A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Neighbourhood Pockets

I was scoping out the neighbourhood last night and I realize that there is an new crop of baby stores on 4th Ave. I haven’t noticed an increase in pregnant women or small children lately, but then was I really paying attention?

Anyway, it strikes me that Vancouver has a habit of creating neighbourhood pockets, or more descriptively pockets of commerce in certain neighbourhoods. For example, along Broadway, just past Cambie, you’ll find sporting stores appropriate for any outdoor need, along 4th it used to be kitchen supply stores, now they’ve added babies.

Where do all the bookstores congrugate? What’s in your ’hood?

Monday, May 30, 2005

David Bergen Hits It Big with The Time In Between

Winnipeg writer David Bergen is gracing the cover of the June issue of Quill & Quire, Canada’s magazine of book news and reviews. Bergen has the cover story because he has written a fantastic novel, The Time In Between. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, and I loved it.

David Bergen’s previously acclaimed novel was The Case of Lena S., which won the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. I didn’t much care for The Case of Lena S. It was set in Winnipeg, which was interesting to me, but the characters didn’t grab me. Not so with The Time In Between.

Charles Boatman is an American who fought in the Vietnam war, then came home to his wife and kids and could never quite get settled. He eventually leaves his cheating wife and becomes a bit of a recluse in interior BC. But the ex-wife dies and the 3 kids end up on his doorstep. That’s the backdrop and Bergen really quickly gets you into the story and the tensions of Charles and his eldest daughter Ada.

If this was a film, the second act starts out with Charles returning to Vietnam. He disappears. His kids (now adults) Ada and Jon, leave the younger sister Del in BC, and travel to Danang, Vietnam to search for their father. Their quest to find their father is incredibly engaging. The focus of the story moves back and forth—from Charles to Ada to Jon to Del to various Vietnamese characters. The whole story is elusive and yet crafted in a way that as a reader you are not frustrated with the pace.

We’re all on some sort of quest narrative, and Bergen has definitely found his way. In the Quill article he is quoted as saying, “wasn’t it Samuel Beckett who said that with every book you are bound to fail? But the next time, you hope to go out and fail better.” Bergen has failed marvelously. The Time in Between releases in August and according to Quill, Bergen will be on a 10-city tour from Vancouver to Halifax.

If you’re looking for interesting Canadian fiction, check out David Bergen. The Time In Between is truly worth it.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Manitoba Legislature and The Occult

I mentioned in an early post that I had some things to say on the occult. Now I mean occult in the traditional sense, secret or hidden, not the popular notion of occult as something supernatural. Although I promise this is equally magical.

Frank Albo was on CBC radio last Monday talking about his research on the Manitoba Legislature as a model for King Solomon’s Temple. I watched him on CTV’s morning news show a couple of months ago, and every time I hear him speak I’m more and more fascinated with the provincial legislature where I grew up.

The Manitoba Leg is a beautiful building. It looks like a temple, there’s a golden boy on top, the main entrance has a huge staircase that is flanked by two large buffalo. The hallways have little alcoves with marble statues. And, now I’ve learned that there are occult symbols throughout the building.

As an aside—but not really, Winnipeg is pretty much the geographical centre of North America, and the building is sited geographically true north, south, west and east. For those Da Vinci Code fans, you know that temples and sacred sites are typically found along meridian lines or on other geographically significant points.

The Golden Boy was recently restored to his very shiny golden state. According to Albo, the Golden Boy is Hermes, who represents travel and trade and is the patron of Freemasonry. Ok, nothing occulty about that. The Golden Boy is in plain view. Winnipeg was the gateway to the West. Travel and trade with the grain exchange ... so what.

Oh, there are two sphinxes up there as well, and they happen to bear the inscription of the Sun God. And?

Let’s go to the buffalo for a clue. Apparently in temple architecture, the entrance was guarded by horned bulls that warded off evil. Hey ho, we’ve got two horned buffalo at the grand staircase. Objects the masons would have understood to sanctify or ward of evil intent in temples of justice. But to ward off the evil, they need the power of the sun—the positioning of the building allows for shafts of light to enter the room as the sun passes over the sky.

There’s a huge number of symbols and interesting proportions in the building. The whole thing—from the top of the Golden Boy to the bottom of the building—is built according to the Golden Mean, which by the way, is also used in fine book design.

More to come, but in the meantime, have a look at some photos of the interior.

Most important, check out the entrance.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The State of Business and Busyness

BUSY Busy goes back to an Old English bisig, which also meant “occupied.” Apart from Dutch bezig, it has no apparent relatives in any Indo-European language, and it is not known where it came from. The sense “inquisitive,” from which we get busybody, developed in the late 14th century. Business was originally simply a derivative formed from busy by adding the suffix -ness. In Old English it meant “anxiety, uneasiness,” reflecting a sense not recorded for the adjective itself until the 14th century. The modern commercial sense seems to have originated in the 15th century. (The modern formation busyness, reflecting the fact that business can no longer be used simply for “state of being busy,” is 19th-century.)—Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins

When I’m busy, I feel like a less interesting person.

The cogs of witty conversation
are churning away in the background
but only
do I catch the tune.

When I have a min. let me tell you about occultism (“I know just enough about astrology to be dangerous”). Also, I noticed CBC is talking about the free daily newspapers in Vancouver and the enormous amount of trash they create.

Check out my April 04 post/rant about this on UpInOntario.com.

Here’s my question for all three papers. Are you using 100% post-consumer recycled paper? Because if you’re not, I have no interest in supporting you.

What’s the print run and circulation of your paper? How many get thrown out each day? Are the leftovers recycled to make the paper for tomorrow’s rag or are they sitting in land fills.

The environment and the corporation can coexist. I’m sure of it, but, boy, the creativity required to deviate from the status quo seems beyond a lot of businesses.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ve forgotten my house keys 3 or 4 times in the last 2 days, I’ve lost papers, my mind, forgotten to pick up carpool buddies. Busyness is upon me. I shall try to shake it off.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Turn on the Tap—Celebrate National Tap Dance Day on Sunday May 22

3rd Annual Tap Dance Day Celebration at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre
1895 Venables Street, Vancouver, BC
May 22nd 2005, 2 pm and 7 pm shows.
Tickets can be purchase through Ticket Master ($20-30 I think)

Don’t know much about tap dancing? Come out and celebrate National Tap Dance Day. National Tap Dance Day is celebrated officially on May 25th, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday. But hey Sunday is close, right?

The show, put on by The West Coast Tap Dance Collective, is always great. Last year Jim Hibbard was honoured with a BC Entertainment Hall of Fame star. This year the collective is honouring Jeni LeGon. Hey these legends live in Vancouver!

Jim is a dancer and performer whose credits include film classics Hello Dolly with Barbara Streisand, Gypsy, Bye Bye Birdie, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Jim was the choreographer of the Paul Anka and the Tom Jones TV series, and many others TV shows including specials with Dean Martin and Jack Benny. He’s one of my favourite tappers, and I suspect he’ll be performing at the show.

Jeni LeGon is an absolute sweetheart. She’s a dancer, actress and instructor, born in 1916 in Chicago. In 1935 in Hollywood, Earl Dancer, the former manager of Ethel Waters, discovered LeGon. He helped her to be the first black woman to sign an extended contract from MGM, which was shortly cancelled. Black women didn’t exactly have an easy time getting lead roles. In her first screen role, LeGon danced with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (the only black woman to do so on screen) in Hooray for Love, which also featured Fats Waller. She has 24 film credits—all amazing, classics.

Jeni is a powerhouse and she still gets up on stage to show the kids the “fan kick.”

The tap show will of course include some kids because what’s a tap show without some cuties in pigtails and sequined outfits. But the big guns are also here.

I know Lisa LaTouche from MADD Rhythms Canada is in town. She can throw down an 8-count.

I’m hoping Brock Jellison will be up on stage. Brock toured with Tap Dogs, his company “Ruckus” is amazing, and I take his tap class where we sometimes rock out to Korn.

Again, I don’t know who’s on the bill. But I’m sure Jennifer Bishop’s group will be flying. My buddy Melissa Frakman who’s knocking ‘em dead in New York will be up there. And, if we are fortunate enough, perhaps Van “The Man” Porter will be on hand to throw down some steps. The man has more than steps. He was in the Gregory Hines movie “Tap” and a documentary about Clayton “Peg-Leg” Bates. He’s danced with Tito Puente, George Benson, Carrie Smith, Cab Calloway and Wynton Marsalis.

Man, there is a lot of tap in this town. Get out and see it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Penguin—Not Just Good Booking

I am dead impressed with the Britons at Penguin UK. Twice this year I have been wowed by their book marketing campaigns.

It is easy to bemoan the less than creative tactics North American companies use to market books, and then not do anything about it. So I’ve been mulling over the state of affairs in an attempt to generate creative ideas with action items.

One of my reflections is that publishers treat reading as this serious thing that will somehow improve your life and that’s why you should do it. This line of thought in teen marketing particularly sucks. Publishers talk about making reading cool, but I don’t think we actually get around to making it really cool.

So what’s cool and how do you find it?

I think the book publishing industry does a lot of inward looking vs. outward looking. Forget what that other publisher is doing, what are the cool recording studios doing, what’s Apple doing, what are cell phone companies doing? Why not look at industries with high competition. Seems to me that in hugely competitive markets, the creative departments and ad agencies are really driven to create clever and unique campaigns. Is the lack of exciting, memorable book ad campaigns partly due to a lack of competition? I think so.

I don’t know what kind of rabbits I can pull out of my hat in terms of book campaigns, but I’m setting my sights on Penguin UK.

A couple of months ago Penguin launch “Are you good booking”. The site was set up to promote the male counterpart to chick lit, but it wasn’t just about books the boys would like. It was about what books you should have on the coffee table or be able to discuss with a date. What books would make you good booking in the eyes of a lady love who loves reading. Jocks and books, the ladies’ man and books. Sex it up.

The campaign was clever. There were polls and puns and lots of sex talk. I vaguely recall a list with books that had great sex scenes. I can’t find the original screen shots I took, but the site does still have Good Booking Monthly selections and the cheekiness is carried through in some of the copy. For example, “Hornby Days are Here Again.” Can’t you hear the ladies cooing, “oh Nick.”

So that was number 1. Number 2 is Penguin Remixed. Hear Penguin. Sample Penguin. Remix Penguin.

I know some of you cool kids already know about this, but I’m gob-smacked by this most awesome use of spoken words. I’ve been to other sites with audio readings by the author. Those are lovely, but really author readings are better live and the audio clips don’t normally make it anywhere interesting—like passed around to your friends and saved in your playlist. Enter Penguin.

Penguin has taken 30 of the “best spoken word samples from some of the greatest books of all time and the finest actors around.” Read here: Penguin has published many of the greatest books of all time, many being Penguin Classics—you remember the orange spine, the penguin logo ... anyway they have posted the media samples for us to play with and they are cool. Not just wouldn’t it be nice if the kids thought books were cool, but truly pass-on-to-your-friends cool. Try these samples on for size. There’s a contest too to submit personal entries. Books, music, online contests: I like it.

Check out Penguin Remixed but make sure you have an intervention plan in place. This site is addictive.

Have you seen any great campaigns lately for books? Or that could be modified for books? I’m on the lookout.

By the way, Geist magazine has a cool Haiku Night in Canada video and a Listening Room.

Belinda Stronach, the Queen and BC Elections

What an interesting, bombshell of a day for Canadian politics. Belinda Stronach just announced that she has crossed the floor to the Liberals. I guess it’s like BC’s referendum for the STV, single-transferrable vote. You make your first pick and if that doesn’t work, you can vote for your second preferred party. The press conference was less exciting than the TV show Crossing Over with John Edward, but there were still some laughs and pale faces, the essence of good reality TV.

And the Queen arrives today, so should the government lose the budget vote despite Crossing Over with Belinda Stronach, the Queen will be on hand to dissolve parliament. Nifty twist to the itinerary. (CBC says Clarkson would still do the job, but it looks like it could be an interesting week in politics nonetheless.) And if the federal political mess isn’t enough, today is BC Elections day.

Bill Mountain gets my vote. He’s not on the ballot but he was by far the most tenacious solicitor of my vote.

UPDATE: CBC reported May 18 that the referendum result on electoral reform was 57% Yes and 43% no. In order to go ahead with STV, the Yes side needed 60% of all ballots cast as well as a majority in 60% of the ridings. So the political parties are saying it is a strong enough Yes that they’ll keep looking at it. I suppose that means if the collective memory of the citizens is strong enough and the pestering continues, so will the “looking at it”.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Urban Tribe Rituals

Yesterday I went to “Eh”-merica to participate in one of that nation’s favourite favorite pastimes—Baseball. There was even a Grand Slam! Sport events are definitely a window to the past. The painted faces, the random yet choreographed dancing, the emotional rollercoaster of success and defeat. The street meat. Urban tribal rituals.

It was beyond entertaining. I was back in Chris Pirillo’s city (spent some time there in January at a blog conference). Seattle Mariners played the Boston Red Sox. Love Boston. I used to watch the games with a friend of mine who has the same number of game superstitions as Wade Boggs. Boggs and Clemens were my favourite players of all time. I hardly watch baseball now, but I do have an unwrapped box of baseball cards from the ‘90s, which according to the box’s advertising includes a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.

That was yesterday. Today was Czech vs. Canada—World Hockey Championship. Canada’s game, we lost. But there was beer drinking before noon, and who doesn’t love that?

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Coolest Job in the World—TLC and MuggleNet Interview J. K. Rowling

There are all sorts of cool jobs, and cool people who get to do those jobs, and today I read about a fantasy job come true.

J. K. Rowling announced today on her website that she is going to read from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the stroke of midnight on July 16 in Edinburgh Castle. Her audience will be 70 cub reporters, fans aged 8-16.

I have no desire to be 8-16 again, however, I would love to travel to Edinburgh, go to the castle, have a reading, get a signed book from Jo, and take part in the weekend of activities. How very magical.

BUT I can live vicariously through Emerson and Melissa. Emerson of MuggleNet.com and Melissa of TLC were personally invited by Jo to interview her at her house. Emerson and Melissa are some of THE hardest working Harry Potter fans out there. They have fantastic fan sites.

Can you imagine if your favourite celebrity called your cell phone and said, hey love your site, why don’t you pop over to Edinburgh and interview me? Oh but you can’t tell anyone for 10 days.

Well that’s what happened to these two. I read Melissa’s post about what the phone call was like and then the heartbreaking silence of the next 10 days. Here’s her post on TLC.

Melissa, Emerson and Jo are going to post their conversation in three corners of the Harry Potter world, i.e., on their three fantastic sites.

How freaking exciting.

But, ok, what if you’re not a Harry Potter fan? What would be your fantasy call come true?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Remembering Bob

Last night I celebrated Bob Hunter. There was a group of friends and family and Greenpeace supporters carrying on at Bimini’s yesterday. It was a celebration of Bob Hunter, one of the founders of Greenpeace (and quite a character). Bob passed away last week and although you could feel the sorrow in the room, you could also feel the joy and love.

Many legends of Vancouver and the Greenpeace movement told stories about Bob, and almost everyone mentioned his laugh. I was most moved by family friends who talked about losing a parent and how the best thing you can do for a family member, especially a child, is to tell them stories about their parents. As I get older, I’m more and more interested in family stories, in recording them and remembering them. One of the speakers mentioned that when you reach the age your parents were when they had you, you really start to think about their life.

I remember as a little girl how I couldn’t imagine my mom being a little girl. And maybe that’s it, you have to reach their age when they met you, and suddenly things make sense, you can now imagine that age.

My friend’s kids keep teasing her about writing down some crazy sayings she has. For my friend, these aren’t crazy sayings, these are her mother’s sayings that she’s suddenly rediscovered. Her retort to her kids has been, don’t worry about writing them down, they’ll come flooding back to you when you have kids.

My heart goes out to Bob’s kids and his wife. I still think about the family members that I’ve lost and it doesn’t necessarily get easier, but the painful moments seem softer.

Monday, May 09, 2005

k-os debuts latest hit on CBC

Known for its hip side, the CBC afternoon show has an exclusive on the latest k-os tune. Apparently it was commissioned by the CBC and features the CBC orchestra. The rest of the world can hear it on Friday. But oh sweet CBC listeners. The treat is yours on Thursday.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Markets as Conversation—and when you can say shut up

A couple of months ago I started talking about The Long Tail and the Cluetrain Manifesto. Both interesting things. I particularly like the point in the Cluetrain Manifesto about markets as conversations and engaging in conversations with your customer. The end of the corporate press release, or marketing speak ... these I see as things that do need moderating.

Well, this week I observed a “conversation” that if it had been a true face to face, undoubtably someone would have said shut up, no you shut up.

Conversations are interesting things. I certainly change my tone of voice when a survey person calls. Blah blah blah, calling on behalf of ____ marketing, are you the woman of the house? The greater the sense of intrusion, the sharper my voice. But I do remember that I’m speaking to a person, not to a feeling-less building, not to a corporation.

It strikes me that email is always the worst form of communication, you can misinterpret tone. It’s so many steps removed from the face to face conversation that people will often say or phrase things in an email that they wouldn’t in person. So in the Cluetrain Manifesto when it talks about markets as conversation, and paying attention to what is being said about you or your company in print, on the web, by bloggers. It seems the “corporate” person is disadvantaged. There is an expectation about what a “corporate” person will say, or what they’ll do with your information, or how they will talk and talk forever keeping you on the phone until you eventually give in and take the damn survey. But what if you contact the company—don’t you expect a response?

Here’s my related thought. When buying something there is the anonymous research stage, then the ok here’s my details buying stage. There isn’t a nice way to figure out what stage a person is in when they contact your company. Some things are easy. Hey you, your product sucks and I want a refund. Personalized contact and an exchange of details is pretty clear. Hey I want your newsletter. Maybe less clear.

How do you approach companies? What types of interaction are you looking for? Are there best practices listed somewhere? Every email marketing newsletter I’ve read, for example, suggests personalizing and segmenting the subscriber list. Do people find this helpful or intrusive? I wonder ...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Quotes from the Week

Did you notice that today was 05 05 05? Fifth month, fifth day, 2005 year? At 5:05 I was making wishes, mostly for the work day to end.

Over the week I have been recording quotes, which taken out of context seem even more bizarre, and some even poignant. Here are my favourites:

“I know just enough about astrology to be dangerous.”

“It’s hard to bomb a country if you’ve broken bread with its people.”

“Choose your destiny. You &*#@*^”

“Africa is the new India.”

It has been an interesting week.

ADDITION: How could I forget! The week started with “Pimping ain’t easy, but it’s easier in these.”

Monday, May 02, 2005

Sears Canada cuddles up to Amazon

Canadian Press last week reported that Sears Canada Inc. has hired the services subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc. to provide “a more robust online shopping experience” at sears.ca.

Oh the joy. What does this mean tech-wise? Will there be books?

“This is a significant business initiative with aggressive growth opportunities and other long-term benefits and is planned with a substantial return on investment,” stated Brent Hollister, president and CEO of Sears Canada. “It is important to us to incorporate web features that make sears.ca as user-friendly as today’s technology allows,” Hollister added. Sears will concentrate on its “core competencies including merchandising, marketing, fulfillment and customer service.”

Other Amazon Services clients include Target.com and NBA.com.

Now whatever happened to the talks between Zellers and Target? Have you been to a Target. They’ve got books. What are the odds of Sears adding books? Does anyone remember the book department at the Bay? Mmmm. Memories. I think I got a Zamfir record signed in book department of the Bay in 1982 or ‘83.

Single Transferable Vote

What’s the deal with this single transferable vote? Well I think it is probably the only exciting thing about the upcoming election.

The May 17 provincial election ballot in British Columbia will contain a referendum question about whether the province should switch to a new method of voting, called the single transferable vote.

The Citizens Assembly, which proposed the concept, shows how the proposed system works.

Here’s the link to the Citizensassembly.bc.ca Resource page with a flash animation on how it works.