My latest review for Vue Weekly is up, and I need to write a different kind of disclaimer:
This review is not sponsored and I paid full retail for the book. The author did, however, make me sourdough waffles with homemade preserves. I swear it didn’t affect this review, even though they were the best damn waffles I’ve ever had.
With that in mind, here follows my director’s cut review. Or, click here for the shorter version that appears in Vue.
It’s worth noting the unintentionally hilarious typo in the print headline. Not sure whose fans are rejoicing; Stone Cold Steve Austin’s?
You may notice something different about this year’s stats, compared to other years. Let’s see how long it takes to spot it…
- Books read in 2016: 35, down from 69 in 2015. That was on purpose, though. And I’m not counting rereads, kids books, or books I read for work.
- Shortest book: Bluets by Maggie Nelson (112 pages)
- Longest book: Cecilia by Frances Burney (1,056 pages)
- Format: 97% paper, 3% ebook, 0% audio (compared to a third of my reading on ebook and audio last year)
About the Author
- 100% female (58% in 2015)
- 34% person of colour (up from 20% 2015)
- 37% Canadian (same as 2015) 38% American, 11% British, and 1 each: Korean, Japanese, French, Filipino.
- Three Edmonton-area authors this year, being generous with one who moved recently!
… did you catch it? Yes, I did the #readwomen thing this year, and my experience will be covered in a separate blog post. Brace yourselves: unlike many who do this sort of thing, I did not come to any shattering realizations, and I *cannot wait* to read some dudes in 2017.
Genres and Lists
- 11% classics (same as 2015), 63% contemporary lit fic (about the same as previous years), 11% nonfiction (all memoirs), and a handful of erotica, poetry, and graphic novels.
- 2 1001 Books for a total of 127 read.
Probably gonna mix it up a bit next year, say, read some nonfiction that isn’t memoir?
- 17% were rated five stars (up from 11% last year), 49% were four stars, 23% were three stars, 14% were two stars and poor Nora Roberts gets just one.
- The most underrated book was After Claude, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.55 rating on Goodreads. Which I assume is due to people getting offended, which is the whole point.
- The most overrated book was The Liar, which I rated a 1, compared to average 3.94 rating. It was just bad.
- Headed for about 17,000 page views in 2015, down from 23,000 in 2015. And 11,000 visitors, down from 15,000.
- I’m not panicking, because my review of The Fault in Our Stars, which amassed 7,000 views in 2013-2015, was viewed just 400 times this year. Looks like kids writing papers have moved on to another book. Similarly, my review of Sleeping Beauty is not pulling the numbers it used to (nor am I seeing as much filth in my search terms). I think a lot of my traffic in 2014/2015 was artificial due to people landing on those posts – and quickly clicking away. They were never my readers anyway. The moral is: never review YA or erotica.
- An Oryx and Crake readalong recap from 2013 continues to perform, due to a post on a Something Awful forum which I’m sorely tempted to pay for so I can see what it is… anyone a member? Hit me up!
- On course for 45 posts this year, up from 39 posts in 2015.
- Most viewed post of 2016 is that mysterious Oryx and Crake one.
- Most viewed post that was actually written in 2016: Intro post of the Cecilia readalong, likely due to a little help from CBC.
- Least successful post in 2016: Short Story Advent Calendar Video Reviews. Same as in 2015, it’s a Booktube post. Okay, I get it, you guys don’t like the Booktube…
Stay tuned for best books, disappointing books, and 2017 plans, of which I have several!
Facebook memories are good for one thing: reminding me that at this time last year, I’d already published a comprehensive post about Edmonton’s fall line up of literary festivals and events. This year, I’m attending just one event. (Insert excuses such as work, kids, and rockstar husband* here.) But it’s going to be a gooder.
Edmonton’s LitFest is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and so is the Canadian Literature Centre. As if that wasn’t enough to justify a party, the CLC also just released a book of essays, Ten Canadian Writers in Context, edited by friend-of-Reading in Bed Jason Purcell. This party just got upgraded to a soirée: the LitFest Ten-Ten Soirée and CLC Celebration to be exact.
Disclaimer: Giveaway copy is courtesy of the kind people at The Short Story Advent Calendar, but I bought my own copy. I know one of the creators, Michael Hingston, and reviewed his novel The Dilettantes here.
Forgive me for talking about Christmas in early October, but the second edition of The Short Story Advent Calendar is on sale now, and I’m so excited to offer one copy to a lucky reader. Continue reading
The above image (used with permission) is pretty optimistic. Does anyone read all five books before voting? Don’t people just vote for the author they know, or the book that looks to be up their alley?
I love the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award in spite of my belief that it’s basically a popularity contest. Some great books have won (The Shore Girl by Fran Kimmel in particular).
I wrote about the Edmonton-heavy shortlist for Vue Weekly. For that article, I had to keep things pretty neutral. Here are my real opinions, for those who care. Voting is open till 11:59pm on Wednesday August 31.
May is new release month at Writereads, your favourite-with-a-u Canadian book club podcast. I am guest hosting once again, which means I get to choose the book, and I’m taking liberties. Birdie by Tracey Lindberg will be nearly one year old by the time the podcast comes out, so it doesn’t really qualify as new. But we need to talk about it. Not just because it’s by a local author, or about a contemporary Indigenous woman, or because it’s brilliant, but because I don’t think it got a fair shake on Canada Reads.
Birdie was the third book to get booted off Canada Reads this year (Americans: this is our public broadcaster’s annual books game show, like a televised Tournament of Books, and we are super smug about it,) and it was frustrating to see so much left unsaid. To be fair, there’s not enough time to really get into any of the books, even with four hours of air time (though they could cut down on the trailers and title sequences and dramatic pauses.) Here are a few thing I want to talk about:
- Contestants were frustrated that Birdie’s timeline is not linear. At one point, Birdie’s defender, Bruce Poon Tip, said that to want Birdie to conform to the type of narrative we’re used to, we’re “colonizing” the book. What does that mean? We didn’t get to find out.
- There was little mention of humour. Birdie’s teenage obsession with The Beachcombers and The Frugal Gourmet are so absurd and so specifically Canadian. Skinny Freda’s penchant for white guys, all of whom she refers to as “Phil,” reminded me of Cher Horowitz’s “Barneys.”
- A lot of time was spent on how “other” this book is. Non-linear. Stream of consciousness. Compound words and Cree poetry mixed in. Yeah, it’s different (and made the other books sounds BOR-ing) but it also reminded me of so many other books! It has the unrelenting focus on interior life of Villette, the absurdity of Malarky, the horror and hope of Push. Birdie is unique but it’s also part of a tradition of women writing about women.
So, read Birdie, subscribe to Writereads, and listen in as Kirt, Tania, and I try to cram all this in to a one-hour podcast. It should be up in mid-May.
The trailer from Canada Reads.
The opening of a new publishing house in Edmonton would be a momentous affair no matter what. Add in a literary and historical fiction focus, an intriguing debut run of five novels by Alberta authors, and the most opulent book party I’ve been to apart from the one I attended with Gwyneth Paltrow, and Stonehouse Publishing‘s launch looks like the literary event of the year thus far.
Stonehouse Publishing wants to publish “the best in Canadian fiction, but not necessarily ‘Canadiana’.” So, not this stuff (though someone really should write a novel about a troupe of French Canadian clowns.) They also plan to reissue forgotten classics, kicking off with Evelina by Fanny Burney next year. As of May 1st, you can get your hands on five books: Three historical novels, set in WWI-era Canada, Regency England, and revolutionary France; a thriller set in contemporary Ukraine (Course Correction,) and a murder mystery set in rural Alberta (Edge of Wild.) I took the three historicals home:
- Mary Green by Melanie Kerr: I reviewed Kerr’s first book, Follies Past, a few years back and was pleasantly surprised by the Pride and Prejudice prequel, which stands on it’s own easily while still capturing the style of Jane Austen. I’m very excited to meet Mary Green, who is not an Austen character, but does exist in Regency England and is a neglected orphan who (presumably) must rely on her wits to cope in London society.
- League of the Star by N.R. Cruse: Hearing the first few pages, in which a sheltered teenage girl sees a man for the first time on a ship, while escaping the French revolution, got me hooked.
- Kalyna by Pam Clark: I’ve read plenty of WWI-era CanLit but never from the perspective of Ukrainian immigrants. Time to fill in a few gaps.
The majority of book parties in Edmonton take place in the basement of Audreys Books and feature coffee and cookies. To be clear, I’m not knocking that! This was just on a different level. Hosted in the beautiful Boyle Street Community League, there was a DJ, a photo booth with historical costumes, a snack bar loaded with tea and scones, and a cash bar. Authors met readers in elaborately decorated booths, and readings took place in a comfy armchair in the middle of it all.
I saw and was seen, particularly by Matthew Stepanic of Glass Buffalo and Claire Kelly of NeWest Press. I also met author Melanie Kerr in person for the first time, after corresponding by email on and off for years. She is a delight, and her blog, though not updated so often these days, has some gold in the archives, including this post, if you’re a “begs the question” stickler like me.
It all went off beautifully. The only oddity was that author N.R. Cruse, who was apparently in the crowd, never sat at her booth, signed any books, or read a passage from her novel (her editor read for her.) Cruse is known to be reclusive and claims to be a direct descendant of Daniel Dafoe. I think of her as Alberta’s answer to Elena Ferrente.
Q&A with publisher Netta Johnson
Editor Julie Yerex and Publisher Netta Johnson were much too busy to chat the night of, so I asked some questions by email.
Reading in Bed: I recently read an article about how historical fiction is seen as less prestigious than contemporary literary fiction. This has always confused me. When I see a book classified as “historical fiction” and it’s clearly got tons of literary merit (e.g. Wolf Hall) I wonder why the setting makes it a whole different genre. Do you think historical fiction is seen as less prestigious than contemporary, and did this influence how you chose your focus for Stonehouse, your first run of books, how you market them, and so on?
Netta Johnson: I thought this question was very interesting, and it serves to highlight how much things change, and yet stay the same. Lately, I have been reading the whole set of novels by Dumas. I had tried to read the Three Musketeers many years ago, but somehow couldn’t get properly interested. Without knowing it, I started to read the 3rd in the series, The Vicomte to Bragelonne and was pretty captivated by the portrayal of the Musketeers at age 50; the characters were so much more interesting in their middle-age. Reading the introductions to these books, I was struck to discover that these challenging and intricate novels (my words) were considered rather fluffy and insubstantial at the time of their publication, and often dismissed as ‘romances’. Perhaps popularity is the heart of the problem, and then and now, it is hard for reviewers to take books seriously when they are popular? Or maybe it is hard to separate the literary historical fiction from the genre historical fiction sold in grocery stories?
RIB: I’m super excited about your plans to publish forgotten classics. Can you tell me how you came to choose Evelina by Fanny Burney for your first book? (By the way, I’m going to host a Fanny Burney readalong this year. I’m thinking Cecilia. I’ve never read her but I’m noticing she’s trending a bit. I first heard about her on RonLit’s YouTube channel.)
NJ: I found Fanny Burney about 18 years ago, via Jane Austen. I began reading Evelina with the expectation that it would be dry and educational, and soon found myself laughing through much of the book. Cecilia is twice the size, and much more serious. It has a very personal appeal to me, so I am never sure if that will translate to others. Julie and I sometimes joke that she is Kanye and I am Jay-Z (thank you, Buzzfeed quizzes!), and in terms of 18th century heroines/books, she is Evelina and I am Cecilia. Evelina is so much more approachable, lighthearted, and when it was first released (anonymously), it spread like wildfire. Cecilia is a longer, darker novel, and it had some pretty famous intellectual admirers (Dr. Johnson, Edmund Burke, Hester Thrale, Napoleon). In Cecilia, FB takes a pretty sharp look at a number of social issues/problems of that time. Cecilia introduces you to misers, superficial friends, gamblers, social climbers, struggling tradesmen (and the poor in general), while showing the social problems with dueling (unavoidable, but the main two consequences were either death or jail, whether you won or lost), and the aimlessness of the aristocratic class. As an underage woman and an heiress, Cecilia is at the mercy of various different people, and as she waits the last few months till she comes of age and inherits her money, she is prey to every kind of snare. There is even a public suicide! Another amazing thing about this book is that we don’t even meet the hero for 120 odd pages. For any time, it is rather unconventional.
RIB: As publishers, are you in tune with all the bookish new media out there: blogs, Booktube, Bookstagram, and so on? Any favourites? How about Snapchat?
NJ: We have to look some of these up! Right now, we think we have a handle on Facebook, Twitter and just staring with Instagram. I didn’t even know the other ones existed!
Note: they’re humble, but their hashtag game was on point: if you missed the big launch, check out #Stoholaunch on Twitter and Instagram.
I love that our library will use any school break as an excuse to put on a bunch of free programs for kids – or, more than they usually do, because they always have free programs for kids. Spring break is next week, and those in the Edmonton area should go to the website or check out the program guide, and read on for my picks.
I have a contentious relationship with kiddie events and programs. Working parents of younger-than-school-age children probably know where I’m going with this: the vast majority of programs for preschool age kids, with the notable exception of swimming lessons, are offered on weekday mornings or afternoons. That means you don’t get to do mommy-and-me yoga, and your child doesn’t get as many opportunities to learn with you outside the house.
Kim Bates, a Digital Literacy Librarian at Edmonton Public Library, has heard the same complaint from parents. “We have had customers request more evening and weekend programming and as a result we have been scheduling more of our programs at those times with the working parents in mind.”
May I just say thank you? Here are a few spring break highlights that’ll work for you if you work nine to five (or 8:15-4:45, in my case.)
One Book, One Break, Many Adventures! Lumberjanes Vol. 1
I loved last year’s One Book One Edmonton project so much that I wrote about it twice. One Book One Break is a child-friendly take on the concept: make a book available to everyone in Edmonton, and give them chances to talk about it and win prizes.
There’s been so much buzz about comic book Lumberjanes on book blogs and Booktube that I wasn’t sure if it was for kids. Kim says Lumberjanes appeals to a “wide demographic” but cautions that “some preschoolers have found the creatures in the book a bit scary.” My four year old cannot abide Goosebumps reruns, so I’m going to take Kim’s advice and check it out myself before I share it with him. It sounds like it’ll be perfect for my six year old.
Everyone in Edmonton can download a copy of Lumberjanes on Hoopla, and the library is ordering extra physical copies. Each day during Spring Break, libraries will have a new activity sheet that doubles as an entry to prizes which include an iPad Mini 4 and an autographed edition of Lumberjanes to the Max Edition Volume 1. Details at epl.ca/onebookonebreak.
Working parent friendly dates: this one’s on your own time, and many branches are open till 9pm weeknights, so there’s plenty of time to get your entries in.
Minecraft at the library is nothing new, but given the popularity (bordering on obsession in my house), three branches will set aside a Minecraft-dedicated computer for the whole week of Spring Break. I asked Kim if kids get as crazy as mine do when they’re playing Minecraft at the library, and she said that while there generally aren’t fights over the computers, “kids do often like to talk to each other as they play so I do expect plenty of strategizing and cheering!” My kids could use this good example. Oh, the horror of being a one-iPad household!
Working parent friendly dates: Drop in during opening hours at Stanley A. Milner, Woodcroft or Sprucewood branches.
Lego at the Library
Lego without risk of stepping on a rogue brick at 6:00 am? Sign me up. For kids 6-12.
Working parent friendly dates:
- Saturday March 26, 2:00 pm at Capilano
- Saturday April 2, 3:00 pm at Meadows
- Saturday April 2, 3:00 pm at Woodcroft
Minion Movie Marathon
The downtown library is showing all three Minion movies (does anyone even call them Despicable Me?) over Spring Break. Yeah, you might own them at home, but sometimes a change of venue works wonders. All ages.
Working parent friendly dates: Saturday April 2, 2:00 pm (The Minion Movie) at Stanley A. Milner
Great for younger kids, as long as they can sit still for more than a minute at a time. Look, we’ve all been that parent dragging their kids out of a library program, there’s no shame. All ages.
Working parent friendly dates:
- Saturday April 2, 2:00 pm at Calder
- Saturday April 2, 2:00 pm and Sunday April 3, 2:00 pm at Castle Downs
- Sunday April 3, 2:00 pm at Clareview
- Saturday March 26, 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm at Lois Hole
- Saturday March 26, 2:00 pm at Stanley A. Milner
- Saturday April 2, 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm at Whitemud Crossing
Bonus (and shameless self-promotion; I work for the city and helped develop this): If you’re looking for more kids’ programming in Edmonton, check out myrecguide.ca and create a custom guide to City of Edmonton registered programs – swimming lessons, daycamps, arts, yoga, kickboxing, and much more. You only see the ages, interests, and locations that work for you. And, there are more and more options for us working parents on evening and weekends. We’re working on it!
This post was inspired by, but not paid for by, Edmonton Public Library. I mean… they’re a library. What did you expect? They do lend me free books though.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 3 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.
- 23,000 page views in 2015. About 50 fewer than last year, and about a thousand fewer visitors. So… things are a little stagnant around here.
- 39 posts in 2015, down from 52 in 2014 and 96 in 2013. Which might explain the stagnation.
- If I was an optimist, I’d calculate views per post, or views per visitor, but I’m not.
- Most viewed post of 2015: What’s the Deal With Infinite Jest? And I expect that to continue, as the 20th anniversary edition will be out soon.
- Most viewed post that was actually written in 2015: Book-loving hedonists and alienated intellectuals: why readers need to settle down about reading. This was my favourite post to write as well.
- Least successful post in 2015: Novellas in November 2015 wrap-up (video.) Seriously? I thought I was so hip and with it, what with the Book-tubing….
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.