Monday, February 28, 2011

Social Media Theater Curtain Will Rise March 1

Three words you maybe never thought you’d hear together: Social Media Theater. At a glance, you might not even be sure what it means.

Here’s an idea that could either be very good… or very lame. The next few weeks will tell.

Certainly, the impulse is a good one. From the Reorbit Social Media Theater website:
Expanding social media into artful artifice, our intent is to reengage audience interest in theater & literature through emerging new media technology and experiences. We are asking writers to write for free, however any proceeds we may be able to generate in the future will go into furthering this mission or be fairly distributed to authors for any writing we may republish.
A Samuel Beckett quote on the website sounds very much like a mission statement: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”

In real world terms, however, what does that even mean? From a press release:
Reorbit is a cutting-edge project that merges historical figures and modern technology to create a new set of online plays. Writing in real-time, the characters use Twitter as a channel for interacting with a wider audience online. What would Kafka say in 140 characters? What would a modern-day Sylvia Plath tweet about? Social media will play a role in an actual real-time written performance of a character.

The first characters to go live include Emperor Norton, Sylvia Plath, Keith Moon and Charles Bukowski. Reorbit is also extending the audience of other projects: Arthur Miller will be re-imagined in conjunction with a production of one of his plays, and a contemporary novelist's main character will continue her dialogue with the audience.
Several Twitter-fed flash fiction plays are set to begin March 1st. You can choose which to follow here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Authors to the Aid of Christchurch

Even with photographic evidence aplenty, it’s hard to conceive of the damage done to Christchurch, New Zealand, by the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck there this last Tuesday, killing many residents and destroying landmarks. New Zealand blogger Craig Sisterson, sent me a note with information about the conditions in Christchurch. His note begins:
Kia ora from shaky New Zealand,

As many of you will know, on Tuesday at 12:51 p.m. NZT the city of Christchurch, which suffered a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in September last year, was struck by another massive earthquake--this time much shallower and more violent. This earthquake is completely different to last year’s one, which caused massive property and infrastructure damage, but we were blessed with no loss of life. As of this morning NZT, more than 100 are dead, and another 220+ missing, and hundreds badly injured. There have been no signs of life from under any rubble for more than 36 hours, which is heartbreaking for the more than 1,000 rescuers, from several countries, who are working their way through what is a pretty dangerous environment.

I now live in Auckland, but I went to University in Christchurch, so have many, many friends living in what is/was a wonderful city. Those I have talked to/e-mailed/texted/FB-ed are safe but badly shaken, but there are several I’ve not yet heard about.

As the days go on the people of Christchurch will need a lot of help. There will be months, even years, of rebuilding, and as of today more than half the city is still without power/water. Organisations like the Red Cross and many others are doing some fantastic work, supported by caring people from all over New Zealand, and all around the world.
Sisterson then gives info on how all of us might aid recovery efforts:
California mystery writer and professor Margot Kinberg is setting up a charity raffle--“Do the Write Thing”--of signed mystery novels, to raise funds. Several authors have already donated signed copies of their books, and she is looking for more, so she can create the biggest/best raffle possible. People will enter the raffle by donating to the Red Cross. If you are a mystery author willing to help out, please contact Margot at

You can read more about Do the Write Thing here.

I have also placed on my Web site information about various ways to donate/get involved here.

I know we are all busy with many things in our lives, but I would urge you all to consider helping in any way you can, and feel comfortable doing. The crime- and mystery-writing community--writers, readers, and reviewers, etc.--is a very connected one, with a great sense of community and camaraderie. Christchurch was the home of NZ’s most well-known mystery novelist, Dame Ngaio Marsh, and the current home of several NZ crime writers (the three I have contacted, including Paul Cleave, who some of you met at Harrogate, are all safe, but badly shaken). It would be terrific if we could all pull together and help them out.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Can Good Writing Be Taught?

Can good writing be taught? Maybe not, hazards Robert McCrum in a Guardian piece for which commenting is now closed.
Can you teach writing? Americans think you can, broadly speaking. They are happy to attempt a definition of good writing. In the UK, we are a bit more sceptical. At a pinch, we'll concede that there's good and bad usage (for instance, all serious newspapers have a style book), but we wouldn't go much beyond the horror of the split infinitive or the dangling participle. We have Henry Fowler, who is not really quotable – very conservative and rather old maidish. They have Strunk and White, whose "omit needless words" and "prefer the standard to the offbeat" have reverberated through American prose for half a century.
If anyone has reason to have given deep thought to the question it’s McCrum, whose Globish: How the English Language Became the World’s Language (W.W. Norton) we looked at in this space last June.

Digital Marketing Success for Authors

Long-time friend of January, publicist extraordinaire Fauzia Burke, offers up her best advice for digital marketing success for authors via The Huffington Post today:
There are six essential elements for successful digital marketing and when used together they make for a powerful combination. Each element is important on its own, but when you use all six together you will see a strategy that is effective, scalable and long term.
We’ll give them to you fast and dirty, but check out Burke’s HuffPo piece for the full skinny.
1. Website
2. eNewsletter
3. Blog
4. Facebook
5. Video
6. Twitter
Burke is the founder and president of FSB Associates, long recognized as the first -- and still one of the best -- book-focused publicity firms with an emphasis on the interwebs.

Lost Enid Blyton Novel Comes to Light

A complete novel by beloved children’s author, Enid Blyton, has been discovered in a box of manuscripts bought by a UK children’s book center after the death of Blyton’s eldest daughter last year. From The Daily Mail:
Titled Mr Tumpy’s Caravan, the 180-page story tells the tale of a magical caravan and the travels of its inhabitants.

The children’s author, who has sold 500 million copies of books including the Secret Seven and Malory Towers series, was not known to have any unpublished material.
Though the manuscript is undated, it is labeled with an address that indicates this could be one of Blyton’s earliest works. However, her youngest daughter, Imogen Smallwood, feels it might have been written much later than that:
Miss Blyton developed dementia in her later years, and Mrs Smallwood believes the story could have been written towards the end of her life due to the ‘clumsy’ style.

She added: ‘I think it was not published because it wasn’t up to her old standard. She was getting very confused.

‘My daughter and I both think this one page that we’ve got shows a lot of effort, rather than the absolute free-flow that came from her fingers to her typewriter in those old days when she wrote several thousand words a day.’
Blyton, who died in 1968, was one of the most successful children’s storytellers of the 20th century. It is thought that she wrote approximately 800 books over a 40 year period.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Night of a Million Books

Imagine a night that is all about reading. When the eyes of the world focus on the giving and receiving of the book, in its most classical form.

In reality, March 5th, the first ever World Book Night will not truly be that: it’s not a worldwide event. Yet. But it’s really a fantastic start. The Guardian reports:
What organisers believe will be the biggest single literary event in history is to raise the curtain on next month's World Book Night, itself billed as "the biggest book give-away ever". On 4 March London's Trafalgar Square will be given over to a "glittering celebration of the written word", with 10,000 people expected to attend.
The following day, 20,000 volunteers will give away 48 copies of the book they’ve chosen from among 25 titles selected for participation in this first year.

“World Book Night is a unique collaboration between publishers, booksellers, libraries, writers and individual members of the public and one that I think is going to have an enormously positive impact on books and reading,” says Jamie Byng, chairman of World Book Night and managing director of Canongate Press. “There are few things more meaningful than the personal recommendation and having one million books given to one million different people on one night in this way is both unprecedented and hugely exciting.”

Not everyone is as excited. Again, The Guardian:
World Book Night has been accused by a number of authors and independent booksellers of damaging the struggling book trade, but Atwood -- whose novel The Blind Assassin is among those being given away -- responded by saying: "Other booksellers are enthusiastically participating, as it spreads the word on books and makes them available to people who would otherwise not have them or be able to afford them. Also: I gave a book by Kate Atkinson away recently and the person I gave it to liked it so much that she bought all the others."
We can’t help but agree. Anything that focuses this much attention on books and reading is a good thing for both industry and for people who love books and reading. A huge and highly visible book giveaway seems likely to lead to book sales in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, the 25 books chosen to participate in the inaugural event are as follows:
Kate Atkinson, Case Histories (Black Swan)
Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (Virago)
Alan Bennett, A Life Like Other People’s (Faber/Profile)
John Le Carré, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Penguin)
Lee Child, Killing Floor (Bantam)
Carol Ann Duffy, The World’s Wife (Picador)
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage)
Seamus Heaney, Selected Poems (Faber)
Marian Keyes, Rachel’s Holiday (Penguin/Poolbeg)
Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Penguin)
Ben Macintyre, Agent Zigzag (Bloomsbury)
Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (Penguin)
Yann Martel, Life of Pi (Canongate)
Alexander Masters, Stuart: A Life Backwards (Fourth Estate)
Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance (Faber)
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (Sceptre)
Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (Fourth Estate)
David Nicholls, One Day (Hodder)
Philip Pullman, Northern Lights (Scholastic)
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (Vintage)
C.J. Sansom, Dissolution (Pan)
Nigel Slater, Toast (Fourth Estate)
Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin)
Sarah Waters, Fingersmith (Virago)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Non-Fiction: Half a Glass: The Realist’s Guide by Craig Price

No one likes a party pooper, yet in Half a Glass (Blooming Twig) humorist and professional speaker, Craig Price, advises readers to get their poopyness in hand and use it all for good, instead of evil.
This book is a guide to show you how to get a grip on your negative thoughts, fears and doubts to use them to your advantage. Life isn’t always going to go as planned, so we need to learn how to play the cards we’re dealt, not hope and wish we had different cards. To manage negativity, you need to admit that it exists and that it’s a part of life.
These are concepts that are absolutely foreign to our culture, yet Price -- once voted Houston’s Funniest Person -- doesn’t play it for laughs. Exactly. You can see he takes this “Realist’s Guide” business quite seriously. “Change is going to happen,” he writes at one point. “Before you change something, ask around.”

I’m still not sure if I’m crazy about the idea of channeling negativity for fun and profit but Price’s voice is charming and funny. This is a business book for those looking for something a little different. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Fiction: The Canterbury Trail by Angie Abdou

An unlikely group is pushed together, Big Chillish-style, for a close encounter of the awkward kind. Though rather than a country house and a friend’s funeral, in Angie Abdou’s The Canterbury Trail (Brindle & Glass) an unlikely group is put together by a mountain adventure.

Angie Abdou’s star has risen meteorically of late, given a push when former NHL tough guy Georges Laraque championed Abdou’s debut novel, 2007’s The Bone Cage, in the Canada Reads competition. (The Bone Cage didn’t win. That honor went to Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans.) But, along the way, Canadian Literature included the book in their All-Time Top Ten List of Best Canadian Sports Literature and it was number one on the CBC Book Club’s Top Ten Sports Books.

It’s clear that Abdou gets the sports world and knows it well enough to write intimately from it and, from certain angles, The Canterbury Trail could be viewed as sports related: but only from an oblique angle. The focus here is not on competition, but on human emotion and relations. (Though it’s possible those things aren’t so very different.)

“I didn't set out to write an adventure book or a ski book,” Abdou told The Calgary Herald in a recent interview. “I’m interested in people’s connection to place and how the people define the place and place defines the people. So I wanted to look at this community through various eyes over the period of 24 hours or so. They are active people who live in the backcountry and that’s just what people where I live do.” ◊

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Biography: Endgame: Bobby Fischer’s Remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady

Though he was once considered to be the Mozart of the chess board, by the time he died at the age of 64 in 2008, chess champion Bobby Fischer was widely considered to be a kook who died notorious and maybe crazy in Iceland.

No one is better equipped to tell this story than Frank Brady. The founding editor of Chess Life, Brady has written biographies of two other large and eccentric personalities: Orson Welles and Aristotle Onassis. At least as important, Brady and Fischer knew each other well. They met when they were children and, as adults, their lives and professions often intersected. This actual familiarity with Fischer results in a book that often has a fictional tone, though in fairness, that’s part of Brady’s style: using source material to recreate scenes that the author could not possibly have seen. “At his seat,” Brady writes at one point, “Bobby studied the stage from the audience’s perspective, seeing it as they must have seen it for two months, when they’d watched the combatants in profile.” It mostly isn’t irritating, except for when it is. I know these little visions are meant to be artful, but quite often I find them jolting: an unwelcome reminder that the author couldn’t possibly have seen or felt quite what is being claimed.

Despite the occasional roughness in tone, Endgame (Crown) is compellingly good. Brady, who is an experienced biographer, is working with some fabulous material here. Most of it quite close to his heart. One can’t imagine a better biographer of the eccentric chessmaster than Endgame. ◊

David Middleton is art director and art & culture editor of January Magazine.

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Fiction: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

There was never a moment when The Paris Wife (Ballantine) was not going to be a huge seller. The writing here is sharp and terrific, but the subject matter clinches things. The story of Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with his first wife, Hadley, would have been of great interest even without the success of Loving Frank (2007), Nancy Horan’s explosive bestseller about Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress. But with Loving Frank paving the way, there was going to be no stopping The Paris Wife. (And yes: that is a blurb from Horan on the cover of McLain’s book.) Both books were edited by Random House executive editor Susanna Porter. Porter is said to have paid “north of half a million” for North American rights to the debut novel. From the early signs, though, Porter’s instincts were right.

McLain’s jazz age love story is perfect from the beginning. “The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes and say, ‘It’s possible I’m too drunk to judge, but you might have something there.’”

Of course, it’s not all wonderfully brown eyes and strains of jazz. You know going in that The Paris Wife is going to end badly. After all, before Hemingway killed himself in 1961, there would three wives after Hadley. The book concerns itself mainly with the five mad years the couple spent in Paris and includes the birth of their son, John Nicanor Hemingway (known as Bumby), who would one day grow to be the father of Mariel and Margeux Hemingway.

The marriage came to an end when Hadley discovered the other woman, the journalist Pauline Pfeiffer. Hadley and Hemingway were divorced within the year. In between is a heartbreaking stream of pain and near misses. This is, after all, the woman about whom Hemingway wrote, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”

Though The Paris Wife is, of course, fiction, sometimes it’s difficult to keep in mind. McLain delivers Hadley’s voice so perfectly, it’s easy to forget that the 28-year-old St. Louis virgin that Hemingway first married didn’t have much of a voice: at least, history doesn’t give her one. McLain has repaired that quite completely. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.


Non-Fiction: Collaboration Soup by Delia Horwitz and Paula Vigneault

I want to live in Delia Horwitz and Paula Vigneault’s world. I want to go to the place where meetings are filled with joyous, meaningful exchanges rather than ever being boring and frustrating. Professional facilitators, Horwitz and Vigneault tell us early on that our dream is not only a possible reality, it’s right within our grasp. We just have to reach out and make it happen. As they point out early in Collaboration Soup (CreateSpace), “Collaboration is universally applicable to almost any shared human endeavor. Putting those abilities into practice is a learnable skill, and with practice, we can all learn to be effective at serving up a new and better kind of conversation whenever people come together for a shared purpose.”

They use the balance of the book to share how to make that happen. Not through either force or wishful thinking, but by taking the book’s title very much to heart and approaching collaboration with the same type of creative action one might use to make a stew. Or soup.
Attitude is everything. We all know that food tastes better when made with care, so bring your good will, acceptance, and creativity with you to the collaboration kitchen.
The book reduces the idea of collaboration to six simple steps. I could share them here, but they don’t actually mean much out of context. The steps described and defined are really what this slender book is about. Those involved in businesses, non-profits, government and community organizations will find much of interest to them in Collaboration Soup. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor of January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Excerpt: Truth Lies Bleeding by Tony Black

Tony Black, an Australian-born Scottish author and journalist, has come up pretty quickly in the crime-fiction world. Only a few years ago, he was freelancing for the British webzine, Shots, while working on another e-zine, the now sadly defunct Pulp Pusher, and scribbling away hopefully on his first novel, Paying for It. Few people were familiar with his name or work back then. That all changed with the 2008 publication of Paying for It, which introduced Black’s first series protagonist, loosely bound Edinburgh newspaper reporter-turned-part-time private eye Gus Dury.

Paying for It was soon followed into bookstores by Gutted (2009), Loss (2010) and Long Time Dead (2010). To further enhance his profile, the author last year placed an original Gus Dury short story (“Last Orders”) in The Rap Sheet and even appeared in a music video by James Grant, playing a troubled son to William McIlvanney (Laidlaw), the “Godfather of Tartan Noir.”

This year brings yet another novel from Black, but also a new series lead. In Truth Lies Bleeding, readers are introduced to Edinburgh Detective Inspector Rob Brennan, recently returned to work from psychiatric leave after the death of his brother. His superior hesitantly assigns Brennan to probe the case of a dismembered teenage girl found in an alleyway dumpster. It isn’t long before that investigation leads Brennan down a twisted path prominent with drug abuse, child abduction and professional hit men.

has the excerpt.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Toni Morrison at 80

Happy Birthday to Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye, Beloved). The Nobel Prize-winning author turned 80 yesterday and Carolyn Kellog gave the author a gorgeous tribute in the Los Angeles Times:
Today is Toni Morrison's 80th birthday. Born in Ohio, educated at Howard University and Cornell, Morrison's writing career started in earnest with her debut novel "The Bluest Eye," published in 1970. Her other works include "Sula," "Song of Solomon," and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Beloved," published in 1987.
In birthdays today: Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) turns 59 and Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn) is 47.


Cookbooks: Veganize This! by Jenn Shagrin

In a very general sort of way, I dislike books like Veganize This! (DaCapo) because, rather than celebrating all that can be really wonderful and freeing about the vegan lifestyle, it serves to make what is an alternative way of eating seem like a freakish aberration to be gotten around. The subtitle tells that story: “From Surf and Turf to Ice Cream Pie: 200 Animal-Free Recipes for People Who Love to Eat.” And, fair enough: there are people for whom vegan choices are entirely social or moral and who miss what they no longer have.

My own approach to vegan and vegetarian cooking tends to be one of celebration for what is rather than intense focus on what isn’t. And there are lots of cookbook authors who agree with that approach: increasingly, their beautiful books become more and more available.

Actress, comedienne and vegan chef Jenn Shagrin has a different approach and her book seems to celebrate food in disguise as other food. Vegan Veal Chops with Sunchoke Caponata. Tofu Scallops. Even Vegan Twinkies. Shagrin uses a small arsenal to fake her way to delicious results: her recipes tend to be heavy on seitan -- a wheat gluten-based meat substitute -- as well as several commercial ingredients.

Now all of that said, Veganize This! is clear, well laid out and the recipes are easy to follow. If you’re the kind of vegetarian who misses your meaty treats but is no longer comfortable eating meat products, Veganize This! is for you. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.


Friday, February 18, 2011

E-Book Piracy on the Rise

David Carnoy, CNET executive editor, comments on the shocking rise in e-book piracy... and how it might change the face of an industry we haven’t even gotten used to yet:
I probably don't need to point this out, but I will. I have about 600 books in my paper book collection, which took me years to gather and prune during various moves. Digitally, that same collection could be downloaded in around 30 minutes and stored on a cheap 1GB thumb drive (or a Kindle).

A lot of people think that's a good thing. And maybe it is. But what should also be alarming to publishers is that the number of people pirating books is growing along with the number of titles that are available for download. As I've written in the past, the rise of the iPad has spurred some of the pirating, but now the huge success of the Kindle is also leading to increased pirating. Yes, some companies, such as Attributor, have done some studies about the issue and have seen increases. But for my evidence one only need glance at Pirate Bay and see what people are downloading and how many of them are doing it.
Carnoy’s piece is lengthy, well considered and it’s here.


Book Dress Wows Fashion Week

While there are many things you can do with an electronic book, forget making a dress out of one… or even 50. An e-book dress would be a little too ephemeral, even for Fashion Week.

The book print dress shown is from Maria Cornejo’s Fall/Winter 2011 Ready to Wear Collection. And the rest of the collection? “Unfortunately unremarkable,” opines Broke and Beautiful. “Many shapeless leather things in grey cognac and putty colors.” But the book print? It “alone deserves its own post -- if not own blog.”

You heard it here (well… and there). Though the book world fumes and fumbles over the future of the printed word, the fashion world says, “Bring it!”


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Yesterday: West of Here by Jonathan Evison

It is always distressing to me when I discover a book that I strongly suspect will be one of my picks for best book of the year too early in the twelvemonth. If by late January you’re already reading something you know will be hard to beat, you just can’t help wondering why read any further.

I had this feeling again and again while reading West of Here (Algonquin), a lovingly rendered novel, epic in scope, that tells the story of the settlement of the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, and the impact that white settlers ultimately have on the region.

That description sounds more dry than the story Evison evokes. This is, after all, a lusty, full-blooded tale and the writer has created a story about nature lost and found in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Moving us skillfully back and forth between the 19th century and contemporary Washington State, Evison tells a story that melds the mood and sensibilities of another era with the supposedly more enlightened consciousness of this one.

It’s difficult to credit that this is Evison’s second novel. West of Here is ambitious and mature; a masterwork. The author’s first book, 2009’s All About Lulu, won the Washington State Book Award. I found myself wondering if West of Here had begun as Evison’s starter novel: begun long ago and pulled more recently from a drawer. After a while, though, I decided it didn’t matter. However it came about, West of Here is one of the best books I anticipate reading in 2011. I suspect it may be yours, too. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Man Asian Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize has been announced, and both a debut author and a Nobel winner made the list.

Founded in 2007, the Man Asian Literary Prize is an annual literary award given to the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English, and published in the previous calendar year.

The winning author will be announced in March and will be awarded $30,000. The translator, if there is one, will receive $5000.

The 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize Shortlist:
  • Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu
  • Serious Men by Manu Joseph
  • The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair
  • The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe
  • Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa


Canadian Authors are Mad as Hell

And they’re not going to take it anymore.

This stylish video, produced by the Writers’ Union of Canada, makes a strong case against new copyright legislation currently under consideration. From the Union’s website:
Canada’s controversial new copyright bill has driven five prominent authors, including two-time Governor General’s Award winner Nino Ricci, to make a new YouTube video. “Without strong copyright protections, professional writing in this country will be irreparably harmed,” says novelist Alan Cumyn, the author of the video and Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. “Thousands of authors and artists across the country have been writing their MPs, protesting parts of this bill. The video puts faces and voices to our concerns.” Also featuring Erna Paris, Sandra Campbell and Susan Swan.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Children’s Book Editor, Margaret K. McElderry, Dies at age 98

Children’s editor and publisher Margaret K. McElderry died yesterday at the age of 98.

According to Publishers Weekly, the legendary editor founded her own imprint at Simon & Schuster when Harcourt Brace forced her into early retirement in 1972. From PW:
Notable titles that McElderry published under that imprint include We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury; the final four volumes in The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper; The Maggie B. by Irene Haas; Yolonda’s Genius by Carol Fenner, which won a 1996 Newbery Honor; and The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, which won a 1997 Newbery Honor. McElderry stepped down as editor-in-chief in 1998, when she was 86, but continued to contribute titles to the McElderry Books imprint for the next several years.
School Library Journal offers an affectionate remembrance here.


Non-Fiction: The Investment Answer by Daniel Goldie and Gordon Murray

Let me see a show of hands: How many of you have seen the endless parade of commercials touting one investment firm’s advantages over another, as well as the ones Charles Schwab runs that say all the big guys are full of bull? I thought so. Me too.

The Investment Answer, aims to make all those ads -- and all those firms -- irrelevant. In clear-minded, cut-to-the-chase prose, authors Daniel Goldie and Gordon Murray lay down the essential principles for building a financial future using today’s volatile investment markets.

In large part a primer hell-bent on providing clarity in a world of confusion, this book distills the investment wisdom of Wall Street veteran Murray. The impetus for the book was his imminent death, and in fact he recently passed away. This book, his legacy, turns Wall Street investing on its head, giving investors at every experience level the guidance they need to make money when and how they need to, to help make their personal vision of the future into reality.

Between the covers of this read-in-one-sitting book (less than 100 pages), the authors discuss the five essential decisions to be made: the Do-It-Yourself Decision, the Asset Allocation Decision, the Diversification Decision, the Active versus Passive Decision, and the Rebalancing Decision. Do you need a broker or a financial advisor... or either one? Which areas of the market do you wish to invest in... and which would you prefer to avoid? How can you reduce risk by investing broadly, across several categories? How involved do you wish to be in your investments? And how must your investment decisions change when the market or your own financial circumstances change?

These are some of the questions this book asks -- and helps you answer for yourself. What it lacks in heft, it more than makes up for in content. For anyone interested in investing for their future, The Investment Answer is invaluable. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Next Week: Finding the Words: Writers on Inspiration, Desire, War, Celebrity, Exile, and Breaking the Rules edited by Jared Bland

In some ways, it’s a pretty thin pretext for an anthology. Ask 31 writers to talk about writing, then make it a book. But as loose as the subject matter would seem to be, the subjects themselves transcend the mandate and what we end up with is a lively, informative and occasionally even touching book about the sometimes mystical process of getting words onto the page.

The philosopher Alain de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life, A Week at the Airport) uses the space to muse about process… then muse about muses. “The idea of a muse may be fanciful and politically incorrect,” he writes, “but the lady evokes well enough the insecurity of the hold most writers have on their creative faculties.”

Guy Gavriel Kay (Under Heaven, The Last Light of the Sun) talks about the changing role of the writer in an increasingly electronic world.

Lisa Moore (February, Alligator) delivers a very Mooreish essay that illustrates, as well as anything ever could, how Moore herself manages to breathe such vivid life into her work.

Emma Donoghue gets very specific with how she developed the wonderful language that fills last year’s Room.

I can’t imagine the book lover who would not love Finding the Words (Emblem). Writers will love it for feelings and situations that will resonate with them: “I’ve been there before!” Readers will love it for the direct access to so many secrets. Linden MacIntyre; Annabel Lyon; Elizabeth Hay; Pasha Malla; and so many other voices sharing their talent and their hearts. Finding the Words is a wonderful book. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

“Alien” Manuscript Confounds Historians

Nearly 100 years after it was discovered in a villa near Rome, the Voynich manuscript, now owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, is once again being examined… and is giving up a surprising number of secrets.

A team at the University of Arizona’s department of physics recently dated the manuscript back to the early part of the 15th century, “making the book a century older than scholars had previously thought. ” From the University of Arizona News:
This tome makes the “DaVinci Code” look downright lackluster: Rows of text scrawled on visibly aged parchment, flowing around intricately drawn illustrations depicting plants, astronomical charts and human figures bathing in -- perhaps -- the fountain of youth. At first glance, the “Voynich manuscript” appears to be not unlike any other antique work of writing and drawing.
Even more confounding, the manuscript appears to be written in an alien language:
But a second, closer look reveals that nothing here is what it seems. Alien characters, some resembling Latin letters, others unlike anything used in any known language, are arranged into what appear to be words and sentences, except they don't resemble anything written -- or read -- by human beings.
The Huffington Post looks at the Voynich manuscript here. The University of Arizona News item is here. The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library talks about the book here.


Is the Literary World an Old Boy’s Club?

Actually at this point, that title doesn’t even feel like a real question since VIDA, the organization for women in the literary arts, released some numbers a week or so ago that has the literary world in a tizzy. (Though a lot of us are not sure about the reason for said tizzy: we’ve all been able to read the bylines for a very long time.) Today Slate looks at the question again, and runs down some of the possible answers:
So why so little change? One reason is that only women are having the conversation, which too quickly, given the temper of the times, turns into gloomy brooding on female psychology. Do women lack self-esteem? Are they too mannerly to put themselves forward? Perhaps, as O'Rourke suggested, they've avoided the subjects the male gatekeepers want to cover? (Yes, that certainly explains why The New Yorker chose Louis Menand to write a long essay about Betty Friedan last month.) There is probably a bit of truth in all these points: Women do often doubt their knowledge and abilities, and their diffidence probably explains why the pool of writers sending in pitches and proposals and unsolicited manuscripts is, at most magazines, disproportionately male. Women are indeed less likely than men to take up stereotypically male subjects—although not as much as Barry Gewen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, thought when he told a gathering of academic women a few years ago that there were no female military historians (turns out, there are).
Meanwhile, Quill & Quire collects enough links on the topic that we don’t really feel like we have to. Q&Q’s round-up of voices shouting back about gender parity in literary publishing is here.

Fiction: Autumn: The City by David Moody

By now, David Moody can be considered a poster boy for the new century publishing success story. On the tail of a handful of traditionally published books that sold poorly, Moody opted to electronically self-published Autumn in 2001. A decade later, that original book has been downloaded over half a million times and has been joined by other novels of horror and apocalypse like Dog Blood and Hater, the later of which is currently being made into a film by Guillermo Del Toro.

Autumn: The City (Thomas Dunne Books) follows up that impossibly successful download, but where Autumn dealt with the handful of people who escaped a city where 99 per cent of the population had been wiped out in a few minutes, Autumn: The City deals with the people who did not manage to escape.

Though the cover material proudly claims that Autumn: The City “never uses the ‘Z’ word,” make no mistake, this is a zombie novel.
In the desolate shell of the city, very little changed from day to day. Thousands of corpses continued to shuffle endlessly through the streets, their bodies gradually decaying, but with a degree of mental strength and control somehow continuing to slowly return.
While Moody doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the form, he does manage to keep readers perched on the edge of their seats. And if Autumn: The City does leave you wanting more, you don’t have long to wait: Autumn: Purification will show up in mid-August. Just don’t read about it now: the books very existence is a bit of a spoiler. ◊

Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in the Chicago area, where he works in the high-tech industry. He is currently working on a his first novel, a science-fiction thriller set in the world of telecommunications.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Death of the Book? Not Today.

With the sky falling brigade out in full force over the much rumored -- and even ballyhooed -- death of the book, it’s good to get “Some Good News from the World of Books.” McSweeney’s brings us some encouraging numbers, all wrapped up in facts, and prefaces the whole thing with a swell and sunny essay:
This has been an interesting few years for the book industry. There have been many changes and realignments, and these changes have led many to predict that (a) reading is dead; (b) books are dead; (c) publishing is dead; (d) all printed matter is dead. Or that all of the above, if not already dead, will be dead very soon.

The good news is that there isn't as much bad news as popularly assumed. In fact, almost all of the news is good, and most of it is very good. Book sales are up, way up, from twenty years ago. Young adult readership is far wider and deeper than ever before. Library membership and circulation is at all-time high. The good news goes on and on.
The piece is lengthy, well considered and expressed, and it’s here.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for an actual sky is falling piece, The Telegraph reports that social media darling Twitter is “in early talks with potential buyers Facebook and Google.”

So who said the sky was not falling?

“What Happens to the Hole When the Cheese is Gone?”

The German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, was born on this day in Augsburg, Germany on this day in 1898. An entry in Theatre Database (also rich in detail on many aspects of Brecht’s life) brings his childhood state of mind into focus:

He drifted towards the literary arts at an early age, writing poetry as a boy and even had a few poems published in 1914. He was an indifferent student, however, and was very nearly expelled from Augsburg Grammar School for taking a dismissive, anti-patriotic tone when given an assignment to write an essay with the title “It is a sweet and honourable thing to die for one's country.”

The Wikipedia entry on Brecht takes a very strong stand on the writer’s contributions to modern theater:
Along with his contemporary Erwin Piscator, Brecht created an influential theory of theatre -- the epic theatre -- that proposed that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage. Brecht thought that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent. Instead, he wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognise social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theatre and effect change in the world outside. For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable.
Brecht died of a heart attack in Berlin in 1956. He was 58 years old.
“For time flows on, and if it did not, it would be a bad prospect for those who do not sit at golden tables. Methods become exhausted; stimuli no longer work. New problems appear and demand new methods. Reality changes; in order to represent it, modes of representation must also change. Nothing comes from nothing; the new comes from the old, but that is why it is new.” -- Bertolt Brecht


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

New Today: Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli

In a lot of ways, Lisa Napoli’s Radio Shangri-La (Crown) reminded me of Deborah Rodriguez’s 2007 bestselling Kabul Beauty School. Only better, if for no other reason than the writing here is just so sharp and terrific.

Like that book, an unlikely set of circumstances take a more or less average American woman and transport her somewhere unexpected. In Rodriguez’s book, a memoirist brought beauty to someplace where beauty had been largely forgotten. In Radio Shangri-La, the memoirist is herself transformed as she helps to create Bhutan’s first youth-oriented radio station. Napoli finds herself in “the happiest kingdom on Earth,” as part of a force that is changing the culture and wondering about her part in all of that.
A radio station may seem quaint and retro, an old-fashioned medium in this age of all things digital and pod. But in the last Shangri-la, it proved to be an invention as modern as a spaceship.
More than anything, Radio Shangri-La is about transformation. The awakening of a sleepy kingdom to the inevitably cold dreams of the modern world and, of course, Napoli’s personal transformation as she trades her self-dubbed midlife crisis for peace -- an even joy -- in the magical kingdom.

Journalist Napoli writes stylishly about physical and spiritual renewal. Part travel memoir, part crossroads handbook, Radio Shangri-La is unforgettable. ◊

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

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New in Paperback: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

A year ago when it was published in hardcover, January Magazine editor Linda L. Richards liked Carol Goodman’s Arcadia Falls quite a lot.

“I’m never sure where to place Carol Goodman’s work,” Richards wrote at that time. “And I’m not the only one. Though she tends to weave elements of suspense into her novels -- books that have included the luminous The Ghost Orchid and the lovely The Seduction of Water -- it’s a mistake to say she writes novels of suspense or that she only writes novels of suspense. Goodman’s voice is mature and strong, her work is masterful, her confidence complete and her work tends to be about much more than we see at first glance.”

Out today in trade paper from Ballantine Books, Arcadia Falls is still, as Richards described, an “atmospheric and magical book.”


New Next Week: Genghis Khan: The World Conqueror by Sam Djang

You don’t have to be a big historian to get that Sam Djang has a passion for everything there is to know about Genghis Khan. For one thing, Djang’s two newly released novels based on the life of Khan represent a sort of larger than life love letter to the ancient leader of the Mongol Empire.

Genghis Khan: The World Conqueror Volumes I and II will be released simultaneously on February 15th. This is the most ambitious fictional undertaking I’ve seen with regard to Genghis Khan’s life and what Southern California dentist Djang lacks in prose mastery, he makes up for with sheer enthusiasm and volume.

Djang reports that, for the past decade, he’s had a mission: revealing the real truth about Genghis Khan. “I think the history of Genghis Khan has been distorted, belittled and depreciated in many ways,” writes Djang, who hasn’t taken a populist stance on the mongol leader at all in this work.

Readers who can’t get enough of the notorious Mongol leader won’t want to miss Djang’s epic two-part tale. Those who can take or leave Genghis Khan might find it all a little much. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Eric Nicol Dies at 91

Canadian humor columnist and award-winning author, Eric Nicol (Script Tease, Old is In), died last Wednesday in Vancouver, Canada. He was 91.

Born in Kingston, Ontario, in 1919, his family relocated to British Columbia when Nicol was very young. Following military service during WWII, Nicol earned a Masters degree from the University of British Columbia. He later studied at the Sorbonne, then wrote comedy for the BBC for several years.

When he returned to Vancouver in the early 1950s he became a regular and well-loved columnist for The Vancouver Province, a position he continued with until 1986.

Nicol was considered by many to be the grand old man of Canadian humor. He was the author of 36 books, radio plays, stage plays and television musicals and was a three time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. He received the Order of Canada, the UBC Alumni Merit Award, and the BC Gas Lifetime Achievement Award.

Nicol is survived by his wife, the writer Mary Razzell, and the three children he had with his first wife, Myrl Nicol.

Nicol’s old paper remembers the writer here. Jack Knox of The Victoria Times Colonist paints an affectionate and personal portrait of the writer here.


Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Idol Noise In His Head

The latest installment in our ongoing coverage of Books You Just Don’t Want to Know About: HarperCollins will publish Aerosmith frontman Stephen Tyler’s Does The Noise In My Head Bother You? in May of this year.

In all fairness, if you like this sort of thing, Tyler’s story is likely to be a good one and autobiographies from stars of the same stratosphere have done very well. Slash’s 2007 biography, Slash, as well as last year’s Life by Keith Richards. Tyler certainly belongs in the same company and, at least according to Tyler himself, he’s got a fair amount to say. From
“This is not just my take -- this is the unbridled truth, the in-your-face, up-close and prodigious tale of Steven Tyler straight from the horse’s lips,” said Tyler, who was paid a reported $2 million for the rights to the book.
And if you love that sort of thing, you probably already know about last month’s American Idol: The Untold Story (Hyperion) though, as a review in Booklist pointed out, “The subtitle is not entirely accurate. A lot of this story has been told before.” If that’s true, though,a lot of it has been told by author Richard Rushfield who covered American Idol for the Los Angeles Times for three years. Rushfield is also a Vanity Fair contributing editor and a columnist for The Daily Beast.

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

New Today: Life of Pi: 10th Anniversary Edition by Yann Martel

It’s difficult to believe that Yann Martel’s quirky little second book, the boy-meets-talking-tiger tale known as Life of Pi, was first published a decade ago. Canadian readers can now see that date commemorated in a special 10th anniversary edition trade paperback from Vintage Canada.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not so much) it is also very close to the date that Martel’s most recent book, 2010’s Beatrice and Virgil, will become available in North American paperback. While some reviewers loved that book, we were less than impressed, not disagreeing with Publishers Weekly when they said that “Martel’s aims are ambitious, but the prose is amateur and the characters thin, the coy self-referentiality grates, and the fable at the center of the novel is unbearably self-conscious. When Martel (rather energetically) tries to tug our heartstrings, we’re likely to feel more manipulated than moved.”

This was not the case with Life of Pi, a book that seemed to hum with its own special magic almost from the first moment, so that, by the time it won the Man Booker Prize in 2002, the world was ablaze with talking tiger fever.

Here at January Magazine, then contributing editor, Margaret Gunning, was as enchanted as anyone. “Life of Pi made me laugh out loud,” Gunning wrote in her 2002 review, “stood my hair on end and inspired marvel at such statements as, ‘Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can.’ It’s easy to fall in love with this quirky, oddly compelling book, biblical in scope, oceanic in depth, yet intimate enough to speak directly to the human heart.”

If you’ve not read the book yet, the anniversary edition will provide a terrific chance, something you’ll appreciate all the more when the film version comes to the big screen. The movie just started filming in India and Taiwan. Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) is at the helm while an unknown Indian actor, 17-year-old Suraj Sharma, will star. The film is being shot in 3-D.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Why We Still Love Frankenstein

While a new stage version of Frankenstein gets set to open at the National Theatre in London, The Independent takes a trenchant look at what it is that keeps us coming back to Mary Shelley’s 1818 masterwork:
So as the National’s Frankenstein brilliantly gets back to basics, it's an opportune moment for considering the broad context in which all versions of Mary Shelley’s myth are required to situate themselves. Putting herself in arresting alignment with her equivocal scientist, Shelley described the novel -- in the preface to its popular, conservatively toned-down 1831 incarnation -- as her "hideous progeny". Almost inevitably, it escaped her control -- just as the Creature goes AWOL -- after publication. Her myth has been interpreted as a parable about the ethics of governing (or failing to govern) experimental scientists; a cautionary tale, co-opted by both the left and the right, about what happens when the proletariat is allowed to run amok; a Freudian bodice-ripper about the id on the rampage; and as a coded homosexual saga about a man who usurps the female prerogative and tries to bypass womanhood in having a baby by himself.
This new production is being directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and was written by BAFTA-winning playwright Nick Dear. It stars Jonny Lee Miller (who worked with Boyle on Trainspotting) and Benedict Cumberbatch who will alternate “the roles of Scientist and Creature each night.”
The National Theatre adaptation manages to be both graphic and subtle. It understands that Mary Shelley was not opposed to experimental science -- despite the plethora of contemporary cartoons in which the Karloff clone is a shorthand for shutting down the debate. For example, there's a cartoon in which two lab-coated scientists are wielding test tubes. The Karloff figure enters with a cry of "Mummy!" You only have to register the prefix "Franken-", as in, say, Franken-food, to appreciate the negative force of this.
The Independent piece is long, well-considered and well worth reading. You can find it here.


The Day E-Books “Arrived”

It’s possible that February 13th, 2011, will go down in history as the day humankind understood the electronic book had well and truly arrived. And why? That is the day The New York Times new e-book bestseller list will appear in the print edition. As hauntingly ironic as that statement seems to some of us.

The Times’ intention to include e-books in its bestseller lists was announced last November when the paper said it would add the new lists early in 2011, “in an acknowledgment of the growing sales and influence of digital publishing.”
Janet Elder, the editor of news surveys and election analysis for The Times, said the newspaper had spent two years creating a system that tracks and verifies e-book sales.

“We’ve had our eye on e-book sales since e-books began,” Ms. Elder said. “It was clear that e-books were taking a greater and greater share of total sales, and we wanted to be able to tell our readers which titles were selling and how they fit together with print sales.”

E-book sales have risen steeply in 2010, spurred by the growing popularity of the Amazon Kindle and by the release of the Apple iPad in April. According to the Association of American Publishers, which receives sales data from publishers, e-book sales in the first nine months of 2010 were $304.6 million, up from $105.6 million from the same period in 2009, a nearly 190 percent increase.


Canada’s Largest Book Distributor to Initiate Bankruptcy Proceedings

The Canadian publishing industry was rocked on Thursday when H.B. Fenn, the country’s largest book distributor, filed notice of its intention to initiate bankruptcy proceedings. From The Toronto Star:
“We have worked extremely hard to build the company and keep it going even under today’s adverse conditions,” read a statement by CEO Harold Fenn, who founded the company in 1977. “My heart goes out to our over 125 employees and to the many publishers we represent, as well as the customers that have supported us over the years.”

All Canadian publishers are suffering to one extent or another from price discounting and the emergence of digital reading, but the reliance on distribution makes Fenn a particular -- although not exclusive -- case.
The operation is an extensive one.
According to the company website, it represented 40 publishers and distributed more than 50,000 titles.

Key Porter Books, founded in 1979 by Anna Porter and purchased by Fenn in 2004, represented the publishing arm of HB Fenn. In its heyday, Key Porter published works by such notable Canadian authors as Joan Barfoot, Margaret Atwood, Farley Mowat and Dennis Lee. In recent years, its lists have thinned.

“It’s a sad day in Canadian publishing,” said Kim McArthur, president and publisher of McArthur & Co., an independent Canadian publisher that also relies heavily on distribution revenues. “This could be us. It’s been very difficult.”
According to Quill & Quire, though the announcement has come as a surprise, the writing may have been on the wall:
H.B. Fenn suffered a major setback two years ago when its largest sales and distribution client, Hachette Book Group, opened a Toronto publicity and marketing office and took over sales for major national accounts including Indigo, Costco, and wholesalers North 49 and BookExpress. (H.B. Fenn continued to handle sales for Hachette’s independent and library accounts.) Hachette also moved fulfillment from Canada to its Indiana warehouse.

A further sign of trouble, H.B. Fenn closed down Key Porter’s Toronto offices last September and laid off the bulk of staff. In early January, Q&Q learned that Key Porter had laid off its remaining editorial staffers and had suspended publishing operations indefinitely.
Under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the company has 30 days to file a proposal to its creditors. During that time, it can continue to operate its business as usual.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Non-Fiction: Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader

What does it take to be a great boss? I have had my share of bad bosses -- and my share of good ones. Even great ones. For me, the secret is inspiration. Great bosses know how to lead with inspiration, not fear. But that’s another story.

In the realm of business books, my own personal guru is Tom Peters. Linda Hill and Kent Lineback’s Being the Boss (Harvard Business Press) will give Peters a run for his money. True, Peters has great graphics -- but even without the special effects, Being the Boss is terrific. It takes boss-hood to a much higher level -- and with businesses everywhere looking for ways to venture successfully into the future, being a great boss (or having one) is more important than ever.

The authors have boiled it all down to three imperatives: manage yourself, manage your network, and manage your team.

Simple, right? Wrong. If it was simple, anyone could do it. The thing is, the authors say, management is different. It isn’t like other jobs. It requires a new set of skills, new things to learn, a new perspective. It’s not a project with an end date; rather, it’s a journey. It’s not even about you; it’s about the people you manage.

In this wonderful book, Hill and Lineback break management down into bite-sized chunks that are easily understood -- and just as easily implemented. They cover how bosses are different from stars, how important it is to develop and evaluate people. They discuss innovation, friendship, and trust. They review your network and show you how it should work, even must work. And they examine your boss -- and why your relationship with him or her is so vital to your own success as others’ boss. Finally, they show you how to build and work with effective teams.

In no-nonsense, entertaining prose, Hill and Lineback provide an on-the-ground, in-the-foxhole view of what it means to be a boss today. What’s more, they provide tools that allow you to chart your own progress -- a particuarly nice touch that transforms Being the Boss from an insightful lecture to a really cool and useful how-to. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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Who Is Yann Martel Teasing?

Yann Martel (Life of Pi) has announced that, having sent Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper 100 books over four years, he’s going to discontinue his literary tease. From CBC:
“It was kind of fun to do it,” Martel told CBC News Wednesday. “I enjoyed it. I learned that I lived in a democracy [and] that I can tease my prime minister for four years and not be arrested. That was a good thing to know.”

Martel's book selections included a personal letter. The Booker Prize-winning author of Life of Pi noted his project never elicited a direct response from Harper, although an aide to the prime minister did acknowledge the effort with a polite note.
Though some could argue that, after four years with no response, the project might better have been called What is Stephen Harper Not Reading, you can see the website Martel built around the project here. The CBC piece is here.

And in case you’re thinking Martel might just get a book out of this, never mind: he already did. In late 2009, Vintage Canada published What Is Stephen Harper Reading? which reproduced all of the letters the author had sent his prime minister to that point.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

New Today: Jane Goes Batty by Michael Thomas Ford

There are so many things not to like about Jane Goes Batty (Ballantine) that I was truly surprised to find myself with the reverse feeling almost as soon as I began reading. It should be a completely detestable book. First of all, of course, it features vampires at a time when we seem to be completely saturated with all sorts of permutations of the creatures. Then there’s the fact that, since Jane Goes Batty is also a bit of a Jane Austen novel, it’s kind of a mash up, and it isn’t as though we don’t have enough of those, as well. Despite all these nos, though, Ford delivers an original take with a sharp and well-formed wit. I found myself laughing and groaning in no time at all.

Jane Goes Batty follows up 2010’s Jane Bites Back by the same author. The premise is continued, as well. Regency authoress Jane Austen long ago became a member of the undead and is now living in a small town in upstate New York. In the latest book, Hollywood gets added to the literary mix when a pack of reality TV hounds show up snapping at Jane’s heels, threatening to reveal her true identity if she doesn’t play ball.

It’s tough to reconcile what you feel going into Jane Goes Batty with the reality of this very engaging book. On the one hand, everyone knows that both Jane Austen and vampires are capable of creating bookstore line-ups. It’s not entirely cynical to be suspicious of a book that mashes up both of those things. On the other, though, there is a certain acerbic charm here. Adults who enjoy reading for the fun of it will likely enjoy this one.

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Arab World Unrest Pulls Book Fair’s Plug

With the Arab world in an uproar, the Cairo Book Fair has been abandoned. From The Guardian:
Literature has been caught up in the protests that have now entered their seventh day in Egypt. The annual Cairo book fair, due to have been held this week, has been abandoned, with many foreign exhibitors left stranded after failing to secure flights to take them out of the country.

The fair – the largest and oldest in the Arab world, usually attracting two million visitors and a host of authors – was due to be opened on Saturday 28 January by President Hosni Mubarak, who has hitherto raised the curtain each year. But with protesters demonstrating on the streets against his rule, and curfews imposed across the city, the event was summarily abandoned. The guest of honour, China, withdrew its delegation on the eve of the scheduled opening.
Read the full story in The Guardian here.