Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Weiner: The Shocking Truth Behind their Bitter Feud

Wake up, sheeple.

You think you know what the Jennifer Weiner/Jonathan Frazen feud is all about? VIDA counts? Unchecked egos? Social media? Literary vs. commercial fiction?

You’ve been lied to. It’s time to uncover the truth.



FACT: Jennifer Weiner coined the hashtag #Franzenfreude on August 15th, 2010, just two weeks before Franzen’s fourth novel, Freedom, was published. Jennifer Weiner’s eighth novel, Fly Away Home, was released just two months earlier, on July 13, 2010.

Nothing too surprising there, right? Of course both authors were spoiling for a fight; they had books to promote. Let’s go a little deeper.

FACT: Jennifer Weiner’s debut novel, Good in Bed, was published on May 8th, 2001, less than four months before Franzen’s breakthrough novel, The Corrections. 

Weiner and Franzen both broke out in 2001 with semi-autobiographical novels, and both were alternately criticized and lauded for breaking down genre barriers. Weiner elevated chick-lit, while Franzen made serious literachah accessible; both were nudging their way to the middlebrow, one moving on up, one slumming. They’re more alike than they’d like to admit.

Their books are more alike than they’d like to admit, too. Or at least, more than one of them would like to admit.

THE SHOCKING TRUTH: Weiner started the feud with Franzen to deflect attention from the fact that Fly Away Home is a watered-down version of The Corrections.

THE EVIDENCE: Yeah, both books are about family break down and middle class malaise and how parents fuck up their kids, but, what book isn’t? This goes way deeper. SPOILERS AHOY:

  • The Mom Who Just Wants The Family To Be Together For The Holidays, Damn it: In Freedom, mom Enid is a neurotic mess (his moms always are.) In Fly Away Home, mom Sylvie is a Strong Woman (her heroines always are.) Both moms fixate on One Last Family Dinner with Everybody, Even My Ne’er Do Well Youngest Child and Even My Awful Husband. Hilarity ensues.
  • The Stoic Dad Who Ruins Everything: Both patriarchs are men used to being taken care of by women. Both get into trouble, of the financial and health variety on one side, and of the “oops slept with an intern” variety on the other, and both proceed to do fuck all about it while heir wives and children bear the brunt. Resentment, and eventually, groove-back-getting, ensues.
  • The Abused Teenage Daughter: In The Corrections, teenage Denise “dates” someone at her father’s work, though “date” is a stretch since she’s just graduated high school, and he’s a middle aged man. We don’t find out till much later how much dad Albert knew, and how it affected and still affects the Lambert family. In Fly Away Home, Lizzie is sexually assaulted as a young teen. Her parents find out immediately and don’t really do anything. Both sets of parents knew their daughter was being abused, and dealt with it by not dealing with it. Trauma ensues.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy: In The Corrections, Chip is the inept man-child. He’s always running some harebrained scheme, avoiding his problems, and abusing substances. In Fly Away Home, Lizzie is an inept woman-child. All her harebrained schemes and substance abuse is in the past (no fun,) but she definitely can’t adult. Redemption and maturity via marriage and babies ensues.
  • The Capable Adult Who Acts Out In Inappropriate Ways (That Means Sex): Two inappropriate work place romances and two names that start with D. Fly Away Home‘s Diana is the good sister. She’s got the house, the family, the career. She’s also banging one of her medical students. In The Corrections, good sister Denise is a rising star in the culinary world.  She’s also banging her boss’s wife. Graphic sex ensues.
  • Gross Guys Named Gary: In Freedom, Gary is the older brother, outwardly the most conventional of the Lambert siblings, but inwardly such a mess of neurosis, addiction, and anxiety it’s a wonder he’s still standing. He does fall off a ladder, actually, at one point. He’s depicted as dripping with sweat, bleeding, muttering, exploding in anger, and generally just “unlikeable” personified. In Fly Away Home, Gary is Diana’s hapless husband, a beta-male extraordinaire, also sweaty, and flabby, balding, pale, whiny, dependent, shiftless… he has no redeeming qualities and I somehow hated him more after Diana cheats on him. Emasculation ensues.


I was going to end the post here. But then I thought, what is it’s every more complicated? This is a conspiracy theory, after all. Maybe Weiner didn’t want to hide the fact that Fly Away Home is sloppy The Corrections fanfic. Maybe she wanted us to know it.

FACT: Fly Away Home spent eight weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list in 2010 and peaked at #2. Freedom spent 29 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list in 2010-2011 and spent three of those weeks at #1. Fly Away Home fell off the list the very week Freedom debuted at #1.

By Weiner’s standards, Fly Away Home was a flop. Her website boasts that her twelve books “have spent over five years on the New York Times bestseller [sic] list,” which, by my calculations, means most of them stick around a lot longer than eight weeks. Getting bumped off just as Franzen ascends was enough to send her over the edge.

She needed a boost. Some publicity. You know what they say about publicity, right?

THE EVEN MORE SHOCKING TRUTH: Weiner started the feud with Franzen to deflect attention from the fact that Fly Away Home is a watered-down, simplified version of The Corrections UNTIL it didn’t sell, at which point she intensified the feud in hopes that someone would uncover the horrible truth, boosting sales and recovering her best seller list honour.

There’s just one problem. There are two types of people in this world: Those who read Weiner, and those who read Franzen. Okay, clearly, there is a third type who doesn’t give a fuck, but work with me here. No one noticed, because no one read both The Corrections and Fly Away Home. Until now.

And if all this doesn’t convince you that you’ve been lied to for years?

FACT: On October 4th, 2010, Franzen was in London promoting Freedom when his glasses were stolen. As in stolen off his face. A 27 year old student attempted to ransom them for $100,000 before being caught by police, who were aided in the chase by a helicopter and dogs.

FACT: Jennifer Weiner was in London on October 4th promoting Fly Away Home. Coincidence?

This isn’t over. I will be vigilant. I’ve got my eye on you, Ms. Weiner. If your next book is a thinly-veiled retelling of Great Expectations, except with Internet and fascism, a la Purity, I will be there. If any of your post-2010 novels feature a stay-at-home mom and/or birds and/or washed-up rock stars, a la Freedom, I will be there.


And Mr. Franzen, don’t think you’re off the hook. You don’t become The Great American Novelist without some kind of shady dealings.

The truth is out there.

Franzen in February

Welcome to Franzen in February. That’s right, in the off chance that I didn’t alienate my entire readership when I reviewed Purity thrice last year, I’ve decided to devote the whole month of February to the fabulous Mr. F. Here are just some of the goodies I have in store:

  • My conspiracy theory regarding the Franzen/Weiner feud (I just watched episode #1 of the X-files reboot, so I am ready to go in on this. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.)
  • Q&A with Franzen Fan Club President and author of The Wallcreeper and Mislaid Nell Zink (!!!!)
  • Q&A with CanLit darling and Franzen fan Sigal Samuel, author of The Mystics of Mile End
  • Q&A with the fanatic behind Franzenfreude
  • Guests posts from a couple of Franzen newbies (your first Franzen is a very special experience)

Oh, yeah, I’m going to read stuff too. Maybe even review. Here’s the thing, though: I read three of Franzen’s books last year, and I’m not really in the mood to read another one right now. Write about them, yes. Read more of them…no. That could put a damper on the whole event.

I figured it out a way around it. Part of Franzen’s mystique is how everyone seems to have an opinion about him, and many authors have come out in support or on the attack. I’m going to read books by authors who love him, who hate him, who’ve been blurbed by him, and so on. FranzenFriends and FranzenFoes, if you will. Here’s my stack:

From top: Hates him, blurbed by him, blurbed by him, #1 fan?

From top: Hates him, blurbed by him, blurbed by him, #1 fan

A couple friend & foe ideas for you:

  • FranzenFriends: Nell Zink, Sigal Samuel, David Foster Wallace, Emily Gould, Jami Attenberg, Chico Buarque, Laura Miller
  • FranzenFoes: Jennifer Weiner, Roxane Gay, Curtis Sittenfield, Jodi Picoult

Get involved: read a book by Franzen, or a friend/foe; pitch me a guest post; or just follow along and comment. I’m not messing around with sign-ups, prizes, or read-alongs. I want to spend my time writing up all these fun posts.

I don’t really have an agenda. I’ve read his three “big” novels plus his memoir, and rated them three or four stars. I don’t even count him in my top ten authors. And I don’t give a shit if you refuse to read him for whatever (probably misinformed) reason. He’s just so fun to talk about. He’s a force in modern literature, but he can be, to quote a heroine of classic lit, so adorably clueless.

Whether you’re a FranzenFriend or FranzenFoe, stay tuned, this’ll be fun.

On manifestos

In 2016, I vow to read fewer books.

Before I tell you why, we need to talk about reading challenges, and resolutions, and manifestos, and such. My issues with them are many, and as follows. Oh, I don’t mean YOUR reading challenge, settle down. OR DO I?

  • The assumption that people give a shit what you’re reading. Particularly with respect to TBR challenges. Why on earth do I care if, or for how long, you’ve owned a book? I do not. I give a shit if you have something to say about what you’ve read. (I am participating in a TBR challenge this year, so I guess I kind of care. I still find it odd.)
  • Approval-seeking. Particularly with respect to diversity challenges. I actually saw someone tweet about how many days it’d been since they’d read a cis-het white male author. That’s wonderful, but talk to me once you’ve reviewed one of those books. You don’t get a cookie for #readingdiverse.  (Yes, I unfollowed.)
  • Strict rules. Insisting on strict definitions of what constitutes a classic? Nope. Kicking me out of the challenge if I don’t post an update by whatever date? Nope. Insert “Ain’t nobody got time” or “zero fucks” meme here.
  • Quantity over quality. You read 52 books this year? 75? 100? 250? 300?  That’s nice. Tracking is fine. But challenges that emphasize how many books you read are just weird.  I mean, if you read one book this year, you’re ahead of the majority of the population, so calm down.
  • Pigeonholing. Particularly with respect to “reading bingo” type challenges with a bunch of categories to fill in. Now, I know the categories aren’t meant to be mutually exclusive, but, it’s kind of implied. So when one of your sixteen categories is “female author,” I’m gonna give it a side eye. Surely, there are better ways to define a challenge category! Check out this great post from Feminist Texican Reads about a Feminist Read Harder Challenge to see what I mean.

The absolute worst example of all of these things, and the inspiration for this post, appears not on a book blog, but on LitHub, of all places. A Reader’s Manifesto for 2016 is about one guy’s reading resolutions, though the title implies it’s for all readers, and pardon me, these are not mere resolutions, this is a manifesto, which is much fancier. Okay then. We’ve got the “assuming people give a shit” angle covered. Continue reading

2015 Year in Review #2: Best Books

Top five books of 2015

the bearthewakeoutlineafterbirththedaysofabandon

Have I mentioned I’m in a bit of a slump this year? I read more than ever, and came home from Book Expo America with a bunch of hot new books, but only five books were good enough to get that elusive five-star rating. For fun, I’ve included the most ridiculous thing I did while reading each.

  • The Bear by Claire Cameron (tried to describe it to my husband while out for our sixth anniversary dinner, ended up crying)
  • The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (read the first forty or so pages aloud)
  • After Birth by Elisa Albert (… nothing much, but here’s a fun fact: Albert used to write the captions for A Baby Story, that ubiquitous 2000s-era Canadian reality show about birth. I hated that show because I had pretty traumatic deliveries, just like the main character in this book, and felt like it sugar-coated the truth. I guess Albert felt that way too?)
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk (spent a Saturday night reading it with a mug of mint tea and whisky. Not that crazy, except I never drink whisky and I never drink alone.)
  • The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (Told my family I was going to the grocery store, and read in the parking lot for an hour)

Yeah, but did I review them? Last year I was ashamed of the fact that I only reviewed one of my top ten books. I was also ashamed of the reason – I was afraid to write about race. I ended up reviewing The Bridge of Beyond in January and it is one of my favourite reviews. This year, I gave my all to The Bear – I didn’t do a traditional review, but I wrote about it here on the blog, and on 49th Shelf. I wrote a quick blurb on The Wake (but please note there is a 2,000+ word draft review in the works,) and nothing on the other three.

There isn’t anything in particular about After Birth, Outline, or The Days of Abandonment that made me skip the review. I’m not intimidated by the subject matter. I still think about them. I suppose that, compared to The Bear and The Wake, they are very specifically women’s stories (not for women… I mean about women, centred on women’s experiences, etc.) But I’m usually cool with that too.

Here’s my hypothesis: I read too damn much this year. I powered through all three of these books, because I had holds coming in at the library, and Book Expo books to get to before publication date (fail,) and a Forsyte Saga to get through before the end of the year (epic fail,) and an ever-growing pile of library sale books, and book swap books, and contest win books, and Canada Reads and Alberta Reader’s Choice and Giller Prize books. I had just enough time to register that hey, this book is amazing, before barreling on to the next.

Can you guess what’s coming next? Stay tuned for my 2016 plans post. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna KonMari my bookshelf or anything. KonMari is so 2015.

Honourable mentions where four stars on Goodreads means 4.5 or 4.9: Martin John by Anakana Schofield, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.

Overrated Books


Not “bad” books, so put your pitchforks away. These books did not live up to the hype.

  • Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (my review) I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. I didn’t get it.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: The Franzen blurb got my hopes up, but by the end, I was so exasperated with everyone and everything. Great audio book narrator, though.
  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: This book is a total Monet: great fun while reading, but a big mess if you stop and think about it for too long. Not to mention the most boring protagonists ever.
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallsberg: I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but when I wasn’t, I didn’t think of it for a moment. Hence I almost gave up twice. Sweet trailer, though.

And, finally, the 2015 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:

Continue reading

2015 Year in Review #1: The Stats

While my family enjoys the traditional new year’s eve feast of microwave popcorn and mini-watermelon slices (it was in our produce box this week!) I shall avail you of my blog stats. Stay tuned for my favourite books of 2015 and 2016 plans.

69dudesBooks Read

  • Books read in 2015: 69, up from 64 in 2014 and 52 in 2013.
  • Shortest book: We Should All Be Feminists (49 pages)
  • Longest book: City on Fire (944 pages)
  • Format: 64% paper, 20% ebook, 16% audio (which would be up from 0% audio in any previous year, and represents the biggest change in the way I read.)

About the Author

  • 58% female (Same as 2014)
  • 20% person of colour (same as 2014)
  • 38% Canadian (down from 55% in 2014) 35% American  16% British and 1 each: Argentinian, Nigerian, New Zealand, Malaysian, Italian, Brazilian, Angolan, German. 
  • Six Edmonton-area authors this year, up from two last year.

I didn’t pay much attention to gender and race this year, but ended up with the same “diversity” stats as last year. I put “diversity” in quotes because these stats and challenges generally leave a bad taste in my mouth. (That’s a whole other post, but this or this can give you an idea why.) I was curious about how my reading fell out, though, so I did the calculation. I notice that I expanded the number of author nationalities (at the expense of #CanLit, oops) while still reading a large majority of Canadian, American, and UK authors.

The book that started it all.

The book that started it all.

Genres and Lists

  • 10% classics (down from 19% in 2014), 51% contemporary lit fic (about the same as previous years), 14% non fiction (up a bit from last year), and a handful of YA, erotica, romance, memoir, graphic novels, and a thriller.
  • 1001 Books for a total of 126 read – and reread two more.

I’m further and further away from the reason I started this blog. Not saying that’s good or bad… stay tuned for 2016 plans!


  • 7% were rated five stars (down 13% in 2014), 41% were four stars, 36% were three stars, 16% were two stars. I DNF’d one book that was headed for a one-star rating.

This year is a bit of a slump. Only a few books blew me away. As usual, I tend to rate books lower than the masses on Goodreads:

  • I rated 26 books higher. The most underrated book was The Bear, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.31 rating. Yeah, I have a lot of feelings about this book.
  • I rated 40 books lower. The most overrated book was We Should All Be Feminists, which I rated a 2, compared to average 4.44 rating. Not because I don’t agree, but because there was nothing new or challenging.

Infinite Jest 20th Anniversary editionBlog Stats

Bookstravaganza Buzz!

My kids were fascinated with bees this summer. I bought them a board game called “Buzz!” without looking past the recommended ages; kid’s board games are usually just rebranded takes on classics like Snakes and Ladders or Trouble. When I realized I had bought a “cooperative board game” I cringed; was this going to be one of those “everyone’s a winner, even the losers” type things? Was it going to be fun? Are three and five year olds even capable of cooperating?

I needn’t have worried. It’s not that everyone’s a winner, it’s just that you either all win, or you all lose. More precisely, you all win, or a cardboard bear wins. There is strategy involved, you just get to strategize together. You can still cheat, too – very important when playing with little kids. Kids love cheating. And nothing brings a group of people together like a common enemy, even when it is a cardboard bear.

The Bookstravaganza crew is jumping on the cooperative bandwagon this year. Previously, Bookstravaganza was a competition/fundraiser: who could read the most books in December, and raise the most money for a local literary cause? This year, they’ve banded together and are working towards a common reading goal: to collectively read and review one hundred books in December. You can cheer them on by following on Twitter, reading reviews on the blog, and by donating to Literacy Vans at the Edmonton Public Library.

No, I’m not participating this year. I had fun reading and reviewing ten books last December, but my oldest just turned six, and received three more board games for his birthday. I’m going to be pretty busy.

Novellas in November 2015: Wrap up

I’ve been posting daily videos for The Short Story Advent Calendar, and enjoying it so much that I made a video for Novellas in November. Check it out:

I read five novellas during the month. Here they are, in very particular order:

  1. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrente
  2. Grandma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki
  3. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  4. Blue Skies by Evelyn Lau
  5. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Check out some other bloggers doing Novellas in November, some of whom even posted updates during the month!
The Book a Week Project
746 Books
Poppy Peacocks

And please do subscribe and like and all that on YouTube, so my children stop making fun of my stats.

Truth, Reconciliation, and Reading: How to read the TRC and what to read next

For my international readers, and Canadians who’ve been under a rock for the past couple of years:

The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience. – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Before I read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report (the 350ish pages of its executive summary, anyway,) I bounced back and forth between believing that:

  1. That this document wasn’t for me, because I wasn’t one of those racist people who needed to be convinced that Indian Residential Schools were horrific or that they have a lasting legacy.
  2. That the above belief is extremely naive and I would likely have to challenge some beliefs and/or confront some ugly truths, and maybe I’m not ready.

As usual, reality was somewhere in between. The TRC is for me, as much as it is for you (Canadian readers, or really, anyone who lives in a country that’s ever  been colonized.) There were plenty of things I already knew, but many I didn’t. Even if you’re familiar with the history, the first-hand stories are important to read, as are the calls to action, all 94 of them.

It helped that I found a reading group, which included an inter-generational survivor who was familiar with the report and its history. Most of you won’t have that much support, and this is a long, dense document, so here are some resources, tips, and recommendations for further reading.

How to read the TRC Report

  • If you’re not Indigenous, and think this isn’t for you, read this essay at 49th Shelf.
  • Choose your format:
  • Read it in chunks. Our reading group took months to read, just a section or two per week. The sections range from pretty dry descriptions of legal proceedings to heartbreaking first-hand accounts of abuse. Take a break when you need to.
  • Read it to the end. The calls to action are at the end, or you can read them separately here. You may feel hopeless that there’s so much to do, or inspired that there are so many places to begin, but this part is really important.
  • Talk to people. A buddy read, a reading group, an online chat… lots of possibilities. I was lucky to have a ready-made discussion group. If you can’t find someone to talk to in real life, try #TRC on twitter.

What to read next: non-fiction

theeducationofaugie threasonyouwalk upghostriver

What to read next: fiction

  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. I read this with a library book club where most of the participants are in their 60s or older. Many of them remembered residential schools as something that was known, but not known. They knew the schools existed, but not why, and certainly not what went on inside. An intense discussion ensued.
  • Rupert’s Land by Meredith Quartermain (my review) about a residential school runaway and his unlikely friend.
  • Kiss of the Fur Queen by Thomas King, which I haven’t read, but has been recommended to me more than once.
  • King Leary by Paul Quarrington. This one’s more hockey than residential schools, but there is a compelling minor plot about a survivor.
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden and Black Robe by Brian Moore. These books are about first contact, but that history is important, too.  Many of us read Black Robe in school, and I hope The Orenda will replace it in the curriculum one day. Black Robe really emphasizes the colonial perspective and frames Aboriginal people as “other” while The Orenda is a more balanced  perspective.

Rupert's Land front coverindian horseorenda

Many thanks to tireless TRC reading group organizer Jane, and to advocate, TRC expert, book nerd, and all-around super star Miranda, for help with and inspiring this post.

TBR Book Tag


We are apparently calling things “tags” now? I thought that was a Booktube thing. Alrighty then!

I was *not* tagged by the lovely Elle Thinks, but she swears it was just an oversight…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
Just recently, I moved my physical TBR to prime, eye-level shelves in my room (see above.) Before, they were mixed in with everything else. My Goodreads “To Read” shelf is more of a “to maybe think about reading” shelf. I keep track of review books in a Google spreadsheet. And, I randomly save links about books I’m interested in to Pocket.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
It’s mostly not in the physical realm, i.e. my Goodreads “think about reading” list is much longer than my pile of print books or my queue of ebooks.

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?
Library due dates, review commitments, recommendations, readalongs and blog events, movie adaptations, award long lists, award short lists, award winners, blogs, Booktube, and social media. Not necessarily in that order. But pretty much in that order.

A book that has been on my TBR the longest?
Physical: I recently unearthed some books that I’ve carried with me from my condo to my first house to my current house. Among them are Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson and Vancouver by  Alison Griffiths and David Cruise.
Goodreads: When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (since 2012) and I actually own a physical copy now.


A book you recently added to your TBR?
Physical: Ann Walmsely’s The Prison Book Club, which I had no intention of buying when I went to see her speak, but she’s just that good.
Goodreads: It’s November, so I’m adding to my Novellas in November bookshelf. The Trumpets of Jericho sounds completely bananas.


A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

I do really like The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go, though.


A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
Wouldn’t that be a TNR, to not read?

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?
Physical: Nope. I’ve stopped accepting review books, and all the publication dates for my BEA books have passed.
Goodreads: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the third (and final?) book in the Thomas Cromwell series. It doesn’t have a cover or a publication date yet. I do not expect to receive an ARC, but I do expect to buy it as soon as it comes out. I read somewhere that she’s still working on it. Sigh.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?
The Glass Castle and The Round House come to mind.


A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?
Also The Glass Castle, hence people recommend it. Also, The Road.

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?
Icefields by Thomas Wharton, even though Naomi wasn’t taken by it.
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce, because I’m liking the angry ladies lately. #FerranteFever


How many books are on your TBR shelf?

  • 74 physical
  • 10 ebook
  • 177 Goodreads

This is *not* a normal state of affairs for me and I’m a little dismayed. Many of those 74 books are either library book sale purchases, book swap finds, unsolicited ARCs, or contest wins. Do you sense a TBR challenge coming in 2016? I do…

Tag, you’re it, even if you’re not listed below:

CJ at ebookclassics
Rick at The Book a Week Project
Naomi at Consumed by Ink
Carolyn and Rosemary and Reading Glasses
Rory at Fourth Street Review

Reading in Bed’s 2015 totally legit, not-just-things-I-want-for-myself Gift Guide

Buying books for others is a fun way to indulge your literary leanings and feel good about supporting the industry, but the awkwardness of asking “did you read it yet?” and being met by a blank stare is enough to scare me off. So, while this is ostensibly a guide to buying books and bookish things for others, let’s be real. If I buy this stuff for anyone, in the immortal words of N*Sync:


40 Below Volume 2: Alberta’s Winter Anthology

Editing this post to add the one bookish gift I’m actually giving someone else. If you haven’t got the first volume, this would make a handsome box set, don’t you think? (Sleeve borrow from a Folio Society book, fancy!)

Gift idea: Homemade @40belowproject box set. #yegwrites #CanLit

A photo posted by Laura Frey (@lauratfrey) on

Nell Zink Box Set from Fourth Estate

I’m editing this post to add this Nell Zink box set, which includes both her novels. I paid full price for The Wallcreeper ebook (which, ouch, because it’s a novella) and I still want this in my life.


The Short Story Advent Calendar

Just what it sounds like, the Short Story Advent Calendar is a collection of 24 short stories, to be opened and read from December 1 to 24. The creators are local (Edmonton author Michael Hingston and designer Natalie Olsen,) but the project has a broad geographic scope. You’ll find new stories and b-sides from authors across the country, like Heather O’Neill and Richard Van Camp, and American Jess Walter of Beautiful Ruins fame. Not all the contributors have been revealed yet, so who knows who else is in there?

The website will offer additional goodies about each story come December, and the creators hope to spark lots of conversation among adventers. This is the most interesting part, to me. Despite the size and commitment of the online literary community, not all of these things catch on. Hingston says,

The community element was part of it from the beginning. It was based off of this beer advent calendar I bought, and going to their Facebook page every day to see a video of beer people reviewing each beer.

Reviewing a short story’s gotta be more interesting than reviewing a beer? Right? Follow me on Twitter to find out, as I have indeed bought this thing for myself.

Oh yeah, and you only have until November 13 to order. That’s in two days. And they may run out before then. It’s not cheap at $55, but it’s a thing of beauty!


A handpicked book from Vellum and Bloom

This Vancouver company bills itself as “purveyors of lovingly tailored literary gift packages.” I think of it as “when you want to buy a book for someone, but don’t want the blame if they don’t like it.” I’m dying of curiosity and want to try it for myself, to see if they get it right.

For $30, you get a book. For $45 (and up) you get a book plus additional treats of the literary persuasion. Readers fill out a survey about their favourite genres and recent reads, and Vellum and Bloom picks the book, with a special focus on current titles from Canadian independent publishers, which they think means it’s unlikely the receiver will have read the book, which means they don’t know me very well.

Yes, they do subscription boxes, and yes, you can return the book if you’ve already read it. Order by December 2 for Christmas delivery.

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An antique book from Abe Books or Invaluable

I’m not much for books as collectibles myself (libraries and ebooks 4 life,) but a first edition of a classic book is pretty special. CanLit Booktuber From the Dusty Bookshelf got herself a signed edition of Hugh MacLennan’s Return of the Sphinx from Abe Books and she’s pretty happy with it:

While Abe Books is the go-to spot for used books online, Invaluable is a newcomer. They are  an online auction site that’s doing a promotional push with book bloggers of late. After comparing the sites, I find Abe Books much easier to use, because it’s set up for books specifically. It also has a wide range; from super-rare, signed first editions to regular used books. Invaluable focuses on the rare ones. If you’re after a really specific book or author, Invaluble is a good resource, but for browsing, and those who don’t have $1,000 to drop on a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces (I WISH) you will find more to work with on Abe Books.

Neither site had first editions of Tess of the D’Ubervilles, so I guess Christian Grey does his shopping elsewhere…

So, book people, what do you want for Christmas?

Note: I know some of the people mentioned in this post, and some of them sent me press releases, but none of them sent me any of the gifts listed here or money or anything like that.