Tag Archives: Thomas Allen

LitBits 27

Lately I’ve been finding it hard to keep up with all the fantastic book stuff! Here’s another LitBit post of some things I’ve collected since LitBits 26.

1. I want this very badly. It’s a tent that looks like a book! My husband and I take Lucy camping every year — have done since 2000 (well, we’ve been camping that long together, but Lucy didn’t start curling up with us by the fire till 2003). Anyway, I’d camp under the stars in this tent without hesitation. It’s awesome. “Sleeps two comfortably.” It would also be cool for backyard book clubs!

2. You already know I’m all for short stories. I just finished Alix Ohlin’s Signs and Wonders for work, and it’s excellent. Short stories are perfect for breakfast or just before bed, for your commute, or during lunch. They’re great for everywhere. Here are the three winners of the Commonwealth short story contest. And for $3 I downloaded the winners of Sarah Selecky’s Little Bird contest this year; you can too! The money goes toward helping migratory birds of North America.

3. Speaking of short fiction, Kristine Ong Muslim is a writer of flash fiction based on art. Her new book, We Bury the Landscape, is a collection of 100 mini-stories about different paintings. Each flash fiction piece corresponds to an artwork she’s indicated in the book. Portions of the book have appeared in publications and have been nominated for awards and cited as exemplary by publishers. For example, these stories were early versions of the fiction pieces that were included in the book:

We Figure the Leaves in Hobart

Revenge of the Goldfish in The Brooklyner

Boy with a Propeller Head in Birkensnake

Requiem for Industry in Eschatology

Flowers, Secrets in Every Day Fiction

The book has already been reviewed in many places, http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com/we-bury-the-landscape.html, too.

4. Bookends! Which I have no room for on my bookshelves, of course, but could be used to display a little selection of Canadiana somewhere else, like on top of a bookcase or shelf. I love these, from Anthropologie. Somehow they speak to me as stories themselves.

5. And since I mentioned Canadiana: you’ve probably already heard of the 49th Shelf’s Read Local map (I have a little badge for it in the sidebar as well). The idea is to pin Canadian books on the map. I put on Sam Martin’s This Ramshackle Tabernacle, because it’s very close to where I live (the stories mostly take place between Belleville and Algonquin Park, and north of 7). (I’m going to be reading his new novel, A Blessed Snarl, as soon as it arrives, for his virtual tour. It’s going to be excellent.)

6. Fellow book blogger @jacqu83 (Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen) sent me this awesome article to include here: In Barangay La Paz, Makati (the Philippines), Hernando Guanlao is the caretaker and founder of the wondrous Reading Club, commonly known as “the library on Balagtas Street.” Check it out!

7.  Introducing book-smell perfume, called Paper Passion. I’m pretty sure this is not how I want to smell, or how I want others to smell (although I’d go for it in lieu of how some people already smell. Phew). But I prefer to come across this fragrance when I walk into a bookshop or open a book. Right now I’m reading the hardcover copy of The Sisters Brothers, and I can’t stop fanning the pages. It’s such a good smell, that one.

8. My friend Alison Gresik is an author. We went to school together, sang in the concert choir, and then in 2000, a year after I graduated from my fifth year, she published her first book. I was jealous when I first came across it working at Chapters. And then she lost her way; she fell into a depression. A few years later, she and her husband decided to sell everything and leave Canada for Asia. They are now happily of no fixed address. Her journey through depression wasn’t easy but she discovered along the way that not being true to your creative self can be a very bad thing. Now she’s a creativity coach, helping artists and authors fulfill their dreams and foster their creative needs. She’s also written another book, called Pilgrimage of Desire. Recently, she and a designer friend decided that they were going to self-publish the book so they could lay it out the way they wanted. It’s beautiful. She raised over $10,000 in support of her project, a book that openly shares what she went through and will help those going through the same. Alison is a truly amazing, strong, and inspiring woman. You can check her and her book out at www.gresik.ca.

9. The term bibliotherapy makes sense to me as is. But I recently found it has a different meaning than I thought. Bibliotherapy is an academic term used to describe the beneficial mind/body reactions that occur from reading erotic romantic literature. Apparently, too, sex therapists advise their patients to get busy reading romance. While I’m glad they’re endorsing reading, unfortunately, it’s not necessarily of good literature (*cough* Fifty Shades *cough*) or even emotionally healthy sex. So what literary romance or erotica have you read? While they’re not romance novels, I admit the sex scenes in Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series were pretty breathtaking, whereas Ken Follett’s in Pillars of the Earth are deplorable. I am going to try only one more time to read that book. [UPDATE: Melanie of the blog Four Rooms: Creative self-care, wrote to inform me that bibliotherapy has a much wider use than simply sexual health. See her helpful, thorough post on bibliotherapy here.]

10. By now you’ve read the news about the government cutting funding to the Literary Press Group, which has rightfully caused a huge uproar. LPG has offered several ways to help counter this heinous act.

11. For all you digital readers out there: Thomas Allen and Cormorant Books have launched a really cool project called cStories:

cStories has made it easy for you to read short stories digitally but still support your favourite local bookstore!

cStories offers individual short stories ready for readers on-the-go.  A joint initiative between Thomas Allen Publishers and Cormorant Books, cStories will make a significant number of outstanding Canadian-authored short stories available exclusively through the websites of independent booksellers.

You can also win an iPad with predownloaded ebook singles in their humorously named Get Into Our Shorts contest!

12. And speaking of cool ventures, fellow book bloggers Colleen McKie of Lavender Lines and Kimberly Walsh of East Coast by Choice have partnered to launch Fierce Ink Press, a “publishing label dedicated to producing high quality books of fiction and short non-fiction pieces by Atlantic Canadian authors who write for young adults.” I’m very excited about this, mainly because I know both of them as booklovers and active in the industry (Colleen opened her own second-hand bookshop last year and Kimberly has worked as a writer and with publishers), but also because this is exactly what the industry needs in a time of such uncertainty: fierce support for writers and hope for the book industry. It’s not unusual that we look to small and independent ventures to shine and turn things around when the going gets tough. I’m certain these girls are going to give much to the Atlantic and the YA book world in general! And get this: already they’ve been recognized and won an award, before they’ve even got started!

Fierce Ink Press is asking for submissions, too, for their Fierce Shorts imprint.

13. I love this story, because I have first-hand experience of it working but also because it’s such a lovely thing to do. I’ve said before that when I read to Colin in the car or at home, Lucy always joins us and also calms down. See what the Regina Humane Society has started: reading goes to the dogs! 

14. People love making lists. Here are the fifty coolest book covers, according to shortlist.com. Of course, lists are subjective and must leave stuff out, and I can think of a few I like that aren’t on there. Depends on what you think is cool. But which are your favourites?

15. CBC Canada Writes has recently been featuring 600-word stories by Canadian authors for their Brief Encounters series:

Life is made up of fleeting moments that may be life-changing or destabilizing. What are the repercussions of an instant?

We asked ten Canadian writers to imagine a vivid meeting or confrontation: A “Brief Encounter” in 600 words or less.

Try Sarah Selecky, “The Guest Room,” Alexander McLeod, “Everything Underneath,” and Annabel Lyon, “Rusty or Ruby (Or Both).” The rest of the stories are here.

16. Last but not least, introducing the CWILA, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. I only just heard of them today. There are some interesting literary gender stats here. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

And that’s it for today, all! Thanks, as always, for reading!

Whirl Away, by Russell Wangersky: A Review

whirl away

One of the very best things about my reading experience with short stories lately is that they keep getting better, just when I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t know if I can say that about the novels I’ve checked out lately. Certainly there are very good ones, but nothing has been so original and skilfully written in my reading these days as the collections of short stories.

Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky is certainly no exception. To give the verdict away from the start, this is easily my favourite collection of this year. Right from the first story! Talk about whirling away.

The first thing I noticed about this collection, besides the excellent and attractive cover design (by Michel Vrána, who also did Sarah Selecky’s This Cake is for the Party), is that there is no short story titled “Whirl Away.” Unusual, and I really like it. This has more meaning for me than a story that’s meant to carry the collection or the title of a story that’s intended to sell the book and sum it up. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with those things, but in this case the lack of a title story meant I was to find pieces joined by a theme, which I typically enjoy examining — twelve interpretations of the title, say, or the stories giving that overall effect of the title.

At first glance, such a happy cover, with its amusement park  look, whimsical font, and flirty title. But when you look at it properly, you fully grasp the deep autumn colours (rather than, say, the blue and pink of cotton candy), which ground the book in more serious tones. As it turns out, too, the ride itself has different connotations than what you might first assume.

Indeed, each of the stories is devastating in its own way, another thing I very much like since that’s juxtaposed with such a light-sounding title. Whirl away can mean many things — perhaps in this case the way we hail ourselves to more emotionally safe or internal places, or off into crazyland, or to whatever anchor we can latch onto in times of extreme duress.

In “Bolt,” we meet two women, though the story is told from the perspective of only one of them, dealing with the horrendous car crash of a loved one.  In “Echo,” for me the most disturbing story, Kevin Rowe is a five-year-old kid with “serious, obvious eyes with small, square eyeglasses, and short hair, all of it cut the same length so that it [stands] up like bristles on a brush.” He speaks only “in short, tight bursts of words,” and what he says is horrible. For the duration of this withering story, Kevin is left on the deck of his parents’ house all afternoon in the heat to amuse himself as his parents fight inside.

In “911,” a suspended ambulance driver takes a call alone, without telling anyone, and with tragic results, when he realizes there’s not enough drivers on the road and no one else can go. “Family Law” is narrated by a jaded lawyer who while he tells the story of his own relationships intersperses it with divorce cases he’s looking up as precedents. You’re in for a surprise ending with this clever story (it’s twenty pages and of those pages I’ve dogeared eight), as you also get with some of the other stories, like “Look Away,” a fascinating piece, narrated by a husband and father, that becomes more strange, uneasy, and tragic as it unravels. “Little World” is an intriguing monologue, not what it seems, perhaps, from the perspective of an elderly woman taking a police officer on a tour of her neighbourhood and to the scene of a crime she witnessed. That piece will make you cock your head at the end; it’s definitely one you’ll want to read twice for full effect.

In “No Harm, No Foul,” a travelling salesman who talks to himself with a fake Scottish accent on long drives relates his story, almost like a confession, of an event that almost happened, an effective device that makes the reader feel always on the edge of waiting. And in “Sharp Corner,” probably my favourite, though “The Gasper” is another contender along with several others, a man becomes obsessed with telling people at parties his detailed (and rehearsed) stories of the three car crashes that have taken place in front of his house.

In each of the stories we have failed relationships, deluded characters, obsessiveness, untrustworthy narrators, people dealing with upsetting events the only way they know how, which is to say not all that successfully. They are as fragile and liable to break, if they haven’t already, as the rollercoaster in “McNally’s Fair.” If any story in this collection is symbolic of what’s going on in the other stories, it’s this one. It also contains the one protagonist who keeps seeing the truth, finally, who can see how things truly are when you’re up close, who can also see through the paint that he’s asked to repeatedly slather on the rollercoaster in order to cover up the dilapidation of the ride.

He knew it didn’t matter how many times The Thunder was painted and repainted, every time he rose in one of the cars, he could tell by the sway how much more the cross-members sagged. It was drooping even faster this year, bolts stripping everywhere, the first turn bottoming out deeper than it should — and even fifty coats of paint couldn’t disguise that from him.

Like The Thunder, the characters in these stories are buckling from the pressure and stress of their lives. Simply put, the characters’ fragility is where we look for meaning in the title. As the protagonist says in another exceptional, surprising story called “Open Arms,” which is directly linked to “Family Law”: “I’m out of my depth here.”

Wangersky’s exploration of how we handle crisis is not only sympathetic but also probing, as though rooting out honesty. It’s interesting, this, because the characters don’t themselves really see the honesty in front of them, or if they do, they don’t handle it well or are surprised by it. But we as readers discover it for ourselves as we read, not all at once, but in the slow way, with clues that build, though in a non-manipulative way, that gives us goosebumps.

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Tautly written, perfectly edited, sharply detailed — “I Like,” the final story, is particularly sensory in this respect — and cleverly imagined, these stories are some of the finest examples I’ve ever read of how short stories ought to be written. I wish I could explain just what I mean by that. Each one is worthy of analysis, of review, and that must be why I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of this book and how excellent the stories are both in originality and craft. I’d offer quotes as examples, but it’s the kind of book that makes you overwhelmed in that case because you want to quote everything. And then, I don’t want to take anything out of context. Every bit in these stories is important, everything is written with such writerly skill that I don’t want to take anything away. It’s just easier to say, Trust me. READ IT. I read each story engrossed yet at the same time practically aching with admiration of things I came across, of the words. Like Sarah Selecky’s Cake (it’s fitting she endorsed this book), this collection is one that focuses on details, on unique events or settings that we yet can relate to. It’s one I will read every time I want to write something myself. And it’s made me want to read more by him.

Wangersky’s also written The Hour of Bad Decisions (a short story collection that earned him nominations for the Giller and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, and was a Globe and Mail Top 100 book; also, interesting: many of the characters in Whirl Away make bad decisions), Burning Down the House: Fighting Fires and Losing Myself (interesting: there are both firefighters and people losing themselves in Whirl Away), his award-winning biographical work, and The Glass Harmonica, an award-winning novel.

In his acknowledgements, Wangersky said that he writes in a combination of doubt, wonder, fear, and occasional confidence. I feel quite confident myself in saying there can be no doubt whatsoever that this is a wondrous collection. No Fear.

***

Many thanks to Thomas Allen Publishers for sending me my copy of Whirl Away. They are so onto something with the collections they’re publishing and the authors they’re supporting!

LitBits 24

Wow. I haven’t done one of these in ages. No matter, it’s here now, right? Here we go…

1. Matthew Trafford, Torontonian author of the critically acclaimed short story collection The Divinity Gene, is offering a writing course called The Grounded Fantastic. It’s an online course for anyone in any time zone, and it goes on for seven weeks, from February 6 to March 20. This is a specialty course so the number of students is limited. Matthew writes:

THE GROUNDED FANTASTIC seeks to bridge [the] seemingly disparate elements of fact and fancy, to create stories that stretch the imagination but ring true to the mind and the human heart. If you have ever stopped yourself from writing something because it felt too outlandish or outrageous, if you have ever longed to write outside the confines of mundane daily reality, this is the course for you.

Don’t forget, these coveted spots are limited, so if you want to do the course, sign up now! Matthew’s last course sold out fast!

2. Goose Lane Editions out east is launching a new website, and they’re pretty excited about it! This is from their press release:

[Fredericton, NB] In 1994, still in the birthing years of the Internet, Goose Lane Editions, Canada’s oldest independent book publisher, made history by becoming one of the first publishing houses in the world to launch their own website. After 18 years, the site has gone through numerous transformations, changing to suit our evolving culture as technology improved and users became more computer-savvy. Now, we are proud to announce the newest iteration of www.gooselane.com, with new features, new content, and a new promotion to kick off the launch.

In addition to a complete visual redesign, we have added new website elements such as twitter feeds and ongoing blog posts by our many employees. Sample chapters are available for many books, and an ongoing stream of events and notices is added to the main page every day.

To celebrate our launch, we’d like to extend a special offer. For every day the week of January 23, we will be offering one book a day at a special highly-discounted price. Roadsworth, YOU comma Idiot, The Famished Lover, Miller Brittain, The Black Watch, Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy, and Ganong: A Sweet History of Chocolate will each take over one day of the week with a drastically discounted price to help celebrate our new look and attitude. All this, in addition to our regular feature of free shipping on orders of $60 or more. To take advantage of these offers, simply create an account with Goose Lane. By doing so, you’ll also ensure that you are regularly updated on upcoming special offers.

To obtain review copies, arrange for interviews or to request permission to publish excerpts, contact Corey Redekop at credekop@gooselane.com or (888) 926.8377. High-res book cover and author image files are also available at www.gooselane.com.

3.  How much love do you have for the classics? I may have bought books before this, but the first I remember buying with my own money was when I was ten years old. There was a tiny independent shop in our shitty little mall (the mall where I got my first job at a ’50s fish ‘n’ chip diner horrifyingly named A Salt and Batter), where I used to hungrily peruse the few shelves of paperbacks. My first purchase there, while my mom waited for me outside the shop, was a Signet copy of Moby Dick. I’ve never managed to finish that story—sadly, because I find it appealing—but maybe I’d have more luck reading it in the bathroom? Behold, Moby Dick printed on toilet paper. (Who has the time to do such things?!)

4. Fans of Annabel: Want to read an early short story by Kathleen Winter? It’s called “Jolly Trolley,” and also appears in her first book boYs, which I haven’t yet acquired. What do you think of the style of this story?

5. I’m a big fan of British productions. Right now I’m addicted to Merlin and Being Human. I love BBC stuff. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about British shows. I also enjoy Tudor-based shows, and wouldn’t you know, the BBC is releasing a War of the Roses saga, based on the books of none other than Philippa Gregory. Gregory is one author who totally surprised me. Not in a million years did I think I’d pick up any of her books, but I couldn’t resist buying a copy of The Other Boleyn Girl, finally, in secret, after many times putting it back. And then I devoured it, and bought all the others in the series. She can write some pretty good sex, can Gregory. Not like Ken Follett, for instance. Ugh. I’ve yet to find out how Martin does sex in his Game of Thrones books (so far I’ve only watched it, and from what I can tell, it’s…copious.) Anyway, really excited about this new BBC show, which will “be told uniquely from the point of view of powerful women who ‘shaped their men and who shaped history in the process,’” and will be “many episodes.” Awesome!

6. Being a copyeditor who cares about grammar and the way things are written, I somewhat struggled listening to Stephen Fry’s sound-sex clip, and yet, oh, the man can weave words, can’t he? On reflection, I do actually believe he has a point, one I’ve learned over my nine years now of freelancing, especially editing fiction. Fry is extraordinary and exciting in general, but here too. He’s not saying proper use of the language is not important, and I don’t think that the way he says this, so exquisitely, so eloquently, necessarily contradicts his point so much as actually illustrates it. Language is meant to be played with, I believe, and I would much prefer to read something beautiful or stimulating than perfectly correct—which often leads to awkwardness, anyway. I am okay with colloquialisms if they are clear enough for me to understand, as Fry mentions. We don’t need to take things literally all the time. Language, I believe, should be elastic. Ultimately, I’m disappointed when errors are the only things someone takes away from something otherwise good; it’s reading with a superiority complex. I don’t mean to say by any means that I would leave errors in texts (unless they were in fiction and meant to be there, but you have to know the rules to break them), or that proper use is not important (and I argue not just in formal occasions); what I mean is, I’ve relaxed my pedantry, or rather restricted it to my freelance jobs. There is a time and place for it. What I find more interesting than correctness is creativity. Apparently, the dictionaries think so too.

7. Haven’t got a wall of books? Try this library wallpaper! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to shelve my books by colour, but it would be too disorganized.

8. Some read banned books during Freedom to Read week, which is coming up in Canada February 26–March 3, and some actually wear them…in bracelet form.

9. CBC’s The Next Chapter presents Northwords, five stories from five Canadian authors—Joseph Boyden, Alissa York, Robin Maharaj, Noah Richler, and Sarah Leavitt—who were sent to northern Labrador. “Their mission: to soak in the place and then channel it into a piece of writing.”

10. Have you heard already about the unpublished Brontë manuscript that was found, the mini one produced by fourteen-year-old Charlotte? The tiny magazine (second issue of Young Men’s Magazine), said to shed important light on her later work, was auctioned off and won by the Paris Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits, which paid £690,850.

11. I can’t stop reading McSweeney’s “Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond.” Some are hilarious, but some are also sad.

12. Writing journals from the lovely Out of Print Tees company!

13. Even though I find this new mural of authors together on the beach with their most famous works (look closely and you’ll see that Atwood’s is The Handmaid’s Tale, which has also been made into a film and an opera) rather unattractive, I do adore the look Shakespeare’s giving Atwood as he fills in a word of her crossword puzzle, and the impish grin she’s giving us. And is Stephen King doing fart noises with his armpit to cheer up an unimpressed Edgar Allan Poe? The mural is painted at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

14. I bookmarked this a long time ago, meaning to have a thorough look at it. It’s pretty cool. Check out BookDrum: “the perfect companion to the books we love, bringing them to life with immersive pictures, videos, maps and music.”

15. You must already know by now that Oliver Jeffers is one of my favourite children’s book writers and illustrators. Lost and Found, Up and Down, The Way Back Home…these are a few of my favourites. And if I had money, I would be snatching up these lovely silver pieces of jewellery based on his books. Oh. My favourites are the penguin necklace, the boy necklace (I’d have one with both charms on one necklace, because the two belong together), the penguin ring, and the heart in a bottle.

16. I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately: art made with books. Perhaps the idea is ages old, I don’t know. Whatever the case, artists these days are making pieces that demonstrate extraordinary vision and a deep love of the act of creating. The amount of time it must have taken to make each of these twelve works! My favourite is the Su Blackwell papercut piece of the girl in the forest (you must have a look at her incredible site. I wish I could do such things!). If you love papercut art as much as I do, check out this book, Paper Cutting: Contemporary Artists, Timeless Craft. I could spend hours over and over again perusing the photos. Oh, the jawdropping beauty, and the seeming impossibility of the works! We have this book at the store but unfortunately I have a book-buying ban on now, out of necessity.

17. Ever wondered about the life cycle of a book? This is a simplified version, ideally how things transpire, and only up until the book is distributed (in other words, not the life cycle after, once it’s been bought, of course), but it’s great nevertheless for writers looking to publish and who should go into the process knowing what to expect, or for those who want a greater appreciation for the books they buy and read (and review).

18. This isn’t being officially announced until February (so stay tuned for further details), but I’ve asked if I can post it here anyway. Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen—whom many of you already know as tweeter for @NicholasHoareTO and book blogger at Literary Treats—has organized a cool venture with her workplace, the Art Gallery of Mississauga, in partnership with the Mississauga Library System and sponsored by publisher Thomas Allen, who will be donating five copies of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick for the event. Jaclyn read Chris Van Allsburg’s Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a book of only gorgeous illustrations and captions reportedly presented to a publisher by Mr. Burdick with the promise that the text would follow. However, Mr. Burdick was never heard from again, and the publisher printed only the illustrations and their captions. Since then, on the Harris Burdick site readers have been entreated to create their own stories about those illustrations.

Inspired by this, Jaclyn got the idea to host a teen workshop (ages 10–19) at the gallery called Tell Me a Story, which will invite participants to tell their own stories about the paintings they are shown.

From the press release draft:

Gallery visitors often view art and ask, what is this artist trying to say? What does that object in the painting mean? But for this workshop, we take things one step further and invite you to tell us your own story about the piece you’re observing. The art will be the springboard for your creativity. We’ll provide captions to suggest unexpected ways to look at the art and inspire original storytelling that takes the art beyond its canvas, but in the end, it’s all up to you. Surprise us! Take us—and the art—to places we’ve never before imagined!

The concept behind Tell Me A Story comes from Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. Van Allsburg, who also wrote The Polar Express and Jumanji, tells us that many years ago, a mysterious artist named Harris Burdick submitted illustrations with captions to a children’s book publisher. Burdick promised that he would return the next day with the stories to accompany the illustrations, but he was never heard from again.

Van Allsburg and other authors have since written stories for Burdick’s illustrations, and now Van Allsburg further challenges his young readers to create stories of their own. Therefore, not only are the Harris Burdick books collections of highly imaginative tales, but they also call to readers to use the Harris Burdick images as springboards for their own stories. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of unique stories that can be created from the same fourteen images!

Now imagine the hundreds of unique stories hidden within the AGM’s permanent art collection. Twenty-five years years of art… How many stories can we create?

The AGM/Thomas Allen initiative is planned for Monday, March 12, 11:00am, and Wednesday, March 14, 11:00am. If you’re interested, contact the AGM or Jaclyn at jaclyn.qua-hiansen[at]mississauga[dot]ca.