Louise Penny is one of those mystery writers whose works I can’t put down. I would say her Inspector Gamache series is a Canadian version of the British detective drama Foyle’s War, but set in contemporary Quebec. Chief Inspector Gamache of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec is on the far side of middle age, a solid man both in stature and personal fortitude, and he is good and kind. The series is the right mix of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marpole and CSI.
I started reading the series with book #7, A Trick of Light and was hooked. The Beautiful Mystery was by far one of the most beautiful mysteries I’ve ever read. Each book in the series introduces readers to a tucked away corner of Quebec (sometimes a real place and often a fictionalized version of a real place) set in contrast to the tranquility of Three Pines, a small village outside of Montreal that is not on the map and without cell service. It’s the Miss Marpole component with quirky small-town characters who are a microcosm of the world at large but also who are living in a very special place, maybe even a magical place in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez kind of way.
With The Beautiful Mystery, the location was the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. Although they have taken a vow of silence, the monks are world-famous for their glorious chants. Gamache is called to the scene when the renowned choir director is murdered. The Vancouver International Writers Festival put on an amazing author event with Penny and Gregorian chanters recently so I was very excited to get a chance to attend this year’s author event.
Although there was no choir, Louise Penny was in fine spirits and instead of reading from her book, which of course would be a tricky feat if you didn’t want to reveal spoilers, she talked about herself, her writing process, how the Inspector Gamache series began, her first publishing contract, meeting her agent in a strange twist of fate and all the wonderful fans and “family” that have developed as a result of the books. It was like meeting a famous relative. She was lively and gracious and held the conversation without being full of herself. No wonder she can write a character like Gamache who is the embodiment of kindness and dignity.
One of the things I like about Louise Penny is the Acknowledgements come at the beginning of her book vs. tucked away at the end. It’s like how film credits used to appear in the opening sequence of a movie. Things that are meant to be read! She is very faltering of her agents, publishers and early readers, including the fine folks at Raincoast Books, where I used to work. It’s fun to see their names in print, especially when you know how much goes into making an author #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, or even getting on a bestseller list at all. (Of course, you need good writing, but it takes a village to bring the book up.)
As a former CBC radio host, Penny is incredibly well spoken. She has the gift of comedic timing and she takes pleasure in sharing her stories with fans. We were 700+ at the event in Vancouver, the last on what sounded like a loooong tour. Saving the best house for last? Anyway, she jokingly said she was taking “the long way home,” which is the title of book #10 in the series.
After an absolutely riveting book #9, How the Light Gets In, Penny introduces us to the now retired, former Chief Inspector of Homicide, Armand Gamache, who is living in the small village of Three Pines. Has he found peace away from the front line of the police, away from the dead bodies, away from the corruption that forced him into retirement? Maybe.
Gamache’s spirits are dampened but he’s not disheartened. He’s hurt physically but not beyond repair. The test of this comes when his neighbour Clara Morrow asks for help in finding her estranged husband Peter. The Morrows are well known Quebec artists but jealousy and fame has come between them. It’s a trial separation of one year, but Peter fails to return. He’s withdrawn $3000 from his bank account months ago and hasn’t been seen since. As much as Clara believes he’s missing because something is emotionally wrong, Gamache knows that it’s more likely physical.
In many ways this is a transition book. Our heralded Chief Inspector Gamache no longer holds that title. He’s been put out to pasture and that is always different than choosing to retire. What will happen to him? To the series? This book isn’t the answer to that, but we do get a crackerjack missing person’s mystery with all the tricky police work required to trace a person who doesn’t want to be found. Plus there’s the trials and tribulations of the art world, and the evocative rural Quebec settings. Plus the buttery croissants of the bakery in Tree Pines, which are worthy of mention because Penny makes me want to eat one every time she writes about them. Maybe the Gamache series is over and she’s going into food writing?
Or perhaps she’ll be a therapist. Each of the Inspector Gamache books present the discord in the apparent harmony. There’s a murder. There’s jealousy or rage. There’s double crossings. There’s hurt, both small crimes of the heart and big crimes against the law. And often it’s not about premeditated actions. Something breaks the silence. Or lots of small things break along the way. Given that Penny’s audience at the Vancouver International Writers Festival event last week were middle-aged, retirement-ready women and men, I think the book might be therapy for us. How do you not feel pushed into something? How do you value the gifts you have right under your nose vs. seeking solace elsewhere? How do you find creativity and inspiration when you’ve lost it? Whatever way you dice those tomatoes, the 10th books in the series, A Long Way Home, is good for many reasons.
In 2010 filmmakers Faythe Levine, coauthor of Handmade Nation, and Sam Macon began documenting the dedicated practitioners of hand-painted signs, their time-honored methods, and their appreciation for quality and craftsmanship. Sign Painters, the first anecdotal history of the craft, features stories and photographs of more than 25 sign painters working in cities throughout the United States.
No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”
But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.
Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache delivers again and again. Traditional mystery fans will like the whodunit plot, but those who have a literary bend like me will appreciate the well-written dialogue and excellent story arch.
Indeed, it is a page turner, but Louise Penny’s prowess is in delivering fallible heroes in a way that still makes us cheer. I’m speaking of course of Inspector Gamache, but also of Lieutenant Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who is suffering from an addiction to painkillers.
The evil twist, beyond the murder at hand, is the psychological foul play used by the police force’s headman who has it out for Gamache and his team. I won’t tell you any more about what happens here because it is all too irksome.
For a book set in a monastery with an ancient secret to hide, this novel sure is illuminating. I 100% am in love with Louise Penny’s Inspector, the village of Three Pines and this awesome series.
If you haven’t read Louise Penny, I really liked A Trick of Light, which seems like a natural place to start before getting into The Beautiful Mystery—this is book 8 in the series. There is so much revealed in book 8 that I wouldn’t want you to start here. If you have the time and aren’t itching to read The Beautiful Mystery right this minute (which you should actually), then read the full series. It does not disappoint.
I absolutely loved this book. Every woman (and man) who loves Mad Men should read Mad Women by Jane Maas, which is about what it was actually like to be in advertising in the 60s. Jane Maas has great insights here because she began her career at Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter in 1964 and climbed the ladder to creative director and agency officer. The book offers a ton of little stories and tidbits on what it was like to work at the agency and with David Ogilvy. Maas also ran her own agency, was a Matrix Award winner and an Advertising Woman of the Year, and if you have no idea who she is, think about the I Love New York campaign. Maas was the director of the campaign and shepherded it to greatness.
Mad Women is a book of anecdotes about Maas, the agencies of the 60s, career women and what’s accurate (and less so) in the tv series Mad Men. I thought the book was hilarious and intriguing. I mean it is a bit of bragging, but so what. Peggy Olson is a ringer for Maas, who rose through the ranks based on merits and managed some rather large accounts. The book is well written and if you’re at all interested in storytelling, it’s like having lunch with Maas and shooting the shit about the golden days of advertising.
The big takeaways: Career women seem to have all the same challenges today that they did in the 60s, although perhaps the discrepancies between men and women are more muted today than they were in the 60s. And advertising campaigns and their behind-the-scenes battles are pretty much the same.
Maas references a ton of great campaigns and the women behind them. For example, Clairol’s hair coloring. Coloring your hair in the 60s was a topic more personal than sex, mostly because only showgirls and hookers colored their hair. The woman behind Clairol’s “Does she ... or doesn’t she?” slogan was Shirley Polykoff.
I Love New York is one of the most famous ad campaigns in history and many people claim to be the creator, but Maas was the liaison between the agency and the governor, the Department of Commerce, the state legislature, the regional tourism offices, the League of New York Theaters, the Statue of Liberty, the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Rockettes, the White House, and the Olympic Committee.
Mad Men: True or False
Was there much sex in the office? Joan Lipton, one of the grandes dames of advertising says “of course people were partaking, but you have to understand that at the time I was married, had a three-year-old child, and was living in Connecticut. In her interview Maas suggests then that Lipton was aware then of the sexual activity. “Aware?” Joan sniffed. “Heavens, I partook.”
Was there that much drinking? One account man complains to Jane, “it’s not at all realistic. We never drank in the morning.” Seems that it was customary to go out for lunch/liquid lunch most days. “We’d then have wine during lunch and a Rusty Nail (a combination of whisky and Drambuie) or Stinger (a lethal concoction of white creme de menthe and brandy) to finish. Then — unbelievably — we’d all go back to our offices at about 2pm to work.”
From an Adage interview: Do you think Mad Men is accurate in its portrayal of women? Maas says “Yes, I do. For instance, Peggy Olson has a career path very similar to mine; she started off as a secretary and then got to writing copy by pleading, and then writing copy on nights and weekends until finally she was promoted to a copywriter. Still, a lot of her ideas are met with poo poo because the men think they know better. I think that’s very realistic in terms of how women copywriters were treated in those days—they were only allowed to work on certain types of products like baby food and things like that.”
The smoking: Maas recounts, “just an hour after my daughter Kate was born, a nurse brought this tiny 5lb infant to my hospital bed and I remember cradling her in one arm and smoking a cigarette with the other hand.”
The hats are missing: Women copywriters wore a hat all day long. It was a badge that signaled your position above the typing pool.
Stuff I Learned
1967: The teamwork school of creativity where the copywriters and art directors come up with ideas together was a new Doyle Dane Bernbach concept only recently implemented by agencies. Bill Bernbach decreed that at his agency, copywriters and art directors must work together on all advertising—even radio scripts. Maas, “We hear that at DDB some art directors can’t even draw. Imagine.”
The Schools of Advertising:
Doyle Dane school: tell it like it is, avoid hyperbole, have a little fun with the products. Ads like “Think small” for Volkswagen. “You don’t have to be Jewish to like Levy’s Jewish rye,” for a bakery in Brooklyn ... and “We’re only #2. We try harder” for Avis.
David Ogilvy school: persuasive ads that often have long headlines and a lot of copy, packed with facts. One of DO’s most famous headlines was for Rolls-Royce, “the visual was simply a sleek photo of a car. The headline said: ‘At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.’”
Ted Bates school: “hard-hitting, hard-selling advertising that drives the message home with powerful visuals and taglines repeated over and over. Hammers pounding on an animated head for Anacin; stomach acid bursting into flames for Tums. When people talk about how irritating advertising can be, it’s usually this kind of work they have in mind.”
Gene Grayson is a school unto himself. “He specializes in mnemonic devices—usually a visual effect that helps the consumer remember your brand and what it stands for. For Maxim freeze-dried coffee he created the slogan ‘Turns every cup in your house into a percolator.’”
I recommend all sorts of books to my mom. Most she likes and some that I think she’ll really like, she ends up hating. I was a bit worried recommending A Trick of Light by Louise Penny because I really enjoyed it and I wasn’t sure if it would make the cut for my mom.
Well, I can report that she has since purchased all of Louise Penny’s books and is a huge fan of Inspector Gamache.
Author Louise Penny lives outside of a small village south of Montreal, but she hasn’t always been a Quebecer. Penny was born in Toronto and became a journalist and radio host for CBC. She moved to Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, eventually settling in Quebec.
Within weeks I’d called Quebecers ‘good pumpkins’, ordered flaming mice in a restaurant, for dessert naturally, and asked a taxi driver to ‘take me to the war, please.’ He turned around and asked ‘Which war exactly, Madame?’ Fortunately elegant and venerable Quebec City has a very tolerant and gentle nature and simply smiled at me. (...more)
Full of courtesy and dignity is our main character, the Inspector. No wonder my mom has a bit of a heart throb for him. Even investigating the murder of Lillian Dyson, he is charming yet firm, worldly yet not pretentious.
Now don’t go worrying about dear Lillian, because she wasn’t much of a dear. Lillian, more times than not, played the stream roller, taking down the careers of many artists and presumed friends in the art world. She was a harsh and caustic critic, in particular of Clara Morrow, in whose garden she found herself murdered.
Now why was she in Clara’s garden the night of Clara’s first solo show at the famed Musée in Montreal? Lillian certainly wasn’t invited to the after-party in the garden. And what was she planning to do in that shocking, red cocktail dress?
A modern-day Agatha Christie, Louise Penny can hold her readers attention. Even the secondary characters have fully realized personas and backstories, which certainly makes it harder to guess the conclusion of this who-dunnit.
If you have never heard of Louise Penny, A Trick of Light is worth the read.
James and I often rant about unnecessary quotation marks. “Who is being quoted,” is our common refrain.
Bethany Keeley took her curiosity about this phenomenon to new heights and after years of blogging, compile the best examples into The Book of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks. (Guest post by Bethany on the Chronicle Books blog.)
When quotation and attribution is unnecessary
According to the Chicago Manual of Style, “commonly known or readily verifiable facts, proverbs, and other familiar expressions can be stated without quotation or attribution unless the wording is taken directly from another source.”
Which makes me wonder, what unverifiable fact makes a “hamburger” and to whom are we attributing “live” lobsters?
I don’t trust the editorial wisdom of Wikipedia, but according to the masses, common use for quotation marks is apparently “to call attention to ironic or apologetic words.”
Day Old “Bread”
Ironic or apologetic?
I love the quotation use in this one:
THESE PARKING SPACES ARE FOR
Are we calling attention to the irony that this place has customers? Perhaps it’s all just apologetic.
Bethany Keeley’s The Book of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks is a collection of photographs of signs in stores, offices, streets and “facilities” making interesting use of our favourite punctuation mark.
And just because quotation marks can be so confounding. Here is some fun with single and double quotation marks.
“Don’t be absurd!” said Henry. “To say that ‘I mean what I say’ is the same as ‘I say what I mean’ is to be as confused as Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. You remember what the Hatter said to her: ‘Not the same thing a bit! Why you might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’ ”
When Langdon Cook’s book came across my desk, I immediately wondered why James and I hadn’t written this book. But now that Langdon beat us to it, I’m happy to simply tell you that Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager is a fascinating look at how foraging for your food can be shocking to your friends but also deeply satisfying.
Langdon Cook was a senior book editor at Amazon.com until 2004 when he fled corporate life and shacked up in a little cabin in the woods. Fat of the Land is about how he lived off the grid and foraged for food.
Free-diving in icy Puget Sound in hopes of spearing a snaggletooth lingcod.
Fly-fishing for sea-run trout.
Collect stinging nettles.
The prose is a mix of literary humour and travel writing. The chapters are divided up by the seasons and each features some type of foraging for wild edibles and ends with a recipe. The first chapter I read was on crab catching.
James and I regularly go crab catching. And by crab catching, I do not mean with a trap, I mean with a wet suit and cooler. James is the catcher and I’m the keeper. He swims out and dives down for the crabs. When he has more than he can hold in his hands, we meet in the shallow water. I wade out with the cooler, he puts the crabs in, and I snuggle them in ice and then wait for the next two.
In BC, you can keep 4 crabs per license and they have to be 6.5 inches across the carapace (don’t quote me on that, get the ruler) and male.
Various friends have come with us to participate in the catching. They enjoy the eating and, if they are fast learners and get the hang of spotting the crabs in the sand, then they also enjoy the catching. It’s tricky. I can spot the crabs but I can’t hold my breath or dive down in a controlled way. I float like a cork.
After we have our limit, there are two options. Cook them on the beach. Or take them home and cook them on the stove. Either is acceptable.
This is not a discussion of whether ebooks are killing treebooks, or whether it’s possible to get cozy with an Amazon Kindle. It’s about how participatory culture and the online world interact with good olde book publishing.Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, Deborah Schultz, and fellow panelists will share with the audience a variety of perspectives on what’s going right and what’s going wrong in publishing, assess success of recent forays into marketing digitally, digital publishing, and what books and blogs have to gain from one another. Penguin Group (USA), which houses some 40 plus imprints and publishes an extremely broad variety of physical and digital products everything from William Gibson’s first ebook in the 90’s to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels (the source for HBO’s True Blood) is deeply involved in exploring ways that old and new media might better collaborate. Audience members are invited to speak up about what they think book publishers could/should be doing to better provide relevant information and content to blogs, websites, and online communities. Come tell old media what you want and how you want it.
Clay Shirky ITP
John Fagan Mktg Dir, Penguin Group (USA)
Deborah Schultz Founder/Chief Catalyst, deborahschultz.com
Peter Miller Dir of Publicity, Bloomsbury USA
Ivan Held Pres GP Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Group (USA)
They certainly told publishers what they think. The summation was “you suck at this is the biggest way possible.”
I think it’s unfair to attack the folks on that panel but as representatives of the industry they do have to go back to their houses and understand that they need to convey, not that bloggers are an unruly bunch, but that publishers need to get off their asses and get involved with social media. Enough is enough.
If you’re going to hold a session called “New Think for Old Publishers”, you gotta come with some new thinking. Either that or tell the audience that it’s a research session…and the audience is supposed to bring the new thinking. Good idea, needed better execution. Nobody read the panel description to mean “we want the audience to tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it”.
The publishing people on stage said, essentially, tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it. You have 300 people who give up an hour of their lives to hear the cool things the traditional publishing business is doing…and you can ask them to consult on your business?
What went wrong is this:
* Publishers have not listened to the crowd for a long time.
* The crowd is restless.
* Publishers wring their hands about the web.
* The crowd offers options publishers don’t like.
* Publishers weep into their hands.
* The crowd wants to help and offers other suggestions.
* Publishers act like deer in headlights.
* The crowd plows down publishers and reinvents the industry without them.
What this panel really came down to is that the wisdom of the crowds is not being tapped. The crowd is now sick and tired of trying to help people who won’t help themselves.
Hold me to this: I’m going to organize a panel in Vancouver. We’re going to create a model for publishing and marketing books. We’re going to move forward as an industry. Leaders will be identified. Roles will be assigned. If you’re not open to totally change everything you’re doing, then you are not ready for this revolution. Don’t come.
Peter Miller Glibness. “Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Tips from a panelist who barely survived” in Publishers Weekly. Read the article.
Michael Tamblyn of BookNet Canada on 6 Things That Revolutionize Publishing
Cooking For Two: Perfect Meals For Pairs by Strand, Jessica (Chronicle Books).
The kind folks at Raincoast Books sent over a delicious little book called Cooking for Two. Since James is the chef in our house, cookbooks for me are more like menus. “I’d like this please.”
That said, when James is busy, I’m on my own. The kitchen is a scary place with me in it so this book is perfect. Lovely photos that allow me to see how horribly wrong my version is, and simple recipes that suggest I should do better.
Not in the cookbook, but a complementary dish, is James’ prosciutto-wrapped pork loin.
Since I’m responsible for appetizers, dessert and beverage service, my suggested pairing is Marc Tempe’s Pinot Gris Zellenberg Vielle Vignes 2005. As Anthony at Farmstead Wines says: “Drinks like a wine of twice the price. Bottled in August 2007 without filtration. Stonefruit, spice, vanilla, & integrated wood notes with great minerality in an amazingly rich wine.” That means it tastes really fricking good with this meal.
My birthday usually lasts the full month. This behaviour wasn’t instituted by me. It came about because as a teen I lived in one place with lots of lovely friends and had lots of other lovely friends in another city. It meant that I got used to stretching out a birthday in order to make myself and others feel good about not being able to celebrate together on my actual birthday. The practice that started due to geography soon became habit so even now I love stretching out the celebrations.
This year was a truncated celebration. I was away in Jordan during the lead-up to my birthday, in a perfume workshop the weekend of my birthday, and have been bustling away with work since my birthday. The birthday celebration was Sunday night (Nov. 16) and there’s only been a quiet smattering of birthday wishes since. Not my usual full-blown agenda so I was very excited to get a bunch of cool mail this week.
Not in the mail, but stumbled up via Flickr, here’s the photo of my birthday party filling a full theatre row. (Thanks Travis.)
Thursday Andrew Zuckerman’s Creature arrived in the mail. Lovely, beautiful photographs from an amazing photographer. Andrew Zuckerman’s Wisdom is another worthwhile book (watch the video on his site). But Creature is eye-candy for the animal lover. It is about souls beyond human souls.
Friday afternoon my perfume oils from Eden Botanicals arrived. I’m looking forward to playing with the Black Currant.
Saturday morning the doorbell brought this tasty selection of treats from the Sherrett household. Thank you Linda!
The BC Achievement Foundation’s 2008 Award for Early Literacy went to author Bill Richardson and illustrator Cynthia Nugent for The Aunts Come Marching (Raincoast Books), a singalong story about a procession of musical aunts who drop in on a family for an unexpected visit. This is a very fun book and I even had the pleasure of listening to Bill read/sing it.
The Time to Read Award is a national book award honouring the author and the illustrator of a children’s book suitable for kindergarten students. The winning book is distributed to all kindergarten children in British Columbia by the Ministry of Education.
Thank you to John MacKenzie and Selina Rajani—John for saying go ahead and Selina for packaging it up so nicely.
The Idea of Beauty is one of my most favourite poems (and it’s featured in Sledgehammer, published by Polestar). I heard John read this in the hallway at Raincoast Books and it has stuck with me.
The Idea of Beauty (Spoke Itself) by John MacKenzie
I have been waiting here for you since
the stars first leapt into the sky
since before there was water sprung from fresh rock
(its first & longest music a metronome—
beat after unvaried beat falling like hammers of zombied blacksmiths)
I have been waiting here where
there were no flowers & the rocks were sharp
the soil odorless & dense,
no air pockets, no tunnels of worms winding
under roots of grass
I have waited here as minerals & salts turned to algae & coral
in the factory din of water & wind
as the assembly-line sun flung super-cooled windsurfing dimetrodons
among giant treeferns & monochrome blossoms,
as prototype blood shifted towards red & DNA began its fall
from beautiful flux into fixity and self-replication
I have waited here glacially for you
as the whispery respiration of trees built air
while whole forests fell into peat bogs, became stones
while the beaded sweat of ancient lives accreted into diamonds
& the idea of beauty spoke itself in the lush green syllables of your eyes
This public surface, reserved for Taker, could be a scene in John Burn’ new novel Runnerland
Runnerland is about Peter, aka Runner. He’s an amateur artist. A kid living on the streets. And he’s running from life.
In particular he’s running from his former life, that of typical teenager whose living the middle-class lifestyle. The thing that drives Peter away from home is his father’s death and the discovery that he’s adopted. These two life altering moments result in a bus trip across Canada, the initiation into a street group (kind of a gang but that’s never explicit).
The thing that I like about Peter’s story was that it was believable. Believable enough for someone who doesn’t live on the street and who’s never run away. I like that he doesn’t follow the path of drugs. But he gets messed up in his own way. I feel that Peter is lost, but I also feel like he’s smart enough to survive.