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Martel, Munro join campaign for treeless paper

Sustainable paper advocate Canopy has two new high-profile faces to add to its conservation initiative. Yann Martel and Alice Munro have partnered with the Vancouver-based not-for-profit to release special, signed editions of Life of Pi (Knopf Canada) and Dear Life (McClelland & Stewart) on “treeless” paper.

The collectors’ editions will be printed on the company’s straw-based paper, created from a blend of wheat straw, flax straw, and recycled paper. Dubbed Second Harvest Paper, it is made from straw left over after the grain harvest, and its production uses fewer chemicals and less energy and water than traditional paper.

The Martel and Munro reprints are part of a campaign to create an alternative to logging forests for paper. But they aren’t the first novelists to draw attention to the initiative. In October 2011, Margaret Atwood partnered with Canopy to print a special limited edition of In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (M&S), which became the first book in North America to be printed on straw paper.

The success of the collection prompted Winnipeg-based Prairie Pulp & Press to produce a similar paper for consumer use. Manufactured in India and made from 80 per cent straw and 20 per cent Forest Stewardship Council–certified wood fibre, Step Forward Paper became available in Staples stores in August.

Martel and Munro’s books are available exclusively via Canopy’s online store. Life of Pi was released today, while Dear Life (which can be pre-ordered) will be available by mid-April.

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Life of Pi sells 1.5 million copies since film release

Even if Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi doesn’t receive a single Academy Award on Sunday night, the film is already a winner for the author.

According to a press release from Martel’s agency, Westwood Creative Artists*, the novel has sold more than 1.5 million copies via its English-language publishers, Canongate in the U.K., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the U.S., and Random House Canada, which published a movie tie-in version of the book under its Vintage Canada imprint.

In an email interview with Canadian Press, Martel recommends reading the book prior to seeing the film. “One should start with the original work,” he says.

Life of Pi enjoyed an initial sales bump in 2002 after winning the Man Booker Prize. Prior to the film’s release, international sales in all languages were reported to be in excess of nine million copies, with 812,000 copies in Canada alone.

The film is up for 11 Academy Awards, including an adapted screenplay nomination for David Magee.

*Update Feb. 22: A previous version of this post did not mention Westwood Creative Artists.

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BookNet bestsellers: Canadian fiction

Lawrence Hill takes three spots on this week’s list for Canadian fiction.

For the two weeks ending July 8, 2012:

1. The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
(Vintage Canada, $22 pa, 9780307401427)

2. Room, Emma Donoghue
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443413695)

3. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9780062203960)

4. The Virgin Cure, Ami McKay
(Vintage Canada, $22 pa, 9780676979572)

5. The Wild Zone, Joy Fielding
(Seal Books/Random House Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781400025794)

6. Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
(Thomas Allen Publishers, $24.95 pa, 9780887627415)

7. The Witch of Babylon, D.J. McIntosh
(Penguin Canada, $13.50 mm, 9780143175735)

8. A Good Man, Guy Vanderhaeghe
(M&S, $22 pa, 9780771086083)

9. The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
(House of Anansi Press, $22.95 pa, 9781770890329)

10. A Trick of the Light, Louise Penny
(St. Martin’s Press/Raincoast, $16.99 pa, 9781250007346)

11. The Headmaster’s Wager, Vincent Lam
(Doubleday Canada, $32.95 cl, 9780385661454)

12. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443408981)

13. Spell Bound, Kelley Armstrong
(Vintage Canada, $17.95 pa, 9780307359032)

14. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 pa, 9780061974304)

15. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
(Vintage Canada, $21 pa, 9780676973778)

16. The Winter Palace, Eva Stachniak
(Doubleday Canada, $24.95 pa, 9780385666565)

17. Ru, Kim Thúy; Sheila Fischman, trans.
(Random House Canada, $25 cl, 9780307359704)

18. Any Known Blood, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $17.99 pa, 9781443409100)

19. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $17.99 pa, 9781443409094)

20. Everybody Has Everything, Katrina Onstad
(M&S, $22.99 pa, 9780771068980)


Yann Martel lands cameo in Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s film version of Life of Pi isn’t due in theatres until late next year, but anticipation is running high. In a feature interview in today’s Globe and Mail, author Yann Martel – who is scheduled to speak with one of the film’s stars, Bollywood actress Tabu, in Vancouver on Friday – discusses his involvement in making the film, which recently wrapped after 100 days of shooting.

Martel didn’t write the screenplay but says he was “kept in the loop” as the project cycled through directors. He also expresses his approval of Oscar winner Lee, who shot the film in 3-D.

Martel tells reporter Marsha Lederman:

“[Lee] is a perfect director for this kind of story…. He’s good at both the emotional detail but also he’s very adept at making complicated movies that demand special effects. So he’s good at the tight angle and the wide shot…. And I like that it wasn’t someone who had the bluster that some American directors might have brought to the project.”

Martel says that under Lee’s direction, he expects the technology will contribute to, rather than overshadow, the storytelling. “The danger of 3-D would be I guess that it looks spectacular, but it feels hollow. That’s why I was happy to have someone like Ang Lee, who is too sensitive a director and too ambitious to want to do something that just looks good but is clunky and has no heart.”

Martel also discusses the surreal experience of appearing as an extra in the film, and of meeting actor Tobey Maguire, who plays the role of a journalist who records the story of Pi, a 16-year-old boy who spends 227 days on a raft with a Royal Bengal tiger. Maguire had grown out his curly hair and scruffy beard to resemble the famed Saskatoon-based author when the two met in Montreal.

“It seemed unreal that this is what’s become of a story that I wrote when I had no money. I mean two years before I finished Life of Pi, my declared income was $6,000. I was way under the poverty line. … But every morning my office had a tiger in it and I had to keep it alive and that was my main concern.

“So I was flabbergasted at the extravaganza of the production,” he continued. “It’s delightful. It’s amazing that a product of my mind should 10 years down the road lead to this.”

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Writers’ Trust turns spotlight on political books

Spurred by the recent federal election, The Writers’ Trust of Canada has partnered with Samara, a non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen citizen engagement in Canada’s democratic system, to launch a project called The Best Canadian Political Books of the Last 25 Years.

In a press release, the WTOC describes the project as an opportunity to “highlight books that have captured the Canadian political imagination and contributed in a compelling and unique way to how Canadians understand a political issue, event, or personality” — and they want everyone to join in.

The public is encouraged to nominate their top three titles in Canadian politics via Samara’s online nomination form before June 23. A longlist will be announced July 1 (Canada’s most patriotic of day of the year, of course).  Throughout the month of July, Canadians will again be encouraged to vote and comment on the list, with the winning books announced Aug. 1.

WTOC and Samara have asked a few notable Canadian political writers and activists to nominate their favourite books. Here are a some of the titles already in the ring:

Anna Porter’s Nominees:
The Player: The Life & Times of Dalton Camp by Geoffrey Stevens
Harperland: The Politics of Control by Lawrence Martin
Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper’s New Conservatism by Paul Wells

Terry Fallis’s Nominees:
King John of Canada by Scott Gardiner
Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown
Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Volume II: 1968–2000 by John English

Tim Cook’s Nominees:
The Worldly Years: Life of Lester Pearson, Volume II: 1949–1972 by John English
Memoirs: 1939–1993 by Brian Mulroney
Empire to Umpire: Canada and the World into the 1990s by J. L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer


Books of the Year 2010: Fiction and Poetry

There’s no formula for choosing the books of the year. Some break ground, some tackle familiar themes with new energy. Some represent the best work from established authors, some introduce us to important new voices. And some are simply in-house favourites we feel deserve a little more attention. Here are the Fiction and Poetry books that made the most impact in 2010.

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Martel’s musical flight of fancy

Yann Martel is no doubt a busy man: not only is the Man Booker Prize–winning author of Life of Pi a new father, he’s also promoting his latest novel, Beatrice & Virgil, and fending off a slew of negative reviews. Yet the Montreal native has also found time to engage in a bit of classical music–inspired whimsy. On Tuesday, at a performance by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Martel supplied an original text to accompany some ballet music by Beethoven. The piece, called The Parole Hearing of Prometheus, took the form of a courtroom drama and was performed in French by Quebec actor Michel Dumont.

From The Gazette:

Trial-by-jury is not an original motif, but it got the piece up and running. Prometheus stood accused not simply of stealing fire and giving it to mankind but of enabling the despoliation of a planet the gods had been treating rather well. “Even Lord Hephaestus, the divine blacksmith, says he does not need so much heat and fire,” thundered Dumont the prosecutor in one of Martel’s more inspired flights.

According to Gazette classical music critic Arthur Kaptainis, the evening was “mostly good fun” despite the “earnest Al Gore undercurrent” of Martel’s accompanying script. Still, following the lead of book critics in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, Kaptainis couldn’t help taking a dig at Martel:

Dumont’s delivery, comic and robust, was entirely in French. Undoubtedly the language of Molière is well suited to courtroom grandiloquence. The English as printed seemed less witty and less literary. This is a significant observation: Martel wrote the text in English and had his parents prepare a translation.

Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail described Martel’s text as a “mere bagatelle compared with the grandeur” of the music, complaining that the story, which touched on melting ice caps and oil spills, was “a tad preachy.”

Martel fans can make up their own minds: a recording of the performance will eventually be released on CD.


Life of Pi to be filmed in 3-D

More details have emerged about director Ang Lee’s planned film adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, and it looks like it will be shot in 3-D. From indieWIRE:

[Fox 2000 producer Elizabeth] Gabler and the filmmakers are lining up a big budget well north of $70 million for a 3-D magical fantasy adventure crammed with visual effects. There’s a shipwreck, the ship sinks, and a teenage boy is launched overboard and climbs into a life raft with a zebra, hyena, and a tiger. There are many CG animals (whales, fish, meercats) plus ocean and atmosphere. “It has a gigantic visual effects component,” says Gabler. “You can’t put a live tiger in a boat with a child. It has elements of Castaway, when the kid is alone in the boat. You don’t need language to convey what’s on the screen. We need to make the movie for the whole world.”

Hollywood producers don’t tend to invest $70 million in a movie without having some marquee names tied to it, and since the lead is a young Indian boy, should we anticipate Morgan Freeman and Ben Stiller and others as talking animals?


Yann Martel takes a break from Stephen Harper book project

With his next novel coming out in April, Yann Martel has informed Stephen Harper, his unresponsive book club partner, that he will be taking a break from his biweekly book-sharing project.

Since 2007, Martel has sent Harper 76 book that have “been known to expand stillness.” Today, however, Martel sent the prime minister a book accompanied by a letter explaining that he will take a four-month break from the project to promote his new novel, Beatrice & Virgil. From Martel’s letter:

I’ve decided to invite other Canadian writers to join our literary journey. I’m glad about the decision. This is certainly a case of making a virtue of necessity. After all, why should I be alone in making reading suggestions to you?

Martel also revealed that he recently received a handwritten thank you note from Barack Obama, who had just finished reading Martel’s Life of Pi with his daughter. The president wrote that it was “a lovely book – an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” Martel told Harper that he would frame the note “for sure,” and still takes it out sometimes to marvel at it:

What amazes me is the gratuity of it. As you would know, there is a large measure of calculation in what public figures do. But here, what does he gain? I’m not a US citizen. In no way can I be of help to President Obama. Clearly he did it for personal reasons, as a reader and as a father. And in two lines, what an insightful analysis of Life of Pi. Bless him, bless him.

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Yann Martel’s “shocking” new novel

Yann Martel’s follow-up to Life of Pi, titled Beatrice and Virgil and due in June 2010, is already generating controversy in the U.K., where Martel’s publisher, Canongate, has described the novel, an allegory about the Holocaust, as “shocking.”

From CBC News:

According to Jamie Byng, managing director and publisher of Canongate, “it will take us somewhere truly unexpected and shocking” and asks “profound moral and philosophical questions about the nature of love and evil.”

Despite the nine-year gap between Life of Pi and its successor, Martel has been keeping busy. In addition to the new novel, Martel wrote a 14-stanza original poem about water for Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté’s “poetic space mission,” broadcast from the International Space Station on Oct.9.

Martel has also been wondering what Stephen Harper is reading, and has published a book based on his attempts to get the Prime Minister to read literary works that encourage “stillness” — including Martel’s own.  


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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

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

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

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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

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