Archive for July, 2010

The Good Ship Publishing

I had a hunch when I saw the job title Publishing Assistant/Bosun on the Quill and Quire website today that the position advertised was probably at Coach House Books in Toronto, and I was right. Jobs at small publishers never quite fit the parameters of the traditional titles, but it’s nice when the people advertising let you know that from the start.

Seeing that word bosun also reminded me of the first time I encountered it, which was just a few years ago (not enough seafaring literature in my childhood, obviously) in the manuscript for a chapbook I was working on with Dennis Lee. I queried it, thinking it might be a typo, and then after some other correspondence in which I audaciously/stupidly suggested his rhythm might be off at one point in another poem, he called and proceeded to recite, with gusto, that entire poem over the phone, and I had to conclude that in fact his rhythm was bang on. Even though it did nothing much to bolster my confidence in my editorial sensibilities, it will probably always be one of the highlights of my career.

From the Bookery

The trip to St. John’s, NL, this past weekend was most excellent. It was drizzly the first day, but that was a welcome change in the midst of the heatwave persisting back in Halifax. My previous visit to Newfoundland was toward the end of a summer-long bike tour in 2001 and a much less relaxed affair. This time there were long walks, picnics, beer, meals out, and an afternoon at the provincial art gallery, The Rooms. On Friday afternoon I found a great little bookstore called The Bookery a few minutes’ walk from downtown up Signal Hill Road. The selection was surprising for a store of its size, with better representation from small presses than I’ve seen in a long while. I made a few passes through before settling in the poetry section by the stairs. My eventual picks were Gander poet Stephen Rowe’s debut collection Never More There, published by Nightwood Editions last year; more established Newfoundland poet Mary Dalton’s fourth collection, Red Ledger, published a few years ago by Signal Editions; and Karen Solie’s Pigeon, this year’s Griffin Prize winner, published by Anansi. After that I tromped back down the hill for a pint of stout at the Yellow Belly microbrewery on Water Street. It was all too much really.

I will post more on all of these new purchases very soon. The Count-down is on. I have run out of enthusiastic musings on the 1095-page beast and now just have my eye on the finish line.

Expensive how?

When did we decide that books were expensive? Through this two-week heatwave, reading the old Count (see previous post) through the hottest hours of the day, this is a question I keep coming back to. It was sparked in part by the fifth installment in the Globe & Mail‘s The Future of Books series from last Saturday (also online here) on the future of booksellers. To someone who has always harboured the dream of someday opening a bookstore, the talk of books and bookstores dying really rankles. And Toronto bookseller Ben McNally, for one, thinks the future of the business will depend in some measure on bringing customers back around to the idea “that books are great value at regular price.” Amen.

For between thirty and forty dollars, sometimes even fifteen or twenty, depending on the genre and the format, we get, what, six, ten, twenty hours of entertainment and education (often both) to be consumed entirely at our leisure. I don’t find comparisons between art/entertainment forms to be especially useful, but it occurs to me that the question does lend itself to a very crude tally: the hours of engagement offered (six, ten, twenty hours with a book vs four hours at a concert, two at a movie, etc), a coefficient for the ability to do so privately (as opposed to say a concert or a visit to an art gallery or a movie theatre) in an age when privacy and control and independence are supposed to be among our chief concerns, another for the relative ease of taking this wonderful little invention with us wherever we go (portability: this is what gets us fired up about iPods and cell phones and lightweight camping equipment). And we want this for under ten dollars?

Rant over. I’m off to St. John’s, Newfoundland, tomorrow and hope to do some good skulking around its bookish offerings. Recommendations welcome.

The Count of Monte Cristo: Report from the halfway point

Book club is underway now, and I’ve been charging through The Count of Monte Cristo (or The Big M.C., as my sister called it when we last compared notes) as fast as my little eyes can go. Two things: 1. This is a bloody long book, but 2. a much lighter and more engaging read than I was expecting. It’s billed as an adventure after all, a story of revenge, and like many novels written at that time (about 1844) it first appeared in serialized form. So there are cliffhangers, and a certain predictability to all the hanging does develop (every new character will, however vague and unlikely seeming their initial proximity to the Count, eventually either run into him personally or be connected to him via his long con. revenge plot), but it’s drawn me in. It’s all very no holds barred and, well, vengeful. It’s refreshing. Cathartic. This is why I studied Classics. Why open your heart and forgive when you can make them pay? Then there are all the peripheral perks: If the hero is going to be rich, why not make him endlessly so? And why settle for some pedestrian, street-level hideaway when you can have a grotto on an island? It’s sort of as if Paul Auster or Haruki Murakami were to abandon the very last vestiges of reality and really go for it.

The cast is rather large, and I have had to do some flipping back and forth to remind myself whose stepfather initially did what to the Count. Which in turn has made me glad I didn’t rip the first three hundred or so pages off the front of the book when they threatened to detach from their shoddy binding last week. However, if I do have to amputate, I see Wikipedia has a handy diagram connecting all the characters. It does give away a few plot turns, but a sampling of the connections themselves give you a sense of the high stakes involved: wants to marry, kills, sells, poisons, poisons (but doesn’t kill), raises with sister-in-law, tries to assassinate, runs away in a scandalous lesbian relationship with. It’s heavy. I should really get back.

Jim Rimmer makes the Chicago Manual of Style’s June Q&A

Once a month the Chicago Manual of Style’s Q&A alerts arrive in my inbox. I snobbishly snort at the questions that plagued me a few years ago, and mull the ones that still have me stumped. Last month’s list included a little reference to Jim Rimmer, a well-loved type designer, caster, letterpress printer, and owner of Pie Tree Press in New Westminster, BC, who passed away this past January. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of working with Jim on a trade edition of his illustrated memoirs published by Gaspereau Press (and originally published as a limited edition at Pie Tree). Incidentally, it was while working on this project that I found out Jim had also designed the Whistler logo embroidered on the pink sweatshirt I wore for most of grade one. I wouldn’t say it’s what he’ll necessarily be most remembered for, but it was a happy discovery for me.

Here’s the question from the CMS Q&A:

Q. Hello, Chicago. You state that “an opening parenthesis should be preceded by a comma or a semicolon only in an enumeration” as in (1) a brown fox, (2) a silver fox. There are no other exceptions. You also say that the same rules apply to brackets. Another editor wants this: New Westminster, BC: Pie Tree Press, [1988]. It looks very wrong to me! I say the comma goes, because the bracketed matter is an interpolation, not part of the original text, and the comma has no function. Therefore the punctuation should be as if that interpolation doesn’t exist.

I would have cut that comma (although Chicago disagrees).

And if you want to know more about Jim Rimmer, there’s a brief summary of his work and samples on the Heavenly Monkey site.

Mini round-up of bookstore deaths and books section goings-on

The list of independent bookstore deaths continues to grow. This past week, Quill and Quire reported the closure of This Ain’t the Rosedale Library in Toronto (31 years old), and Book and Briar Patch in Regina (33). I was going to launch a rant on supporting what you say you love, but the fact is I’m guilty of it too. How about the diplomatic we? If we like the idea of these stores, we have to shop at them. They can’t pay the rent with our fond thoughts.

Meanwhile, dedicated books sections in newspapers are themselves few and far between. Though it did away with its Saturday Books section about a year and a half ago (it’s now combined with the Focus section), the Globe and Mail is currently running a series on the future of the book. The first was (sigh, of course) on e-readers, the second on cover design, and this week’s will discuss rare and antiquarian books in the mighty digital age. They’ve not been especially in-depth so far, but relevant overviews of each situation anyway.

A few posts back I pondered a poetry subscription club, and look, The Rumpus has it all in hand! I’ll be surprised if any Canadian titles make their list, but I’m pleased to see they’ve recognized the genre as worthy of its own gig. I also recommend The Rumpus site generally. Their Books section has some good stuff in terms of reviews and interviews. They pack a lot into each week and do a special feature on Sundays.

P. K. Page for tea

When I was about eleven my gran took me with her to hear P. K. Page reading from Brazilian Journal, her memoir of the time she and her husband, a Canadian diplomat, spent in Brazil during his posting there. The reading was in a one-room art gallery in West Vancouver, a few minutes’ drive from my gran’s house, and almost every time I’ve seen her since then my gran has mentioned how much she wanted to have Page over for tea after the reading, and how she’ll always wish she’d just gone ahead and invited her.

A couple of years ago I finally read Brazilian Journal myself. A lot of it concerns setting up and keeping house in a humid climate and the many social engagements required of a diplomat and his wife, but I think the most interesting passages are Page’s reports on her development as a visual artist. The book includes several of her sketches and paintings, and it’s quite fascinating to read about her efforts (failed and successful) at capturing various subjects – plants, animals, rooms, different kinds of daylight.

When she died this past January I realized that with the exception of a few samples from anthologies, I hadn’t really read much of her poetry, so I picked up a copy of The Essential P. K. Page, a selection edited by Arlene Lampert and Théa Gray and published by Porcupine’s Quill in 2008. The poems included are all very tightly wound and lyrical, and Page seems to have a precise sense of how far to push a series of internal rhymes and associative sounds before it leaves the realm of natural speech and becomes a game played only for its own sake. I have to admit I didn’t enjoy all of it. There are pieces I found almost too refined, without an angle into the thought process at work or the tension of getting it down in these lines. But the ones that did strike me will, I think, stay with me for a long time. “A Backwards Journey” describes the childhood experience of finding infinity on a box of Dutch Cleanser that pictures a woman holding a can of Dutch Cleanser and on that can another woman holding another can, and so on. (For me it was the kid in shorts on the Borax box.) Here are the final few lines:

I think I knew that if no one called
and nothing broke the delicate jet
of my attention, that tiny image
could smash the atom of space and time.

(Now I wish we’d invited her back for tea.)