Sunday, December 26, 2010

How not to be a librarian

This is truly awful. It is supposed to be funny but as a librarian I find it almost offensive.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Women who read

I've heard this before but came across it again. I found it funny even the second time ao I thought I would share it here:

Never Argue With A Woman Who Reads

A couple goes on vacation to a fishing resort. The husband likes to fish at the crack of dawn. The wife likes to read. One morning the husband returns after several hours of fishing and decides to take a short nap. Although she isn't familiar with the lake, the wife decides to take the boat. She motors out a short distance, anchors, and continues to read her book. Along comes the game warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside her and says,"Good morning, Ma'am, what are you doing?" "Reading my book," she replies, thinking isn't that obvious? "You're in a restricted fishing area," he informs her. "But officer, I'm not fishing. Can't you see that?" "Yes, but you have all the equipment. I'll have to take you in and write you up." "If you do that, I'll have to charge you with rape," says the woman. "But I haven't even touched you," says the game warden. "That's true, but you do have all the equipment." MORAL: Never argue with a woman who reads.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I haven't read the book The Sentimentalists which won the Giller, published by our highly esteemed and principled local press . I had to go to the Gaspereau Press website to find out what the book was about since this hasn't been the subject of much of recent the press I have seen The publisher says,

Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel connects the flooding of an Ontario town, the Vietnam War, a trailer in North Dakota and an unfinished boat in Maine. Parsing family history, worn childhood memories, and the palimpsest of old misunderstandings, Skibsrud’s narrator maps her father’s past. ... a daughter’s wrestling with a heady family mythology.

But before I read that blurb I imagined what a novel with that title might have to say. I wondered if it might discuss by way of fiction the Canadian psyche because most Canadians, let's face it, are sentimentalists. Emotion and feelings inform their beliefs and their political biases, not empirical evidence or even, it seems, bitter experience. Wishful thinking is so much more agreeable than rigorous thought, easier too.

Hmmm - "heady family mythology." Perhaps I am not far wrong; perhaps the author captures that in her novel after all. We'll have to try to find a copy - not an easy thing I guess - to see if I am right.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gaspereau Press has a decision to make

Johanna Skibsrud has won the Giller prize with her book The Sentimentalists. Her publisher is The Gaspereau Press a quality, small press just down the road from us in Kentville. They can manage only a tiny run. This has unlocked a whole Pandora's box of trouble for the author and for readers who are clamouring to read the book.

Skibsrud bit her lip when Gaspereau co-publishers Andrew Steeves and Gary Dunfield spurned offers from Toronto-based publishers to reprint and distribute The Sentimentalists widely after the Giller jury made it a finalist. Now she openly admits to being “concerned” about the partners’ decision to continue hand-printing her prize-winning first novel at the leisurely rate of 1,000 books a week.

Concerned? I guess. We have to ask ourselves, will another author choose Gaspereau Press if they know their choice of publisher could limit sales down the line if they win an award? I think Gaspereau Press will win only in the short run but not in the long run if they don't allow a partnership to allow the book to be more widely available NOW, when it is wanted. As it is I don't think I will be able to find a copy to give as a gift at Christmas.

There is not a single copy of The Sentimentalists available in any of the Indigo Books & Music stores, company president Joel Silver confirmed. “The Giller lights a match,” he said, “but you still need to feed the fire. … If people aren't reading about it and talking about it, then I think it'll fizzle out faster.”

We may have to get a copy from the British publishers if we want one. We love the Gaspereau Press and hope they resolve this issue. If they do the right thing by the author it can only enhance their reputation. If they don't well ...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Over rated authors

I have to agree with this list of over rated Canadian authors - with perhaps one exception. I have to admit that I haven't read some of their recent work but that makes the point doesn't it? Mostly I didn't even care for the first book by them that I read!

The one exception is Douglas Coupland - I haven't read anything by him, at least I don't think so, so I can't comment. To be fair I should except Erin Moure too as I haven't read any of her work either but I am assuming as she is a poet I wouldn't like her fiction at all as I disliked both Anne Michaels and Ondaatje's stuff for letting their bad poetry overwhelm what might have been a good story. Not surprisingly those two authors are also on the list. I applaud wholeheartedly these assessments by Good and Beattie:
Of Anne Michaels - Stuffed to the gills with abstruse metaphoric language and self-conscious, sonorous prose, Fugitive Pieces and its ever-so-slightly less overwrought follow-up, The Winter Vault, are prime examples of Canadian fiction that is solipsistic, humourless, and alienating.

And of Erin Moure - She also demonstrates why people have taken to avoiding poetry so studiously. Cryptic without being particularly interesting, stricken with various political and linguistic theories, and barren of the sort of grace one typically looks to poetry to provide, it’s all too easy to take a pass on.

And of Ondaatje - our very own poet laureate of pretentious, purple prose, our king of cliché, a sorcerer who has improbably managed for decades now to pass off his distinctive brand of inert slop as somehow being possessed of a “literary” value only detectable by prize juries, time-serving academics, and a handful of supine reviewers.

Right on the money I say. Modern poetry is, in my view, like recent modern art - especially performance art - mostly a fraud foisted on a fawning and sheeplike public. But back to the list. What about the others?

Ralston Saul. He'd be at the top of my list if only for his very sloppy habit of not bothering to credit his sources. No wonder the reviewers describe his recent work as increasingly vague, unconvincing, and repetitive exercises in nationalist myth-making. I don't even agree that Unconscious Civilization deserved the compliment they saw fit to award him. I refuse to waste time on him.

Jane Urquhart. I read a couple of her books because they were on my book club list but would not recommend them. Have to say yes to this conclusion- like many of the writers here, would do well to bear in mind Ray Robertson’s admonition about “the literary value of not being boring.”

David Adams Richards - I liked the books I have read by Richards which is an improvement over the others so I am not sure whether his recent stuff has deteriorated, as they imply, into formulaic rants.
The result has been a strident series of crude, reactionary harangues on the evils of modern, secular civilization. Degenerate city-dwellers, slanderous hypocrites, and anyone with a university education are lined up against God’s people – honest, stalwart, hard-working folk who are made to suffer the persecutions of the saints. Enough already.

Hey, that sounds like me so maybe I should pick his latest one up!

Joseph Boyden - Here's another of the recent "star" authors who fails to sufficiently credit sources. If one is attempting historical fiction one should at least have a bibliography that inspired and informed the work. Perhaps that explains Good and Beattie's reaction -
And did no one notice that the Manhattan sections of Through Black Spruce read as if the author had researched them by watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model?

The reviewers don't suggest there is an order to the list so the fact that Vassanji and Martel are both near the bottom may not mean they are less over-rated than the others in their eyes. I didn't dislike The In between World of Vikram Lall but it is true I didn't like it enough to want to buy another Vassanji book. Perhaps his earlier ones were better but Good and Beattie have nothing positive at all to say about him. At least they applaud Martel's Life of Pi but in a back handed way as they point out that its premise owes more than a little to Brazilian writer Moacyr Scilar’s comic novel Max and the Cats (Martel may be the first institutional CanLit star of the Internet generation, where the line between appropriation and plagiarism is perilously blurry). Had I realised how much he owed to Scilar I might not have liked that book so well. I absolutely hate authors being lazy or (worse) deceptive about giving credit where credit is due (have you noticed?)

I would add a name to this list. Our reviewers were bold but not brave enough to list Margaret Atwood. Here is an author who is clearly resting on her laurels. I have stopped not only buying but even reading her recent over written efforts. She could use a darn good editor but I doubt there are any who would beard this lion of Can Lit. She will have her way and it doesn't do her work any good. I would take a hacksaw to it and prune several of her novels down to what would probably amount to novellas.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You have to eat eggs on the road

I like books about writers, written by writers, about their journey, usually to some kind of success. I always think I might gain some magic insight from them which would help me get to the next level in my writing.

A writer's road isn't easy as we writers, or wannabe writers, know. It is full of potholes, narrow bridges and detours. There are times when we are motivated, times when we are devoid of ideas, times when we close our laptop and swear never to write another word. But how many of us have dreamed of being discovered? Wished we could have a helping hand up over those hurdles? Wouldn't you give your eye teeth to have your work noticed by a published author and be drawn into his circle, recommended to his publisher? It didn't work out well, it appears, for Tom Grimes. Except in the end he has a book out of the drama - Mentor.

This is a book about striding up to the brink of success, only to have success disembowel you with a dull steak knife, bow, and then skip away, cackling.

Does that description from the NY Times appeal? It sounds rather disheartening. Does it have something to offer to budding writers, if only as a warning?

Mr. Grimes admits: “I imitated authors. On Monday, I sounded like Vonnegut, who, on Tuesday, became Nabokov, who, on Wednesday, became Toni Morrison, who, on Thursday, became Philip Roth.”

I ask myself - could I ever sound like Vonnegut? Who would even try? And then it seems the book probably tells you more than you want to know about the book world.

Alongside his own downward-spiraling narrative, Mr. Grimes packs this story with book world gossip, the way you stud a leg of lamb with garlic before sticking it in the oven. At one point Mailer gives Mr. Grimes some macho, if baffling, book tour advice: “You have to eat eggs on the road.”

He tells the story of being invited to a cocktail party at the home of L. Rust Hills, the influential former literary editor at Esquire. Mr. Hills pulls him aside and offers him a quid pro quo. “So, you teach my book” — a volume called “Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular” — “and I read your stuff,” Mr. Hills says. “O.K.? That’s how it works. Make sense?"

That's rather sordid and not exactly what you imagine when you have a manuscript you are proud of. So maybe I will give this writer's book a pass. That is the advice of the NY Times reviewer, the would be writer in my life being ME!

Don’t give this forthright and bewildered book to the would-be writer in your life. It might make him or her climb a tall tree and leap from it. You don’t need that on your hands. In any case, I suspect many aspiring writers will find it on their own, and read it between the cracks in their fingers.

Or will I get tempted anyway and read it cringing?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

E books coming to libraries

I have a friend who thinks books are passe. I am not of the same mind as I believe there will always be books in some form or another. Books have changed quite a lot since the first ones; technology is about to change the format again now that e-books are here. And libraries want to keep up.

The New Brunswick public libraries are planning to start offering e-books in the next few months to allow people access to more reading material in different formats.

There are more than two million library books in the various public libraries across the province, but the collection could jump a lot higher once e-books become available.

Tina Bourgeois, the regional director for libraries in the Albert-Westmorland-Kent Region, said people would eventually be able to download e-books from their home computer instead of visiting their local library branches.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another library, sort of

As an addendum to our last post on wonderful libraries we have to add this one, which is not exactly a library but a Library Parking Garage in Kansas City, Missouri. Not in the same class as the old library interiors but still extraordinary. Note the titles of the books chosen, which are easier to read in the second view.

Those shown in the photo - from left to right -Tao Ie Ching by Lao Tsu, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughs, Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, A Green book which I can't make out, Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens, Charlotte's Web by E. B. White, Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, and Truman by David McCullough. There are apparently 11 more on the streetside "shelf" to the left of the steps in the photo above.

The book spines, wich measure approximately 25 by 9 feet, are made of signboard mylar. The shelf showcases 22 titles reflecting a wide variety of reading interests as suggested by Kansas City readers and then selected by the Kansas City Library Board of Trustees.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

For Librophiles

Here is a wonderful site that appeals to several of my (too many) interests.

Since I am trained as a Librarian and love books, and also have an interest in history, how could I not be intrigued by this post on Beautiful libraries which I came across a little while ago. It has taken me a while to get around to sharing it.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to do a grand tour of even some of these? My hat goes off to the intrepid compiler who gathered these photos, and the readers who suggested more. It's nice to see that the Parliamentary Library in Ottawa and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library made the grade.
I've been asking myself which I would pick as a favorite to visit if I was given an opportunity to. It's a difficult choice. I have already been to "The Long Room" at Trinity College Dublin, where they keep ( or used to ) The Book of Kells, and also the National Library of Ireland in Dublin so I could cross those off but as for the others, how would I choose? So I guess I won't, but I have to say I am partial to the ones with added art; the painted ceilings are wonderful although it might be distracting to read there! The Vatican Library is almost visually overwhelming.

At the end of this "curious expedition" into old libraries are some links to other sites on libraries and some excellent book suggestions. One that appeals is mentioned in the comments: The Library of Babel, by Jorge Luis Borges which is apparently out of print and not cheap second hand.

The Library of Babel is one of Borges' finest short fictions -- a meditation on the possible, the infinite, the nature of hope and the creation of meaning. The Library contains all possible books, all possible combinations of the 25 orthographic symbols in all possible languages, and therefore everything man is capable of knowing and expressing -- but it appears to have no order, no organization. It contains the true catalogue of the Library, as well as innumerable false catalogues, books proving the falsity of the false catalogue, and books proving the falsity of the true catalogue. Yet from chaos arises meaning: There is no combination of characters one can make . . . that the divine Library has not foreseen and that in one or more of its secret tongues does not hide a terrible significance. There is no syllable one can speak that is not filled with tenderness and terror, that is not, in one of those languages, the mighty name of a god

That intrigues. I'll have to watch for it at the annual book sale. Borges was once director of the Argentine National Library, something I didn't know until now, so I have learned much on my curious expedition. And this site offers many others!
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)