Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Book by Any Other Name Is Still a … Oh, Never Mind

In 2001, Gateway Computers sued a company over the use of the distinctive black on white pattern of holstein cattle. They maintained that they were the only ones who could use that “cow” pattern on a computer-related item.

The buzz was thick and deep. Was it not the height of hubris, people asked, to trademark an organization of colors and shapes that had originally occurred in nature?

Of course, so much has happened since that time, hasn’t it? We’ve seen a lot of crazy in the last 10 years. Not all of it has been in high tech, sure. But whole whacks of it have concerned nature, and sometimes even the most basic foods that we eat. So a cow pattern? Looking back on it, maybe that was an innocent time. Because what do we have now? Social media giant Facebook trying -- and kinda succeeding -- on a grab for the word “book.” From WIRED:
Facebook is trying to expand its trademark rights over the word “book” by adding the claim to a newly revised version of its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,” the agreement all users implicitly consent to by using or accessing Facebook.

You may recall that Facebook has launched multiple lawsuits against websites incorporating the word “book” into their names. Facebook, as far as we can tell, doesn’t have a registered trademark on “book.” But trademark rights can be asserted based on use of a term, even if the trademark isn’t registered, and adding the claim to Facebook’s user agreement could boost the company’s standing in future lawsuits filed against sites that use the word.
While it’s fine -- and maybe even somewhat healthy -- to laugh at a company that takes itself so seriously they’d actually try to trademark and control something which, clearly, should not be under anyone’s control, it should also be cause for concern. Especially when they have about 845 million active users and seem to have discovered a way to use them. Read the WIRED story here for all details. Meanwhile, be careful what you laugh at. The oddest things just might be true.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fiction: Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

For a very long time, the prominent figures of Russian history have been left pretty much alone by fictionists. Then came 2012.

Earlier this year, I wrote about The Winter Palace by Eva Strachniak. That book is a fictionalized account of the sexually charged life of Catherine the Great. Now international bestseller Kathryn Harrison (While They Slept, The Kiss) brings us a searing historical novel about the fall of the Romanovs told from the perspective of Rasputin’s daughter.

It’s a good place to enter this story. Close up and personal enough to give us a ring-side seat, yet the perspective is removed enough from actual historical people that it gives Harrison room to play. And she does.

Enchantments (Random House) is a beautiful, and often surprisingly touching, book. Harrison has proven herself adept at involving us in weirdly angular family dramas which she does here again.

After Rasputin is hauled dead from the river, his 18-year-old daughter, Masha, takes his place at the bedside of the hemophiliac Romanov prince, Aloysha. Her mission is to help heal the prince and, with him, the empire. But we all know how that turned out. Even so, Enchantments is an unlikely and strangely beautiful love story.

Harrison’s growing army of fans will not be disappointed with Enchantments. The writer here gets back to the her historical roots to very good effect. ◊

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

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Cookbooks: The Best of the Best and More and The Rest of the Best and More

Though they seem unlikely early heroes of the self-publishing explosion, the vast success of the enterprise they started almost as an aside more than 30 years ago has blossomed into a cover story over the years.

In the mid-1970s a group of women who had been meeting for getaway weekends for over a decade (I’m guessing to play bridge, but I’m not sure about that) had an idea. Since an important aspect of their time together had always been about food, they decided to collect their recipes and publish a cookbook. Thirty-five years and over two millions copies of various books later, this impromptu publishing consortium has ceased being self-published, but the re-publication -- albeit in more polished form -- of their original recipes in two brand new volumes will offer new generations of cooks the opportunity to share in their homespun fare.

The Best of the Best and More and The Rest of the Best and More are newly published by Robert Rose as large, handsome, spiral-bound editions. The two editions include the original recipes from the first six Best of Bridge books, but have been updated, polished and added to: Best of the Best includes over 70 new recipes, Best of the Rest has 100.

So who will love these books? Well, those raised on the originals, for starters. Also, anyone who uses the word “potluck” with pride. These are more than basics -- though those are here, as well -- simple and classic instructions on how to make just about everything. Better than new, after all these years. ◊


Orwell’s 1984 Will Head Back to Screen

It’s been a long time since Hollywood produced a screen version of George Orwell’s 1949 classic novel 1984. And some would argue that there’s never really been a good version, though Michael Radford's version -- released without irony in 1984 -- probably came closest. With the current high interest in dystopic fiction and a production team that will include Imagine Entertainment, this has the earmarks of being the best one yet. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a while before we find out. From The Guardian:
The consortium has secured rights from Orwell's estate and is currently searching for screenwriters, so the project is at an early stage. It's not known whether Howard himself is considering a director's role.

Nineteen Eighty-Four takes place entirely in the Oceania province of Airstrip One, formerly the United Kingdom, and while the new producers are firmly US-based there is nothing at this stage to suggest that they plan to relocate the action. The blockbuster success of films such as the Harry Potter series has proved beyond doubt that American audiences are no longer – if they ever were – put off by British accents.
Despite the fact that, if you’ve read the book at all, you’ll know that the cover of the 1950 Signet paperback edition of 1984 pretty much describes a different work, we’ve chosen to run it here. After all, how often do we get to see British fiction classics dressed up as some sort of sexy noir? Killer Covers of the Week take note: we can dig up steamy covers with the best of ’em!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fiction: The Sea Is My Brother by Jack Kerouac

First, let it be understood that Jack Kerouac’s first but-until-now-unpublished novel, The Sea Is My Brother was never actually lost. And, having never been lost, it can not now be found. Kerouac himself never tried to get the novel published. In fact, by all accounts, he didn’t really think much at all of the work. In Kerouac by Ann Charters, she quotes the author as saying that the book was “more an example of handwriting than of a novel.”

Though all of this may be true and, in fact, probably is, The Sea Is My Brother is still a worthwhile journey if for no other reason than to visit with proto Kerouac and see the embryonic writer -- a 21-year-old merchant marine when he wrote the book, 14-years-before On the Road -- struggling with the style we would later come to identify him by. And struggling here as much with ideas as with getting them down, something we see again and again in the prose.
Slowly, now, Everhart began to realize why life had seemed so senseless, so fraught with fully lack of real purpose in New York, in the haste and oration of his teaching days -- he had never paused to take hold of anything, let alone the lonely heart of an old father, not even the idealisms with which he had begun life as a seventeen-year-old spokesman for the working class movement on Columbus Circle Saturday afternoons.
Read in isolation, I can’t imagine that anyone would think The Sea Is My Brother is a terribly good book. And one wonders if Kerouac would have cringed to see it in bookstores and libraries now, alongside the more cleanly crafted works he would later create in a style that would come to be all his own. That said, for his admirers and students of his style, the book is a worthwhile read, if for no other reason than to spot the glimmers of the manic genius he would later release with such skill.

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Non-Fiction: All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming by Rachel Fisher, Heather Stretch & Robin Tunnicliffe

It surprises even some western Canadians to discover that a big chunk of the new food movement had its start there. The 100-Mile Diet, the internationally bestselling book that some would say started a revolution, was penned by a pair of Vancouver writers about their experience trying to eat local for one year. In many ways, the couple were crystallizing a new way of thinking… or perhaps it is closer to the truth to say they were rethinking old ways. In either case, the book sent a heartfelt message that the world was ready to hear: the modern food chain was broken and the only way to fix it was probably going to be at the grassroots. That is, no big corporation was going to swoop in and fix this one. If we wanted a different kind of food, we were going to have to do it ourselves, one hand-grown tomato at a time.

Incredibly, that was 2007. There have been other books since then. Some of them well thought out and important, some clearly trying to cash in on a market that seemed suddenly bottomless and insatiable. It was a brand new field and there was little beyond questions. Did anyone actually have solid answers? As it turns out, the answer is “yes.”

All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming (Touchwood) is the would-be organic farmer’s answer book, though I’m guessing the appeal will go far, far beyond that very specialized group. The three authors -- Rachel Fisher, Heather Stretch and Robin Tunnicliffe -- got back to the land for various reasons, separately, and they tell those early stories in their own words in the book, as well as a lot more.

Ten years ago the trio started Saanich Organics, a farmer-run local food distributor that really forms the heart of a whole food community and is striving to create a viable alternative to industrialized agriculture. But as readers quickly realize, that’s the party line, in a way. No one really starts out challenging the Frankenstein monster that is contemporary corporate food. They get there -- grow there -- one turnip (or apple or rutabaga or beet) at a time. That is, you don’t become an organic farmer for the potential wealth or the glamour. You do it, bottom line, because to do anything else is to not be true to yourself and your beliefs. At least, that was the impression I was left with reading All the Dirt.

“When this journey started for me,” writes Rachel Fisher, “fifteen years ago, I was an idealist, a wannabe back-to-the-lander, with extreme environmental views and a big cynical chip on my shoulder about the excesses of Western society.”

You read that and you figure that this is the beginning of a tale about someone who learned better. Learned the hard way. But you soon come to realize that this isn’t the case at all. Later she writes about her present:
If I could distill the essence of what this life of growing food is all about into one word, that word would be “promise.” The promise of the beauty and bounty the next year could bring keeps the dream at the forefront through the wet, cold winter.
In so many ways, All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming is truly the correct book to read after The 100-Mile Diet. After you’ve been swept away by the soil poetry of that book, this one brings you back to reality. Then lifts you up again. A how-to book with heart and soul. What could be ore appropriate to the topic at hand than that? ◊

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine, the author of several books and regrets that she was born with a black thumb.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Publisher Says Pot Was an Unsolicited Submission

Two shipments of marijuana that might have had a street value of $70,000 was intercepted en route to a fictitious worker at St. Martin’s Press in New York earlier this month. Postal workers were alerted by a “suspicious odor” coming from the Express Mail parcels, The Smoking Gun said when they broke the story earlier today:
The packages, containing a total of more than 11 pounds of pot, were bound for St. Martin’s Press, which is headquartered in the landmark Flatiron Building on lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The pot parcels, mailed from San Diego, never made it out of California, however. A post office employee contacted postal inspectors after alerting to the distinctive scent of the two packages. According to mailing labels, the boxes were purportedly sent by “ABT Books,” a San Diego firm that listed a return address that investigators determined to be fictitious.
With the Feds on the job, the two shipments of pot never even made it anywhere near the slush pile.

The Smoking Gun has the whole story here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Toni Morrison’s Life “Not Interesting,” Says Novelist

Readers who were looking forward to one day enjoying Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s memoir will have to find another role model to read about. The author of Beloved and The Bluest Eye has announced she won’t be writing that story, because she doesn’t find her life interesting enough. From The Guardian:
Morrison, one of America's most celebrated novelists and the first black woman to win the Nobel prize for literature, was speaking to students at Oberlin College, Ohio, near the city of Lorain, where she was born in 1931. According to local press, she was asked if she intended to write an autobiography about her childhood in the area, and admitted that she had gone so far as to sign a contract for her next book to be a memoir.

"But then I cancelled it," she said. "My publisher asked me to do it, but there's a point at which your life is not interesting, at least to me. I'd rather write fiction."
Though Morrison might be bored by the details, it would seem there’s enough material in her life for several wonderful books. Morrison, however, doesn’t see it that way:
"People say to write about what you know," she told students in Oberlin. "I’m here to tell you, no one wants to read that, ’cause you don’t know anything. So write about something you don’t know. And don’t be scared, ever."
The good news? Morrison will debut a new novel in May. The publisher tells us that Home (Knopf) is Morrison’s “profound take on our history with this twentieth-century tale of redemption: a taut and tortured story about one man’s desperate search for himself in a world disfigured by war.”


New Today: Gossip by Beth Gutcheon

Beth Gutcheon’s ninth novel is rock solid, old-school character driven storytelling. Readers who recall and enjoyed the best of Judith Krantz and Erica Jong will appreciate Gutcheon’s voice and stance in Gossip (William Morrow), a novel that explores the reaches and holds of friendship. How we gain it, how we hang to it and how, under the right circumstances -- or the wrong ones -- we can exploit it. Gutcheon’s human portraits are so deft and familiar that it’s not always a comfortable ride.

Four well-heeled Manhattan matrons who met at boarding school in the 1960s are the central focus of Gossip. Much of the action takes place or is recounted at a high end dress shop on the Upper East Side owned by Lovie Walker. Lovie narrates and guides us on a journey through her friend’s lives. The device of Lovie’s interested voice and perspective really works here as she has both access and interest as well as a likable voice. She’s someone you don’t mind spending time with because, before very long you’re engrossed in Gossip and spending time in the company of Lovie and friends doesn’t seem much like work, at all.

Though a murder takes place in Gossip, this is nothing at all like a mystery and though there are suspenseful moments throughout the book, neither is it romantic suspense. Gutcheon seems to use the device of an old friendship and the ties that have bound it and the boundaries that contain it… or do not.

Gutcheon’s many fans will recognize her stellar prose but might be pleasantly surprised by Gossip even so. Critics are calling this Gutcheon’s best book yet. ◊

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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Friday, March 16, 2012

New in Paperback: American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare, The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott

Following on the success of 2007’s magnificent Sin in the Second City, author Karen Abbott seems determined to build a career writing books about sexy seductresses of the past. Sin in the Second City revolved around sisters Minna and Ada Everleigh, two turn of the century Chicago madams who “decided that creating a fantasy for others was better than pretending to live in one.”

If American Rose is less magnificent, it’s not for lack of trying. It's just that, sometimes, it feels as though Abbott is stretching everything so tight it just might break. The thing is, not a lot is known for sure about Gypsy Rose Lee. That is, like an early Madonna, the stripper and entertainer was constantly reinventing both herself and her story and trying to look at her closely, you get the idea that you’re attempting to peer through one of the scarves she wielded with such skill.

But the story, that’s the thing, right? And Abbott brings us along with a novelist’s skill and panache, a story she begins in a note from the author, sharing details of research missions and meetings with Gypsy’s son and sister. The latter meeting, especially, is imbued with pathos and drama worthy of anything in the book.

According to her biography, Abbott is currently at work on “a true story of the Civil War told through the perspectives of four women who risked everything for their cause.” It will be a different story, certainly, but will likely supply an abundance of that pathos and drama Abbott does so well. And, oh yes: it will probably be magnificent. ◊

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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Forget Vampires: Dystopia is the New Black for Teens

With her bleak but beautifully rendered visions of a dystopian future, in books like Oryx and Crake and even 1985’s The Handmaid’s Tale, we always knew Margaret Atwood was ahead of her time. Now The Telegraph (who knows everything) confirms:
Many parents might feel worried on finding their teenage children addicted to grim visions of a future in which global warming has made the seas rise, the earth dry up, genetically engineered plants run riot and humans fight over the last available scraps of food. Yet with the arrival of the film of the first book of Suzanne Collins’s best-selling trilogy The Hunger Games this month, dystopia for teenagers has hit an all-time high in public consciousness. The hottest genre in publishing and film on both sides of the Atlantic, it has rendered wizards and vampires redundant. And teen fiction is now so popular that it has entered the shopping basket of goods by which we calculate inflation.
The Gary Ross-directed film based on Suzanne Collins’ top-selling books will be out later this month. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth and Woody Harrelson and will be released in both regular and IMAX theaters.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

“Mommy Porn” Will Be Movie

And then hell froze over. I don’t have the spirit for it. Here’s The Hollywood Reporter:
Fifty Shades of Grey, the surprise erotic literary hit that began as a posting on a fan-fiction website, is sparking major interest from Hollywood as movie studios clamor for film rights.

Multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that a representative for the E.L. James book, which became a word-of-mouth eBook hit and scored a six-figure reprint deal with Random House imprint Vintage, has set meetings for next week with studio executives and directors to discuss a film adaptation and to conduct an auction of film rights for the hot property. The London-based agent Valerie Hoskins, who mainly represents British film and television writers (with a focus on children's animation), declined to comment through a spokesman for Vintage.
More here.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Authors on the Stump, Lookin’ for Love

It’s pretty well understood that, on the whole, Canadians are an intensely literate people. Last year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released the results of a study that revealed, among other things, that 37 per cent of Canadian adults do not read for pleasure. What they failed to point out, of course, was that the number indicated that 63 per cent of Canadians do.

Not only do they read, as a people, they tend to celebrate their books a little more widely than other countries. For instance, the richest book awards program in the country, the ScotiaBank Giller Prize, is televised in primetime annually while media contests for top books in various contests are carefully watched by many Candians of reading age.

The newest among these contests has been among the most carefully watched. In 2011, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation introduced the CBC Bookie Awards, a sort of people’s choice of Canadian literary awards. Readers from across Canada cast their votes for their favorite book in a number of categories including science fiction, mystery, graphic novels, literary fiction, short story collections and others.

This year, the five nominees in 10 categories were announced a few days ago and included Timothy Taylor’s Blue Light Project, something Taylor himself finds somewhat ironic:
The Blue Light Project is the story of a lone street artist, Rabbit, who pulls off a city-scale installation so beautiful that it stops chaos in its tracks. The chaos in question is a hostage crisis. A man storms a TV studio where they’re taping a cynical reality show called Kiddiefame. The man has a bomb. He seals the studio with a bunch of kids inside. The surrounding city descends into bedlam as confusion mounts. The power of Rabbit’s installation is that it umbrellas the city in a moment of intense splendor. But the work also mesmerizes people by magnificently opting out of the intense rivalries that animate shows like Kiddiefame and the broader culture the show reflects.
While Taylor is quick to point out that he’s happy about the nomination and pleased to be in some pretty great company, there’s part of him that is watching the proceedings with arms akimbo:
Literature used to stand aloof from all this mano-a-mano action. At the Giller Prize ceremony with Stanley Park, I recall feeling real sympathy for my fellow nominees. We were all in the same boat, tossed together on the seas of fate. Competition between us was purely abstract since there was nothing we could individually do about anything.

Online voting competitions change that dynamic completely. You can choose not to self-promote (more on that in a minute). But candidates can absolutely influence results. If a vote is your objective, the Tweetiest and most Facebookie candidate can indeed win. Klout = clout.

The Bookies are precisely tuned to the cultural moment, in other words. And their impact will compliment other developments which now extend the writer’s job far past merely writing the book. Post-publication is now the busiest season, where the author needs to be out there working the networks, pumping hands and kissing babies, on the stump, looking for love.

In all of that activity, however, it’s worth pausing to reflect that literature in a contest for votes is just the stock market with French flaps. Art might save us, as it promises in the conflicted world of my novel. But there aren’t very many people left in our real and conflicted world who think the stock market can save us now.
As though to underscore Taylor’s point, this year five books have been nominated in 10 categories. That’s a lot of books -- 50 of them -- in some pretty diverse categories.

If you want a peek and a vote, they’re here. Meanwhile, if you want to read more of Taylor’s thoughtful musings on the nature of contemporary literary sport, you’ll find that here.


New Today: The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

I have been a fan of M.J. Rose’s since the publication of her very first novel, Lip Service back in 1999. Rose’s work tends to speak to me in special ways, something I’ve commented on in reviews over the years. Her writing seems to rap up all of the elements of story that just delight me. There is an elegance to her voice, even when the stories she shares are at their most suspenseful.

I not only like how she writes, I like what she writes about, too. Her stories tend to contain threads from the world of art and, quite often, there are elements of the sensuous and even the paranormal. But these are hints and threads. Despite all apearances, at their core, Rose’s books are always deeply human and startlingly real.

Knowing all of these things, I’ve been looking forward to spending some serious quiet time with The Book of Lost Fragrances, out today from Atria. From the jacket copy:
A sweeping and suspenseful tale of secrets, intrigue, and lovers separated by time, all connected through the mystical qualities of a perfume created in the days of Cleopatra--and lost for 2,000 years.

Jac L'Etoile has always been haunted by the past, her memories infused with the exotic scents that she grew up surrounded by as the heir to a storied French perfume company. In order to flee the pain of those remembrances--and of her mother's suicide--she moved to America. Now, fourteen years later she and her brother have inherited the company along with it's financial problems. But when Robbie hints at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives and then suddenly goes missing--leaving a dead body in his wake--Jac is plunged into a world she thought she'd left behind.

Back in Paris to investigate her brother's disappearance, Jac becomes haunted by the legend the House of L'Etoile has been espousing since 1799. Is there a scent that can unlock the mystery of reincarnation - or is it just another dream infused perfume?

The Book of Lost Fragrances fuses history, passion, and suspense, moving from Cleopatra's Egypt and the terrors of revolutionary France to Tibet's battle with China and the glamour of modern-day Paris. Jac's quest for the ancient perfume someone is willing to kill for becomes the key to understanding her own troubled past.
Exciting stuff, right? All this from the writer whose work inspired the television series Past Life and whose reincarnation-focused books are always so much better than the show. The Book of Lost Fragrances is a treat to look forward to. I can’t wait! ◊

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

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Bookcase 101

Call me old-fashioned, but I love it when people start talking about books and the shelves on which to put them. Here Stylist Home ponders the bookcase: what they’re made of, where to find them and what they can store:
The bookcase is easily the most essential storage unit in any home. Although its name implies that it should be used for books, the versatile piece is also used to organize a variety of everyday items, from electronics and craft supplies to dishes and even clothing. Plus, they tend to be easy to find and affordable.
Meanwhile, from the too-cool-for-school department, don’t show this to January Magazine art director, David Middleton, or the guys from Top Gear, but AutoGuide shows us what to do with that vintage Jaguar we all have, just sitting around, gathering dust.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

International Women’s Day Brings Nordic Women Writers to the Web

Just in time for International Women’s Day The History of Nordic Women’s Literature launches on the Web. The web site came to be partly in response to the recent surge of interest in women writers of Nordic descent. The web site means that international audiences will be able to access more than a thousand years of literary history written by Nordic women. The site includes in-depth material about iconic writers such as Karen Blixen, Selma Lagerlöf and Sigrid Undset and is available free of charge.

Nordicwomensliterature.net is an online version of the original print work History of Nordic Women’s Literature, published in the 1990s and documenting Nordic women writers up to that point. The online edition updates the original and digitizes it for a wider audience.

“As of today it is expected that all information is available online,” says Elisabeth Møller Jensen, executive editor of the original, five volume edition. “So through this effort we will reach a much broader audience. At the same time, the online version adds on extra value, because the vast amount of information is presented in new creative and inspiring ways. It makes unique knowledge available and shows the important contribution to literature by women writers.”

The site is fascinating, easy to navigate and it’s here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Out of Print’s Book Madness

Thanks to my great local independent bookstore, Galiano Island Books, I gave away a lot of great T-Shirts from Out of Print last Christmas. There’s something faintly awesome about them for booklovers. Works of art that covered amazingly classic books on soft, yummy Ts. The combination was too great to resist and everyone I gave them to had the same reaction I did: love at first sight.

It turns out that I wasn’t the only one pleasantly amazed by Out of Print’s wares and they are now doing coasters, journals, notecards, phone cases and other things in addition to great Ts. The company says that they “work closely with artists, authors and publishers to license the content that ends up in our collections. Each product is treated to feel soft and worn like a well-read book.” And, having worn a few of these myself, I can say that they do.

Now Out of Print opens a new chapter with a contest intended to evoke shades of college ball. The company says that their Book Madness was conceived “in the spirit of college basketball's popular tournament known as ‘March Madness’ and will pit book against book and allow bookworms to decide which will advance to the next round. In the end, one book will be left standing.”

It’s a bit of silliness, but it also seems quite fun and with each vote, participants will be entered into a sweepstakes for a $500 Out of Print gift certificate, among other prizes.

Voting begins on Monday, March 12th and the tournament will consist of six rounds of book-to-book match ups before one book is declared champion on Tuesday, April 3rd.

You can check out the action here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

New Today: Care to Make Love in that Gross Little Space Between Cars? Amy Sedaris, Judd Apatow, et al

Three months into the year and I’m already fairly certain that Care to Make Love in that Gross Little Space Between Cars? (Vintage) will be among my picks for best of the year. And why? Because it’s aberrant. Off-the-wall. Well-drawn. And very, very funny.

Since 2005, Amy Sedaris has had a column in The Believer magazine called “Sedaratives.” It’s silly -- though sometimes thoughtful -- stuff, as an advice column penned by Amy Sedaris (and guest hosts) must be.

Care to Make Love in that Gross Little Space Between Cars? follows up 2010’s You’re A Horrible Person But I Like You, another compendium with the same pedigree. Though I didn’t get to taste that one, Details called it “An apt hipster bathroom book,” which is a close enough description to the new book that you get the idea they’re closely related, especially after you read Judd Apatow’s introduction:
Dear Judd Apatow:
We’re thinking about publishing a sequel to You’re A Horrible Person But I Like You. It’d be more or less the same thing, except with mostly different people, and different questions. Are we being redundant?
And Apatow responds:
Dear The Believer:
I really don’t know how to answer that question. There is a larger issue, which is: Why am I writing the intro to this book at all?
There’s more, but Apatow’s opening sets the tone, and the contributors? They seal the deal. Kristen Schall, Louis C.K., Zach Galifanaki, Dave Eggers, Amy Sedaris, Cintra Wilson, Sam Lipsyte and on and on and on. It’s the sort of super hip cast of celebrities that should make your eyes roll but instead make you laugh out loud. It’s a terrific -- though mostly pointless -- book. I couldn’t get enough. ◊

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Monday, March 05, 2012

Fiction: Puppy Love by Frauke Scheunemann

Readers who loved Garth Stein’s very charming The Art of Racing in the Rain from 2008 will likely also be charmed by Puppy Love, out now from Anansi in Canada and Atlantic in the US. Published to warm and wide acclaim in Germany as Dackelblick in 2010, a book Scheunemann followed up a year later with Katzenjammer, wherein the rescued star of Puppy Love gets a four-legged housemate.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Caroline is a sweet and perhaps-too-trusting animal lover. She travels to an animal shelter and has the good taste to choose Hercules, a down-on-his-luck dachshund who proves to be perhaps too opinionated. After he moves in with Caroline, Hercules’ life would be absolutely perfect but for a boyfriend Caroline’s new dog thinks she would do better without.

Though Caroline doesn’t realize it, with Hercules’ help, her life soon becomes a canine-supervised version of the dating game. However, much to Hercules’ chagrin, Caroline just can’t seem to pick the man who would be absolutely right for her.

Puppy Love is charming, heart-warming and all the things you would just not expect it to be. This is a romantic comedy for those who always believed good things were possible for that sub-genre. Despite the unlikely canine narrator and a cover that borders on the ridiculously cute, at its heart, Puppy Love is a steeply human tale. ◊

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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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Furor Over Archie’s Gay Wedding Issue

Just as Freedom to Read Week really gets rocking and we land right on the UK’s World Book Day, that deafening cry you hear is apparently the collective voices of angry and homophobic parents, incensed that their children are going to be dealing with too much reality at a toy store near them. The focus is in the form of an issues issue from the good people who brought your Archie. Digital Spy takes a stab at explaining:
Archie Comics has been targeted by a conservative Christian group over its depiction of gay marriage.

The American Family Association is campaigning against Toys 'R' Us in a bid to coerce the retailer into pulling any Archie titles featuring the subject matter from its shelves.

"Select Toys 'R' Us stores are now selling Archie comic books with a same-sex wedding displayed on the front cover. The front cover reads 'Just Married' with two men marrying and one is wearing a service uniform," read a statement on the organization's website.
That statement said in part:
These comic books are sold at the front checkout counters so they are highly visible to employees, managers, customers and children.

Unfortunately, children are now being exposed to same-sex marriage in a toy store. This is the last place a parent would expect to be confronted with questions from their children on topics that are too complicated for them to understand. Issues of this nature are being introduced too early and too soon, which is becoming extremely common and unnecessary.
The trip to the toy store turns into a premature discussion on sexual orientation and is completely uncalled for. Toys 'R' Us should be more responsible in the products they carry.
When asked to respond, Archie CEO Jon Goldwater told Comic Book Resources that they stand by Life With Archie #16. “As I’ve said before,” Goldwater said, “Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday.”

Here, here.

The good news? I haven’t heard anyone complain about the couple being interracial. I’m not sure if, 20 years ago, that would have been the case. That’s something like progress, I guess.