Monthly Archives: May 2013

Food!

It is my birthday, so I’m posting about food in books. I think it is appropriate.

I’ve recently re-read Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher. That book has a lot of food in it: cabbage with nutmeg, saffron buns, steak, toast and tea, the list could be endless. I found a blog post this morning that lists some of the best descriptions of food in children’s literature. C.S. Lewis tops the list. He did food well in his books, particularly the Narnia books. Everyone always got their next meal. Peter Robinson’s mystery novels usually have a good curry or two in them, and the beer in those books is quite well done. I think, though, that my favourite food reference in books is Chocolate in the Harry Potter books, because chocolate is a medical cure! Rowling is brilliant.

What about you? What kind of food do you enjoy reading about?

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Views on the News

I wasn’t sure I was actually going to write this post, but, after a lot of mental debate, here it is. Make of it what you will.

I live in Toronto, and by now most of you who don’t live in Toronto have heard of our mayor, Rob Ford. You might even have heard of his brother Doug. I am not a Ford Bros fan because I think they are not very good at running the city. I am not going to weigh in on whether the video exists, if it is all true, or what should happen next. I’m more interested in something I’m going to call Public Morality. Let’s talk about that.

Tom Wright wrote a very interesting piece for the Guardian on Public Morality. You should go read it now. In the context of current chaos in Toronto lots of people have started to talk about whether journalists should be publishing these sorts of stories. The Globe and Mail’s editor published a defense of the investigative report on Doug Ford with the story. I’m glad journalists seem to be thinking about these kinds of questions. What still remains for me is a question about who sets the standards for public discussions of acceptable moral behaviour. Wright also asked this question. Who sets the bar? Is there even a bar set any longer? In many conversations the bar seems to be what is legal or illegal and whether that can be upheld in a court of law.

In the court of Public Morality however, sometimes even what happens in a court of law will not suffice. Behaviour doesn’t change because someone is found guilty or not. Sometimes people are found guilty, take on the court-imposed punishment, but are still deemed untouchable by society. How do we help people move forward? Is there such a thing as forgiveness in Public Morality?

Handling scandals in government has become a matter of spin, and some people seem to do that well, and others are not so good at it. Should spin matter? Is there something else that might be better?

At the moment I’m teaching an online course on the Old Testament. Last week the readings included Leviticus. This prompted some interesting discussion about what to do with this book of ancient rituals. I suggested that one thing the ancient system of sacrifice and offering provided was a way forward after bad things happened. If you did something wrong, there was a way to deal with it and move forward. How can this happen in our society? How can this happen in our own lives and relationships? Do we let people change?

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Summer Reading?

So what IS summer reading exactly?

Lots of websites see summer reading as kid-specific, something to keep the brain active over the long vacation, or to get them ready for the fall term. If a school has a reading list for the summer, that just seems cruel. Isn’t a vacation supposed to mean no homework? Apparently not. Won’t this approach to summer reading make kids hate books more than they already do? Maybe. I hope there’s some choice involved, something to make the process engaging. I hope some kids who hate reading get at least a little break from the whole thing.

For those whose schedule doesn’t change for the summer, perhaps we should talk about vacation reading instead of summer reading. What kinds of books do people read on vacation? Fluff? Books that take more time or are more challenging? Some kind of combination?

I think of summer reading as reading I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t yet. Sometimes I know a book will absorb me in a way I don’t have time for when I’m not on vacation, so I save it for a spot when I’ll have the time to dive in. Sometimes summer reading means books that take more concentration. Then there are times when it is just fun to dive into some fantasy series and disappear to another world.

I don’t own a hammock or a muskoka chair, but those are the places I’d like to read a book in the summer. Maybe I’d change my mind if I did own such things, but I don’t think so. I’ve read books in a muskoka chair and it is always a good summer experience.

What about you? What do you think of when someone says “summer reading”?

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Gendered marketing

In this space a week and a half ago I linked some interesting articles on women and publishing. One of the linked articles discussed book covers in particular and linked an interesting exercise in cover re-design which I think is brilliant. Go look at the link, especially the slide show with redesigned covers starting with Game of Thrones. Yep, brilliant. This got me thinking on some recent experiences I’ve had in book marketing. Let me tell you about two of them. In the first I was the one books were being marketed to, and in the second I was the one doing the selling.

  1. At the bookshop where I work we get publisher’s catalogues and staff review these to help our manager make decisions about books to buy. Several months ago I was looking at an independent publisher’s catalogue. This publisher has several imprints. The catalogue pages were colour-coded so that you could see where one imprint ended and the next began. So far so good. But. The pink pages contained books whose covers shrieked that they were marketed to women. The blue pages contained books marketed to men. The pink books were (generally) fluff. The blue books were (commonly) serious. I almost hurled the catalogue across the store. There’s nothing wrong with fluff. But the men I know like a nice bit of brain candy as much as women. Our preferences in the kinds of brain candy we choose might be different, but still. C’mon people. Get serious. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that at the time I was in the middle of applying for work with that publishing company. Maybe I’m glad things didn’t work out?
  2. I do the initial work on the marketing emails that go out from the bookshop. Mother’s Day was last month, so I duly designed a gift suggestion email about M-Day that was approved and sent out. We got an email back from a woman who teaches New Testament wondering why there were no biblical studies books suggested for M-Day in the email. Well there were, but they were a click away in the “more suggestions” list found on our website. But a translation of the Psalms was featured in the email. For Father’s day there will be cookbooks. We are trying hard not to follow stereotypical categories.

Last weekend I had a conversation about Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher. My friend the Library Page asked if it was more history or romance. I said it was historical, but commented that the cover marked it as a romance. I also said I thought she’d enjoy it.

Any thoughts on gendered marketing? Experiences? Not judging a book by its cover?

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Turgid Prose

Previously in this space I have lamented Turgid Academic Prose. I have found one reason rising academics continue to write with such a pompous bombastic style: profs teach it.

I am reading a book on writing a particular kind of advanced research paper. It advises students that they should be formal and not be overly chummy in their style. I agree. An academic paper is not a blog post or a tweet or a facebook update. The author then quotes paragraphs from two sample research papers which I consider prime examples of Turgid Prose and lauds these as showing proper depth and academic rigour. One paragraph does not show depth or academic rigour. It may suggest that a subject will be treated with such depth and rigour, but it does not have to be dense and unreadable to do so. I throw up my hands in disgust. Why can’t North American academics write? Because they are told that if they write too clearly, they clearly don’t have any Big Ideas. This is so backwards I hardly know how to begin to reverse it. I do the only thing I can: advise my students to write clearly. Writing clearly does not mean you don’t have big ideas. Writing clearly does mean others may benefit from understanding your big ideas.

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Real Words

My friend the Constant Reader linked to a blog post on the way we use words in Christian circles on facebook this morning. I quite like this post. It reminds me that words are important.

It also reminds me of a book I have been meaning to read, also about the importance of words. I read the first ten pages and really liked it, It made me think. Since that bus ride where I dipped into it, I’ve not made time for it. It is important to make time for books one thinks are important. I’m about to move this book up on my to be read pile. Possibly it will be summer reading, the kind of summer reading one actually does rather than only talking about.

Why are words important? And which books make you think that you should be reading right now?

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Birds, Babies, and Bass

I’m a little bit noise sensitive. I prefer silence when I work. The ambient sound in a space is more important to me than the ambient light.

In my new apartment my work space is regularly invaded by three kinds of sounds:

  1. Birds – there is a pet bird down the hall. And now that it is spring there are the birdies outside. I guess I shouldn’t complain about those birds. But the birdie down the hall sounds like a smoke detector that needs a new battery.
  2. Babies – there is a new baby across the hall, less than six months old. The baby doesn’t wake me, but I can certainly hear if baby cries when reading in my living room or working at my desk.
  3. Bass – the heavy beat of my downstairs neighbour’s stereo. He has days where this is particularly bad, then weeks of no noise at all.

I’m looking for a way of coping with this that doesn’t involve ear plugs. I use them, but don’t like the feel and sound – I get a ringing in my ears when I wear them, and this seems to defeat the purpose. I’m thinking sound cancelling headphones. We’ll see.

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Women, writing, and publishing

I found a couple of interesting articles about women, writing, and publishing today. I’m still digesting the ideas and information in them, and expect I’ll have more to say in a few days. Meanwhile you can check them out too. Here they are:

  1. Interesting thoughts about marketing to men and women. Love the alternative On the Road covers.
  2. Thoughts about recognition of women and men in the publishing industry.

Look for more on this in this space.

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Repetition — good or bad?

I’ve been listening to the Michael Scott series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. So far I’ve listened to the first three books (The Alchemyst, The Magician, and The Sorceress) and must report a few things about the series.

  1. This is not a series of books, it is all one book. There is one plot arrow, there is little to no resolution at the end of each book, and the story line so far has taken about four or five days of story-time in three volumes. Compare the Harry Potter books. Each Potter book has a plot that resolves, and each book takes a school-year to come to that resolution. Yes, there is a larger trajectory in the Potter books, but you can read one Potter book and feel like something happened, not that you were dropped into the middle of a story arc and then ripped out of it just as it might make a move toward resolution.
  2. There is an inordinate amount of repetition in the books. Possibly this is to remind you of pertinent details since this is all one book. Even so, the amount and detail of the repetition is wearing. The use of characters full names all the time is ridiculous. Every single time the point of view shifts to someone else, the new point-of-view character’s full name is given. Possibly this is Mr. Scott’s way of signalling that a point-of-view shift has occurred, but it is also wearing. And possibly silly.
  3. I’ve noted that there is a lot of repetition and that the action in each book seems to be about a day and a half or so. I think that the story might have been told in much less time and to much greater effect. I think an editor could help a lot. But maybe then not so much money would be made? Who knows. I’m just glad that the library has the books and I didn’t make any financial investment in them.

Do you know of other book series that are basically all one book? Do they repeat themselves all the time? Am I just becoming a grumpy person? Do tell.

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Early Reading

Over at Publisher’s Weekly some staff people mentioned books that made them love reading. I thought about their question: “What was the first book that made you love books?” I’m not sure what was the first book. I remember the first book that I had a strong reaction to, the first book that I remember re-reading multiple times, the first one that made me want to go out and read everything else the author had written — but I’m not sure I want to tell you which book it was. Ok. I will. It was Treasures of the Snow by Patricia M. St. John. I have not seen the movie or listened to the audio book. I am not actually sure how old I was when I read this book. I probably started reading the Narnia books before it, and in the long run those have influenced me more, but I don’t remember first reading them. But it was P.M. St. John who really sealed the deal on the whole reading thing. I think I was already hooked, but she made sure the hook stayed in.

What about you? What’s the one book you think hooked you on reading? Or are you still unconvinced?

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