of them, the magic (I do love magic), the growth of characters, the common but wonderfully handled themes of courage, good vs evil, friendship, and love?

Maybe all. But I also cherish the memories I have regarding these books. I remember working in Chapters years ago. I’d not read the first or second book, but when the third came out, I was curious. I usually say of myself that I tend to avoid hype: you can’t trust it. But I couldn’t resist wanting to know what all the fuss was about, especially since I hold a special place in my heart for children’s lit, and that day I bought all three hardcovers. Thinking back, I can’t recall any time before that when I participated in any book phenomenon. Were there any, in my time, before Harry Potter? If so, I can’t remember.

I do remember marking on my calendar when Goblet of Fire was to come out. I was living with C and his parents at the time, without a job. His mom drove me to Chapters on the release day to pick up my reserved copy and I distinctly recall the thrill of buying it, of lying across my bed and devouring that gorgeously fat volume. For the longest time I regularly visited Rowling’s site. I read a few fan sites here and there for news. When Deathly Hallows was finally released, C and I had to share it because we wanted to read it at the same time.

Photo by Marco Okhuizen.

And now I’ve cracked open Deathly Hallows again and suddenly I am awash with more memories. The design, the font, the layout, the weight and shape of the book, the fragrance of the pages—these all remind me of the excitement (mixed with dread knowing the series would end with that volume) that preceded the final installment in the HP series. And it hits me now what it is that makes these books special for me, aside from their content and magic. It’s the hype itself. It’s the contests for tickets to attend a midnight reading by Rowling herself and in a castle no less, it’s the thousands lined up to receive their copy, it’s the pumping hearts and anticipation of holding that long-awaited tome in hand and of turning to the first page, drinking in every detail, starting that very first sentence—but it’s not just you doing it, it’s a gazillion others doing the very same thing all at the same time. It’s unadulterated, utter booklove.

And that, my fellow booklovers, takes reading to a whole new level. So I’ve lied. I do participate in the hype. I did buy the Twilight books when each one came out, and even read them more than once. Now C and I wait for the fourth book in Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. And when that series is over there will be another, and in between those there will be a long-awaited release from a favourite author. The thrill of a book release you’ve been waiting for is unmatched. But when you also know you share that anticipation and enthusiasm with thousands of others, when you picture people all over the world or even just in your province or state or town picking up copies and cracking open those spines with that same excitement you’re experiencing, it’s really an amazing feeling. Collective reading. Even without a fan-based book phenom, the thought that there are hundreds of thousands right now reading some book they’re enjoying totally does me in. It would be cool to travel the world and catch them (on camera) in the act.

Hubby caught reading HP in 2005.

Around here, what makes me insanely happy is the retired woman I always see reading on her porch with a mug of tea or coffee, the woman in her armchair by the window, immersed in her paperback, the patient oblivious of time outside his mystery novel as vitamins seep into his veins, the city worker with her nose in her book on her smoke break, the neighbour a few houses down sitting on her living room couch with a blanket on her lap and a novel in her hand. I like to watch her from my kitchen window. These glimpses make my heart sing.

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