Bookish News of the Day

On this date, in 1898, Émile Zola is imprisoned after writing J’Accuse, a letter accusing the French government of anti-Semitism and wrongfully imprisoning Captain Alfred Dreyfus.

For an interesting fictional spin on the Dreyfus Affair, check out Kate Taylor’s novel A Man in Uniform.

Welcome to your News of the Day.



1633 – Samuel Pepys, English man of letters
1840 – Frederick Wicks, English author & inventor
1899 – Erich Kästner, German author, screenwriter, poet & satirist
1933 – Donna J. Stone, American poet
1944 – John Sandford, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist & best-selling novelist
1958 – Tony Barrell, English writer & journalist


1800 – Joseph Warton, English literary critic
1821 – John Keats, English Romantic poet
1955 – Paul Claudel, French poet, dramatist & diplomat
1995 – James Herriot, English writer & veterinary surgeon


Freedom to Read Prize

Lawrence Hill, author of The book of Negroes has been awarded the 2012 Freedom to Read Prize. Last summer, Hill was the target of a Dutch activist, offended by the use of the word “negro” in the title of the novel. It was Hill’s “reasoned and eloquent response to the threat to burn his novel The Book of Negroes,” according to a statement from The Writers’ Union of Canada chair Greg Hollingshead, that secured this honour for Hill.

This annual Prize coincides with Freedom to Read Week – which kicks off this Sunday. John Ralston Saul, last year’s prize winner, will receive his award at a ceremony on February 28th.



Two self-described bookish people with an unusual dream have worked over the past twenty fiver years and amassed a 30,000-volume collection on “the land and people’s connection to the land” that could make any naturalist drool. It’s called the Rocky Mountain Land Library, and experts say it’s a Colorado treasure. But the books are about to be homeless.

Soft-spoken Tattered Cover Book Store employees Jeffrey Lee and his wife, Ann Martin, who met on the job, bought all of those books and stored them in every nook and cranny of the rooms of their rented home on Humboldt Street. After nearly 23 years, they must move because the house is being sold.

I wonder if they could afford this awesome house? Of course, that would involve a move to Oak Park, Illinois…but how cool would it be to live in Hemingway’s childhood home? Pretty cool, I’d say!


Whodunnit First?

Poisoning, hypnotists, kidnappers and a series of crimes “in their nature and execution too horrible to contemplate”: The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Felix, believed to be the first detective novel ever published, is back in print for the first time in a century-and-a-half.

Although Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, published in 1868, and Emile Gaboriau’s first Monsieur Lecoq novel L’Affaire Lerouge, released in 1866, have both been proposed as the first fictional outings for detectives, the British Library believes The Notting Hill Mystery “can truly claim to be the first modern detective novel”.


What’s In a Name?

Patricia O’Brien had five novels to her name when her agent, Esther Newberg, set out last year to shop her sixth one, a work of historical fiction called “The Dressmaker”. A cascade of painful rejections began. Ms. O’Brien’s longtime editor at Simon & Schuster passed on it, saying that her previous novel, “Harriet and Isabella,” hadn’t sold well enough. One by one, 12 more publishing houses saw the novel. They all said no. Just when Ms. O’Brien began to fear that “The Dressmaker” would be relegated to a bottom desk drawer like so many rejected novels, Ms. Newberg came up with a different proposal: Try to sell it under a pen name.

Written by Kate Alcott, the pseudonym Ms. O’Brien dreamed up, it sold in three days.


Big Top on the Big Screen

Moira Buffini has been signed to adapt Erin Morgenstern’s wonderful novel, The Night Circus for the big screen. Buffini has enjoyed recent success for her adaptation of Jane Eyre. It was really a stunning film so this should be a magical partnership!


Winter is Coming, Toronto

Calling all Game of Thrones lovers: HBO Canada is partnering with TIFF Lightbox, for Game of Thrones: The Exhibition.


Literary Mixtapes

I love this idea! It’s been around for a while now, but I haven’t gotten off my duff to actually create any mixtapes for my own favourite books. Harriet the Spy might be just what I needed to get going on this project.


Poem of the Day

In honour of the day of John Keats’ death (d.1821), I share with you: When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.


When I have Fears that I may Cease to Be is an Elizabethan sonnet. The 14-line poem is written in iambic pentameter and consists of three quatrains and a couplet. Keats wrote the poem in 1818. It was published (posthumously) in 1848.


Word of the Day

desinence \DES-uh-nuhns\ , noun:

1. A termination or ending, as the final line of a verse.
2. Grammar. A termination, ending, or suffix of a word.


The extreme facility with which the language lends itself to rhyming desinence has a most injurious effect upon versification. There are not verses only, but whole poems, in which each line terminates with the same desinence.
— Wentworth Webster, Basque Legends

But it will end, a desinence will come, or the breath fail better still, I’ll be silence, I’ll know I’m silence, no, in the silence you can’t know, I’ll never know anything.
— Samuel Beckett, “Texts for Nothing,” The Complete Short Prose


Like descent, desinence is related to the Latin word dēsinere which meant “to put down or leave.”


And, Finally…

Not very Bookish, but very beautiful!

A Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor

Released today, A Man in Uniform is, according to the description offered by the publisher, Doubleday Canada,:

“A seductive new novel from the author of the award-winning bestseller Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen.

At the height of the Belle Epoque, the bourgeois lawyer François Dubon lives a well-ordered life. He spends his days at his office, his evenings with his aristocratic wife — and his afternoons with his generous mistress. But this complacent existence is shattered when a mysterious widow pays him a call. She insists only Dubon can rescue her innocent friend, an army captain by the name of Dreyfus who has been convicted of spying. Against his better judgment, Dubon is drawn into a case that will forever alter his life.”

I read this novel quickly, over one weekend. I feel Taylor has created a compelling story using an historical event that divided the nation of France. The Dreyfus Affair began in 1894. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an innocent Jewish Officer in the French Army, was convicted on false evidence, manufactured with military approval, for a crime of high treason. He was stripped of his rank, publicly degraded and deported to the penal colony of Devil’s Island to serve a sentence of life imprisonment, in total isolation, and under inhumane conditions. The fight to prove his innocence lasted 12 years.

The Dreyfus Affair caused a deep rift between intellectuals not only in French society, but in all of Europe and the United States. It unleashed racial violence and led to the publication of history’s most famous call for justice, J’accuse, addressed to the President of France by Emile Zola (in January 1898); Zola became, in the words of Anatole France, “the conscience of mankind”.

This event in France’s history involved not only political and military scandals but also murder, deceit, corruption and treachery. Using the documented truths of the Dreyfus Affair as the launching point for her second novel, Taylor becomes a master weaver, braiding the intricacies of historical fact with her own imagination and linear storytelling. Taylor also punches up an already bountiful chain of events through the introduction of femme fatales, seduction and villainy. Characters, both real and invented, co-mingle in her mostly solid novel.

I have had a hard time creating a review for this work because, while so many elements work ~ the plot, the historical context, the characters ~ I was very let down by the use of coincidence and convenience. Taylor is a gifted writer and a talented, award winning Canadian journalist. (She writes an Arts column for the Globe and Mail, was previously their Theatre critic and has been on staff with the paper since 1989). Through research, I discovered the initial manuscript for her new novel “went through three significantly different drafts that involved major plot changes… Draft number two had serious tweaking…Draft number three involved a major rewrite then a major set of cuts” before the manuscript was considered ready for publication. Learning these details made me wonder what elements were sacrificed from a story that could have achieved literary perfection in order to make the novel more broadly appealing?

The novel is very well-paced and enjoyable; I debated calling it a fun read; it definitely makes for a perfect “summer read”. While looking at other reviews for A Man in Uniform, the terms “a romp” and “rollicking” were encountered again and again. The novel definitely engages the reader and seems to have all of the components of a very good historical, literary mystery. For me, the novel is hard to categorize by genre. I have read many reviews that refer to the book as a ‘hardboiled mystery’, but to my understanding, these types of stories are distinguished by an unsentimental portrayal of crime, violence, and sex. I think there is a lot of emotion in Taylor’s novel, and her writing, so I am a bit dismissive of that particular classification. In the end, though, I don’t think this matters. My only issue, really, has to do with how “neat” the story was; how conveniently it climaxed and resolved. The novel is good so I am hopeful it will be embraced and enjoyed by readers. Kate Taylor is a great writer and the story is strong.

I recommend A Man in Uniform and rate it 3.5 our of 5.