Weekly Book News Roundup

Book News

  • Kobo has launched the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, to celebrate Canadian debut authors. The annual award offers three categories of competition: Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction (beginning with Mystery, with a different genre showcased each year), and Non-Fiction. Prizewinners will each receive $10,000, and promotional, marketing, and communications support, as well as access to Kobo experts for publishing advice. Three outstanding judges (who will also provide mentorship to the three winners) will help launch the inaugural awards: Miriam Toews will serve as the judge of the literary fiction category, Charlotte Gray will judge non-fiction, and Ian Hamilton will judge genre fiction.
  • Jennifer Lopez’s (apparently) terrible new movie The Boy Next Door has inspired a misguided quest for first editions of the Iliad. “Lopez plays a divorced English literature high school teacher who has a one-night stand with her younger neighbour played by Ryan Guzman. In one scene, Guzman’s character gives Lopez a copy of The Iliad, which is described as a ‘first edition’ and apparently found for ‘a buck at a garage sale.’ ” Problems: no one knows for certain when the Iliad was even written. It was passed down by oral tradition first. It’s at least three thousand years old. It wasn’t composed in English for first publication in a handsome hardcover.
  • The 2015 #TwitterFiction Festival will take place May 11-15. The festival is presented by the Association of American Publishers and Penguin Random House, and is about “embracing, exploring, and developing the art of storytelling on Twitter.” This year, featured participating authors include Margaret Atwood, Celeste Ng, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), and Eric Jerome Dickey, among others.
  • The Economist featured a piece on the new era of “authorpreneurship,” in which no one can simply write: “Authors are becoming more like pop stars, who used to make most of their money selling albums but who now use their recordings as promotional tools, earning a living mainly from concerts. The trouble with many budding writers is that they are not cut out for this new world. They are often introverts, preferring solitude to salesmanship.” 

So, there are some of the bigger stories that made news in the book world this week.  I hope your week has been a good one, and that you have had some time to read.  If you are reading something great, I would love to know about it, so please leave a comment. (I could truly chat about books forever. Heh!)

Baldo by Hector D. Cantu and Carlos Castellanos

Baldo, by Hector D. Cantu and Carlos Castellanos

Bookish News of the Day

Lord Byron

On this date, in 1812, poet Lord Byron gives his first address as a member of the House of Lords. “A strong advocate of social reform, he received particular praise as one of the few Parliamentary defenders of the Luddites: specifically, he was against a death penalty for Luddite “frame breakers” in Nottinghamshire, who destroyed textile machines that were putting them out of work. His first speech before the Lords was loaded with sarcastic references to the “benefits” of automation, which he saw as producing inferior material as well as putting people out of work. He said later that he “spoke very violent sentences with a sort of modest impudence”, and thought he came across as “a bit theatrical”

Welcome to your News of the Day!


Born on This Day

1807 – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
1902 – John Steinbeck
1910 – Peter De Vries
1912 – Lawrence Durrell
1913 – Irwin Shaw

Died on This Day

1706 – John Evelyn
2008 – William F. Buckley, Jr.


Freedom to Read Week

The 49th Shelf has posted a list of challenged Canadian books that you should read this week!! (It’s Freedom to Read week!!)


The Big Shew

This weekend saw some serious hardware being handed out, with both the Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars being handed out. There were more than just a few Bookish connections as many vying for honours started their lives as books.

Twitter saw some fun: as people imagined books or authors walking the red carpet. #BooksRedCarpet trended for a good while!

The adorable Michelle Williams is Bookish. YAY!


The Nabokovs – Vlaimir & Dmitri

In some sad news, Dmitri Nabokov, son of author, Vladimir Nabokov, died this past Wednesday in Vevey, Switzerland. He was 77. Nabokov the younger “In contrast with his father, who was said to focus on literature and lepidoptery to the exclusion of all else, Dmitri Nabokov was a bon vivant, a professional opera singer, a race car driver and a mountain climber.

He was also devoted to the full range of his father’s work” and he was responsible for the management of his father’s literary legacy.

Check out this old footage of Vladimir Nabokov as he marvels of the different covers for his novel, Lolita.


Oh Dear – Franzen Does It Again

Last week, Jonathan Franzen wrote in The New Yorker, on the occasion of Edith Wharton’s 150th birthday (paid access content). The piece caused not just a few ripples. He “he harped on her looks and read the biographical record in ways” that caused author Victoria Patterson to respond.


Jane Austen – On Display

World Book Day (this Thursday) will see Bodleian Library in Oxford display ‘new’ Jane Austen portrait and sampler – for one day only.


March Madness – HarperCollins Canada Style

64 books are competing to become HCC’s 2012 March Madness Champion. You could win all 64 books! The brackets of competition will be announced next Monday.


Leonard Cohen

How does a poet of despair survive in rock ʻn’ roll? Ideas are the engine of Leonard Cohen’s success. His ideas are old and radical and, on occasion, surprisingly persuasive.

On occasion of the release of Cohen’s 12th album, CBC’s Radio 3 takes a look at Cohen’s most famous song, Hallelujah.


Poem of the Day


by: George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788-1824)

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!


Word of the Day

flexuous \ FLEK-shoo-uhs \ , adjective;

1. Full of bends or curves; sinuous.


Her flexuous and stealthy figure became an integral part of the scene. At times her whimsical fancy would intensify natural processes around her till they seemed a part of her own story.
— Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

What is anomalous about Nietzsche in this context is scarcely the hold this plot has on him, but indeed the flexuous sweetness with which sometimes he uniquely invests it…
— Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet


Flexuous is derived from the Latin word flexuōsus which meant full of turns or crooked. This is an interesting example where the suffix changes the implication of the word. Unlike the more common word flexible, which means “capable of being bent” because of the suffix -ible , flexuous has the suffix, -ous meaning “full of.”

Freedom ~ Jonathan Franzen

Back in late-August, early-September I read quite a few novels and had planned a string of reviews. One of those books was Jonathan Franzen’s recent release Freedom. I wanted to offer insight for the novel and, perhaps, for Franzen as well. Then, as I am sure much of the Western World is aware, Oprah announced her newest book club selection: Freedom.

What the hell? Between the global excitement over a new Franzen novel and the Oprah endorsement, what could I possibly add or offer that hasn’t already been said or written? Of course I expected the book to be popular and garner much media attention. Franzen, after all, has been elevated to the status of Great American Novelist thanks to The Corrections but, during the interim between finishing Freedom and the brouhaha that has ensued surrounding both Franzen and his newest novel, I have found each passing day bringing continual and escalating Franzen coverage – interviews; reviews; readings; book lists; blog ponderings; the great eye-glasses theft of 2010; the great eye-glasses recovery of 2010; Franzen-penned revelations. It is a whole lot of Franzen to absorb. I have contemplated writing the author, sharing my suggestion of an all-Franzen, all the time 24hr cable channel to, you know, take absolute and full advantage of the Franzen-crazy gravy-train. Never mind those buckets of cash. Train-cars filled with cash is so much…more. Why not? (She asks, not just a little bit sarcastically.)

So, Freedom, read it, or don’t. You probably will eventually because it is ubiquitous. Do I recommend it? Sure. It is a not bad book. I liked it better than The Corrections but I still find I am more a fan of Franzen, the person, than Franzen, the writer. His prose, to me, feels laboured; as though it has been ploddingly struggled over. It has been nine years since The Corrections was released, so maybe I am not too far off? There is, also, a certain fluidity absent from Franzen’s writing. Both of these contributed to my middling assessment of Freedom. I wasn’t overly invested in any of the characters and I could take time away from the book without feeling a pressing urge to return to it immediately. I found the concept for the story interesting and believable, to a point, but the whole of the novel wasn’t the treasure of a read I was hoping for. I know my opinion is not shared by many and I am not purposefully trying to sway you away from Freedom or be anti-Franzen. On the contrary (who actually says that phrase???). Franzen is a smart man and though given to truthfulness interpreted as harshness, I find him highly likable. So much so (who actually says THAT phrase??) I really, really wanted to love Freedom. I didn’t love it, sadly. But maybe you will? It’s hard to be one person flying the homemade “It’s a’ight.” sign, in a sea of “It’s the novel of the century!!” neon. Ah, well. I still like the dude, even if I don’t love his book.

Excerpt from the book jacket:

Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.

I will end with a quote from Jonathan Jones, of The Guardian: “Freedom [is] the novel of the century. A formidable and harrowing work, Jonathan Franzen’s new book is on a different plane from other contemporary fiction.”

Maybe you can now see my problem. With affirmations like that, it’s hard not to feel a little let down.

Upcoming Reviews

My life is getting in the way of my life, recently. For that reason my reviews are a wee bit tardy. Coming up, very soon, I will have new reviews for Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, Annabel by Kathleen Winter and I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson.

Presently, I am reading the novel Snow, by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. This is a novel that requires the full attention of the reader. Pamuk uses setting and environment well. In fact, they are like two additional characters in the story. This is my first time reading Pamuk and I know already (I am only about one-third of the way into Snow) I will be seeking out more of his novels.

Let me know what you have been reading and if you have discovered any literary gems. I love hearing about anything to do with reading and books.