Category Archives: Book News

Wanted: Book Covers from the ’70s

I came across this juicy little tidbit while scanning book news from the past few weeks, and I thought you would find this interesting as well. And don’t worry, if you have no idea who Lena Dunham or Chip Kidd is, that really has no bearing on what I found interesting about this article anyway.

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Does this book cover not look like it came straight from your parent’s bookshelf? I know I did a double take when I looked at this image-Kidd is completely right, this cover looks extremely outdated. In fact, it looks a lot like the yellowing copy of the Joy of Cooking that has sat at my family’s cottage for over four decades now.

This isn't a picture of the actual book at my cottage, but it might as well be

This isn’t a picture of the actual book at my cottage, but it might as well be

Does Lena Dunham think she’s being ironic by using an outdated type on her book? Is this another case of hipster nonsense? Or perhaps this what people in New York think is cool these days? Well, I’d  agree with Chip Kidd on this one-out with the old and in with the new!

 

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WGA Conference: The Writing Life Panel

Hilary McMahon, Me, Steven Galloway and Leanne Shirtliffe

Hilary McMahon, Me, Steven Galloway and Leanne Shirtliffe

I just love the picture above, it’s one of my favourites from the Writers Guild of Alberta Conference because it so honestly depicts how fun the event was to host. The crowd in the background of this photo were enthusiastic, supportive and asked wonderfully insightful questions. The panelists Hilary McMahon, Steven Galloway and Leanne Shirtliffe were all great presenters as well-they were honest, open, and had a great sense of humor, which made hosting this event that much more fun! In fact, they were all so talkative that my not-oft tested moderating skills were hardly necessary, much to my relief.

The title of the event was “The Writing Life”, so I asked a few questions around the current state of publishing, what’s expected of a writer these days, the role of social media in a professional writer’s life, etc. A discussion like this could easily slip into a depressing rant about the good old days, but thankfully the everyone’s jokes and optimism prevented this from happening.

Why do we look at the publishing industry as if it’s golden age that is slowly fading away?  I’m going to try to sum this up as short and simply as possible. The publishing houses are losing money because of major cutbacks in their revenue, mostly due to the fact that big box stores and corporations (Indigo, Amazon, etc. ) are paying less that they ever did for their stock, because they have the influence and market majority to do so. Oh, and e-books are a big part of this, because they are sold for a lot less than their hard copy counterparts, but they cost just as much to produce (the main cost in book production is the editing and typesetting of the pages). As you can see, the cost of producing books is still the same, yet publishers are making less money for the same product, which means they are pressured to cost costs elsewhere. This in turn gets passed down to the authors themselves, because they are being paid less for their writing, and being asked to essentially provide the marketing for their own books. So, not only are writers paid very little for what they’ve already written, but they’re being asked to write other things for free (like twitter updates, blogs and facebook posts).frabz-WRITER-What-my-friends-think-I-do-What-my-mom-thinks-I-do-What-s-24d512

Similar reasoning can be applied to the demise of the newspaper industry, but lord knows I don’t the the time or patience to argue on behalf of all paper industries, so I draw the line at discussing anything other than books on this blog.

You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this-if it hasn’t become obvious enough yet, it’s something that I’m passionate about, which is why I’m a board member of the Writers Guild of Alberta. The WGA supports Alberta writers and is doing its best to protect the rights of writers in this province, which is something that is constantly threatened by the shrinking budgets of publishers big and small. So please do your part, buy some books and hug a writer when you see one, because when not appearing on a super fantastic panel as part of a conference, the writing life is not as glamorous as you may think.

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Calgary Reads Book Sale!!!

I am forever indebted to my good friend Kayleigh for introducing me to the Calgary Reads Annual Book Sale. How did I not know about this before, and why has it taken me this long to discover it? The sight of walking into a big empty warehouse full of books and book lovers warmed my cold heart to its very core, and I was amazed to see people wheeling luggage filled to the brim with books!

I’ve included a photo here of what the room looked like, just to give you an idea of how many people were there. Who said the book industry was dead-it clearly isn’t! This is a great example of how publishing is shifting, and although used book stores aren’t as popular as some would like them to be, people are clearly still purchasing used books, and in this case, all the proceeds are going to a good cause.

My fellow book-lovers!

My fellow book-lovers!

And the variety of books! There was something there for everyone, and everything was meticulously sorted. Fiction was sorted into mystery, horror, historical fiction, beach reads, Canadian fiction, even a Governor General Award-Winning section was there. And of course tons of non-fiction: history, cookbooks, gardening, arts and crafts, self-help, travel books. Really, they had everything, even a section for children’s books and YA. Interestingly enough-they did not accept Harlequin romance novels as donations. I found that a bit baffling, because it’s such a popular genre that many people would have gladly picked it up should it be available, but who am I to judge?

I got all these for 20 bucks-yup, pretty good deal

I got all these for 20 bucks in total-yup, pretty good deal

The stack of books I brought home came to a measly 20 bucks-so a little less than the cost of one hardcover book. Now, I know that sales like this are the bane of booksellers’ existence, because it trains people to pay less for the books they want. However, what I like about this is that it brings the community together over something that’s important-reading! And I bet that the majority of people there make a habit of shopping for books all year long-this is just their chance to get a whole whack of them for next to nothing.  Most likely, they are also the people who visit their local independent bookstores, so you can’t blame them for wanting to save a couple of bucks. I got the first books of a couple of series at this sale, and if I really like them, I’ll probably go out and buy the second and third in the series, so I’m hoping that this sale will encourage more book purchases in the future, rather than stifle them.

If you missed it this year, now you know what to look forward to next year! Keep your eye on the Calgary Reads site for information about next year’s sale, because they’re a not-for-profit organization doing amazing work, and your support is greatly appreciated.

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Book Rapport Launch!

As many of my readers know, I have a soft spot in my heart for Wordfest, mainly because I worked there for five years and 100% support their festival’s mandate of bringing readers and writers together. So, not surprisingly when I received an invitation to the launch of their Book Rapport/Festival des mots program, I jumped at the chance to attend!

Sandra and Jo announcing the program!

Sandra and Jo announcing the program!

The event was held at Owl’s Nest Bookstore, who is also the bookseller for the kids program of Wordfest. As always, they put out a great spread, including wine, jellybeans, and cheese. Who could ask for anything else? Not surprisingly, I gorged myself on the jellybeans, and those who know me well would expect nothing less I’m sure.

The formal program started out with a great video that featured clips of previous Book Rapport events, and interviews with the students and teachers who have participated in the program. Then-the big reveal! A sheet was whipped off a table in the back where all the featured books of the youth program were displayed (picture below). Who am I excited about? Ruth Ohi is a great additional to the line-up, she’s written and illustrated adorable children’s books, and is a lovely woman to boot. Kenneth Oppel was another big name I recognized-he’ll be presenting at a few sold-out shows for sure. Ivan E. Coyote also stood out for me-I know she’s attended the festival a few times in the past, but  I’ve been a fan of her genre-defying work for a long time now, and her writing explores gender in such interesting ways that her appearances will never get old. Her short story collection Missed Her is one of my favourite books of all time. book table

There’s also some great French authors coming, so if you speak the language of love, or if your kids do, make sure to check out that line-up here.

It was nice to catch up with old friends, and peruse the book shelves. Before I entered the store, I promised myself I wouldn’t buy anything, but as all book-aholics know, it’s impossible to enter a book shop as lovely as Owl’s Nest and not come out with anything. So, at the recommendation of Jo Steffens, Executive Director of Wordfest, I picked up Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. At the recommendation of the internet and all women on it, I picked up Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. You can be sure that I will posting reviews on both of those books, so stay tuned! Oh, and I got a delicious-smelling tube of hand creme, which lord knows I didn’t need, but I’m so excited for.

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W.O. Mitchell Book Prize Readings

On Tuesday night, I joined a small but mighty crowd of book lovers in the upstairs of the Rose and Crown on 4th to hear this year’s shortlisted W.O. Mitchell Book Prize authors read from their nominated works. Those were:

  1. Glenn Dixon for Tripping the World Fantastic (Dundurn Press)
  2. Juleta Severson-Baker for Incarnate (Frontenac House)
  3. Tyler Trafford for Almost a Great Escape: A Found Story (Goose Lane Editions)

Dixon gave a multimedia presentation from his book which included a recording of an ancient Egyptian horn being played for the first and only time. Baker read a few pieces from her first collection of poetry, including some racy love poems about her husband. What made this reading all the better was that her mother-in-law was in the audience! (I was most the likely the only one who felt awkward about this, judging by everyone else’s reactions). And Trafford didn’t even read from his book, he regaled the rapt audience with the story of the emotional genesis of his first full-length book, which was a great way to end the readings. To cap off these great performances, the crowd was treated to past winner Marcello Di Cintio starting off the Q&A period with some rousing questions of his own. I worked up the courage to ask a question and requested that Di Cintio give the shortlisters some advice on what it’s like to be nominated for this award-and hopefully win it! His advice was humorous, as I had hoped and expected. If you’re curious as to what it was-looks like you should have been there!

Glenn Dixon Reading

Glenn Dixon Reading

So, the mixture of non-fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction all worked together to create a memorable evening of readings, and I don’t say that very often, because I’ve been to some terrible readings in my time. Buy me a few drinks and you’ll hear all about those, but for now, I’m content to brag about the amazing writers I’ve heard read and perform like I am here. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, you’re all deserving in my mind, but may the best book win!!!

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Alberta Literary Awards Shortlist Announced!

Oh hi there Alberta book lovers (and book lovers in general). Many of you may already be aware that the Alberta Literary Awards Shortlist was announced, but if you’re not, you can find the list of nominees here. There, now that you’re up to speed, you can decide whether to purchase your tickets or not. If you need a little help deciding, just buy them anyway, because the money is going to a good cause-the Writers Guild of Alberta!*

A little back story on the Alberta Book Awards: they’re put on each year by the Writers Guild of Alberta, and they alternate between a Calgary and Edmonton location. This year, they’re in Calgary at the Fairmont Palliser. Nice huh? I know-right? Anyway, this is where the  Alberta Literary Awards are handed out, and it’s a fun, glitzy affair for all who are involved. And let’s be honest, when do writers attend glitzy affairs? Let’s just go ahead and say NEVER. Unless they’re invited to the Giller Awards, which is approximately 0.5% of the Canadian writing population, so any excuse for a party is a good one. Plus, the tickets are only $75, and that includes a delicious plated meal from the Palliser, so who can go wrong? Here’s another good reason to buy tickets-I’ll be there!!!!AftertheFlood_001

The Literary Awards are a part of the Writers Guild of Alberta Annual Conference, which theme this year is “After the Flood: Alberta Writers Reunite One Year Later.” And even more exciting is the fact that I’m going to be hosting a panel about the writing life. No, I don’t consider myself a writer, but I’ve been around enough of them that I do consider myself an expert on their habits, needs, desires, etc, all of which we will be exploring in this sure-to-be a good time event.

The Crystal Ballroom-our venue for the gala!

The Crystal Ballroom-our venue for the gala!

My shameless self-promotion is at an end for now, but I’ll be posting about this over the next few weeks as we draw closer to the event dates, June 6-9, 2014. Check out the event website to see what amazing authors are going to be making their way to us here in Calgary, and get your tickets while the early bird pricing is still in effect!

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*Please note, I am a tad biased when it comes to this organization. Full disclosure, I am on their Board of Directors, and I’m also the Chair of their fundraising committee.

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James Franco wrote a book! And he does other stuff too…

There are a few reasons why I love this video. The first is that it’s a featured clip from the Jimmy Fallon show, which is, as you all know, awesome. And, Jimmy obviously doesn’t have poets on his show on a very regular basis, so you can tell he’s a bit ‘out of his element’ trying to come up with speaking points to discuss with James. But the best part of this clip? It’s giving a POETRY book a feature on a highly sought-after time slot, and exposing many non-readers to the joy of writing and reading. Is it a bit snobbish to assume that people who watch late-night t.v. also don’t read? I’m not saying that assumption applies to everyone, but if you’re a hard core reader (i.e. one of the enlightened), you’re using that precious time to catch up on your latest novel, not staying up late to watch t.v.. So how am I even aware of the Jimmy Fallon show if I don’t actually stay up late to watch television? I watch clips of it on facebook, obviously.

Oh yah, James Franco is pretty cool too, but I have never looked at him the same way after Spring Breakers. If you’ve seen that movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

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Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Awards-Shortlist Announced!

So living in Alberta has led me to develop a fierce loyalty to AB authors and their books. I’m also aware that prairie literature doesn’t get the attention it deserves, as Ontario and BC authors are typically on Can-Lit’s radar more than the remaining provinces. This isn’t really a fair observation to make, but it’s one that I’m going to allow myself to do here, especially because I grew up in Ontario, and worked in the publishing industry in Toronto for a short time.

Why don’t we hear about Alberta authors more often? The most obvious of reasons is that there are simply more authors in the more heavily populated provinces so it makes logical sense that we would hear more about them. However, another big part of this is due to the fact that Alberta doesn’t have many publishers either, so the publishing ‘epi-centre’ of Canada is focused  mainly in Toronto. This is all to say that when an award for an Alberta author is created or distributed I take notice.

Some may be aware that the Alberta writer and poet Robert Kroetsch died tragically in 2011 in a car accident. He was a great man with an amazing writing legacy that is sure to live on for many years, so in some ways, we can still look to his name as a beacon of hope in the Alberta writing community. The City of Edmonton Book Award was created in 1995 by Edmonton city council, well before Kroetsch’s passing, and was re-named in his honour shortly after he died. The prize is $10,000, which would be a nice addition to anyone’s annual income, especially a writer’s!The Great Robert Kroetsch

The winning book must be written by an Edmonton author, or deal with the city in some form or fashion. As you can see the restrictions are quite loose, but this lends itself to a varied and exciting list of nominated books, so it’s smart to create an award this way. The next winner will be announced on April 28 in (duh) Edmonton.

The 2014 nominees are as follows: Tim Bowling (Selected Poems, Nightwood Editions), Nellie Carlson, Kathleen Steinhauer, Linda Goyette (Disinherited Generations: Our Struggle to Reclaim Treaty Rights for First Nations Women and their Descendants, University of Alberta Press), and Lynn Coady (Hellgoing, House of Anansi Press). You can learn more about the award and other Alberta authors on the Writers Guild of Alberta website.

If you’re interested in reading some more books by Alberta authors, I’ve got reviews here, here and here to get you started.  If you’re an Alberta author and would like me to review your book, please get in contact with me; I walk the walk and talk the talk!

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Big News in the Canadian Writing World

Two important things happened this week in the Canadian book scene. The first, and probably most interesting (yet complicated) is the fact that the Writers Union of Canada will now allow self-published writers to join their ranks. Find out more about it here on their website. Some of you may not be aware of this, but before this ruling, to have become a member of TWUC, you needed to have published work to your name (so, obviously not just anyone could join). It’s important to note that with this latest policy, the self-published author’s work must have demonstrated ‘commercial intent’, and their work has to have been ‘peer-reviewed’ for acceptance into the union. Why does this matter to the rest of us? Well, it shows that the writing community in general is starting to view self-publishing as an acceptable form of publishing. It’s no longer the last resort for wannabe writers, it’s a viable option for people who may have published work in the traditional form, but are looking for a more flexible and profitable way to distribute their own work. So, there’s that.

Note to all self-published authors: this attitude is changing! First stop TWUC, next stop, publishing world domination!!!

Note to all self-published authors: this attitude is changing! First stop TWUC, next stop, publishing world domination!!!

Next is the fact that Canada Reads happened, which is also a big deal, because similar to the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the winner sees a big increase in their book sales, which let’s be honest here, is pretty much hitting the jackpot for any writer, no matter how successful you may be. This particular Canada Reads competition also seemed to have much more riding on it, mainly because they were trying to determine which book will change Canada. Pretty daunting task don’t you think? So obviously most of the books in the running were serious, and held dire consequences for their characters, not a bunch of funny ha-ha stories that you can read on the beach somewhere. Either way, Joseph Boyden’s Orenda won,  which I haven’t read yet, but would really like to now that its been determined that it’s a story that will change our country (!!!).  So, just a little info to keep you up to speed. Try dropping one of these two bits of info at your next dinner party, and people will be impressed, I guarantee it.

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