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All stories by Sara Forsyth

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Best book ads ever?

Quillblog recently stumbled across a New York Times slide show of book advertisements from their so-called “Golden Age,” 1962-1973.

Why those dates? The books – and the ads for them – were terrific: fresh, pushy, serious and wry, often all at the same time. There was a new sense of electricity in the culture and in the book world.

Each ad, scanned from a dusty magazine, is accompanied by a paragraph of droll commentary. Highlights include the ad for Cormac McCarthy’s 1968 novel, Outer Dark:

It’s a grinding story about a woman, Rinthy, who bears her brother’s baby, only to have him leave the infant in the woods to die. You don’t get a sense of the novel’s dark subject matter in this perky advertisement, though. It focuses instead on McCarthy’s rugged good looks (he was 35 at the time), and even “pops” his head, giving this ad an ironic, cheerful, proto-Spy magazine feel.

The ad for two Tom Wolfe books, also from 1968, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Pump House Gang, has a couple sitting side by side, asking “Which bestseller should you read first?”

“Honey, my Tom Wolfe book is more zeitgeisty than your Tom Wolfe book.” “Yes, dear, but mine has so many more exclamation points. I counted.” “It’s nice to be both literate *and* happening, isn’t it?” “Do you want to make out?” This advertisement … resembles an ad for coffee, cologne, or condoms as much as it does a typical book ad.

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Stephen King, book trailer judge

Dorchester Publishing and Circle of Seven productions are joining forces to create a contest for book-loving amateur filmmakers. Participants will create a “book trailer” for their favorite novel in Dorchester’s imprint, SHOMI, a genre-blending, speculative romance line. The winning trailer will be chosen by veteran novel-cum-film dude Stephen King and shown in New York City and the winner’s hometown. The contest closes on December 30, 2008.

In the spirit of this post, check out this blog dedicated to book trailers – some of them are quite good.

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Potter for a quid

Today, Guardian blogger Nicholas Clee muses on the implications of selling the Harry Potter series at bargain basement prices. This is in light of British supermarket chain Asda’s decision to sell Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for a mere £1 last week. According to, Asda’s sale was basically the equivalent of giving Bloomsbury the finger, as the chain has accused the press of “holding ransom” over the children’s book market by charging £8.99 for Potter books. After winning 79% market share of Potter books last week (and losing £150,000 in the process) Deathly Hallows now retails at Asda for £3.86.

From Clee’s blog:

Asda’s promotion is of the kind given to brands that are coming to the ends of their lives. As Deathly Hallows is officially the last HP novel, that is an alarming move. Julian Rivers, a former chief executive of wholesaler Bertrams, predicts that HP will be finished as a bookseller’s supported line at […] Rivers draws an analogy with Catherine Cookson, whose novels, following her death, were bound up and sold in cheap packages through mass market outlets. If that was an admission that Cookson’s novels could no longer command full prices through bookshops, it was a self-fulfilling one.

It begs the question: does reducing the price devalue the brand?


GG Unit

John Meier wants to own every English-language first edition book that has ever won the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction. (You may remember him from a Quillblog post back in November.)

Today, Meier, 51, was profiled in the The Globe and Mail. Marsha Lederman describes the Ikea Billy bookcases where Meier houses his collection on the ground floor of his parent’s house. He uses blackout curtains to protect the books and sometimes even shelves them backwards so as not to expose colours prone to fading, such as the Day-Glo orange on his four copies of Brian Moore’s The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960).

Meier is currently trying to raise $500, 000 to display his collection at the Cultural Olympiad, which will coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympics. After the Olympics, Meier hopes to take his books on a cross-country tour of Canada. The Canada Council will not fund the project because it “constitutes privileged treatment” of the English-language Governor General winners for fiction.

Read the article here. For more on Meier read this story about the National Book-Collecting Contest published in Q&Q last month.

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Stuart Little vs. The New York Public Library

This week’s New Yorker features an article by Jill Lepore about a long and public spat between E.B White and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Work with Children at the New York Public Library.

Moore held enormous influence over children’s literature in American in the first half of the 20th century – and with good reason. As Lepore writes: “In 1895, when she was twenty-four, she moved to New York, where she more or less invented the children’s library.” Moore designed children’s reading rooms filled with pansies and pint-sized chairs, invented “story hour,” and replaced signs of “Silence!” with framed prints by children’s book illustrators.

Moore cultivated writers, Lepore notes, and was always eager to take credit for the next superstar of children’s lit. In 1938 she had her sights set on E.B. White – who told her he had started a children’s book “but was finding it difficult.”

Moore pursued the correspondence. In early 1939, she pressed upon White no fewer than five letters. She sent him copies of her reviews. She gave him writing tips: “Let it flow, without criticizing it too close to its creation.” She inquired after his family, asking, more than once, after his child. She was very, very keen to make the acquaintance of his wife: “I’d like to include Mrs. E. B. White in this letter for two reasons. The first that she is the mother of the boy, or is it a girl? And second because she reviews children’s books for The New Yorker or some other magazine.” She begged him to get back to his children’s book. “Can’t you achieve a temperature, without getting sick, and finish it off?” She was attempting, as she often did, not only to cultivate this author but to claim him.

The book White was trying to write was Stuart Little. It was finally published in 1945 and Moore hated it. She banned it from the New York Public Library, her influence shut it out of the Newbery Medal, and she wrote a scathing letter to the Whites saying the book must have been written by “a sick mind.”

Lepore’s article paints Moore in an uncomfortable light. She opened library doors for children, yet she had a narrow view of what children’s literature is. Did she really “nurture” writers? Or was she a power-hungry stalker?

Read the article here. Also, be sure to check out Lepore’s blog about researching the Stuart Little battle and an audio conversation between Lepore and Roger Agnell, E.B. White’s grandson and a longtime editor at The New Yorker.

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Books reborn!

Nicholas Jones is an artist and “book sculptor” working in Melbourne, Australia. According to the personal testimonial on his website, Jones claims his art is an extension of the book’s life cycle, from wood pulp to paper to books, then elevated to some sort of higher plane and then to dust.

From the website:

Books are capsules; vessels designed to hold information, borne of investigation or of personal expression. These objects are often venerated, held aloft as are amulets, as the source of reasoned knowledge, the fecund field awaiting the harvest. Sequestered away in dusty libraries, spines anticipating the eye of the beholder, these books’ tactility remain at arms length. The physical act of folding, tearing and sewing book leaves, may be considered iconoclastic (extinguishing the fire of reason, perhaps). Although sometimes iconised for their content or historical importance, more often than not, books are discarded as cultural detritus. These transformed books aim to highlight the poetic nature of the book as form. As historical phenomena, books have reflected the evolution of mankind, and although beseiged by new technologies, the book remains steadfastly both the solver of the riddle and the creator of the labyrinth.

Earnest artistic credo aside, Jones’s books are quite beautiful. See MacBeth folded, Intermediate English dissected, and works in progress. See his new boots as well…

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London bookies

The second annual London Literature Festival is in full swing this week, and to celebrate, the Guardian created an online quiz to test readers knowledge of literary London. Guardian calls it “a stroll through the fictional nooks and crannies of the capital.” (Apparently this Quillblogger is more the romping type, as her score was embarrassingly low).

Test your knowledge here.

The London Literature Festival is in its second year. Its mandate is to showcase the “dynamism and globalism” of the city by featuring writers and performers from myriad backgrounds working in a variety of mediums. The LLF is doing a series called “Tales of the City” and Toronto is featured this Thursday, July 10. Rawi Hage, Priscilla Uppal, Vincent Lam, and indie electro-breakbeat artists LAL will be on hand to represent.

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Agents’ secrets

Open Book Toronto recently published a virtual tête-à-tête between two literary agents, Sam Hiyate, president of The Rights Factory, and Hilary McMahon, vice-president at Westwood Creative Artists.

The article, “Artful Agenting,” is an e-mail discussion between Hiyate and McMahon over a 48-hour period. It’s a voyeuristic read: McMahon jokes about not finding the writer who will pay her mortgage and Hiyate shares his plan to represent more self-help authors. The conversation covers everything from editor’s vacation schedules to the rung-climbing history of McMahon’s career.

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Shacked up

Clicking through The New York Times online this morning, Quillblog happened upon this article about a “surprise best seller,” The Shack. The novel, written by William P. Young, is a mosaic story of one man’s spiritual redemption through God.

From The Times:

Early in the novel the young daughter of the protagonist, Mack, is abducted. Four years later he visits the shack where evidence of the girl’s murder was discovered. He spends a weekend there in a kind of spiritual therapy session with God, who calls herself “Papa”; Jesus, who appears as a Jewish workman; and Sarayu, an indeterminately Asian woman who incarnates the Holy Spirit.

The Shack is currently sitting at No. 1 on The New York Times trade paperback fiction bestseller list, as well as the Borders and Barnes & Noble lists. The novel is outselling Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth in the United States.

The usual controversy and cries of “heresy!” from conservative Christian leaders surround The Shack. Times writer, Motoko Rich suggests this has fueled sales. Last month, Hachette Book Group USA partnered with the novel’s publisher, Windblown Books, and is now investing in subway advertisements in Atlanta, Chicago, and New York, in addition to ads on the CNN airport network.

It seems the only thing stopping The Shack is the old sacred/secular divide. Kathryn Popoff, vice-president of merchandising of adult trade books at Borders says the book is “appealing to audiences beyond Christian readers” — but a quick poke around The Shack‘s website indicates Young and co. hope the novel “will not only encourage those who already know Him but also engage those who have not yet recognized His work in their lives.”

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Shrink rap

Raj Persaud, Britain’s celebrity psychiatrist and media darling, is on trial for what the Guardian is calling “blatant cribs” in his 2003 book From the Edge of the Couch.

Persaud is accused of passing off the scholarship of other psychiatrists as his own, both in the popular book and in several articles. He admits his actions were inappropriate, but doesn’t believe his faux pas was dishonest, or that it will shame the medical profession.

One of his victims, Professor Richard Bentall, told the medical tribunal he was “flabbergasted” when he saw his work basically cut-and-pasted into Persaud’s book.

From the Guardian:

[Bentall] had given permission for standard quotes but expected them to appear in quotation marks with proper attribution. Instead, he said, the material appeared in the book “looking as though it had been authored by someone else”.


Bentall said he admired 45-year-old Persaud’s media skills and ability to present complex medical matters to the public, but could not understand how he could plagiarise so blatantly. He said: “I find it hard to believe that somebody with the reputation of Persaud would deliberately set out to do something so obviously wrong.”

Bentall then delivers a final blow:

“I actually thought it was rather stupid. It seemed to be fairly obvious that this would be found out by somebody.”

Persaud blames the slip-up on stress, deadlines, and his busy day job.

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Book Pictures

Do you have great photos from a recent book event in Canada that you'd like to share with us? Submit them to the Quill & Quire Flickr pool and they'll show up here.

Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Lesley Strutt, Dean Steadman, Amanda Earl, Alastair Larwill and Frances Boyle

Frances Boyle, Dean Steadman, Lesley Strutt and Alastair Larwill

Amanda Earl

Jewel of the Thames launch

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