Thursday, December 31, 2009

Champagne and caviar!

Where has the time gone? I've been meaning to do a year-in-review post. i might still do it this weekend if there's time. Or maybe I'll just forget about the year that was and move on to the year that is. So let us say goodbye to the Noughts, and hello to the ... the teens? What is this new decade called?

Anyway, there is lots to look forward to, including new books, new writing developments, the one-year blogiversary (spelling?), and other acts bordering on knavery. I wish you well, and thanks for sticking with me this long.

As for the title, I'm driving tonight, so no champagne for me. And caviar? My inner vegetarian is shrieking at the thought.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Season's Readings, aka Books Are Great Gifts

Some people associate this time of year with gathering around evergreens. Others prefer candelabras, and still others prefer listening to white noise on the radio. Some of those people give presents at this time of year, and sometimes they give books. However, giving a book can be difficult. Most fiction and non-fiction books (aside from cookbooks, textbooks, and collector's items) are relatively cheap. Think about the average presents you buy for people. Books are probably on the low-end scale when it comes to cost.


So it isn't the cost of the book that gets people flustered. Some people don't know which book to buy. Here is a bit of unsolicited advice, followed by a short, incomplete list.

First of all, go beyond the bestsellers. You're looking for a gift for someone who reads, and if that person cares enough to read a lot, that person has probably got the obvious books. The exception to this would be children's classics that a lot of people have read, but they may not own copies any more. I'm talking about titles like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or The Paper Bag Princess. Where the Wild Things Are could have been on this list last year. Now I think everyone owns a copy.

Second of all, put some thought into it. Giving a book says one of two things: a) you know the person well, and the gift is going to be appreciated, or b) you couldn't think of anything else--and I mean you couldn't think of a single thing. In either case, you need the gift to be thoughtful. I hope the following list helps.


Ever wondered what Aristotle was thinking when he was tutoring a Macedonian prince named Alexander? The Golden Mean, by Annabel Lyon, gives you some clues. (This novel includes strong language, sexual themes, and violence.) It got massive press in Canada this year, but I don't know how it's getting promoted elsewhere in the world.

Sticking with the Greek theme, Gates of Fire, by Stephen Pressfield, is one of the grittiest books I've ever read. There is no "THIS! IS! SPARTA!", but the story has everything from Frank Miller's 300, and then some. (By the way, you've seen 1776, right?)

For those into historical fiction with a dash of romance, there is The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant. What's a girl gotta do to survive and thrive in Renaissance Florence?

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson, offers a fresh look on fantasy. Even better, it's the rare fantasy novel that is one book long. I also reviewed it earlier this year.

Want a graphic novel? Skim is worth it for Jillian Tamaki's art alone, but Mariko Tamaki's story is every bit as good.

Know someone who's interested in multiculturalism, and wants to know why it seems to work in Canada when it doesn't in other countries? Try A Fair Country, by John Ralston Saul. Read the section called "A M├ętis Civilization" if you want to score bonus points with the reader.


I hesitate to put Coraline on this list, because the movie has made it a popular title (as if being written by Neil Gaiman wasn't enough of a boost), but if you know a child (age 8+) who doesn't have this book, you can be the cool one who introduces him or her to this tale. It has kidnapped parents, talking cats, and mice that play in a marching band. Scary enough to grab a child's attention, but not scary enough to get them to stop reading.

The bottom line is that you can get someone a good book just by putting a little bit of thought into it.


Note: This list was (mostly) free of picture books, kid-lit, and teen-fic for reasons relating to my work. But I can casually mention that you can visit my publisher's web site here and browse through some of the categories, such as "Governor General's Literary Award winners". Do as you will.

(Photo courtesy of bibliodyssey.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Tis the season

Pictures of the first snow and some reindeer. Before you ask, I forgot to resize most of the photos. Holiday reads coming soon, but there's this in the meantime.

Guess who?







The view from my room.


My neighbourhood.


The parking lot at work. Not everyone showed up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Don't Panic

"People do not put a high value on books," one of my teachers said, and she had a point. Books as physical objects are not worth that much to most people. How often do you buy a book? How often do your friends buy them? How well do you take care of them? Would you spend more on a book than on another item you liked?

Books are usually for entertainment and leisure, and even there they're second-class citizens to movies, music, and video games. Think about how much money each industry makes in comparison. Books that aren't intended for your reading pleasure may have it even worse. Just think about all the textbooks you've bought and used in your life.

What we like are the stories within the books. Oh, some people take more pleasure than others in the feel or smell of a book, or they go crazy for hardcovers, or they love the conveniently small size of mass market paperbacks. But usually people care more about what's IN the pages than the pages themselves.

I was reminded of that on a crowded subway. Some guy was reading a book at my station, and when we got into the subway car he sat down while I elected to stand. I saw right away that he was reading The Shadow Rising, the fourth Wheel of Time novel and easily one of my Top 3 in the series. Incidentally, it has what might be my least favourite cover of all the books*.

I could see what chapter he was on, and if anyone on the subway cared to look around at the other passengers instead of pretending that they were in a teeny tiny bubble isolated from the rest of humanity, they might have noticed a bit of a grin on my face as I pictured Rand's exodus from Tear, with Mat trailing along against his will. I was toting up the how many crowning moments of awesome there were in that one book. I held myself back from saying something to the guy (that would have been weird... didn't you read the part about ignoring other people on the subway?), but I still wondered whether he was re-reading the books or if it was his first time through. You know what parts to anticipate when you re-read a favourite book, and it almost makes those parts better. On the other hand, you can never really recapture the initial moments of wonder. so did the guy have any idea what was going to happen at Rhuidean? Did he know about Mat's trip through the twisted door frame ter'angreal? Did he know that the Aiel were really descended from--well, I'll say no more.

My point (if I have one) is that the stories are what gives value to the books. Books as a medium for the masses are a relatively recent invention, only going back about 500 years for the invention of the printing press. Stories, on the other hand, have been around forever. From wall-paintings in la grotte de Lasceaux, to the oral traditions of every culture, the stories will be told. They will live on. Somehow.


*As with other things WOT-related, Leigh Butler nailed the description for this loathed cover, "in which The Little Woman cooks for Random Archer Guy and his friend Eighties Sweatband Guy, who clearly fell through a time warp from a Richard Simmons workout tape onto the Oregon Trail, where he never got a chance to learn how to wear them old-fangled coats before they all died of dysentery." Charming, no?
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