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Jacob Scheier’s first rule of awards controversies: don’t talk about awards controversies

Governor General’s Literary Award–winning poet Jacob Scheier has weighed in on the Ali Smith/Giller Prize controversy on Now Magazine‘s website. As you may recall, Scheier himself was at the centre of an awards scandal after winning the GG in 2008, when it was discovered that jurors Di Brandt and Pier Giorgio Di Cicco had clear ties to both him and his collection, More to Keep Us Warm.

I [want] to draw a significant parallel between that controversy and this year’s Giller uproar, a parallel that holds true for many, if not every, literary award controversy.

What happens in these ‘controversies’ is the mainstream media jumps on conflict, regardless of the facts (or lack thereof), and stamps the words  ‘scandal’ in a big bold writing. They use these words, of course, to get us to read about it. If they could, with any legitimacy, add the word ‘sex’ to the headline, they would.

But I don’t blame media outlets for that. I blame the fiction writers and poets, the ones who fuel these dust-ups, by writing their speculations on their blogs and Facebook pages for the media to pick up.


I would urge all writers when they hear the siren sizzle of juicy gossip to stay off Facebook and blogs, and, if you have to, put that gossip where it belongs: into a good story.


The Baby-Sitters Club returns

Plenty of young women who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s still fondly remember The Baby-Sitters Club, the book series that motivated many childhood trips to the library.

Ten years after the series ceased publication, Scholastic has announced that author Ann M. Martin will write a prequel to the series, due on April 1. The brand-new book, called The Summer Before, explains what happened to the girls before they met and formed the club. Here’s the description from the publisher:

Before there was the Baby-Sitters Club, there were four girls named Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, and Stacey McGill. As they start the summer before seventh grade (also before they start the BSC), each of them is on the cusp of a big change. Kristy is still hung up on hoping that her father will return to her family. Mary Anne has to prove to her father that she’s no longer a little girl who needs hundreds of rules. Claudia is navigating her first major crush on a boy. And Stacey is leaving her entire New York City life behind…

In addition, Scholastic will reissue several novels from the original series. From the New York Times:

“This whole generation of girls who had grown up reading The Baby-Sitters Club were now teachers, librarians or mothers,” said David Levithan, editorial director at Scholastic. “And at any opportunity they had, they let us know they wanted them back.”

The reissued books will be slightly revised so that today’s preteen girls will be able to relate to them – dated references to cassette tapes and perms will not make the cut. Other than that, women who grew up reading the BSC can look forward to offering their own daughters better role models than the cast of characters in Gossip Girl.


Orhan Pamuk and the IFOA audience revolt

Orhan Pamuk seems to cause a bit of a stir wherever he goes. The Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist is perhaps best-known on these shores for his legal battles with the Turkish government over remarks he made concerning the Armenian genocide and the killing of Kurds. The fight, which he ultimately won, made him a symbol of the struggle for free speech around the world.

So it was perhaps only natural that, during Pamuk’s onstage interview Thursday night as part of the International Festival of Authors, interviewer Carol Off would ask him to discuss the current political situation in Turkey. Apparently, Pamuk was reluctant to talk politics, and even said he preferred not to do so as part of a “talk show.” When Off persisted, members of the audience began yelling for her to stick to the subject of Pamuk’s new book. One attendee, who was sympathetic to Off, said he’d “never seen an audience revolt before.”

There were also reports that Pamuk arrived at the event only minutes before it was to begin, and had to walk past the long line of ticket-holders waiting outside the venue, some of whom, not recognizing the author (we hope), shouted for him to get in line like everyone else.

Tough crowd.

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Bookmarks (Middle East edition)

  • In the face of all-too-obvious problems, small publishing houses and modern printing facilities are popping up throughout the Arab world (
  • Dubai adds a literary festival to its cultural boom (Kipp Report)
  • Iraq’s National Library soldiers on after being looted by vandals and neglected by the occupying powers (The Nation)
  • An interview with Bahaa Taher, winner of this year’s inaugural International Prize for Arabic fiction (The Guardian)
  • Two independent U.K. publishers join forces to create a list devoted to translations of new Arabic fiction (
  • And finally, an overview of the progress made by all this progress (The Independent)
  • Bonus gossip! Tabloid star Salman Rushdie has a new girlfriend, got writer’s block after divorcing Padma Lakshmi, is appearing as a gynecologist in a film, and was lying when he said he loved Islam.

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Too much information from Lady Black

Quillblog assumes you’ve heard about that Conrad Black fellow by now; it seems he’s somewhat guilty. But amid the deluge of media coverage, we missed a little morsel from Barbara Amiel that the New York media and gossip blog Gawker has kindly highlighted for everyone. Because we had to think about it, you must too.

The Times, which carried a fairly solid timeline/analysis piece this weekend, wonders if Lady Black’s imperious image may have hurt her husband with the jury and contains this absolutely horrifying passage:

“In her last column written before the verdict, Ms. Amiel wrote about her pending move out of her temporary Chicago home – a five-room suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. She noted that her husband was already well into a manuscript for a new book, having just published a biography of Richard M. Nixon, but that she had not used her spare time during the four-month trial productively.

‘Give him another four months – and fewer nights of love – and he’ll have two finished manuscripts,’ she noted.”

Please excuse this Quillblogger; she has to go scrub her brain with steel wool.


Resistance is futile

Entertainment Weekly’s books editor, Tina Jordan, has been writing about the conundrum she faced when she discovered that her bright, bookish daughter was reading a trashy Gossip Girl novel. Discounting taking the book away as a form of censorship, Jordan asked her readers: “What do you do when you hate what your daughter is reading?”

The responses from her colleagues and readers were instructive, less for any advice on how to redirect her daughter back into reading literature than for reminding Jordan why teens read trash. And to the surprise of no one who has ever been a teen…

Everyone pretty much agreed: This kind of surreptitious reading is a traditional rite of passage. But what surprised me was how many of my colleagues — separated not just by geography but by generation — turned to the same books for their, uh, information: The Godfather (page 27 was specifically mentioned by two people), Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Jaws, The Diary of Anais Nin, The Other Side of Midnight, and anything by Judy Blume or John Jakes (though, as senior editor Thom Geier said, ”But Jakes tended to write his sex scenes in language so obscure that you’d have to go rushing to the dictionary to figure out what in the world he was trying to say. And even then, you didn’t really learn very much”).

The list is long and varied, and it makes the Peel Region’s Catholic School Board’s attempt to take David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars out of school libraries in Ontario look utterly futile.

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This is just too easy

The New York Daily News reported yesterday on a smirk-inducing literary phenomenon: the celebrity novel. Starting as a discussion on Nicole Richie’s thinly veiled roman à clef and gossip rag of a novel, The Truth About Diamonds, it examines the popularity of the phenomenon among both wannabe writers with Hollywood addresses (including everyone from Ethan Hawke to Joan Collins, Ivana Trump, and Pamela Anderson) and, predictably, among readers. And to be fair, the article even points out how many people — critics and literary snobs among them — want to see celebrities’ books fail. But reading through an excerpt of Richie’s novel about a spoiled, rich girl and her spoiled, rich friends, one gets the impression that snobs don’t have to will books like hers to fail. They do so of their own accord.

Related links:
Click here for the New York Daily News article
Click here for an excerpt from The Truth About Diamonds

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Steve Artelle

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Kaie Kellough


Hall of Honourers

Brandon Wint

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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