Monday, March 26, 2012

The bookstore is dead. Long live the bookstore.

The fate of independent booksellers continues to weigh heavily on my mind. This article by Mike Shatzkin presents an interesting idea: what if bookstores offered a variation on the concept of "retail display allowance” in which a discount is offered for any placement in a display, not necessarily a favoured spot.

Shatzkin caught my eye because he rightly points to Codex Group data which underlines "the critical role bookstores play in consumer discovery of new books and authors." Codex Group representative Peter Hildick-Smith "demonstrates with data and logic that SEO and social media are totally inadequate substitutes. Hildick-Smith thinks a future without bookstores will be very different than the present. He makes the case that author brands established in the bookstore era will be largely unchallenged when the bookstore ladder gets pulled up and future authors can’t climb it. And he believes that publishers don’t appreciate that all measures, even desperate measures, are called for to preserve the brick store base as long as possible."

This is the greatest tragedy of the Nicholas Hoare phenomenon: the loss of that discovery of a new title or author that a reader might never have made his or her way towards had it not been spotted in Nicholas's stores. I can't say I agree with every business decision ever made by the stores, but I always applauded their ability to be a space for those "ladders" (the virtual kind... You already know what I thought about the physical kind!)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

News round-up: the eAnxiety edition

  • The Books That Read You: new publisher on the Kindle, Coliloquy, works as a sort of Choose your own adventure, except that "once you make a choice in the story, Coliloquy's books read you back. They send anonymized data about your decision, as well as about how often you have read a particular chapter, and which characters you have followed the most. They are the first third-party publisher to receive such data from Amazon. They surely won't be the last." Eeep.
  • This is not really a bad thing, just interesting: The Potential of Social Media in Driving Book Sales: "One-in-three consumers bought a product or service due to recommendations made via social media, as reported by an analysis of US and Canadian consumer consumption habits."
  • Making Library e-Books on the e-Book Reader Visible: I am equal parts interested in this idea and worried it makes the eBook collection concrete in a totally redundant way... Might work at Carlingwood Branch, though, where at least one patron has asked us on which floor they can find out ebook collection.

Seen reading on OC Transpo

  • Anges et demons by Dan Brown
  • 2 Kobos
  • Le nom de la rose by Umberto Eco
  • Reversible errors by Scott Turow
  • La Rêveuse d'Ostende by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
  • something by John Grisham
  • A book in Chinese
  • Aside: read a great article about Seen Reading's Julie Wilson in this month's Quill and Quire!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Upcoming local events of interest

I won't be able to make it to all of these myself, but I wish I could!

That's all for now, kids! More news from me later.... Don't forget to go buy some books at Nicholas Hoare before everyone else gets the good stuff!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Two profound losses to make me sad; many things for which I should be glad

It's been a roller-coaster week, not the least of which because it's March Break. The feeling at Carlingwood this week alternated between wondering where everyone was at some points when it was dead, and then suddenly realising everyone had converged on the library at the same time. Madness!

All week, if I have had my iPhone's volume turned up (which, as some of you know from missed calls and texts, I don't always...) and I have heard it ping with new mail, I have dropped everything and checked it with a heavy heart. My friend Nancy has been in palliative care for awhile, and I knew the next email I received would be notifying me of her death. That email arrived yesterday evening, but thankfully after my bestie had already called me at work to break the news, and another of my lovely friends had left me a voicemail. Nancy was a fellow librarian, a former colleague, a passionate mystery writer, a kindred spirit in epic walks around Montreal, and a good friend. She put up with me when I was a newly-minted librarian, making mistakes, trampling on people, and generally trying to find my way. Her dry humour, her exacting work, her kindness - they will all be missed.

As if that wasn't enough, I was surprised at how vehemently angry, and desperately sad, I was about the news about Nicholas Hoare. I heard about the impending closure of the Greene Ave. and Sussex Dr. stores on Tuesday evening, via the Globe. Then there was this from the Post, and then this quoting from Nicholas's no-holds-barred (and rightly so) letter back to the Post. Not to mention two articles in the Citizen, more or less corroborating the above, and the phone interview with Nicholas on CBC today, and this article in the Post. I won't dwell on the news, other than to say I'm really angry with the NCC. All the furor over the future of bookselling notwithstanding, I would think it's in everyone's best interest to have this Canadian-owned cultural icon across the street from the National Gallery of Canada.

Nicholas Hoare, Front St., Toronto, November 2011

So, to end on a happier note, here are ten things I love about Nicholas Hoare, the brand and the individual:
  1. His committment to face-out display of merchandise, and his unfailingly sharp eye for beauty and quality, from his support of Quebec cabinetmakers (3,400 dentals in the Ottawa store, to quote Nicholas's interview on CBC today) to build his magnificent shelving to his acquisition of the most outstanding books about art, architecture, and gardening.
  2. That I can walk into his stores now, a long-past employee, and always feel at home.
  3. ThatI can also walk in, a mid-career librarian who reads almost every book review source humanly possible, and see something new that I must have every time (last time: Brideshead Abbreviated: The Digested Read of the Twentieth Century byJohn Crace).
  4. How the Ottawa store is a refuge from the mixed nature of buildings on Sussex Ave. As Heather Mallick once wisely phrased it, she was so depressed at the sight of the then-new American embassy that she simply had to go into Nicholas Hoare and spend several hundred dollars to console herself.
  5. The fact that working there introduced me to (among other things): successful handselling without a computer to use as a crutch, Elizabeth Smart, Ahdaf Soueif, Zadie Smith, reading the TLS cover-to-cover, Joni Mitchell (yes, yes, deprived childhood. Get over it), Dusty Springfield, and Heywood Hill - better yet, read this, not to mention my wonderful colleagues Myriam, David, Dan, Luca, and Sarah.
  6. That he and his store managers let their staff read (I read the first chapter of Harry Potter the day it came out, fresh out of the shipping box, after someone had propositioned a colleague the night before, outside the washrooms no less, to sell him a copy before the release date), and that Nicholas himself brings (and pours) them champagne on Christmas Eve.
  7. For really teaching me how to use microfiche (good for my street cred).
  8. For teaching me that the enchantment of having a staff room behind a false bookshelf NEVER WEARS OFF.
  9. For teaching me that the novelty of having a ladder to climb to reach the art books most certainly does.
  10. For his unwavering support of local authors and librarians, from organising book launches (above image: the Ottawa launch for The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery, by Alan Bradley - read about it here) to speaking at, and sponsoring, library conferences (at right, above, with Ron Perowne, me, and my fellow members of the ABQLA Conference organising committee in 2006).

Seen reading on OC Transpo

Streetcar 696, via.
  • Mystery by Jonathan Kellerman
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
  • something by Nora Roberts
  • Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • People Of Darkness by Tony Hillerman
  • Anna's tears by Nathalie M. Holmes
  • Where's Waldo
  • A Devil is Waiting by Jack Higgins
  • Spotted by one of my former students, GK: An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor and The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  • Spotted by another of my former students, HK: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (well, obvs) and Tom Clancy
  • Spotted on the TTC subway (seriously, dudes, when are we getting a freaking subway?): Death Masks: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  • Me: The Journey Prize Stories 23 (my first ever ebook!) and Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (published with a way better title and cover in England)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mini news round-up

How long has it been since I've done one of these? Sorry, kids!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Blast from the (recent) past: IFOA round table - Individual in Society

One of the best things about RA in a Day is that it usually coincides with the International Festival of Authors in Toronto in October. I was fortunate to be able to attend a round table about the Individual in Society with authors Lauren B. Davis, Johan Harstad and Bharati Mukherjee (swoon!) and the CBC's Carol Off. I also unfortunately saved this blog post as a draft months ago and forgot about it. Surprise!

This was one of those rare and wonderful round tables in which every speaker is equally erudite, interesting, and charming: Lauren B. Davis shared some deep thoughts about the idea of "us and them:" "There are two kinds of people – those of us who think there are just two kinds of people and those who don’t." Speaking about the craft of writing, she observed "no one thinks about the gardener; you just think about the flowers."

Bharati Mukherjee was a great speaker, although onstage and later at the signing I found her more aloof than I was hoping she would be. She spoke with great passion about uncovering the idea for her latest novel, The New Miss India. She was on the phone with a telemarketing agent, who she realised was Indian but who denied her nationality, providing Mukherjee with a fake biography, when she realised the “real” story she needed to give a voice to in her book was the young women who come from third- or fourth- tier cities in India to work in the new metropolis cities in places such as call centres. These women, she explained, "overthrew the tyrannical social models and demanded money and power. They broke with India's traditional fatalism” to become the new Miss Indias (as a complement to this observation, check out this recent article in the Globe and Mail by Stephanie Nolen, "You can unlock the potential of India’s most oppressed girls, but where are they going to use it?")

Carol Off then inquired if men had it easier in Indian society, but Mukherjee pointed out that either gender was "metaphorically murdering [their] past" in the new India. Farmers, for instance, were losing their farms due to IT growth, these “campuses of glass and steel towers,” as Mukherjee described them. Underlining the incredibly rapid development of Indian society and economy, Mukherjee reminded the audience that “women one generation before this wouldn’t have even dreamed the word ‘empowerment’.”

Johan Harstad was the only panelist I didn't know anything about. He has written a novel set in Norway about Bosnian refugees (apparently there are many in his home country). Describing the Bosnian wars as "the Vietnam of my generation," Harstad spoke movingly about empathy, perspective as a writer, and the development of a thesis in a novel. When asked by Off what questions his novel was intended to answer, Harstad replied that novels don’t answer the questions: “If I answer the question, that is an essay.” He and Lauren Davis then continued by observing that the reader must bring something to a novel. When he/she does this, it is a good sign: "it means we wrote something larger than ourselves!"

Many of the discussions during the round table centred around the idea of the novel helping to "teach" empathy. The Husband was getting twitchy, because his opinion is that it is engrained in us as human beings, not learnt; I would argue this is true in most cases (it's not ingrained in a sociopath, for instance), but to different degrees. This is a question explored in the works of Dr. Keith Oatley, Dr. Raymond Mar, and others.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Freedom of expression: Riots, banjos, fiction becoming truth, bad jokes, Lululemon headbands, and more...

I was incredibly proud of everyone's hard work to make Censored out loud 2012 an overwhelming success.

I was sitting there, surrounded by such good friends (Barb, Mary, MC) and my husband, watching each performer take the stage, and thinking (selfishly?) how wonderful it was that, after almost 6 years in Ottawa, I have these people around me. It was such a joy to see a lot of our hard work come together in a truly outstanding event with speakers, readers and performers of tremendous quality and passion. Now I have new friends in Bob, Kerry, Cheryl and Teri, also. I am very lucky to have such wonderful connections in this city.

Some of my favourite moments from CoL 2012 included: chatting with (and listening to) our special guest Zaganar(a Burmese actor, writer, comedian, opposition activist and honorary member of PEN - visiting North America for the first time!), being reminded of the power of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as it was read by Nichole McGill (the school that tried to ban it later were accused of also covering up rapes within the student population - truly despicable), being bewilderingly charmed by Max Middle's recitation from Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate, being just plain charmed by Andrea Simms-Karp's banjo-accompanied slow singing (joined by the audience) of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” killing myself laughing at Marc Nelson (above at right) and his deadpan delivery of Olivia Newton John’s “Physical,” complete with found (at least, that's his story and he's sticking to it) headband, excitement and pride at OPL's own taking the stage (Sarah Campbell getting us all to roar for the tigers in The Story of Little Black Sambo, Dorothy Jeffreys reminding us how lucky we are to live in a country where authors are not perseculted, Barb putting some numbers on self-censorship by school librarians in the U.S.) , Jenn Farr choking up over And Tango Makes Three (there are some books I can't read in storytime for precisely this reason), and MC's totally spot-on reading ofJimmy Pritchard’s (terrible) New York City Bartender’s Joke Book, reminding us that some things should perhaps be left banned.

You can see almost all the performers in my photos here, or get a full recap with the performer's own descriptions of their chosen pieces here.

In related news, one instance of muzzling of freedom of expression that I have been following with interest recently is the cancellation of Rushdie's talk at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January 2012. This is a tough one: would you censor a reading (by cancelling it) if you felt the lives of the listeners were in jeapordy? Extremist groups in India were prepared to use "any amount of violence" in order to stop Rushdie's voice from being heard at the Festival. Some of these individuals went to the press: one told a reporter from the Times of India that "rivers of blood will flow here if they show Rushdie," (incidentally, this story was even picked up by my favourite Guyanese paper) while the Muslim Manch representative Abdul Salim Sankhla was quoted as saying: "We will not allow Rushdie to speak here in any form. There will be violent protests if he speaks." While all this was happening, some of the other activists were turfing school children out of their seats and intimidating festival guests, and Rushdie's appearance in person at the Festival was cancelled. William Dalrymple gave a rousing defense of the decision in an article for the Guardian: they had a Plan B, as previously arranged, and went ahead with TV interview of Rushdie, and "what we could not show to our audience of 10,000 was seen instead that evening by millions."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seen reading on OC Transpo

  • In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670-1730 by James Pritchard
  • A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Two by George R.R. Martin
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • Wife for Hire by Janet Evanovich
  • Novel in Chinese
  • Ottawa Citizen (just thank God it wasn't those free papers - journalistic equivalent of vermin!)
  • Quilting magazine
  • The Economist (maybe our most popular title of this project?)
  • Une question de chance by Christine Arnothy (OPL copy!)
  • Me: The March 2012 issue of Quill and Quire and The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (made tears leak out of my eyes while the bus stopped at Westboro Station today)

What I've been up to lately

I am currently listening to Basia Bulat singing "I'm forgetting everyone," but don't worry, interwebs peeps, I haven't forgotten you! I definitely owe you an update, though. It's just been a madhouse, especially with the lead-up to this past week's Freedom to read week event. Now that that is over (a recap post forthcoming, too), I can turn my attention to other projects, like CLA Conference, reading for pleasure again (the BOYCA shortlist is out!), waiting for the roads to clear enough to run outside again, catching up with friends over coffee, visiting Montreal at the end of the month for a friend's seemantham (super excited!), and writing shelftalkers at work.

So, here's what's been on my plate at work recently. There are some really exciting initiatives starting to get off the ground. When I'm not doing this stuff, I have been lying on the hallway floor while the Husband makes dinner, frolicking with my bestie around town, at LANCR meetings or out with friends for drinks, at VerseFest, or reading books for BOYCA (done!) and IMPAC (almost done) consideration. I AM SO SICK OF CAN LIT (poetry of Dennis Lee, Paul Tyler and Suzanne Buffam excepted. Sorry, rest of Canada).

So, what's up at Carlingwood? I'm glad you asked!
  • Our Reading Buddies program is building steadily, with help from two volunteers who are my former students
  • I got to do a Family (Evening) Storytime when several Children's staff were off work! I might be losing my edge, though. I had a great time, but underplanned and ran out of material right before the end. I also have forgotten parts of several basic songs. #fail.
  • I am tackling epic ongoing projects: getting better sound in the program room, weeding adult nonfic to shift some collections around, and trying to deal with our pigeon friends (DON'T ASK)
  • I have been reaching out and meeting with community partners in the 'hood.
  • I have also been supporting my incredibly talented team as they present at Children's team meetings, get training to be eReader champions, and help me develop our seniors' services.
  • We've been working on pushing through some security upgrades (card readers rather than keys, a better front door) and smaller security issues have been solved (we have a phone in the program room now, and quickly discovered we had to disconnect it from the speakers when I interrupted a colleague's storytime with my "We're closing in 15 mins" notice. Sorry, A.S.!)
  • Most importantly, we're doing SHELFTALKERS! Hooray! So far, the teens have been outpacing me, but I will catch up.