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


Sunday, February 08, 2015

Book Review: A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This shocking and disturbing account of a journalist’s capture and torture in Somalia in 2008 was one of the most celebrated books of 2013, making the Globe 100 and hitting all the notable lists. A House in the Sky reads like a novel, which allows the reader to step away from the narrative a little bit and pretend that this is a fictionalization (you need this survival technique to make it through the book). The strength of the harrowing adventure is in the authors’ ability to slam the reader back into reality at just the right moment.

Here’s the general rundown: Amanda Lindhout grows up in Red Deer, moves to Calgary, works as a cocktail waitress and raises enough money to travel the world. She’s got the travel bug and moves quickly beyond the minor inconveniences of the backpacker lifestyle and into the major challenges of being a fledgling journalist in Iraq then Somalia. Her solo travels across Sudan, Syria and Pakistan do not prepare her for the full-blown war in Somalia or for the captivating power Osama Bin Laden will have on Somali militant groups. She’s not safe the second she lands and by day four she has been abducted along with a photojournalist from Australia. The two are held captive for 15 months, and Amanda is starved, raped, beaten and tortured. Initially the violence is moderate, a way to show who’s boss, but as the months drag on and the families refuse to pay the ransom demands, life gets much, much harder.

The journey is unimaginable. Amanda’s fortitude is amazing. And I never, ever want to read this kind of story again and think “well, they chose to go there.” The bigger question is “why the hell do people do this to each other?” The answer is money. And that is a very sad answer.

Amanda’s story is certainly about personal mistakes and wrong turns but it’s also a reminder that the stories we hear on the news about journalists who are captured, tortured and sometimes beheaded on camera are just one small fraction of the madness going on. There is a deeper story about survival and sacrifice, both for the captors and the captives.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Book Review: The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman


Chuck Klosterman has quite the reputation in my house. His novel Downtown Owl fast became a favourite and Eating the Dinosaur is one of the few books that I want to re-read over and over again.

The Visible Man falls somewhere in the range of Downtown Owl and If Minds Had Toes. The novel is philosophical in the way of If Minds Had Toes but quirky and strange like Downtown Owl.

The novel opens with Victoria Vick’s letter to the editor along with the submission of the final draft of her manuscript. The reader soon discovers that Vick’s ms is about a strange incident between her and her patient Y_____. Vick is a licensed therapist and the manuscript, which we are about to read, is a compilation of transcripts of phone, email and in-person sessions she’s had with a very strange man who, over the course of their sessions, reveals that he worked on a relatively secret government project to construct an invisibility suit. Y_____ is currently using the suit for his own “investigative” research into how humans behave when they are utterly alone. Through various means he gains access to their homes and observes them. His goal with the therapy sessions is to remove doubt or guilt that he believes society would like him to feel about these acts.

A ton of things are very wrong with the scenarios presented but Victoria goes along with it, assuming at first that Y____ is highly delusional. Then she’s suckered in. In some ways it’s like the stoner philosophical arguments you overhear and are unable to pull away from because you remember from your high school English studies that the Shakespearian fool speaks the truth. (Or, maybe that’s just me.)

According to this National Post review, The Visible Man is a fictional spin-off from the Eating the Dinosaur essay on voyeurism (titled “Through A Glass, Blindly”). In both, Klosterman explores whether we are most ourselves when no one’s watching.

I’m off now to swing pillows wildly around the room to make sure I’m alone. Just acting normal. PKS. Post Klosterman Syndrome.

Monday, March 16, 2009

SXSW: No Think for Old Publishers

New Think for Old Publishers panel at SXSW drew a lot of frustration from the crowd of book lovers and supporters.

The official description of the session was:

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.

BookSquare says
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?

Watch a video of the panel here.

Other links to conversation about this panel:
Medialoper has a fairly neutral assessment of what unfolded.

Twitter stream of comments on this panel #sxswbp

Monique’s summary
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.

Who’s in?


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

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Book Review: Lisey’s Story Is One Great Bool

Stephen King has written a love story.

It’s also a story of sadness, loss and remembrance.

I started out not wanting to read the book alone and I finished wishing I was alone, instead of crying my eyes out on a plane full of people. But life is Ralph. I had the whole row to myself, every other seat was full yet none of the middles came to take my aisle seat. Such is the nonplausible reality of life, like when Ralph the dog returns home three years after he disappeared. Life is Ralph.

Ralph is only one of the little tidbits I’ve adopted from Lisey’s Story. It’s ripe with Landon-isms, maybe these are King-isms, I don’t know. But what I do know is that the narrative structure of Lisey’s Story is engaging. King switches between past and present so that you’re left all of a sudden wondering what world you are in. He makes you unease about shadows in the mirror, eating fruit after dark and basically taps into the darkest of superstitions.

Scott and Lisey Landon’s world is so well crafted in this book that it’s hard not to turn it into your own. To adopt Scott’s phrases, the same way Lisey has done. To feel like you as a reader are on a great bool hunt, you’re not just following the bool Scott has left for Lisey, you’re looking for the stations of the bool left for you by Stephen King.

You must be thinking what the smuck am I talking about?

A bool is a treasure hunt, a good joke, something fun, that ends in an RC, or a candy bar, or a story.

But Scott was a bit of a nutter himself. There are good bools, like the one he’s left for Lisey, and there are blood bools, like the ones his father introduced to him. Blood bools are bloodletting, when you cut to release the bad-gunky.

Lisey’s Story is about bools: blood bools and good bools.

But Lisey’s Story itself is a mothersmucking good bool.

And I have a bool for you, but you’ll have to wait until I set it up. Then we’ll play it. Hopefully later today or tomorrow.