The idea of this blog is to facilitate the love of reading by collecting news about new books, or sometimes good old books. It is also dedicated to stamping out the scourge of e-books, Kindles, Kobo's, i-Pads, and all other such abominations.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Book Talk Coming...

I have a bunch of books I'm just dying to talk about but I've been so busy I just haven't had time to get down to it. I catered a wedding for 100 at the Beacon House last week and then this weekend we had two concerts at our house, one of them with dinner for 35 (pulled pork, pasta salad, green salad, cheescake for dessert)but this week coming up looks like things will calm down a little. The new Julia Glass is just soooo amazing....I can't wait to tell you about it.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Guest Blog: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

This was my first taste of Zadie Smith and I quite enjoyed it. Basically, it's a slice of life in the ethnic stew that is modern big-city America, although the main characters are transposed Londoners. But the main protagonists are well-heeled academics whose spoiled offspring only encounter the "street" as an exotic experience that impinges around the periphery of the story. There are a few underprivileged immigrant characters, but they are minor. The main action takes place in the bitchy committee rooms of British/American academe made over-familiar by the Amises and Albees where the men are pompous asses and the women scheming bitches. The main variation on this stock theme are two middle-aged black women, one a Caribbean earth-mother who awakes some vestigial remanants of soul in Kiki, the over-educated wife of her husband's nemesis. The moving relationship that develops between these two is one of the book's successes. The more central struggle of the leading couple to repair their affair-shattered marriage doesn't come off quite so well. The best part for me was the constant chafing between Kiki's three half-caste college-age children, the stand-offish Jerome, the ambitious but under-endowed Zora and the young trickster Levi, who wishes nothing so much as to be accepted as a bro by Haitian street people. All in all a spirited romp. It wasn't as edgily multicultural as the hype led me to expect, being mainly from the viewpoint of privileged upper-middleclass families some of whom just happened to have coloured skin, and mostly set among the oft-satirized groves of academe. And it has some amusing moments, the best of them involving young Levi, but I don't know that it deserves the "comic novel" label. There are some chuckles but no out-loud laughs.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Guest blog: Everyman by Philip Roth

This is one of Roth's shortest books and that is one of the best things about it. I have been a devoted fan of Roth's late period, even after slogging through Sabbath's Theatre, but I didn't wish this one to be a page longer. The story, which Roth himself gives away in the first few pages, is about a man who dies, finally. The rest of the book is about all the ailments he had along the way to his final one, which are many. It has the form of one of those nursing home conversations where the inmates show their scars and try to outdo each other with the saga of their many operations. Well this is the story of the champ, the unhealthier of two Jewish brothers, one of who became a succesful business man and the other of whom, the sicko, who became a commercial artist. But you don't hear much about anything artistic; the hero spends all his life labouring in the public relations salt mines planning to someday return to his painting, but when he finally does of course all his inspiration is gone. So is the family he had sacrificed it to support; despite his bad health this guy manages to maintain the record of all Roth heroes for indulging in self-destructve philandery. I don't know what to say about this book. It's like Roth had written about absolutely everything he had to write about except all his ailments, so he decided to do a book on that. I guess the generous view would be that he is trying to show just how hollow life can be in your average middle-class American suburb these days, but it's not a very compelling picture.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Guest blog--Thoughts on jPod

While Thora studies the blog-driving instructions I'll come up with a few inane reflections to fill the space. My wife likes to say I never read anything but that is not true. In fact it is a cruel infamy. It's true I don't read books in the ink-on-paper sense but ever since the advent of talking books so I can get them through the realm of gadgetry, I have been getting in on the scene. You'd be surprised what up-to-date literature I can find on audio book now. For instance I just finished the brand new Douglas Coupland opus, jPod. I am a big Dougie fan. I appreciate a writer who can show you a good time, and he comes through every time. Although I have to say, this time he didn't come through for me as well as other times. I liked it and would recommend it and all, and it had all the patented Coupland smartass-isms that make him so entertaining. I guess my complaint is that, more than his best books, this one ONLY had smartass-isms. The story itself is a kind of throwaway, as if he wasn't even trying to make you believe these are events that truly could have happened somewhere. He seems to have read Post Modernism for Dummies before setting to work and indulges in all sorts of fancy tricks with the narrative line such as breaking off to talk to himself, and saying "if this were a responsible novel, the next thing that would be happen would be such and such, but in fact what happened was my sweet old middle class mother who normally wouldn't hurt a fly murdered a Hell's Angel, whom it turned out she had been sleeping with while he marketed her basement grow-op..." I have never bothered my head to about what post modernism in writing could all be about because from the start I marked it as one of the sillier literary fads that is sure to be over soon, like it already is in architecture. I still need willing suspension of belief to really enjoy a novel and when the writer keeps breaking in to say, "I'm just writing this, you know, I can do anything I want, ha ha, I'm toying with your gullibility, you stupid reader..." there's no way you can get the 'ol WSOD happening. And I think there's another place this book fails to measure up to Dougie's usual performance. His characters aren't as great. I mean, I am still in love with Miss Wyoming. I still ache for those two young people who got schmucked in Hey Nostradamus. I still muse over those bright lab-rat types in Microserfs. But I could never quite get the hang of these people in jPod. He does his great thing that he always does, he penetrates a significant social scene and reveals its absurdity in stark relief using his razor-sharp satirical eye, and here he does make me think of all the computer nerds I know, in the mass, but they never come alive individually for me the way the tinsel stars of Miss Wyoming did. They all seem two-dimensional, like the characters in their own computer games, who merely act out propositions and never really breathe. Perhaps this is some intentional very clever literary device, but I miss breathing. As I said at the top, I still enjoyed it more than about 80% of the novels I've read in the last 12 months. If it were DC's first novel instead of his umpteenth, I would probably be saying here's a brilliant new writer instead of saying Dougie didn't quite reach his personal best in this one. Not that it seems to matter. To judge by the bestseller lists, it is going through the roof. If old patterns hold true, the Giller and GG people will probably choose to make up for ignoring his better books by smothering this one with honours. Which would be ok by me, because I think he has been one of Canada's top five fiction writers for the last twenty years and the CanLit establishment's denial of him is its folly, not his. I mean do they think that because you're funny, and popular and fascinated by contemporary society, you can't be good? That would be news to Sinclair Lewis, the Waughs and the Amises, not to mention Jonathan Swift.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

US Book production dives; UK takes over

How many books are there? Well, according to the following article, there were 172,000 new ones published last year in the US alone--and this was considered a bad year. Britain out-booked the US, with 206,000. Typically, nobody seems to know how many are contributed by Canada. The last statistic available from Statistics Canada seems to be for 1998, when just over 20,000 were produced.

New Providence, N.J. – May 9, 2006 – Bowker, the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information, today released statistics on U.S. book publishing compiled from its Books In Print® database. Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2005 decreased by more than 18,000 to 172,000 new titles and editions. This is the first decline in U.S. title output since 1999, and only the 10th downturn recorded in the last 50 years. It follows the record increase of more than 19,000 new books in 2004.
Great Britain, long the world’s per capita leader in the publication of new books in any language, now replaces the United States as the publisher of most new books in English. 206,000 new books were published in the U.K. in 2005, representing an increase of some 45,000 (28%) over 2004.

Only the very large academic, professional, and trade publishers managed to publish close to the number of new titles and editions that they did in 2004. Output from the smallest publishers dropped by more than 7%, while new titles from the small-to-medium and medium-to-large publishers declined by 10% and 15% respectively.

The number of new titles released by the largest general trade houses decreased 4.7%, to 23,017. University presses increased their title output 1.8% to 14,746, their largest annual total since 2000. Since 1995, new titles have increased 51% for all U.S. publishers, 17% for the largest trade houses, and 14% for university presses.

General adult fiction and children’s books, two of the bellwether categories in U.S. book publishing, showed double-digit decreases in new titles and editions. Virtually every broad publishing category tracked by Bowker except legal showed significant decreases. Among adult non-fiction categories released by all U.S. publishers in 2005, religion, biography, history, and technology suffered the steepest declines. The largest general trade houses, on the other hand, did have a few bright spots. Sports & recreation led all categories with a 22% increase in new titles, followed by an 18% increase in new medical & health titles, and a 6.9% increase in adult fiction releases.

Meanwhile, university presses showed some growth in most categories, with science and law enjoying the largest increases.

In 2005, the average suggested retail price for adult hardcovers released by the largest general trade houses increased 3 cents to $27.55; adult fiction hardcovers decreased 7 cents to $25.01; and adult non-fiction hardcovers increased 3 cents to $28.52. Adult trade paperbacks increased 1 cent to $15.77; adult fiction trade paperbacks decreased 2 cents to $14.76; adult non- fiction trade paperbacks increased 10 cents to $16.26; and adult mass-market paperbacks increased 7 cents to $7.42. The average list price for juvenile hardcovers decreased 1 cent to $16.08. In all, the largest general trade publishers released 345 more titles as adult trade paperbacks and 301 fewer as adult hardcovers.

Additional charts and statistics can be found at by clicking “Book Industry Statistics”.

“In 2005, publishers were more cautious and disciplined when it came to their lists,” said Gary Aiello, chief operating officer of New Providence, N.J.-based Bowker. “We see that trend continuing in 2006. The price of paper has already gone up twice this year, and publishers, especially the small ones, will have to think very carefully about what to publish.”

“The sudden and steep drop in the number of new books published in the U.S. last year was surprising,” said Andrew Grabois, a consultant for Bowker. “Yet 2005’s book output was the second highest total of new books ever recorded, after 2004’s record year. The reappearance of limits was the most interesting thing about publishing in 2005. Even an industry that produces more new products than any other must make choices. The question is, will British publishers face a similar market correction, or have they figured out how fewer publishers can publish more books for even fewer readers?”

The book production figures in this preliminary release are based on year-to-date data from U.S. publishers. If changes in industry estimates occur, they will be reflected in a later published report. Books In Print data represents input from 83,000 publishers in the U.S. The data is sent to Bowker in electronic files, and via BowkerLink™, Bowker’s password protected Web-based tool, which enables publishers to update and add their own data.