The Edmonton Public Library is celebrating 100 years and one of my favourite writers is the author of the Library’s grand story. Just Getting Started: Edmonton Public Library’s First 100 Years, 1913-2013 by Todd Babiak is published by the University of Alberta Press.
If you live in Edmonton, U of A Press has released 17 copies of the book “into the wild”, one for each branch of the library. The idea is for people to take a photo of the book and share it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest are all good spots), then leave the book somewhere new. Use the hashtags #epl100, #eplbooktravels to spread the message.
The launch is part of LitFest, on Tuesday, October 22 at 7 pm at the Stanley A. Milner Library Theatre. The event is free, and everyone is welcome. You should RSVP asap though at http://litfestalberta.com/events/just-getting-started#.UlwR1WRAQi4.
Regardless of where you live, the EPL is also allowing free downloads of the ebook (PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats) from its website. EPL.ca/100/book. Look for the tabs with extra content, excerpts, contests, etc.
I don’t have any connection to Edmonton personally but I do love Babiak’s writing and he’s brought the EPL’s story to life through a series of stand-alone, yet interlinked chapters. The archival photos are wonderful and the story of the Library is really the story of a city.
I really liked this chapter “The Violinist with a Broom,” which is a story about one of the library’s janitors turned music director. Russian-born Nicholas Alexeef was hired by the library as a janitor in 1928 but nobody knew, or asked, about his training, which happened to be as a violinist. He was trained by a professor from the Paris Conservatory, took his examinations at the Petrograd Conservatory, and for one winter lived with one of the greatest teachers of the century, the Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer, in Saint Petersburg. But a year before he could complete his studies, he was drawn into military service, fought on the anti-communist side, fled, and arrived in Canada in 1924. I won’t tell you how he became the music director because you should really just read the story. In fact, read the whole book! It’s filled with really interesting stories of the people of Edmonton and how the Library played a central role in the politics and development of the city.
Here’s Todd Babiak talking about the book.
Todd Babiak is the perfect author for this book because he’s a great writer (check out his new book Come Barbarians or my reviews of his previous books, The Garneau Block and The Book of Stanley), plus he lives in Edmonton and was a columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Did I mention, I love his writing?
Posted by Monique at 08:21 AM.
Book Reviews •
Very excited for my friends Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White who have just launched their new publishing venture, Page Two.
Page Two is a new form of agency for non-fiction authors needing help navigating the full range of publishing options from traditional publishing routes to self-publishing and digital publishing. Jesse and Trena are publishing veterans with a ton of experience and high-level of detail so there’s no doubt in my mind that their clients will be in good hands.
Author and publisher services:
• Writing coaching and editorial support
• Career strategizing that considers the full range of publishing options, including self-publishing
• Traditional author representation to the book trade
• Sourcing printers, POD, and distribution services
• Sourcing skilled freelancers to work on your project
• Managing or expanding corporate publications programs
• Transitioning print content to digital
• Cross-format content licensing, including contract drafting and review
• Strategic planning and business development
• Editorial and acquisitions strategy
Posted by Monique at 06:43 AM.
Hey, my friend Annemarie wrote a book that I can now fully appreciate it. Healthy Mum, Happy Baby is part anecdote and part cookbook for moms who are breastfeeding.
First, I had no idea how hungry I would be all the time. The anecdotes from other moms were funny and reassuring. By 4 pm I am hangry (this is hungry + angry for those of you fortunate to not know this word). I was diligent about food and exercise before being pregnant, during pregnancy and I’ve been pretty good post pregnancy as well. Although really, I owe all my thanks to James. Annemarie’s book is for anyone who doesn’t have a “James” who cooks awesome food and slides healthy snacks across the table at the right times (being mindful of keeping his fingers out of the way).
Second, of course I am aware that my diet affects the baby’s diet. But as an exhausted new mom who is low on energy, making decisions is hard. Annemarie’s book offers some delicious meal options that make it easy to flip through and say, “ah yes, I’ll have that for dinner.” I appreciate the legend showing the prep and cook time for each recipe. I mostly flagged the 30 min or less recipes but I did drool fondly over the 60-min recipes while daydreaming about the days when I’ll have time to actually do some dinner prep.
Overall there are 35 recipes that don’t require exact measurement and will be tasty immediately or sometime later that evening when the baby has nodded off and you can still function to lift fork to mouth. Hands down, the list of healthy snacks is worthy of space on the fridge.
Also good, this book comes in whatever print or digital format works for you.
Healthy Mum, Happy Baby
How to Feed Yourself When You’re Breastfeeding Your Baby
by Annemarie Tempelman-Kluit
Published by Random House
Good job Annemarie! Thanks for this lovely, and timely gift.
I don’t normally review two books together but I do often have two books on the go. This time it was a fiction book and nonfiction book and I’ve never had such a pair. Amanda Leduc’s The Miracles of Ordinary Men is about a man who wakes up an angel and through a series of coincidences attempts to figure out God’s greater plan for him. Bruce MacNab’s The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini is about Harry Houdini’s Maritime tour in the years before he became a famous escape artist and all the coincidences between his fame and that tour.
In both we have a transformation from ordinary man to extraordinary being. We have magic. And we have the coincidence problem. (Aside: If you haven’t read Stephen Osborne’s The Coincidence Problem please do so!).
From the Foreword of The Metamorphosis
Harry Houdini died in 1926. By 1959 only three biographies detailing his life and legend had been published. Today, in 2012, there are literally hundreds of books about the great showman, and almost all of them share the same problem. They concentrate on the part of Houdini’s life when he was a star, one of the most well-known personalities of his time, a time when he maintained an almost daily relationship with the press. He was one of the most photographed men of his time.
The Metamorphosis looks at the time before the fame, when Houdini was travelling with his young wife who was also a performer and they were getting the barest of audiences. The book’s focus is 1891-1899, in particular a tour of Nova Scotia that Houdini and Bessie undertook in their second year of marriage, and it’s full of photos from those early years both of the Houdinis and of the locations where they performed. In short, it’s a fascinating read and Bruce MacNab’s research highlights all the small stepping stones that took Houdini from the Marco Magic Company all the way to the big time.
The first chapter of The Miracles of Ordinary Men is labeled Ten, and the reader goes backwards in chapter numbers but not necessarily time.
From Chapter Ten
Sam’s cat crumpled like paper under the truck’s wheel. He knelt down to touch her and then something like heat, some sudden shock of air, surged through his hands.
Suddenly she was breathing, blicking up at him through a mass of matted fur. Dead, and then not-dead, and his were the hands that had done it.
From there we follow Sam and Chickenhead (the cat) through the death of Sam’s mother, the reconnection of Sam with Father Jim (who can see the wings) and Sam’s eventual discovery of Timothy, who also has wings. Timothy has taken to the streets, not knowing how to cope with his transformation, and his sister Lilah becomes another connection to Sam.
The two storylines that intersect are that of Sam and Timothy/Lilah. Lilah, or rather Delilah, is a wandering soul who is dating an abusive, power hungry man who is also her boss. The Boss is a bit of a dark force who’s the counterbalance to the mediocre, weak angel that is Sam.
The novel is philosophical in its open-end questions about God’s plan, our time on earth and the role of evil. I can’t say it’s an uplifting read but what it lacks in optimism it makes up for in eloquency.
Want more? Check out the publisher websites:
Sisterland: A great novel about the ying-yang of twins with ESP and the choices 1 makes to try to hide it while the other embraces it.
I was lucky enough to participate in the first National Post Afterword Reading Society where 20 readers reviewed Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Sisterland.
Curtis Sittenfeld is the New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, neither of which I’ve read so I was keen to get into Sisterland. I wouldn’t normally go for a book about twins and ESP because although I like magical realism and fantasy, I find things psychic abilities a little creepy. My imagination is too susceptible and maybe that’s why this novel is sort of mesmerizing.
The story is about twins Daisy and Violet who have ESP. Their “senses” help them know things like what a guy likes in a girl and they can sometimes see things like the name of a person who’s kidnapped a little boy. As little girls, the twins have fun playing games guessing at what the other is thinking, which creeps out their mom. As teens, they aren’t popular girls, twins were less common in the ‘70-90s, but they do become a little infamous when Daisy takes a chance and tells another girl that she has ESP. The other girl is a popular, rich girl who takes advantage of Daisy to win a boy but then betrays her to the school as a witch.
One of my favourite lines in the book is early on at page 67 in a section of dialogue between a substitute teacher doing roll call, Marisa the mean, popular girl and Daisy.
She took attendance by calling out our last names, and when she got to Shramm, I raised my hand and said, “Here.”
She looked again at the list. “There are two Shramms. You’re which one?”
“No,” Marisa said immediately. “She’s Witch Two.”
Out of context it can seem a bit slack stick but what I like about that line is that it sums up that caustic humour of teenagers. A less skilled writer would have made Marisa more of a caricature but instead she is craftily constructed.
From then on Daisy masks her senses and Vi embraces them. Daisy even changes her name in college in order to hide from the stories. She starts going by Kate instead, marries a nice sensible boy and has two kids. Violet on the other hand is a lesbian, psychic medium who predicts a massive earthquake and ends up on local, then national, tv broadcasting her predictions and stirring up old tensions between herself and Daisy/Kate.
Kate is of course mortified about the prediction and the publicity, has a run in with old Marisa, who is still chasing boys despite being in her late 30s now, and ends up making a ton of mistakes in her attempts to just be normal.
Between Kate and Violet, I think Vi is my favourite twin. Violet, the first born, who embraces her ESP and rocks the flowy shirts and birkenstocks, really puts the woo in woo-woo. And even though she’s worthy of many eye rolls, there’s something redeeming about her.
At the beginning of the novel I was cheering for Kate but by the end Vi was the champ. Sittenfeld’s set up of the dynamic between the twins and the what-if concerns about Vi’s earthquake prediction made Sisterland into a fun, summer read. The bit of a mystery kept me cruising through the book.
If you like Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, then you’ll like Sisterland. Both are about twins who are intensely attached to each other, emotionally removed from their parents and who possess some extraordinary abilities. Not to say that if you like a twin book, you’ll like another, but more so because Niffenegger and Sittenfeld are both great writers who turn these plotlines into well-written, page turners.
Follow Curtis Sittenfeld on Twitter
Visit her website
Or buy the book Random House Canada
The Ocean At The End Of The Lanel is Neil Gaiman’s latest novel and it’s a melancholic little book about growing up, childhood, dreams and disappointments. It’s short but rich and reminds me of Coraline. Where Coraline was triumphant though, I’m not sure our unnamed narrator—a boy of 7—is. But I don’t want to spoil anything for you.
The epigraph from Maurice Sendak is a great 1-line summary of the novel: “I remember my own childhood vividly … I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.”
What the boy knows is that he is a bit of an underling, getting beat up at school and bossed around by his older sister at home, but he’s comfortable. He has a little black kitten and a small room with a little yellow washbasin just his size. But those comforts disappear with the arrival of a lodger who runs over the cat, uses the room, and ultimately dies himself in a most unfortunate way. But instead of that incident being forgotten, our boy gets caught up in the magic that’s unleashed by the death. And that’s when he meets the Hempstock women: Old Mrs Hempstock, Ginny Hempstock (middle aged) and Lettie Hempstock (11 years old, but she’s been 11 for a very, very long time).
Three is a magic number, isn’t it? And the Hempstock women certainly know their magic. It’s old magic. Old magic used to bind things from the old world that have come across the ocean with them. Old magic used to cut and restitch the fabric of time. But all that magic has a price and the novel leaves us wondering if it was worth it. I won’t tell you what it is because The Ocean at the End of the Lane is worth the reading.
Here’s my collage of thoughts about the book.
CC collage images:
fairy ring: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FairyRingSchoolField.jpg
Posted by Monique at 06:02 AM.
Book Reviews •
The time has come! Publishers, in particular Goose Lane, are now accepting manuscript submissions electronically.
I remember my Raincoast “slush pile” days. Sitting in the back room with inch-thick manuscript submissions and reading (or rather weeding) through boxes of submissions. Now the glut of paper is finally ending with the ease of reading facilitated by tablets. Thank you iPad.
[Press Release excerpt] Beginning this Canada Day, Goose Lane Editions will accept fiction submissions only in electronic form and solely via electronic submission.
In early 2012, Goose Lane equipped its acquisition editors with new tablet computers for reviewing manuscripts. Now, halfway through 2013 and after almost 60 years of accepting manuscripts exclusively in paper, the company will begin the overall transition to full electronic submissions.
“Aside from the ecological benefits of doing away with mountains of print manuscripts,” Goose Lane’s publisher Susanne Alexander says, “this change will allow for a more rapid response to submissions and queries and will result in substantial savings for prospective authors.”
The electronic process for fiction submissions will soon be followed by poetry and non-fiction submissions, which are currently accepted only in paper form, which I suspect is the preference of the editor. The release did say that the publishing house expects these two genres to transition to the electronic submission process.
Full details on the new submission process is available at http://gooselane.com/submissions.php
Posted by Monique at 07:53 AM.
Canadian Book Consumer 2012 - An infographic by the team at BookNet Canada
Canadian book buying behaviour (2012 data)
• 1 in 3 Canadians bought a book last month
• 18% bought an ebook
• 26% of purchases were impulse buys
See the infographic for more stats or check out the BookNet Canada website for more Consumer Studies
Posted by Monique at 08:27 AM.
Last January, I wrote about the new Bank of Canada polymer $100 bill smelling like maple. It’s been fun to take part in the dispute and myth busting conversations but the Bank of Canada confirmed recently that they have not added scent to the bills.
The topic is making the rounds again and I was asked, as a “nose who knows,” to weigh in on whether the money has a scent. The story started here with Dean Beeby’s Canadian Press article “Are new bank notes maple syrup scented? Bank of Canada sets record straight”.
Then it was picked up by Robin Gill at Global TV. Watch the Global TV segment here.
Shannon Paterson at CTV News was on the story too and interviewed me.
Watch the CTV segment here.
As I said in my post last year, although the Bank of Canada denies there is any maple scent I think this would be a really interesting enhanced security feature because it would be incredibly hard to counterfeit.
Read my original post on the Smell of Money.
Posted by Monique at 06:52 AM.
Party Tricks •
The World by Bill Gaston is this month’s Vancouver Sun Book Club read and I’ve been enjoying re-discovering Gaston. I was first introduced to his work when I was at Raincoast and I’ve followed his career but haven’t really dipped into his books. Too bad I waited!
The World is both the title of this novel and the title of a novel in the book, written by Hal, one of the main characters. Hal has Alzheimer’s and is in a home and we don’t really get to his story until the final third of the book, but he is introduced early. The book begins with the sad life of Stuart Price who is a high-school shops teacher, recently retired. Stuart is split from his wife and has poured his energies into paying off his mortgage. Indeed he has just paid it off in a lump sum and, in burning the mortgage papers on his deck, burns the place down. Oh Stuart. To add insult to injury, he has forgotten to pay his insurance premium.
Stuart’s meltdown, or rather burndown, takes him on the road. Whether he’s running away or running to somewhere is questionable. He’s swiftly decided to drive his ancient Datsun from BC to Ontario in order to visit his long-lost friend Mel who is dying of cancer. It happens that his insurance company HQ is in Toronto and he wants to plead his case in person.
Stuart is hilarious, and a bit insane, so his third of the novel is pretty funny. The middle section begins with Mel bailing Stuart out of jail and continues from her perspective. It’s a bit dire in comparison to Stuart’s tragedy, but really it’s just another personal crisis from a different perspective. With Mel, we also finally meet Hal, author of The World which is about a leper colony on D’Arcy Island. Hal is quite the character and he and Stuart together are certainly a pair of looney tunes.
We’re going to be discussing Bill Gaston’s The World for the next couple of weeks in The Vancouver Sun so I’ll save my thoughts for that.
In the meantime, check out this gushing review in the National Post.
The World by Bill Gaston
Published by Hamish Hamilton
This article isn’t particularly long but, in the days of 140 character tweets and status updates, it exceeds the character count of my usual single-item readings. I asked James to read it aloud to me this morning while I was eating my breakfast and several times I made him re-read lines that I thought were hilarious or wanted to solidify in my brain. This gem is James’ find and a nice little reading experience that he shared with me in the half-hour block of time this morning between our son’s nap and next feeding. It’s worth a read.
The Referendum By TIM KREIDER in the New York Times from September 17, 2009
Tim Kreider introduces this as an essay about arrested adolescence but it’s really about looking around and wondering if you’re living the life you want to be leading and how we look at our friends’ lives and either feel jealousy or pity.
The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt.
As a new parent, I’m constantly looking at my childless peers and thinking, “8 weeks ago, that was my life too.” Or I’m looking at strangers in the street who are carting around little ones and thinking, “bloody hell, those liars told me things get better” or “that woman has it together, I want to be like her when my child grows up.”
Reading Kreider’s article “The Referendum” coincidentally coincides with me filling out my son’s baby book with family members’ birthdays, which leads me to think about how young some of them died. Mid-50s seems to have claimed a number of loved ones on both sides of our family and at 37 years old that doesn’t seem all that far away.
On a brighter, yet caustic note, here are some of my favourite lines (extracted especially for my friends who are parents and only have 140 more seconds of attention):
To my friends with children, the obscene wealth of free time at my command must seem unimaginably exotic, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked.
A lot of my married friends take a vicarious interest in my personal life. It’s usually just nosy, prurient fun, but sometimes smacks of the sort of moralism that H.G. Wells called “jealousy with a halo.”
Like everyone, I’ve seen some marriages in which I would discreetly hang myself within 12 hours, but others have given me cause to envy their intimacy, loyalty, and irreplaceable decades of invested history. [Note to all my married friends: your marriage is one of the latter.]
I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life. [Note to friends with children: I am referring to other people’s children, not to yours.]
Read the full article: The Referendum By Tim Kreider
Posted by Monique at 10:01 AM.
Party Tricks •
A melancholic love story
The Emperor of Paris by CS Richardson is a series of short, interconnected love stories set before and after World War I in Paris. The most prominent storyline is of Emile Notre-Dame, thinnest baker in Paris and his wife Immacolata, who have a son Octavio. Both father and son cannot read but are amazing storytellers and Boulangerie Notre-Dame becomes rather infamous among its regular patrons who come for the buttery croissants and baguettes but also for the stories.
The bakery occupied the ground floor of a narrow flatiron building known throughout the neighbourhood as the cake-slice. As far back as anyone could remember the letters above its windows, in their carved wooden flourishes, had spelled out:
BOULA GERIE NOTRE-DAME
the N having long since vanished.
The story of the N’s disappearance is a regular request from the bakery’s patrons, the most fantastical version being about thieves who spread across France stealing Ns and the most favourite being that of Napolean stealing the N himself.
The love of books is another thread through the story. Despite not being able to read, Octavio is a regular buyer from a book stall near the Louvre. For both Octavio and the bookstall owner, books have a special meaning, and lead to friendships and relationships.
CS Richardson has crafted a very fine story indeed. His cast of characters each contribute to the overarching story while having their own backstories as well. Emile, Immacolata, and Octavio run the bakery as I mentioned. Then there’s the fashion designers Pascal Normand and his wife Celeste, who hide their daughter Isabeau from view because of a facial scar from an unfortunate childhood accident. And we have three generations of the Fournier family who own the bookstall. On top of that, there’s a blind watchmaker, a starving portrait artist and Madame Lafrouche whose husband Alphonse gifts Emile The Arabian Nights which becomes the first book in Octavio’s collection and eventually makes it into the hands of Isabeau.
I was first introduced to CS Richardson from my publishing ties. Richardson is an award-winning cover designer for Random House and his first novel The End of the Alphabet was my favourite book in 2008. The Emperor of Paris is a strong contender for 2013.
Documentary: SIGN PAINTERS (OFFICIAL TRAILER)
Book: Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon
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.
The Canadian premiere of the Sign Painters documentary that accompanies the book will be in Vancouver on June 7th and 8th at the Rio Theatre. Get tickets ($20) and additional information.
Draw Your Own Alphabets
Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, and Make Your Own
Little Book of Lettering
Another great sign maker: glass & mirrors
April is national poetry month and I thought that I’d celebrate by re-reading some of the poetry collections on my shelves.
Excerpt: “at night cooley listens” published in Sunfall by Dennis Cooley (Anansi, 978-0-88784-580-2)
at night cooley listens to his body
an answering service he bends over now
the day’s over the day’s messages
the rest of the day he does not listen
does not pay it much attention, his neglect shameful
cooley knows he shld do better shld take it out more often
show it a little more affection
once the noise of the day drops like shoes untied away
every night when the tired switch clicks night on
the body becomes importunate spouse
it’s about time you listened to me
you self-centred bastard the body says you barely listen
the body rehearses a long list of grievances, sniffling
there are violins
Dennis Cooley is one of my all-time favourite poets. I find his poems to be flamboyant and a little crazy. Some of them are incredibly heartfelt, while others use tone and timing to turn otherwise casual observations into challenges or wisecracks. He’s the only poet I keep coming back to. Others I enjoy and soon forget whereas I’ll eagerly read, and re-read, Cooley. This poem in particular makes me giddy in the same way that episodes of Seinfeld do.
Excerpt: “Wolf Tree” by Alison Calder published in Wolf Tree (Coteau Books: 978-1-55050-359-3)
The wolf tree’s arms reach out
in a question that is also an answer,
as we seek another name for what we have.
The tree embraces us in its branches,
holds the buds of our tender dreams.
What happened, it says, what happened
to the farm grown over, the buildings
sagging into slope-shouldered grayness.
The wild comes back, as lilacs
explode over the woodshed,
irises and roses bloom beside
Alison Calder’s whole collection of poems is wonderful to read, in particular because each poem offers a wonderful balance of dream and reality. I also like her poems because many are set on the prairies. Calder grew up in Saskatoon and I first met her at the University of Manitoba where she was teaching CanLit and creative writing. I’ve admired her work ever since and perhaps became a fan of prairie poets because of her and Dennis Cooley, along with David Arnason, Robert Kroetsch and newer poets like Alexis Kienlen. I enjoyed the “bee” poems in her recent collection 13.
Poem: “The Home Inspection” by Jamie Sharpe published in Animal Husbandry Today (ECW, 978-1-177041-106-7)
Before I even step
into this house
let me point out
Those leaves on
that there bush
were new in spring;
given it’s late July
I’d say they have
two months tops.
I doubt they’re
Jamie Sharpe is new to me, and I appreciate that he sent me a copy of this collection of poems because I’ve been enjoying exploring it. Like the poems above, Sharpe’s poems are accessible while still being lyrical. It’s a great collection.
What poems strike your fancy? If you’re keen to share, consider checking out the poetry contest on 49thShelf.com for a chance to win a prize package of new Canadian poetry.
Left column: week 1, 2, 3. Main image is week 6-7. Right column: week 4, 5, 6
Finlay John Sherrett is 7 weeks old today. It is shocking how fast, and slow, time has gone. He’s gone from week 1 being 6 lbs 14 oz to losing weight to week 7 being over 9 lbs. Finlay is a string bean. Long and skinny. And thankfully for the last two days he has been rather happy. I think week 4 was the worst of my life and part of week 6 was vying for the top spot. But the little man is sleeping, eating and playing nicely. That makes me happy. Plus there was sunshine again today.
Posted by Monique at 06:02 PM.
Party Tricks •