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U.K. and U.S. celebrate World Book Night; plans for a Canadian version in the works

Just Kids by Patti Smith. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Q Is for Quarry by Sue Grafton. While these books may appear to have little in common, they are in fact among the 30 titles on this year’s list for World Book Night U.S., to be celebrated on April 23.

Founded in the U.K. in 2011, World Book Night is an annual event billed as “a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift books in their communities to share their love of reading.” According to the World Book Night U.K. website, book gifters can apply to give away one title from a pre-selected list (25 titles in the U.K. and Ireland as opposed to the 30 in the U.S.). The specially designed World Book Night editions will be given away on April 23. The only stipulation is that those distributing the books “must commit to give away to those who don’t regularly read to share and spread their love of reading.”

This is the first year that World Book Night has featured a U.S. component. Other participating countries are Italy and Germany.

According to a press release from Jodi White, senior manager of the Canadian Booksellers Association, there are plans in the works to inaugurate an official Canadian version of World Book Night in 2013; in the meantime the CBA is “working with World Book Night” on a “plan of action for CBA members” who wish to get involved in the celebration. The CBA advocates that members select one book from the U.K. list to promote in-store. “Depending on the book, you can have readings, a costume contest and guest speakers.”

April 23 was selected as the date for the event because it is UNESCO’s International Day of the Book, and also marks the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death, and the death of Miguel de Cervantes (who died on the same date as Shakespeare in 1616.)

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Book links roundup: Encyclopaedia Britannica sales boom, Kindle’s lending library expands, and more

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Book links roundup: Karaoke fiction, Lolita redesigned, and more

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Book links roundup: Kobo design update, writers favourite love poems, and more

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Robert Lepage’s creative alchemy

This feature by Sarah Greene appeared in the November 2011 issue of Q&Q.

Robert Lepage’s impressive artistic career spans theatre, film, and opera, and includes stints as designer and director for Cirque du Soleil and a Peter Gabriel world tour. The prolific Quebec actor, writer, and director has now added graphic novelist to his list of achievements. The Blue Dragon, first published in French earlier this year by Quebec’s Éditions Alto, appears this month from House of Anansi Press.

Adapted from the play of the same name, the book reunites co-writers Lepage and Marie Michaud, both of whom performed in the original 2008 production. The idea for the graphic novel, first suggested by Lepage’s sister and assistant Lynda Beaulieu, seemed natural given the influence on the play of Hergé’s The Blue Lotus, about TinTin’s adventures in Shanghai; the use of Chinese calligraphy, video, and comic panel-like squares in the set design; and the fact that the central character, Pierre Lamontagne, is a graphic artist and calligrapher.

“We thought a graphic novel would be more faithful, do more justice to the piece,” says Lepage. “We saw it as an opportunity to extend the themes of The Blue Dragon.”

A follow-up to the mid-1980s production The Dragons’ Trilogy, the story is set in modern-­day China and revolves around three characters in a love triangle: Lamontagne, a middle-aged Quebecois artist who lives in Shanghai and runs a contemporary art gallery; his ex-wife, a Montreal-based ­advertising executive hoping to adopt a baby; and Lamontagne’s younger Chinese lover. Just as there are three characters interacting in three languages (French, English, and Mandarin), there are three possible endings to the play and the book. Éditions Alto played on the number by printing a first run of 3,333 copies.

To adapt the highly visual play into print, Lepage and his production company, Ex Machina, imagined how they would present the story as a film. They auditioned a number of Quebecois artists for the project, eventually choosing Fred Jourdain, a young illustrator known for his portraits of rock stars and celebrities. Jourdain’s fluid, vivid illustrations of a rainy Shanghai are conveyed by mixing comic-book art with more painterly images. “He was very strong at expressing emotions on his characters’ faces,” says Lepage.

Anansi publisher Sarah MacLachlan fell in love with this combination of graphica and fine art. “I thought that was an extraordinary thing,” she says. The Blue Dragon is Anansi’s first graphic novel for the adult market (its children’s imprint, Groundwood Books, published the YA title Skim by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki in 2009). Canadian fiction editor Melanie Little met Éditions Alto president Antoine Tanguay last January, at the Canada Council for the Arts’ inaugural translation rights fair in Ottawa, and presented an offer within days.

The graphic novel has also had an effect on the theatrical version of The Blue Dragon, which will be remounted by Toronto’s Mirvish Productions in January. “Our work with Fred had a big influence on the piece,” Lepage says. “Both to make it stronger by simplifying some of the storylines, but also by complexifying some things that needed to be more [complex]. A lot of that came from some of the very rich, effervescent exchanges we had with Fred.”

Lepage says the adaptation was so successful it’s changed his approach to publishing: “Whatever play we come up with we should try to find a format – not necessarily another graphic novel – that is as faithful to our visual approach to the stage as it is [to] the written word.”

Éditions Alto and Ex Machina have continued their partnership, producing a limited-­run souvenir book for Lepage’s production of Stravinsky’s opera The Nightingale and Other Short Fables and collaborating on a nine-volume box set for his epic nine-hour opera Lipsynch.

“[Lepage] is a central cultural figure in Quebec right now,” says Tanguay. “Everything he does turns to gold.”

Illustrations by Fred Jourdain, courtesy of Anansi

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What Toronto budget cuts could mean for libraries

As Toronto’s city council enters final debates on the 2012 budget, here’s a look at what could be ahead for the Toronto Public Library.

TPL has been asked to meet a 10 per cent reduction target (cutting about $7 million from its annual budget) despite having the busiest year on record in 2011, with more than 19 million visitors borrowing over 33 million items.

A few motions on the table at city council argue for reversing budget reductions. One motion asks TPL to meet its 10 per cent target without cutting back on hours, instead saving money by buying fewer movies and magazines. Chief librarian Jane Pyper estimates that cutting 19,444 hours at 59 branches could save TPL $5.4 million, but this would likely affect all branches.

Another motion proposes that the $7 million in library cuts be scaled back to $4 million, using new revenue from property tax assessment growth to make up the remainder.

Toronto’s literary community has unleashed protests against proposed cuts, too. More than 100 well-known literary figures signed an open letter to Mayor Rob Ford and city council, and the Toronto Public Library Workers Union placed an ad in the Toronto Star this week.

Meanwhile, TPL continues to search for ways to bring in more money. The National Post reported on one new membership program designed to attract the bookish under-40 set to exclusive library events for a roughly $300 annual fee.

Just this morning, the TPL Foundation announced a $1.5 million donation from Toronto philanthropists Marilyn and Charles Baillie to support the Toronto Reference Library’s revitalization, an ongoing program with a $34 million price tag. The Baillies’ donation will go towards the Special Collections Centre, a new reading room set to open in 2013 that will display items related to Canadiana, performance, and documentary art.

Library cuts are on the agenda for debate this afternoon. Check out the liveblog at Torontoist for the latest updates, and keep following Quillblog for more information.

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Book links round-up: why Scandinavians like CanLit, books for travel lovers, and more

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Book covers of the year 2011

When choosing covers of the year, the book designers Q&Q polled considered art, typography, layout, and meaning in their decisions. Allison Baggio’s Girl in Shades, Johanna Skibsrud’s This Will Be Difficult To Explain and Other Stories, and Alexi Zentner’s Touch were among designers’ favourites.

Click through the images below to see all five and read why each was chosen as a cover of the year.

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Reading meets romance at Vancouver Public Library

Tonight, the Vancouver Public Library launches a new event series designed to bring local singles together through “read-dating.”

In VPL’s bookish take on speed-dating, participants aged 19 to 35 will rotate through 17 five-minute, one-on-one meetings. Each person is asked to bring a book or CD to spark conversation.

According to the Vancouver Sun, library staff got the idea from similar events held in New York City and San Francisco.

“We were looking to attract people to the libraries, and get the after-school but before-children crowd,” said Sheila Maier, a program coordinator at the VPL.

Based on the initial event’s popularity (registration was already nearly full last week) and its equal appeal to men and women, VPL has plans to host an LGBT read-dating night on Dec. 1, as well as two events in February – one for singles aged 35 to 55, and another for those over 55.

Tonight’s event is free and takes place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Vancouver’s Library Square Conference Centre.

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Atwood to mentor emerging writer in Rolex arts program

Thanks to Rolex, one lucky writer will get the chance to become Margaret Atwood’s protege. On Monday, the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative revealed its list of arts professionals who will serve as mentors to emerging artists in the fields of literature, theatre, film, dance, music, and visual arts for the next year.

The luxury watchmaker started the Arts Initiative in 2002 to support “highly talented young artists from around the world and [bring] them together with great masters, for a year of creative collaboration in a one-to-one mentoring relationship.” Through the program, mentor and mentee spend a minimum of six weeks working together. The Arts Initiative provides the protege with US$25,000 for travel costs and living expenses throughout the program, and another US$25,000 at the end of the initiative to finance a project. (No word on whether any watches are involved in the deal, but what young author couldn’t use a diamond-encrusted timekeeper to tick away the writing hours?)

Proteges are selected by a panel of international experts in the six artistic categories who put together a list of potential participants, though the mentor has final say on who they’re paired with.

For 2011–2012, Atwood’s fellow mentors are Chinese choreographer Lin Hwai-min, American film editor and sound designer Walter Murch, Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil, French director Patrice Chéreau, and South African visual artist William Kentridge. Past Rolex literary mentors include Toni Morrison, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and Wole Soyinka. From 2006–2007, Quebec-based writer Edem Awumey was protege to Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun.

(In other Atwood news, the author turns 72 today. She got an early start celebrating at Laurentian University’s seventh annual Margaret Atwood Birthday Dinner in Sudbury, Ontario, on Thursday.)

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Hall of Honourers

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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

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