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SIPS

Happy Summer Solstice! On this longest day of the year and first day of summer, I am kicking off my latest reading project—Support Indie Publishers Summer (or #SIPS in hashtagese). Inspired by my love of indie publishers and my need to tackle some of my TBR in earnest (and also my impending unemployment, which will give me the free time to read and blog about great books—although hot tips on publishing jobs are most welcome), I will be blogging and tweeting about what I read and also including some features on publishers or more in-depth analyses of books or stories that I love. I encourage everyone to seek out books from independent publishers this summer, and if you can’t buy them direct from the publisher, please buy from a local or nearby independent bookshop or borrow from the library.

Here follows the lecture portion of this blogpost: The whole point of a project like this is to support independent business. Corporate chains selling yoga mats and home décor with books on the side or evil online monopolies run by inhumane gazillionaires are not businesses anyone should support. Ordering direct from an indie publisher or an indie bookshop might cost a bit more in shipping or take a little longer to arrive, but the satisfaction of knowing that your dollars are deeply appreciated and are going back in to the local independent arts and culture economy is worth it.

So, today, I’m just going to encourage you to visit the websites of some of my very favourite indie publishers and browse around and perhaps do a little shopping to get ready for #SIPS. I can’t possibly list all the publishers I’ll mention this summer (mostly because I’m bound to forget someone crucial), and I’m not going to recommend any books to you at this point, because I want you to explore and find the books that appeal to you. I’ll evangelize about my faves later. I do want to hear from people about what indie published books they’re reading this summer, and if you are blogging or tweeting about things, let me know and I’ll boost the signal. In any case, here is a starter list, to be amended as the summer wears on, of the publishers whose books I will definitely be chatting about. There’s a mix of Canadian, American, Irish, and UK-based publishers here, as well as English language and translation-focused publishers.

And Other Stories

Archipelago Books

Biblioasis

Blue Moose Books

Canongate

Catapult

Coach House

Coffee House Press

Dalkey Archive Press

Deep Vellum Press

Dorothy

Feminist Press

Galley Beggar Press

Gaspereau Press

Granta

Graywolf Press

Hingston & Olsen

Lilliput Press

McSweeney’s

Melville House

New Directions

New Island Books

New York Review of Books

Open Letter Press

Pushkin Press

Salt

Small Beer Press

Soft Skull Press

The Stinging Fly

Tin House

Tramp Press

Transit Books

Two Dollar Radio

Wakefield Press

I promise at least weekly posts (I am busy job hunting, after all), and will post more frequently when I am able. Here we go. Happy reading!

 

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SIPSAfter one of the most interminable winters (no, seriously) filled with very little recreational reading and a lot of terrible undergrad essays, I have decided that I am going to spend my impending unemployment (btw, I’m looking for a job in publishing… pass it on!) catching up my TBR list (just kidding — it’s as interminable as an Edmonton winter). I’ve noticed lately that several of my favourite indie presses have been struggling or running fundraising campaigns so that they can continue to do the vital work that they do. So, from June 21 to September 22, I am going to dedicate this blog (which has long been in hibernation) to writing about great books from indie presses that you should read. I’ll be tweeting about the books with the hashtag #SIPS (which, let’s face it, acknowledges the other main activity of the summer that will accompany my reading). I’ve yet to settle on the details of the approach (which was originally going to be a publisher a week, but then I realized I couldn’t squeeze all my lovely favourites in!), so it will probably be seat-of-the-pants, as per usual. So, I’d love it if you all would join me in spreading the love for indie presses this summer. (And also, I obviously just want to snoop what you are reading). More to come next week!

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This blog has been sadly neglected of late, as a return to grad school and a sudden job offer in publishing necessitated two cross-country moves in 12 months. But I couldn’t miss out on posting for International Translation Day, even if just to post a list of some of my favourite translations in recent (and not so recent!) years. I’ll stick with perhaps some lesser known authors and mainly indie presses. There’s some linguistic variety here (Korean, Turkish, Norwegian, French, Italian, Czech, Bulgarian, Icelandic, Russian, Angolan Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish…), but I’m doing this without the benefit of having my bookshelf nearby (sadly it is 4,000 km to the left of me), so these are the off-the-top of-my-head, less-obvious picks (besides the usual faves Borges, Saramago, Gogol, Kafka… you know the drill), and I’m certainly forgetting some great reads. Feel free to comment and recommend some of your own faves to me, as I do love an infinite TBR list!

  1. Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco (McSweeney’s)
  2. No One Writes Back by Eun-Jin Jang (Dalkey Archive Press)
  3. The Man Who Walked Through Walls by Marcel Aymé (Pushkin Press)
  4. The General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa (Archipelago Books)
  5. The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto (Biblioasis)
  6. Collected Stories by Clarice Lispector (New Directions)
  7. Spilt Milk by Chico Buarque (Grove Press)
  8. The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti Skomsvold (Dalkey Archive Press)
  9. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (Harcourt)
  10. Varamo by César Aira (New Directions)
  11. The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)
  12. The Garden of the Departed Cats by Bilge Karasu (New Directions)
  13. The Goddess of Fireflies by Geneviève Petterson (Esplanade)
  14. Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki (Biblioasis)
  15. Life Embitters by Josep Pla (Archipelago)
  16. The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux (Biblioasis)
  17. The Club of Angels by Luis Fernando Verissimo (New Directions)
  18. Eleven Prague Corpses by Kirill Kobrin (Dalkey Archive Press)
  19. Circus Bulgaria by Deyen Enev (Portobello)
  20. The Blue Fox by Sjon (FSG)
  21. The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (Penguin Classics)

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Last year, as you may recall, I let loose a rather impassioned rant about the Man Booker International Prize. Well, it appears that someone somewhere heard my cries. The Man Booker International Prize short list was announced today, and it is a thing of beauty. Of the 10 finalists, 8 are authors who write in languages other than English, and TWO of the authors (Couto and Aira) actually appeared as suggestions in my original angry post. (Coincidence? I think not!) So, I’m totally taking the credit for the fact that this year we have the pleasure of being introduced to more non-English writers, less familiar names, and I’m pleased that even the names I’m already familiar with aren’t really household names and are entirely deserving of a more global readership. Deep gratitude goes to the judges this year for saving a prize that I had almost given up on! Well done Marina Warner, Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Edwin Frank, and Wen-Chin Ouwang. You have redeemed the Man Booker International Prize, and brought English readers a treasure trove of new authors to explore. I look forward to reading books from each of the authors on this short list, and am actually excited for an award announcement for the first time in a very long time!

The Man Booker International prize short list, with some notes on what I’ve got on the shelf. I’m so excited to have new authors to discover!
• César Aira (Argentina) – My favourite (so far) is Varamo, but really, anything Aira writes is gold.

• Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)

• Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)

• Mia Couto (Mozambique) – My favourite is The Last Flight of the Flamingo, and I’m looking forward to getting to The Tuner of SIlences.

• Amitav Ghosh (India) – The Sea of Poppies sits on my shelf, waiting for me to have time…

• Fanny Howe (US)

• Ibrahim Al-Koni (Libya)

• László Krasznahorkai (Hungary) – I’ve read bits of The Melancholy of Resistance and it is amazing, but then, I haven’t had the time to tackle Satantango yet, which I hear is a masterpiece…

• Alain Mabanckou (Democratic Republic of the Congo) – I’ve had Broken Glass on my TBR since 2010, but have yet to order it in. That makes it #1 on the pile.

• Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, I would like to recommend 25* (okay, now 30 because I decided to add non-fiction and poetry) of my favorite women writers from around the globe:

Jang Eun-Jin – No One Writes Back

Barbara Comyns – Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric

Assia Djebar – A Sister to Scheherazade

Elizabeth McCracken – Thunderstruck and Other Stories

Fatima Mernissi – Dreams of Trespass

Jacqueline Baker – The Broken Hours; The Horseman’s Graves; A Hard Witching and Other Stories

Ahdaf Soueif – A Map of Love

Mary Swan – The Boys in the Trees

Valeria Luiselli – Faces in the Crowd

Nuala Ní Chonchúir – Mother America

Kjersti Skomsvold – The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am

Alissa York – Effigy

Park Wan-Suh – Lonesome You

Tiffany Murray – Diamond Star Halo; Sugar Hall

Aglaja Veteranyi – Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta

Jenny Offill – Dept. of Speculation

Clarice Lispector – The Hour of the Star; A Breath of Life; The Foreign Legion

Lucy Wood – Diving Belles and Other Stories

Nawal El Saadawi – God Dies by the Nile

Kate Atkinson – Life After Life

Anna Gavalda – I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere

Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni

Kiran Desai – Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard

Karen Russell – St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half a Yellow Sun

Missy Marston – The Love Monster

Roxane Gay – Bad Feminist

Leslie Jamison – The Empathy Exams

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In an attempt not to bail on my “post regularly” resolution a mere 25 days after the resolution post, here’s an update on what I’ve been reading and how my read slow / read big project is coming along (spoiler alert: it’s not):

In January, I truly believed my work schedule for this semester would allow me to take things slow and read big. Boy was I wrong. After my last post, things suddenly picked up with editing/proofreading work, which is great, because that helps with another of the resolutions! However, my “leisurely” reading time has all but evaporated. I now only read for pleasure on the bus to and from work.

What I Read

Even though I’ve not been able to read “big” I’ve managed to squeeze in 4 shorter reads so far this year (not counting work reads). I just finished reading Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer (Groundwood), a YA graphic novel that won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Illustration. The artwork is beautiful and evocative, and the story is insightful. The graphic novel captures that difficult moment between childhood and teenage years when there is a dreadful “inbetween-ness” that sometimes separates kids from their parents and their friends, and sometimes even their own understanding of themselves and their own behaviour. Some of those problems stem from an awareness and a desire to appear more “grown-up” and deal with “grown-up” things, but not having all the information or the emotional capacity to cope with the fall out/consequences. The story deals with several complex and difficult issues with a light, non-preachy touch, and is compulsively readable. 4 stars.

Simon Rich’s collection of short stories, Spoiled Brats (Little, Brown), has some absolute gems in it, but I found more misses than hits in this collection. Rich is certainly clever, and I can see him developing into a great comic writer, but at this stage I found the comparisons to Woody Allen to be off the mark. However, there are 5 or 6 stories in this collection that had me in stitches: “Sell Out” and “Animals” and were among the best and show his potential for humour and depth. The less impressive ones were entertaining but without staying power. Worth picking up for “Sell Out” and “Animals” alone, but expect more and better from Rich as he develops over the next few years. 3.5 stars.

I was enamoured of Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper (dorothy) for the first third of the book and a small section near the end. I loved the prose, but found myself tiring of the selfishness of the characters, and struggled to get through the last two thirds of the book mostly because of my own reactions to those characters and their lack of (or willful blindness to) self-awareness, and their narcissism. However, I will certainly be watching out for Nell Zink’s next book, because she is clearly a talent to be watched. 3.5 stars.

My first read of the year was also one that has already made my “Best Reads of the Year” list, which is a hell of a feat. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns (dorothy) is darkly hilarious, macabre, and moving. The Willoweed family, an aristocratic family on the decline, must deal with first a flood, and then a mysterious plague of madness and death that sweeps through the village. Both the events and their consequences change the family forever. My only problem was that I felt as though the ending rushed a bit (or perhaps the problem is that I just didn’t want the book to end). 4.5 stars.

Currently Reading: Eric Lundren’s The Facades (Overlook)

I’ve also decided to let you folks know what books I buy, because if I buy something, I’m confident I’ll get around to reading it someday, and I’m also confident that I will enjoy it enough to own it forever (because I only ever get rid of duplicates). So, here’s a new little segment:

Newly Shelved But Not Yet Read (Jan/Feb)

I am Radar – Reif Larsen (Penguin)

Welcome to Braggsville – T. Geronimo Johnson (William Morrow)

Get in Trouble – Kelly Link (Random House)

Blood-Drenched Beard – Daniel Galera (Hamish Hamilton)

And the Birds Rained Down – Jocelyne Saucier (Coach House)

Works – Edouard Leve (Dalkey Archive Press)

Fancy – Jeremy M. Davies (Ellipsis)

Of Things Gone Astray – Janina Matthewson (The Friday Project)

The Old Ways – Robert MacFarlane (Penguin)

Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper (Hamish Hamilton)

When Mystical Creatures Attack! – Kathleen Founds (U Iowa P)

The Land of Laughs – Jonathan Carroll (Viking)

Hotel Andromeda – Gabriel Josipovici (Carcanet)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – Caitlin Doughty (Norton)

Silver Screen Fiend – Patton Oswalt (Scribner)

Every Blade of Grass – Thomas Wharton (self published)

The Librarian – Mikhail Elizarov (Pushkin Press)

The Voyage – Murray Bail (MacLehose)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne Valente (Square Fish)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Knopf)

In other news, at this pace, I will have to declare bankruptcy by the end of the second quarter. Until I typed those all up, I did not realize there were that may new books in the apartment, because they are scattered in so many different rooms. Wow. Well, at least it’s not heroin, I guess.

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Reading Resolutions 2015

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2015! I took the month of January off from the blog (unannounced, apologies for that) to rest, regroup, and reconsider a number of things related to my reading life. So, in this first post of the new year, I thought I should identify some changes I am hoping to make this year, for my blog and my life. Here are four to begin with:

#1 – SLOW DOWN: I’m tired of rushing. I want to take time and savour some longer novels that I have been putting off because I knew they’d eat into my time for other books and that would impact my annual reading goal. So, I’m cutting my reading goal by more than half. I’m only aiming to read 20 books this year (assuming, of course, that I will read more, but not pressuring myself to do so). I also read for two of my day jobs, so it becomes more difficult to find time to read for fun, especially if I have to take work home. So instead of reading more, I’m hoping to read bigger and at a more leisurely pace.

*NOTE: Since starting the draft of this post, I discovered the tragic flaw in this cunning plan to read bigger: that 500 page book is just not convenient to read on my commute because it doesn’t fit in my purse, and it’s bloody heavy, and it’s awkward as arse. So, my new plan is to leave the big reads at home for bedtime reading, and carry a small book for commutes.

#2 – Write more blog posts more regularly and with more variety. I would like to post more about what I read (instead of just end of year recaps), make nerdy lists with commentary about books I’ve read, post short reviews, and write about bookish things that I find interesting or problematic. Not just to be negative for negativity’s sake, but to bring issues that I have with contemporary reading culture out into the light to perhaps encourage debate about them in a civil way. For example, the rush to speed market books on social media when what a book really needs is time to find its audience; the importance of the “critical” in literary criticism and reviewing; the superficial way sites deal with books reviews/recommendations (the dreaded listicle or capsule cheerleading post); the reasons I find the campaigns for diverse reading so sad (but of course, necessary), etc. So, in the coming months, there may be some changes happening with the blog content. With this, there is likely to be some growing pains, as I try to find ways to keep things organized. Please bear with me!

#3 – Boycott Amazon for book buying: I am tired of the big bad wolf and the negative way it has impacted the entire book industry (and I’m tired of the people who continue to support it when there are so many other viable options out there). I’ve always supported local independent bookstores first (and am happy to order books in and wait a few weeks), and only ever used the big bad when I had no other option for books I needed quickly or books that were not available in Canada. I’ve now decided that those are no longer good excuses, so I won’t be spending my dollars at Amazon or Book Depository anymore. Instead, I will be exercising patience and ordering books in from my local independent bookshop, Audrey’s Books, or All Lit Up for Canadian titles, and from Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway for my UK/Irish titles. I have also started ordering books directly from the publisher and have already received fantastic books from dorothy, a publishing project, and Pushkin Press. I know that Amazon is pervasive and has its fingers in many pies (Goodreads included). I do eventually want to extract my self from Amazon’s clutches entirely, but as someone who grew quite dependent on Goodreads for tracking books for my TBR list (that now has over 1400 titles on it), un-Goodreading that information will take a lot of time that I just don’t have right now. So, my TBR shall remain where it is, but my shopping is now Amazon free.

#4 – Begin seeking out a publishing job in earnest. I don’t often discuss my personal life on this blog, but since this goal is related to my reading life, and since this is a long-held dream of mine that perhaps I need a little push to chase, I shall post it here. I have spent the last couple of years as a freelance copy-editor and proofreader, and have been lucky enough to do work for two excellent independent publishers that publish a lot of fiction in translation. I have loved every minute of it. Now is the time to be brave and make a move toward finding a more permanent, full-time position (or at least a steady contract work) so that I can leave my current day job behind (which has been rewarding, but is not my calling). I am not a writer and harbor no delusions of becoming one, because I lack the talent. I have only ever wanted to be an editor, and now is the time to start down that path (well, 20 years ago would have been the time, but as a kid from the prairies, I didn’t know that was a career option!). So, by this time next year, with anyone out there who reads this to hold me to it, I will have set some plan in motion to get myself a job in publishing – whether that be going back to school for another Masters degree (in publishing this time), or finding an entry level job at a publishing house. Hooray! I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up.

I have other resolutions in mind for the year, but I think four is quite enough to be cracking on with. I hope you all have set yourselves a reading resolution for the new year, whether it be to read more, read slower, read aloud to your kids, read a book by someone who doesn’t look like you, read a book translated from another language… Whatever it is, use your resolutions to open your horizons.

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