Category Archives: Random Posts

Judging a book award: the most rewarding/time consuming job on the planet

I had the good fortune of being a judge for the 2015 Saskatchewan Book Awards that were just handed out this past weekend.  I was on the panel that decided the winner of the City of Saskatoon and Public Library of Saskatoon Book Award: Manny’s Memories by Ken and Angela Caron. It’s been awhile since I read the book (November-December ish), but of course I remember it well because it was so beautifully written and illustrated. I recommend picking it up-it includes a CD with the book as well that gives some nice context to the story, so it’s well worth the 15 bucks. download

This category was particularly difficult to judge, because it encompassed all different genres of books: children’s books, cookbooks, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, you name it! From what I understood, the only criteria of the category was that the author had to be living in Saskatoon, so pretty broad. How do you compare a children’s book to a book of poetry? It’s challenging, let me tell you, but I believe the most deserving book won, and I stand behind our decision completely.

There were about 20 books in total that needed to be read, some very short, some very long. I even cooked a recipe out of the cookbook to help decide where I stood on it. So yes, it was a time-consuming process, but because I love reading, it was a really enjoyable task. I must say, this has also given me a new appreciation for the people who judge major literary prizes, because many of those high profile, international awards have 50-100 submissions. Even for die-hard book lovers like myself, reading one book every day or two can be tiresome, so luckily I’m starting slow with a regional award like this one. But I’m hoping I’ll get the chance to judge more book awards in the future (call me!).funny-call-me-maybe-maeby

The hardest part was keeping quiet about this newest adventure on my blog for this long, so the next few reviews that you will see on here are some of the books that I read as a judge for this category. I’ve always been a big fan of Alberta-grown lit, but I can now confidently say that Saskatchewan has some pretty good authors as well.

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Book News: Harper Lee to publish her second novel

I’m a couple days late on this one, but I thought I’d weigh in on this latest piece of exciting book news anyway. Harper Lee, author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (published in the 1950s), has announced that she will be releasing her second novel titled Go Set a Watchman in July 2015, with publisher HarperCollins (those lucky bastards, other publishers are most likely muttering to themselves).harper-lee

Before I delve further into this topic, I would like to admit something horribly embarrassing (because why not?). I thought Harper Lee was a man, until this past Tuesday, when I saw her publicity photo appear on my facebook feed accompanying this breaking news. In my defense, when I read the book in Grade 10, I’m sure I knew at the time that Lee was a woman, but that fact seems to have slipped my mind in the 15 plus years since. I was also unaware that Harper Lee was still alive (yes, I’m sure my ignorance is surprising to many), so I felt doubly awkward when hearing this news, mainly because it forced me to realize how little I actually know, vs. how little I actually think I know.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I want to say how excited I am about this. Will I rush out and buy the book? Probably not, I don’t typically jump on these book bandwagons like others. I will consider buying the book (from a local independent of course) as a gift for someone though, it could be a great conversation starter, and I’m sure many of my friends won’t hear about this news at all, so I’ll appear very knowledgeable just by getting it for them.

Since the news broke, there have been questions around the timing of this book, mainly because it is widely known that Lee is in failing health, and her dutiful attorney passed away a few months before this new book mysteriously appeared. Apparently Lee wrote it before To Kill a Mockingbird, but it hadn’t been up for release until now. Is Lee being taken advantage of by a big corporation? Who knows? And does anyone want to point out how strange it is that the imprint releasing her book is also named Harper? I haven’t seen any jokes about this yet, so perhaps I’m missing something, or I simply have a childish sense of humour.

But  I AM excitone-of-katy-perrys-dancing-sharks-reveals-his-identity-during-a-reddit-amaed about this because of how much press and attention it’s getting. Who knew, that just mere days after the internet’s incredible over-focus on dancing sharks during a Superbowl halftime show, that our intelligence could return this quickly to discuss something so worthwhile? Lately I’ve been reviewing the the ‘trending’ topics on facebook with distaste and pity for humankind, but my spirits are buoyed by the articulate discourse coming out of this latest announcement. Yes, people believe there are more important things than Kim Kardashian’s latest photo shoot and the 10 ways in which Missy Elliot out-shined Katy Perry, and it simply took a blast from the past to get us there. God bless you, Harper Lee.

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Books Ive Read in 2014

Well here it is again, my annual list of what i’ve read in the past year. You will notice I read 61 books in 2014: 4 less than I did last year. I shudder to think how little I’m going to read in 2015…

For many people, reading 61 books in a year seems like a strange (and quite possibly boring) task, but for me this is a disappointing number, because in 2013 and 2012 I read 80 books each year. 80 seems like a much more impressive number, no? Reading is by far my favourite pastime, so I hate seeing my numbers go down each year, but this is what happens when life gets in the way of your hobbies.ecde7721063e2c7fb6e48956f2daf116

A quick explanation for those of you who are new to my year-end list: I state the book title first, and then the author. I hyperlink to my reviews of the books, if I wrote one. Just because I didn’t write a review, doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book, I probably just ran out of time! You’ll also notice that some books I’ve just left spaces for, because I’m currently a jury member for a book prize, so I’m not allowed to state what the prize is, who the authors are, or what the books are. Just trust me that I’ve read the books, and I’ll post the reviews for them in the spring once the winner has been announced.

Enjoy this list, and if you see any books that you’d like to read, feel free to message me and I can see if I still have it lying around to send to you.

  1. Road Ends by Mary Lawson
  2. A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks
  3. Whiskey Creek by Dave Hugelschaffer
  4. Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
  5. Double Happiness by Tony Brasunas
  6. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
  7. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  8. All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
  9. That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay
  10. Innocence by Dean Koontz
  11. Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
  12. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo
  13. You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
  14. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  15. Dead Brilliant by Christopher Ward
  16. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
  17. The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich
  18. Boundary Problems by Greg Bechtel
  19. The Age by Nancy Lee
  20. Gin and Daggers by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
  21. One More Thing by B.J. Novak
  22. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  23. Blessings by Elise Juska
  24. The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh
  25. The White House by JaQuavis Coleman
  26. The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
  27. To Rise Again at at Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
  28. The Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston
  29. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  30. The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
  31. The Fever by Megan Abbott
  32. All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
  33. The Quick by Lauren Owen
  34. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
  35. No Relation by Terry Fallis
  36. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  37. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
  38. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
  39. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
  40. The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
  41. Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J. Taylor
  42. Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese
  43. California by Edan Lepucki
  44. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  45. Riel Street by Colette Maitland
  46. The Last Days of the National Costume by Anne Kennedy
  47. Leaving Tomorrow by David Bergen
  48. The Freedom in American Songs by Kathleen Winter
  49. Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
  50. Serpents Rising by David A. Poulson
  51. Reunion by Hannah Pittard
  52. The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips
  53. World War Z by Max Brooks
  54. *****
  55. *****
  56. Abattoir Blues by Peter Robinson
  57. ****
  58. Bear by Marian Engel
  59. ****
  60. ****
  61. ****

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Liebster Award

Last week, Elsie Ohem, who I’ve never met but will be continually grateful to, nominated me for the Liebster Award. I have no idea what this award is, but I’m so honoured to be nominated for ANYTHING that I will gladly participate in this chain-letter type thing that comes along with a nomination. As I typed that last sentence, I realized I had better figure out what the award is, if I’m going to be nominating other blogs for it.index

So, apparently it’s awarded to blogs that have less than 200 followers (which is apparently a category that ivereadthis.com falls into), but this not something to be ashamed of, rather it’s something to be proud of, because hey-I’ve got a readership!

Part of being nominated for this award means you have to answer a bunch of questions that your nominator has set out for you, so I’ve answered a few below. My readers know I like to keep things short and sweet, so here goes:

  1. What is your favorite hobby? Reading!
  2. Do you prefer books made into movies or movies made into books? Both!
  3. What is something that no one would ever guess is true about you? I don’t have a favorite author or book.
  4. If you could spend the day with any person of your choice, who would it be and why? Lil’ Bub the famous internet cat sensation, because he is so adorable.
  5. What is the one thing you want to accomplish before you die? Visit the Galapagos Islands.

There you have it! I’d like to nominate one other blog for this award. Congratulations goes to: Becky in Bookland

And the questions you can choose from to answer are:

  1. Why do you blog?
  2. Who do you imagine reads your blog?
  3. How long have you been blogging for?
  4. Who is your favorite author?
  5. Do you hope to be blogging for the rest of your life?

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Book Event: Back to (Writing) School with Author Ian Williams

Last night at the Barley Mill Pub in Eau Claire, I had the pleasure of attending another successful and educational Writers Guild of Alberta event. Recently named University of Calgary writer-in-residence Ian Williams gave a thought-provoking yet still entertaining presentation on writing. Although I don’t consider myself a formal writer,  he still gave me some useful tips, and I’ve decided to start calling myself a ‘creative non-fiction’ writer rather than a blogger, as this sounds much fancier.

Ian Williams, speaking to a rapt crowd at the Barley Mill last night

Ian Williams, speaking to a rapt crowd at the Barley Mill last night

When the event began, Williams announced that his talk would be focused more on us, the audience, rather than himself. He wanted us to leave the event learning a bit more about our own writing styles, which in all my years of attending literary events, came across as a rather creative approach. Understandably, we were all a bit hesitant when he said this, as most writers don’t like the limelight, and horrific images of people standing up and discussing their books-in-progress danced through my head. However, quite the opposite happened, and I believe the objective of the evening was reached. What revelations did I have?  I realized that I don’t take my writing as seriously as any poet, and my particular ‘style’ of writing includes getting a bunch of crap down on the page, and editing it all afterwards. So, very useful soul-searching was done on my part.

Williams also encouraged us to challenge ourselves: if you’re the type of person who does all their writing in the morning, try writing at night! If you’re the kind of person who only writes fiction, try writing non-fiction and see where that gets you. I’m about to embark on an online writing course, so I hope to take advantage of this advice and try out my very rusty fiction-writing skills to see if this improves overall communications. Williams also emphasized the fact that writing a bunch of stuff that never sees the light of day is a good exercise, which is a difficult pill to swallow for multi-taskers like myself (“what a waste of time” I thought in my head) but I do see his point.

Who says writing workshops have to include the same, old boring advice? And isn’t it better to take in these words of wisdom while in a pub, sipping a glass of beer and munching on some yam fries? I thought so too, so stay tuned for the next WGA event, you won’t want to miss it.

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CBC Books’ Writers to Watch: the 2014 Edition

I have some observations on the most recent “Writers to Watch” list from CBC Books:

  • Not surprisingly, it is a diverse list in both authors and their publishers. I would expect nothing less from the CBC.
  • I have heard of none of these writers. A few years ago, when I worked in publishing, I’m sure I would have recognized the majority of these names (at the very least, the new face of fiction from Random House) but alas, I glean all my book information from blogs such as these, just like everyone else now so I’m sufficiently out of the loop.
  • None of these books looked particularly interesting to me, but they are all very typically “Canadian”, which the CBC seems hell-bent on reminding us of, every chance they get.
  • I can guarantee you that all of these authors are struggling to make a living from their writing, and will continue to do so, well after their books are released and highly lauded by critics, which most will inevitably be.
  • At least one of these authors will probably find themselves on the Giller longlist this year, but I can guarantee they won’t win it. Yes, I know that without reading any of the books themselves, or even thoroughly reading the blurbs that were included in the article.
  • The book I want to read the most is New Tab by Guillaume Morissette because his headshot includes a picture of him holding a beautiful cat.

    Obviously, this is the best author on the list

    Obviously, this is the best author on the list

To some, my list above may seem like I’ve given up on Canadian book lists, or the CBC. I’ve done neither, I assure you. I listen to the CBC all the time, even when I’m sick of how Canadian it sounds, and I still eagerly click on these book ranking lists, if only to see what I do and do not recognize. I am however slightly jaded when it comes to identifying these ‘hot new writers’. Why are these books supposed to be interesting to us, other than the fact that they’re new, and the CBC says they’re good? I suppose that’s what us book bloggers are for, an unbiased opinion to let book enthusiasts know what’s worthwhile, and what isn’t.

I’d also like to point out that in the comments section of the site, the visible diversity of the authors was also noticed by a fellow reader, so obviously I’m not the only one who is aware of the CBC’s attempt to include as many skin colors as possible on this list. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, in fact they probably have a mandate to do this, it’s just so …Canadian!

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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!

 

70s

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Literary Pun Names for Cats

BuzzFeed, you have done it again!!! You’ve taken two of my most favourite things-books and cats-and mashed them together to create a wonderful list of literary pun names for cats. Why is this important you may ask? I counter that question with another question-how is this NOT important?enhanced-3298-1405529451-8

I’m not sure if I’m focused on this inevitable connection between cats and books before in this blog, but I know I’ve mentioned it to my friends before, and I’m 100% sure I’ve mulled over it in my own head as well. This is a completely made up statistic, but I’m going to guess that 80% of book lovers are also cat lovers. At the very least,  I have the facebook friends to prove this.

Why is this such an obvious connection for people (largely woman, but some men)? Well, quite simply, and again these are my completely made up theories based on nothing but personal experience, I believe reading and interacting with your cat is something of a pastime,  I would even argue that doing one enhances the other, so it’s a natural connection for people to enjoy having a cat on their lap while they read a book. Other reasons that cats and books go so well together include:

  • Cat people and cats like sitting down. If we didn’t like settling into a reclining position, we would have dogs. It’s just as simple as that.
  • Cats are independent creatures, and so are readers. I’m not saying that all readers are shy people, because that certainly isn’t the case, but we do like being by ourselves for long periods of time, and we all know cats are the same way.
  • Cats don’t like being pet constantly. They like a few rubs every once in a while, but they’ll let you know (typically by biting you) that they’ve had enough, which is perfect for readers, because our hands are busy holding up a book and turning the pages.
  • Cats don’t take a lot of time to take care of. Which is nice, because readers would rather be reading.

Are those enough reasons for you? Because I’ve included two percentages in this blog, I feel as though I’ve dove into this issue deeply enough already.

My most dedicated readers will know that I try to include a photo of one of my cats with a book whenever I take a ‘shelfie’ for this blog, and it’s no coincidence that my views go up one those particular days that Pearl or Smokey make an appearance here. So, here you go-if my cat rant wasn’t enough to get readership, I’m sure these portraits below will be.

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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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