A sunny but cold day here in Belleville, Ontario, and a quiet day. I’m in need of some picking up, and you  may be too. Here’s a few literary tidbits to add a bit of fun.

1. I don’t know why I haven’t mentioned this magazine before. It’s called Bookmarks: For Everyone Who Hasn’t Read Everything. It’s American with a small staff, but it’s an impressive compilation of letters, selections (including literary, genre, non-fic titles), Have you Read? and Coming Soon books, books that have won awards, Now in Paperback summaries, reviews, and an overview of the year in books (this issue covers 1977, when Leon Uris’s Trinity and Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family were sitting at number one on the New York Times Bestseller lists for fiction and non-fiction, respectively). There are also feature articles: Jan/Feb’s issue has a special on Murakami, for those fans who are interested, as well as an article called “The Regency in Modern Literature.” The mag is well done, in my opinion, really a wealth of info for anyone looking to lose themselves in book recommendations. It’s US $5.95 US and CDN $7.95.

2. On January 13th this year, the Telegraph featured an exclusive new story by one of my favourite short story authors, Lydia Davis. It’s called “The Landing.” Emily Keeler, who writes an intelligent blog called Bookside Table and has challenged herself to review 100 short stories this year (I’m embarrassed I’m not doing that myself), reviewed it and that’s how I came to know of and read it. Thanks, Emily!

3. Jodi Picoult fans will be pleased to know she has a new book coming out on February 28th, called Lone Wolf. To celebrate, Simon & Schuster is hosting a nationwide contest with five prizes. The contest runs Feb. 1 to March 2. The two grand prize winners will receive a pre-event meet and greet with Jodi in Toronto, 2 tickets to her Toronto event and backlist of Jodi novels. This is open to residents of the GTA only, sorry! The 3 secondary prizes consist of a complete Jodi backlist and a signed copy of Lone Wolf. Again, the link to the sweepstakes page with all the info!

4. The OLA has announced the 2012 Evergreen Awards shortlist! Among the authors are Robert J. Wiersma, for Bedtime Story, which I haven’t yet read, and Brian Francis, for Natural Order, whose book I’ve reviewed already. You can view the shortlist at Quill & Quire.

5. The Millions has compiled a list of literary Tumblrs. Have a look at their categories, including publishers big and small, and “single servings,” and if you want to add any more you love in the comments, feel free! One of my favourites has long been Booklover. She posts so many lovely bookish images and quotes.

6. This has been going around so perhaps you’ve already seen The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore? It’s a beautiful, poignant, and imaginative animated short that celebrates not only the dedication of people to books but also the ability of books and their stories to bring life to people, to inspire, revitalize, even to be comforting companions.

7. Who loves pin-ups? What about literary pin-ups? Author Patrick Rothfuss has “accidentally” published a literary pin-up calendar. While at a conference he met graphic designer  Lee Moyer, who showed him a few of his lit-inspired images but told him he was having a hard time finding someone to print the calendar. Patrick says he looked at the Dickensian chimney sweep coyly brandishing her broom, and impulsively volunteered to print it. The calendars are now available to order; a cheeky birthday or Christmas gift for your significant other or for yourself?

8. Er, whatever you may think of me, I’m actually quite the prude. But you wouldn’t know it from my next tidbit here, after the pinup girls: on library porn. I have to say, I really do love the vintage covers. With titles like Nympho Librarian and Naughty Voyeur Librarian, how can you resist? Seriously, though, it’s actually an interesting article, called “Checking Out,” in the Paris Review. Those booklovers who enjoy erotica might find some Reader’s Advisory suggestions here!

9. Simply put, I want this: the typewriter laptop sleeve. Unfortunately, my laptop is 17,” not 13″. But I would consider buying a new one just to fit.

10. If you have ten minutes, you can read this excellent new story by Michelle Berry called “Knock, Knock.” Ten minutes, if that. That’s what I love about short stories. They’re short. You can fit them in anywhere. Even brushing your teeth. There’s no excuse for not enough time. They’re a flash of light in the day.

11. A cool site I just discovered recently, thanks to Amber at Coteau Books: Fictional Food: Bringing food from page to plate. Hey, that was my idea…which I never did do anything about. Anyway, have a browse. It’s not content rich yet, but the idea is pretty cool. It’s great if you’re thinking of hosting a Hunger Games party soon to celebrate the upcoming movie release in March; there’s a bunch of Hunger Games recipes. Also check out the Mockingjay pin cupcakes (vid), A Wrinkle in Time Cake, and Remy’s Ratatouille, from one of my very favourite animated films, Ratatouille.

12. Penguin Books cufflinks, anyone? Or Sherlock Holmes cufflinks and earrings! Or Jane Austen literary lovers book earrings (Pride and Prejudice). Also see Watership Down-inspired soaps, with fragrances like Clover and Kehaar’s Sea Breeze.

13. I know of artist George Walker because of my sister, Thérèse Neelands, who had him as a teacher at OCAD. (Thérèse is also an artist. You can find her her Etsy store here and her other illustrations at her site, Strawberry Snail, if you haven’t seen it already.) I’ve since seen several of Walker’s lovely books with woodcut illustrations, but I only just heard of his short film, called The Book of Hours, posted on Twitter by The Porcupine’s Quill. The Book of Hours is a wordless narrative told in 99 wood engravings.

14. Lastly, for today, here is author Heather O’Neill (Lullabies for Little Criminals) on how to date a writer. I liked this even more for its imagination and humour than practical advice!

It’s Valentine’s Day, as you know. A day often fraught with expectations, guilt, and even loneliness. Let’s put aside the commercialism and love who we love, as we do every day no matter what, but let’s not forget ourselves, either. Loving ourselves means we have even more to give. Today, I say, treat yourself to some small act of liberation! Or, if you prefer, a big one.

“You, whose day it is, get out your rainbow colors and make it beautiful” (traditional Nootka song).

Thank you for reading here, everyone.

book reviews

This Ramshackle Tabernacle, by Samuel Thomas Martin, Breakwater Books, 2010, pp. 216. Image pinched from Sam's site.

I keep reading short story collections that take me by surprise with their intensity and impact. In fact, This Ramshackle Tabernacle, by Samuel Thomas Martin, affected me so deeply that this is my fourth attempt at blogging a review. I’ve deleted countless paragraphs and started over many times, unsatisfied with what I’ve written. And there’s so much to say, to highlight, but then I’d be stripping you of the optimal reading experience. I want to say: just buy it. Read it. You’ll be hard-pressed to be unmoved.

But that’s cheating.

This Ramshackle Tabernacle is comprised of twelve linked short stories set in northeastern Ontario, in two fictional towns based on the area between Belleville (where I live) and Bancroft. (Martin’s from Gilmour, not far from Belleville.) We’re talking backwoods here, and Sam makes this setting so real for the readers that even those unfamiliar with the area will smell the campfire smoke and wintry air, the lake water, boat petrol, and pines. They’ll hear the sharp crack of twigs underfoot, the echoing blast of a shotgun, loons ululating their evensong. There is one story, one of the most heartbreaking ones, that takes place in Toronto, and Sam makes the grunge of downtrodden areas and the contrast of a university campus so palpable that if you live there and read this book, you might feel weird walking by those places after. Setting—whether in the country north of 7 (as we say), the quintessentially Canadian Algonquin Park, or Toronto—is an integral part of this book and serves as a strong background to the violence and searching that typifies the stories.

Populated with characters who’ve suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and distress, who cut themselves, who commit suicide, who die as a result of a bully attack (this story, “Shaver,” was distressing and made me cry), who are saved from drowning by the (later) accidentally drowned (the saved could not save in this case), who are left behind, who become drug addicts and commit a murder while on a horrifying high (“Eight-Ball,” a story so tragic it made me ache), who have lost themselves and are searching for God, relief, release, meaning—but also those who have found these things, like the inimitable and memorable Annie Chizim in “Cliff Jumping”—these stories deeply, searchingly explore darkness and light, damnation and redemption, faith and folly. But don’t let the above litany of violent situations put you off. It may sound relentless—and indeed Martin doesn’t spare us from details (thank goodness!)—but it serves a greater purpose than to shock or depress us. It’s also not unrealistic to encounter such things in this sort of area, and it’s not unusual for any character to be struck by a theme of occurrences, by the humanity of them, the commonality linking them, so that he’s compelled, as are others, to ask questions.

Maybe this is how God bleeds himself into the world: with the coming of night and darkness. Incarnate long before the sun rises. Sometimes I feel like I’m still waiting for the sun to rise: like it hasn’t really risen these past three years. Wondering, if God’s hand is there in the dark, why doesn’t he reach out and touch us?

Importantly, the connections Sam makes between stories, the links both obvious and surprising, are well wrought and never forced. No story is contrived in order to fit the book’s intent, and neither, apart from two or three metaphors, is the God factor too purposely injected or too coolly dealt with in order to make it accessible. Instead, the book is accessible because of Martin’s ability to focus on the universal human struggle. This is an achievement in itself, to keep the book attractive to all readers while having Christian characters or making the main theme the search for God in a violent world. We see fine examples of this accessibility in other CanLit books that portray characters questing for reconciliation with or truth in their religious upbringing, for example, in Miriam Toew’s A Complicated Kindness.

While certain characters reappear in several stories, we often see them from different perspectives. Even Bill, the main protagonist who, as it turns out, is writing the stories, appears in both first and third person. This technique is intriguing because we see more of a character this way, through their own eyes, through the eyes of others, but it can also be somewhat of a barrier: although I was very impressed by how well Martin brought the book full-circle, the first and last stories forming a significant frame around the well-organized darkness within, it wasn’t until after I’d finished the book and began sifting through the stories again that I fully realized who was who and how the stories were linked. I didn’t always remember character’s names as I read, till farther on, so that when they reappeared later, it didn’t occur to me that a person was someone I’d already met in another story. I’d list this as a criticism if I trusted my memory, because recognizing the characters when they appear again is rather crucial to the book, but as it is, it could be just my own flaws as a reader or the time I left in between each story. The realizations I made afterward were startling, not only because then I saw more closely how characters respond to their pasts, and there is character development throughout the book, but also because the stories took on a deeper significance in terms of how the lives of those around him affected Bill (the author of the stories), and how each character affected the others he or she knew. This thus further impacted my reading experience. I feel a second reading, which I’m more than willing to do since I like the book so much, will lead to an even richer experience and the impression of a more cohesive book.

None of the themes in this collection—particularly the search for meaning, God, redemption, happiness, reconciliation, and acceptance—is by any means original, yet This Ramshackle Tabernacle is indeed one of the most unique collections I’ve ever read. I’ve never read anything that so boldly yet sympathetically visualizes Everyman’s wrestling with God, perhaps in the way Ben, in a strong story called “Roulette,” wrestles a grizzly. The stories are visceral, raw, disturbing, and startling in their vision of truth or reality—I have the incomparable sensation when holding this book that it contains more than simply stories with characters; it feels, rather, as though the book houses real people I’m reluctant to shut in between the covers.

Lest you feel this all sounds too grim, I assure you the stories are also wonderfully tinged with humour, as in “Rosary,” in particular.

Any of youse ever been on a canoe trip?

The three guys shrug their shoulders, and the two city-born prissy queens from Toronto give me bitchy stares and mutter something about their social workers signing them up for this stupid f-ing program.

First camp rule: No swearing. So, drop the f-bomb out of your vocabulary along with shit, ass, bitch, damn and bastard. That should be the last time you hear those words. Okay?

More shrugs. More stares.

It’s not that hard and I’m not a Nazi about it so don’t freak out.

When’s this fuckin trip start? a fifteen-year-old wigger with his belt buckled at his crotch asks smugly as he thrusts one hand down the front of his pants.

You forget where your pocket is, Meoff? Or should I call you Jack?

What the fu—

That’ll be the second time in less than two sentences, so just chill out, man.

There’s also a diversity in the style of the stories, although technically they’re written by the same character. Aside from the different tenses, character perspectives, and narrative points of view, Martin demonstrates a versatility of skill. One story in particular comes to mind, called “Becoming Maria,” a run-on inner monologue by Maria herself, a cutter, that aptly suggests her instability. I admired Martin’s ability to pull this off, not only from a female perspective but in such a unique voice. “Eight-ball” portrays Harold—(who appears earlier in another story as a quiet young boy), a man with naive dreams who moves to Toronto to make it big as a violinist but instead becomes a drug addict—and also reflects Martin’s keen ability to “look [his] neighbour in the eye,” and imagine what might be going on inside. As I mentioned earlier, this story broke my heart.

In spite of maybe three minor annoyances—which I’ve decided not to go into here since they are more things a copyeditor rather than reviewer might note, and I don’t want to negatively influence your reading by making you look out for them—I have to say, and I’m not being hyperbolic here, that this little debut collection of hard-hitting stories may actually be a book that changes my life as an aspiring author. The stories have definitely affected me as a reader, as all great short stories do. And while it is not perfect, as I say, the issues were minor enough that I willingly tossed them aside in favour of seeing the larger, deeper effort. This is a powerful book. It deserves much more attention than it’s had, though it’s not been ignored, either, having reaped positive reviews and also been a finalist for both the 2010 Winterset Award and the 2011 ReLit Award for Short Fiction.

The book’s certainly had much attention from me. As I did with This Cake is for the Party, I got intimate with it: I brushed my teeth in front of it, I sweated on the treadmill with it, I ate cottage cheese and tomato and crackers and peanut butter with it; I spattered pickle juice on it. I dogeared the pages, I folded them backwards over the spine as I read. I flattened the spine, I shoved the book in my bag every morning and after every time I’d sneaked a few minutes with it at work. I slept with it by my side. I loved this book, for so many reasons, but mainly because while I was reading it I was deeply moved, so much so that sometimes I had to put it down after a story, only for a minute or two, to digest what I’d just read and quietly admire (er, and resent!) Martin’s skills. In Salty Ink, Chad Pelley, fellow East Coaster and author of Away from Everywhere (coming up on this blog soon), wrote of This Ramshackle Tabernacle: “A compelling [collection]. It is emotionally engaging and impressively written. [This] book will rattle you.”

For once an endorsement is absolutely true. (Actually, they all are in this case.) The book did rattle me. I was disturbed and uncomfortable reading some of it, but it was a good kind of disturbed, the kind that makes you admire the writer’s ability and skill, that compels you to keep reading.

More good news is that Sam has another book coming out this spring already, mentioned in the Quill & Quire as one of this coming season’s most anticipated, called A Blessed Snarl, about a husband’s suicidal leap of faith after his wife leaves him for someone she met on Facebook, and his son’s relationship with a woman with a mysterious past.

After such an impressive debut as This Ramshackle Tabernacle, I’m confident this new novel is going to cause a stir. I look forward to it.


Thank you to Sam’s friend, whoever you are, who came into the store that day in 2010 and bought the book and told me about it when I asked. And thank you to Sam, for sending the book, for being a hand on my back, for helping to keep me writing when I want to quit.  

other book stuff

Recently, Finnish journalist Verna Kuutti contacted me to ask a few questions for a story she’s doing on “contemporary Canadian literature and the generational shift that seemed to take place this fall.” Her story will appear in Finland’s largest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. Verna wrote, “Canadian literature, and especially the more recent writers & works are still quite unknown in Scandinavia, so it would be great if you could help me spreading the word by answering a couple of questions.”

Because some of these questions have arisen here in Canada, too, I thought I’d post my answers for you here, and maybe they could open up discussion. While I touch on it in my answers to Verna’s questions, I’d also like to further address that ridiculous question going around, which especially came to light after the Giller Prize, about whether or not Canadian literature is Canadian enough.

1. This year most of the nominees for important literary prizes were relatively fresh names. Do you think a generation shift is happening in Canadian literature? Or is it something that the media invented?

This is a hard question to answer because I myself have made a shift to reading mostly younger contemporary writers. But I think too that yes, there is an influx of them making the spotlight lately, not only in Canada (think of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife win of the 2011 Orange Prize) and not just this year. Last year, for example, Alexander MacLeod and Sarah Selecky both made the Giller shortlist, and Johanna Skibsrud took the prize. While the authors were certainly deserving, their placement could (but perhaps not) be due partly to the fact that our canon writers, our older writers, aren’t producing very often anymore. For example, Alice Munro’s last, Too Much Happiness, was two years ago, Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood was also two years ago. Michael Ondaatje’s last novel before The Cat’s Table was in 2007 and Guy Vanderhaeghe’s A Good Man this year was his first novel in eight years. (Three of those books just now were published by McClelland & Stewart, incidentally, and I want to point out that not only are lesser-known, young authors getting the spotlight now, but often smaller presses, too, like Gaspereau Press and Biblioasis, etc.)

I think in general we’re seeing more young authors being published in Canada but also in the States, and while the media is certainly making waves in this respect (Random House’s treatment of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a fine example), I’d say many of these young authors are great at promoting themselves, especially through social media, and are very deserving of the attention they’re getting. I also think the attention is important in revitalizing or even abolishing the perceived stigma or stereotype of what CanLit is—serious, gloomy, self-conscious, and limited.

2. Do you think the right book won the Giller prize?

Absolutely. They were all deserving, but I feel Esi Edugyan’s writing was undoubtedly strongest. Half-Blood Blues was my favourite of the five, and Esi’s ability to so convincingly create wartime Paris and Berlin as well as her way of writing music and her style in general deserves high praise. If you’d like, you can read my review.

3. Could you name five of the most interesting writers that have published their first book after 2000?

Only five?? Assuming you mean Canadian authors, for me, Sarah Selecky, Jessica Grant, Alexander MacLeod, Carolyn Black, and Katrina Best. Incidentally, these are all short story writers, except for Jessica, who also produced the excellent Come, Thou Tortoise, and there’s also Alison Pick, whose Far to Go has been internationally published and was longlisted for the Booker. That’s six now, and I could go on.

4. Is there a common factor that would describe the newest generation of Canadian writers? What are the strengths of contemporary Canadian literature compared to literature coming from other countries?

I think the common factor that would describe the newest generation of Canadian writers is that they write what they want. There’s a current argument going on right now that Canadian fiction isn’t Canadian enough. I disagree, and have many questions for that statement, but I’d say what seems to define the newest generation of Canadian authors right now is their ability to let go of convention, whether in form or subject or style, and simply write. What results are stories that are first and foremost honest, piercing glimpses into the intricacies of everyday life. And then, as with Esi Edugyan, Alison Pick, and David Bezmozgis, say, we get historical novels that approach common themes of WWII and immigration from completely fresh perspectives, and with impressive skill that seems beyond their years. Or, as with Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, recently winner of both the Writers’ Trust Award and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, we get cool spins on genre fiction. Canada is huge for genre fiction, and yet it doesn’t really receive any attention. Patrick is blurring those lines between genre and literary fiction and, like his counterparts, is helping change how we define CanLit.

I’m not certain of the strengths of CanLit over literature coming from other countries. A good writer is a good writer, regardless of where they’re from. In my view, what defines CanLit is not landscape or topic necessarily, since these things can feature internationally, but rather our sensibilities in our approach to storytelling. That is, we come from a place that’s a mixture of all countries, a small world in a large nation. Instead of focusing on national subjects or places, though those do feature in our books, what’s being treated is what it means to be human in this world, what our everyday experiences are, how we feel, remember, think. Esi’s Half-Blood Blues, for example, was not about WWII or Berlin or Paris, it was a confessional, about one man’s relationship with music, but mainly other people he was close to, particularly a friend he considered a brother.

CanLit has always examined these things, the minutiae, the ordinary—the extraordinary being not exemplified by plot as much as character. Carol Shields was a great example of this. I don’t believe CanLit needs to mention our cities or government or particular Canadian issues to be Canadian. It needs only to be written by Canadians who understand and experience Canada. That will all just automatically come out in their writing. And it’s this writing that is more genuine than the writing that has purposely been injected with Canadianisms or -ness in order to come across as “more Canadian.”

5. Canadian indie music is quite well-known around the world—do you think Canadian literature could become an international brand, a guarantee of quality and a certain freshness? Or is it artificial to try to group young writers by labeling them “Canadian literature”?

I think CanLit can become as popular as our indie music providing we look outside the canon, providing we’re willing to expand our definition of literature, and Canadian literature in particular, to include short stories with novels, small and indie presses among the Big 5, and younger authors among the tried and true. I think this is what the Giller is trying to do, what Canada Reads is trying to do, with their inviting the public to submit their favourite Canadian books. In this way we become more exposed to more writers, we begin to read outside the literary greats who’ve ruled the roost for so long. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but we do need to make so much more room for the incredible new talent we too often overlook.

6. Do you think there is a favorable and supportive climate in Canada for the emergence of new talents? Does the wider public read contemporary writers?

Good question. Yes, I think there is a favourable and supportive climate in Canada for the emergence of new talent. In fact, in typically labelling CanLit as depressing or overly serious, many Canadians have expressed a readiness for exciting new talent. The hard part is in getting that new talent known, and this is where bloggers and reviewers and enthusiastic readers and booksellers come in. The publishers help this greatly by sending out advance reading copies. The difficulty for small and indie presses is that their budgets are also small. It’s up to the authors, often, in that case, to spread the word about their book so that advocates will pick it up and spread it further. Again, Canada Reads in particular comes in handy here, since the voting process involves suggesting a title and explaining why you want it to be onsidered. The Top 40 is a great list for anyone who wants to expand their CanLit reading.

7. If somebody abroad wants to follow what happens in the Canadian literary world, what sources (blogs/websites) should they follow?

There are so many great Canadian blogs and sites out there! To know what’s going on around me in the lit scene I follow many Canadian publishers (their staff of publicits, too), big and small, as well as publications like the Quill & Quire, the Globe and Mail Book section, the Literary Review of Canada, the National Post‘s Afterword section, CBC Books section, and a ton of authors. I also follow literary organizations, like the Giller and Canadian Bookshelf, for example, and bookstores on Twitter, and other book bloggers. You can also take a look at my blogroll.

So, a lot covered here. Any thoughts? These topics are really interesting to me, and your comments are always welcome! Thank you to all who read all the way through!

UPDATE: For more answers to these particular questions, visit John Mutford’s blog, The Book Mine Set, where he’s been blogging about Canadian literature since 2005.


So much interesting stuff lately that I had to do another LitBit post before my email exploded. Here we go!

1. This site is in Spanish, I know. But you can translate it, and the title then is Splashes in the World: Journal of illustration in books for children and youth. I adore children’s books. I sometimes buy them just for the beauty or perfection of the illustrations. My favourite art form ever? Children’s illustration, hands down. Yeah, that’s vague, and to get specific I’d be naming a ton of talented artists. My sister is one of them (and she didn’t even pay me to say that). Anyway, Splashes is easy on the booklover’s eyes, features art styles galore; there’s something for everyone. Just keep scrolling till you find ones you love. There are tons of bookish ones.

2. More bookish art: When I call Victoria Reichelt artist extraordinaire, I mean it. Her art is really quite extraordinary. Reichelt produces paintings, particularly of books and magazines (incidentally, two of my favourite things), that are like no others I’ve seen, although there are certainly other realist artists.

Now, I’m no art major or an expert on art by any means. I really don’t know much about it and can’t analyze paintings for what they’re saying the way I can books. Me, I just like what I like, and aside from appreciating visual art, I really love books, which are themselves several artforms put together. For very interesting and insightful essays on Reichelt’s work, you can visit her website, but I warn you, being bookish people, you will likely just stare at her paintings in awe for a while first. At least that’s what I did. Seriously, they look like photos! How is it even possible? Check out her gallery. I would totally love to be able to commission her to paint my books. Also, that pile of InStyle mags she painted? I have one just like it in real life.

3. The author of this interesting article called “The 20 Oldest Books of All Time” actually brought it to my attention. If you are studying or have studied library science, or if you loved (as I did!) Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book, for example, you’ll find this short treatise on the first books from ancient civilizations fascinating.

4. Are the Man Booker Prize shortlist and the Giller longlist old news for you? If not, have a look. Lindsey also includes the Toronto Book Awards shortlist in her post. I could go on about awards and what I’ve come to think of them, but I’ve done this somewhere else already (I can’t remember where for the life of me, damn it! A comment on someone’s post, I think), and at least one other blogger does that better than I do, namely, Steven Beattie. In any case, I read what interests me and whatever I’m in the mood for, award or no, but I still check out the lists to see if there’s anything that might grab my attention that I don’t already know about. Also, I’m aware that for some people awards are important and I respect that. I already own seven of the books on the lists, acquired before they made them, but I haven’t yet read a single one, so don’t ask who I want to win! I couldn’t say without reading all of the contenders!

5. Don’t laugh, because this has actually come up for me several times, and there’s nothing more mortifying than having to say an author’s name without being sure of how to pronounce it. Simonds, for instance, and Heighton are two I’ve heard pronounced various ways. Here is an unfortunately brief list, “How to Correctly Pronounce Authors’ Names,” or “How to Impress Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie” (now, did I spell that right?), to help you, put out by Vintage and Anchor.

6. Sometimes I read the grossest things on my lunch hour. Stories, an anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio (whose site header is making me all excited for Halloween!), came in one afternoon last week or so, so I took it outside with me and, while chomping on a mushy cheese and tomato sandwich, read Roddy Doyle’sshort story, “Blood.” It simultaneously made my gorge rise and my lips curl in a grin. Weird, and well done.

7. These mysterious paper sculptures have been anonymously left around Edinburgh. They are stunning works of craftsmanship, literary beauties. “One day in March, staff at the Scottish Poetry Library came across a wonderful creation, left anonymously on a table in the library. Carved from paper, mounted on a book and with a tag addressed to @byleaveswelive – the library’s Twitter account – reading:

It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree.…
… We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.…
This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. a gesture (poetic maybe?)”

Do check out the rest of the article and the photos of these lovely, painstakingly detailed artifacts.

8. Back in April of last year, I posted about Penguin Group Australia having produced a cookbook with an unfortunate but hilarious (I’m sorry, I thought it was!) typo. Here is another shocking doozy that made me dissolve into fits of laughter so that when I was trying to read it to my coworker I was reduced to just pointing, red-faced and doubled over, at my screen. Maybe you won’t find this that funny, but oh my god! Can you imagine the double takes of the readers? Er, he what?!

9. I’ve posted about literary tees before, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t shown you these sneakers styled after literary classics. Which do you prefer? So hard to choose, but I want the Catcher in the Rye or Animal Farm ones. Wait, can I have both? As McClelland & Stewart (@McClellandBooks) tweeted yesterday, make room in the closet for all of them!

10. Kate Beaton is a 28-year-old “wunderkind,” according to the Quill & Quire, and after checking out her site, it’s easy to see why they think so. Hailed as one of Canada’s “brightest young comic artists,” she first posted a historical comic strip on her website back in 2007. (If you follow that link, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say “historical.”) A few months later, the strip went viral and she was getting thousands of hits from all over the world. Now she gets about a half million unique hits a month. She’s been featured in the New Yorker as well as Harper’s and Drawn & Quarterly is publishing Hark! A Vagrant, a collection of her historically themed strips.

11. And finally, my very favourite LitBit of this whole bunch, and the one you absolutely must pay attention to. You must watch this, all 24 minutes of it. I tell you, you will not regret it. We were speaking of children’s illustration earlier. Without a doubt I can proclaim that my favourite children’s author and illustrator has for years been Oliver Jeffers. Back when C and I used to frequent Chapters, I always dragged him into the kids’ section and read him at least one book aloud. I insisted on storytime because I am the kind of person who must force on people I love the things I love. Anyway, one evening I read him Lost and Found. And after that, any Jeffers I got my hands on. Up and Down is another of my faves. I gave Jeffers’s books to my sister, too. These are books you have to have, you have no choice but to love, because they are beautiful and perfect and hilarious and sweet.

There was a movie made of Lost and Found, did you know? Yes. I watched it last night, in its entirety, because somehow it’s on YouTube. I watched it, clinging to it, thinking that at any moment it might be stolen from me with some flashing red text saying that for copyright reasons it was being removed. But I made it through. I laughed and I cried. It’s beautiful. It’s not quite the same as the book, and perhaps because I adore the book I think there has been just a little bit lost, but as it is, it is still very, very wonderful. It’s my favourite animated film. And it’s narrated by Jim Broadbent (aka Professor Slughorn), whose rich English accent rounds it out nicely.

Make sure you have nothing else to do, that you won’t be interrupted. Prepared to be delighted and touched.

Behold. Oliver Jeffers’s Lost and Found.


There are so many wonderful and interesting things I come across in my Internet travels and much of it I unfortunately forget to tell you. However, here are a few gems for you. My apologies if you’ve already come across them in your own circles.

1. Esquire mag recently compiled a list of 75 books every man should read. Now, I agree with many of the titles on that list—you already know I love Carver, Cheever, McCarthy, Hemingway, and Co. And Haruf is also worthy, as are Steinbeck, Helprin, and Greene…well, etc. I mean, I love “men’s lit” as much as any man. (Bet there are few men who’d say the same of “women’s literature”!) However, interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, as a friend and I ascertained yesterday when discussing the perplexing genderization of literature, poor Flannery O’Connor was keeping her lonely self company on that list. Not another woman author in sight. To answer this lacuna, Joyland Fiction compiled a formidable list of 250 books by women all men should read. Yayy! It’s an impressive list, and there were so many submissions, they kept updating. Have a look. Any on there you haven’t yet read but want to? I’ve got Ann Beattie’s Walks with Men on my desk. So, why do we tend to categorize fiction by gender? What defines men’s and women’s fiction? And why do you think we women read more “men’s fiction” than men read “women’s literature”?

2. Speaking of gender, have you seen this article about V.S. Naipaul? The nobel laureate is quoted as saying no woman is his literary equal—because women have too narrow a view of the world. Oh, yes, you read that correctly. I’ve heard some authors say some pretty stupid things, but this blatant ignorance blows my mind, as does the the fact that he purposely said it aloud. I love what one of my friends said about this to me in an email: “He’s an old misogynistic fool and we can just feel sorry for him for obviously having missed out on reading and being enriched by his many supremely talented female contemporary writers.” Now, what was that you said you were going to do with his books?

3. Not long ago I favourably reviewed Katrina Best‘s collection of short stories called Bird Eat Bird, which won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book for Canada and the Caribbean. When Best went to Australia to receive the award, she was interviewed about her book. You can have a listen here. It’s a good one, and you will get more detailed insight as to her book and what her stories are about.

4. Short story lovers! The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award is the largest prize for short stories in the world. The longlist—and holy moly is it ever long, which is a fantastic sign—has just been released. Eight Canadians made the list, including Matthew J. Trafford for his book The Divinity Gene and Alistair MacLeod for Light Lifting. |Also nice to see so many small presses on the list! Any you’d like to read? Iain Reid of One Bird’s Choice recommends The Beggar’s Garden. I’d also like to add here that short story collections have way better titles than novels: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women, and I’m a Registered Nurse Not a Whore are good examples (oh, hey. Were all those by women?).

5. My youngest sister Thérèse is a very talented illustrator. She’s a grad of OCAD, has done commissioned work, had her art up in Toronto, and is now making cards and prints under the business name Strawberry Snail to sell when she’s not working at the infamous Mira Godard Gallery, where people like Thom King regularly stop by, as he did today. Her cards are displayed in the bookstore where I work (I sold three on the first day! and at a fundraiser for WorldVision, they were a big hit), and if anyone is interested in carrying them or her prints, please contact her. This is her blog, where you can see her illustrations but also more serious paintings in progress. A more developed site and gallery is in the works. Thérèse’s main interest is in nature, but you’ll find her quite versatile, and she will do custom work. Visit her Etsy store here. More items will be added soon.

6. By now you’ve probably already heard of the Slave Lake Book Auction that book blogger Colleen McKie (Lavender Lines) dreamed up one day mid-May, starting with a simple tweet like, Has anyone thought of maybe having an auction for Slave Lake? The idea was born when Colleen, reading about the loss of the Slave Lake library, thought about how she would feel were she to lose everything as well, including her precious books. From there, the Slave Lake Book Auction was born, which some people are calling a book lover’s bloodsport. In addition to countless mentions continuing in the press all over the country, including the CBC, Colleen’s received tons of donations, particularly but not exclusively signed copies of books by notable authors such as Kelley Armstrong, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Angie Abdou, Dianne Warren, and Marina Endicott. (Whoops, I put only one man on that list. Hmmm. Well, most of them are by women. But there are also Trevor Cole’s Practical Jean and Don Rearden’s The Raven’s Gift, and these are not afterthoughts; they’re great books. In fact, Trevor’s is over $100 right now!) Check out the daily postings of books and literary swag up for grabs, and participate if you see anything you like. You can also donate. All the information you need is on the site. This is a great cause, a wonderful way to support a community that’s lost so much—for some, everything—to the fires.

7. We’ve likely already had our share of the future of bookstores and publishing discussions in light of technological advancement, and not much new is being said. But it’s the way things are said now that’s becoming important, as perhaps the message better reaches us and we’re able to contribute new ideas. To that end, the dialogue continues, and this one is with Mark Lefebvre, Canadian Booksellers Association president and manager at McMaster Bookstore, Alana Wilcox, editorial director at Coach House Books, and Becky Toyne (sister of Simon Toyne, author of Sanctus, if I’m not mistaken), who works at Type Books in TO and is a contributor to OpenBookToronto and CBC Radio One. Asking the questions is National Post‘s Books editor Mark Medley.

8. Even in the midst of all the doom and gloom about bookstores closing, there are still indies opening. I’m pleased to announce the exciting arrival of Backbeat Books, Music & Gifts, owned by author Johnny Pigeau, in Perth, Ontario, near Ottawa. Johnny’s enthusiasm and optimism as well as his outlook on the future of bookselling have been extremely inspiring to me. Check out all the photos. Doesn’t the shop look lovely? I want all the owl stuff, and there are some awesome bags, too!

9. Looking for a job in publishing? Subscribe to Quill & Quire’s job board. One up for grabs at Penguin! If you have any other sites, leave the link in the comments.

10. Last but not least, two posts from Booklicious (all things book in one little blog): a bookcase unit I totally covet, in white, and some very clever #lessinterestingbooks (for those of you who aren’t on Twitter, you’ll figure out what this is all about when you read the post). Can’t help it: yes, it’s a waste of time on Twitter, but I find it quite funny! Got any of your own titles?


Despite petitions against Amazon’s proposal to physically expand into Canada and fear of how it would affect Canadian bookstores in particular, the Department of Canadian Heritage has approved the move. Amazon will be building a distribution centre here after all.

When I first posted about this, the discussion centred on whether or not Canadian heritage and booksellers would suffer. According to Heritage Minister James Moore, however, Amazon has agreed to promote Canadian products and keep the country’s interest in focus.

For a detailed look at the rationale behind the DCH’s approval, and for more on this story, see Quill & Quire’s Amazon Approved for Canadian Expansion. It looks to me as though we have a giant on our side. I sincerely hope everything happens as expected and we will see Canadian literary growth rather than further decline in our favourite industry!

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