Publication date: September 1, 2016
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Read this if you like: Historical CanLit, Edmonton and Calgary settings, funny family stories, non-traditional structure
Check out Paper Teeth on Goodreads
Thanks to: NeWest Press for the review copy and Lauralyn Chow for answering my questions
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Paper Teeth by Lauralyn Chow for Vue Weekly.
I’ve written reviews here on Reading in Bed for many years. Writing for print publications is new to me, and there are many differences:
- Getting paid
- Actual deadline
- No links or gifs
- No writing about yourself and your feelings
You also have to limit the word count. That’s not something I do here on the blog. I love a long review. I had to keep my review of Paper Teeth under 800 words, and I had about 1,500 in my first draft.
So, if you didn’t get enough of my ramblings in Vue, here’s a longer version, along with the full text of my Q&A with Lauralyn Chow. I loved this book, and if you’re into historical CanLit, especially Edmonton and Calgary settings, you’ll want to check this out.
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.
Last year, I didn’t do so well with my Fall Preview. The post was fine, but I didn’t end up reading a lot of the books. I aimed a little too high, I think, trying to compete with the 49th Shelves and Quill and Quires of the world. Rather than trying harder to stick to a TBR, I’m going to aim low and round up the books I have already started or will almost certainly read. You know, as Homer J says, if something is hard to do, don’t try.
Local Reads: Edmonton and Alberta
- Sistering by Jennifer Quist (August): I’m so excited about this book that I’m already planning a read-along with my sister, and have asked the author out on a date so I can get my copies signed. This is serious. Quist’s first novel, Love Letters of the Angels of Death, is my go-to recommendation for anyone looking for a love story, or a story about marriage, or dark humour.
- Meadowlark by Wendi Stewart (September): Okay, so Stewart lives in Nova Scotia, but I wanted to highlight local publisher NeWest Press. Their Nunatak First Fiction series rarely disappoints. Meadowlark features a great, strong female main character. I mean strongly written and well-imagined, not like this.
- 40 Below Project Volume 2 (November, cover art to come): I really enjoyed the first volume and look forward to more frigid tales, this time from all over Alberta. In the meantime, check out editor Jason Lee Norman on the Best American Poetry scandal and how he considers pieces for his anthologies.
- Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (September): Already read and reviewed! *sigh of relief*
- Martin John by Anakana Schofield (September): I was fifth in line at the library when I got my birthday book money, so now I’m waiting on a preorder. Malarky was one of my favourite reads of 2014, so expectations are sky-high.
- Pillow by Andrew Battershill (October): A BEA score that came with a chocolate coin which apparently ties into the story somehow, but who cares, it’s chocolate! I’m getting a Spat the Dummy vibe from this one.
Patrick deWitt wrote his first novel, Ablutions, in the form of second-person notes-to-self. The subtitle of that book is “Notes on a novel.” I took notes during deWitt’s Macewan Book of the Year appearance and tried to recreate the form. Here are my “Notes on a reading.”
Discuss the regulars. You arrive just after the #CanLit Crew, comprised of several bloggers and YouTubers who are all ten years younger than you. You discover this in the course of a conversation about what everyone was doing in 2008. Apparently you were the only one getting married and not attending university, or junior high. This special moment was caught on video. Of course you skipped ahead to find your own entrance and it’s around the 4:30 mark.
You finally meet Natalie of The Wandering Bibliophile as well, but sadly this is not captured on video.
Discuss the award. The Sisters Brothers is Macewan’s Book of the Year – Macewan being a University here in Edmonton, for those not in the know. You like this award because it’s kind of random – any books published in the last five years are eligible, and they take nominations from anyone. And rather than a stuffy ceremony, they make the author work for it – they must attend classes, answer student questions, and do a reading/interview for the public. You attended Macewan back when this award was just getting started but you didn’t go to any of the events, even though one of your favourite authors was there – David Adams Richard – because back then, you just read books, you didn’t talk about them or understand why anyone would want to hang out with authors or other readers. You were unhappy and meeting other people who loved the things you loved probably would have helped. Better late than never.
You wrote about your first Macewan Book of the Year experience here.
Discuss the reading. You are disappointed when an author chooses to read from the very beginning of their book. It seems too obvious. You were not disappointed when deWitt did this, for a couple of reasons. One was the sign language interpreters. You have never seen someone sign a story before. You taught both of your children sign language and can ask for “more milk” or let someone know you have to poop, but that’s about it. You did know that sign language involves more than just the hands. You knew facial expression, posture, and the whole body get involved. Hands can’t move fast enough to convey everything. The interpreters are more like performers. From poor Tub the horse plodding along, to the hilarious description of a drunken Hermann Kermit Warm, the interpreters are very much in contrast to deWitt’s deadpan delivery. The other reason was that in hearing and seeing the first few pages of the book again, you realize the whole of the book is contained in the first five pages. The entire set up of the plot. The tension between the two brothers. The kinda-magical-realism of hearing a horse’s thoughts. And this line: “…and I lay in the dark thinking about the difficulties of family, how crazy and crooked the stories of a bloodline can be.” That’s some Tolstoy-level, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” shit. It was this first section of the novel that initially made you put it down. After hearing deWitt read it, you think it’s one of the most brilliant opening chapters ever.
Discuss gender roles. You think Elizabeth Withey of Frock Around the Clock (among other things) brought up the fact that this is a very “male” novel, in the course of her interview. It is. In kind of a DFW way. This is a story about men. Women are around because someone’s gotta be the love interest/prostitute/witch/mother figure. You’re not that bothered. You know exactly where to go for a feminine perspective on the old west.
Discuss luck. Prospecting for gold aside, this is very much a story about luck, as Withey reminds us. Curses and irony and karma – luck sums it up. As they say the word luck again and again, you remember watching hockey with your dad. When the Oilers scored (this was many years ago, mind) on a lucky shot, dad always said “You gotta be good to be lucky.” You always replied, “You gotta be lucky to be good.” That’s the trick with The Sisters Brothers – who’s lucky and who’s good?
Discuss the book signing. You are not one of those “look at me being awkward with authors” people. You are as awkward with authors as you are with everyone else. Which is to say – somewhat. You are not ready. The line moves much faster that you expect. Suddenly, you are standing in front of Patrick deWitt. You hand The Sisters Brothers over and ask him to make it out to Laura and he seems a little hesitant. He does not personalize the second book. You tell him a story about how an American friend who described him as “an author who needs more recognition” and isn’t that funny? Given his fame here in Canada. He acknowledges that things are different in the States. Why not move home, asks Jason, more nervous than you are. If it wasn’t for my son, I might, he says. You swoon. Inwardly.
You skip the St. Patrick’s Day after party in favour of the grocery store and bed by 10:00 pm.
The Yeggies are Edmonton’s social media awards. Since they began two years ago, I’ve been respectfully asking the board to add a literature section (I subtweeted them a few times.) I didn’t think it was fair; we’ve got such a great book blogging scene in Edmonton and we’re lost in the “Arts and Culture” catch-all.
Did they listen to me? No. Still no Literature category. But I got nominated this year, so, suddenly, I’m okay with it!
The big ceremony is May 9th. I have no idea what to wear, no one to bring (my husband is confused by everything I do online) and I hate making small talk, but other than that, it should be fun! *hyperventilates*
In the meantime:
- Check out all the nominees here.
- Check out all my posts about Edmonton books and authors and events, for which I was presumably nominated, on my Reading in Yeg page.
- If you’re not in Edmonton, let me know: do you have a social media awards in your area? Or are we weirdos?
- Open question, Edmonton or not: Who’s your favourite local blogger?
Reading in Bed’s 2015 Yeggies Picks:
Best in Political or Current Affairs: Daveberta. What little politics I follow, I like to do on Twitter. I have clicked through the odd Daveberta post though. This recent post on Edmonton MP Peter Goldring is a gooder: “It is unclear if the MP considers any other historical figures to be his arch-enemies.”
Best in Food: Edible Woman. She had me at the Atwood reference. Plus, she has a “perfect” chocolate chip cookie recipe and I’m a sucker for those. One day, I may find something better than the one on the back of the Crisco package.
Best in Film or Television: Dookie Squad. If you’ve ever thought, “there isn’t enough piss, shit, or vomit in my YouTube feed,” this’ll do the trick.
Best in Music: With the Band. Love the concept – the life of a photographer/manager/webmaster who’s “with” local band The Unfortunates.
Best in Arts and Culture: Abstaining, but I’ll give a shout out to sometime-book-blogger and founder of #yegbookclub Finster Finds!
Best in Family or Parenting: A tie, because these blogs are very different and it doesn’t seem right to pit them against each other. Frugal Edmonton Mama is the best for practical tips – recipes, activities, deals, shopping. The Stay at Home Feminist is the best for long reads and feminist perspective on parenting (but not just parenting.) Both these bloggers clearly do the work – research, design, and understanding of their audience is evident. Their posts make me want to discuss and think and write something myself… that’s what blogging is all about!
Best in Fitness and Health: YEGFitness. Incredible bi-monthly digital magazine on all things fitness in Edmonton. YEGFitness is aimed at elite athletes (and those who aspire that way,) so I’m not exactly the target market, but as someone who works in the recreation field, I appreciate what they’re doing. Innovative business model too, if you care for that kinda thing.
Best in Humour: Ryan Byrne. Just spent twenty minutes reading old posts. Not in a stalkerish way… they’re just funny!
Best in Fashion & Style: I don’t really care for fashion blogs, but All Kinds of Lovely challenged my perception of what a “fashion” blog is – check her out. I’m also weirdly fascinated by Adventures in Fashion and if I meet her, I’m going to ask why she doesn’t put her arms through her coats. Is that a fashion blog thing?
…Skipping all the “business” categories because I don’t care…
Best Twitter Persona: Michael Oshry. Walking that fine line between Elected Public Official and Funny Guy on Twitter. No bozo eruptions yet!
For a little more in the way of background info, check out my literary festival preview post.
Ted Bishop at LitFest
I wasn’t going to go to LitFest but I happened to see a free preview of Ted Bishop’s talk about his book in Churchill Square. The free talk was not well attended but the actual event was full of well-wishers. I already wrote about it here but I didn’t tell you about the cool fountain pens we got to try out afterward (cool is a relative term, of course, I assume if you’re reading this you might think it’s cool.) This is my second year attending LitFest and it won’t be my last. I hope LitFest continues the free talks on the Square. If you need to make a business case about return on investment, well, it sold me. That’s something!
Joseph Boyden at STARFest
The straight review: STARFest well organized, well attended, and well worth the price of admission. I was there to see Joseph Boyden, who did the standard reading from his latest novel, and chose one of my favourite sections from The Orenda (the first few pages) and he talked about the standard author-appearance stuff – inspiration, research, how the book fits into his larger body of work. He also talked about the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada (I was surprised he didn’t mention his new anthology on the subject, Kwe) and his own struggles with depression as a teenager. He gave a detailed description of his next book, which sounds like a bit of a legend or fairy tale about residential schools.
The gossipy review: Host and author Diana Davidson stunned in a royal blue dress from The Bay. Classic in a black button up, celeb author Joseph Boyden was powerful, vulnerable, and fascinating. Spotted in line at the book signing: Jason Purcell, noted Book Tuber, surrounded by admirers and on-trend in florals; star-struck Glass Buffalo editor Matthew Stepanic, and festival organizer Peter Bailey. I thought I got a “scoop” when Peter mentioned that David Eggers was coming to Edmonton, but he misspoke and meant David Sedaris, which is still pretty exciting!
The honest review: Joseph Boyden talked to me and touched me and said I was pretty. The end.
Joyce Carol Oates at Festival of Ideas
The closing night of Festival of Ideas was kind of the opposite of STARfest: It was under-attended (the Winspear was strangely empty; I hung back but there were plenty of floor seats available) and while I did see people I knew, I didn’t play the gossip columnist this time, preferring the company of Bartelby the Scrivener while I waited for the main event. Oates was less vulnerable than Boyden too. I doubt she went too far off script, though she joked with host Eleanor Wachtel that she felt like she was in a therapy session. Her life story was fascinating. I was rapt as JCO described her relatives and ancestors, because they sounded like characters out of a novel. Murders, suicides, Jewish grandmothers who concealed their ethnicity in America, growing up blue collar and going on to be a student and then professor Princeton… sounds like an American family saga to me.
Oates is arguably one of the best known authors in the world, but the signing line was calm, orderly, and short. I’m not sure why she wasn’t a bigger draw – maybe we are just that loyal to our #CanLit stars. I was still pretty nervous about meeting her. I didn’t want to freeze up like I did with Margaret Atwood. I remembered she had talked about personas, so I asked if her Twitter account was the real her or a persona. She said it’s very close to the real thing, except, of course, when her cat Cherie takes over:
An aside: I was so wrapped up in thinking of my question, that I couldn’t figure out why the man ahead of me in line looked so familiar, until he was getting his booked signed and I heard him say his name. It was Mr. Jeffries, my high school English teacher, who taught me One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Heart of Darkness, and John Donne, and The Odyssey, and was always going on about Joseph Campbell. I didn’t think that much of him while I was in school because I didn’t think much of anything at that age, but I recognize now that those classes had an enormous influence on me as a reader and now as a writer. I missed my chance to say thank you, so thank you, Mr. Jefferies.
Other bookish happenings this fall