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bookshopsamazonWhile most of this project will focus on fiction, I’m going to kick it off with one of my favourite nonfiction titles (and an essay) particularly relevant to the topic at hand. Bookshops: A Reader’s History by Jorge Carrión was published by Biblioasis in 2017, and hit shelves just after I left my post there as the Director of Marketing. (Humblebrag: contributing the subtitle for the North American edition was one of my proudest moments in publishing so far). Carrión’s book, in Peter Bush’s excellent translation from the Spanish, is one of those remarkable reads that somehow both satiates and stimulates the mind. The book is an intelligent and charming combination of travelogue, manifesto, and love letter. Reading it makes you want to visit bookshops in other cities and countries, exchange anecdotes and recommendations with the author, and fight the forces threatening to destroy these incredible spaces of social, cultural, and intellectual community.

 

And, of course, it makes you want to read more. I had to have a pen and notepad handy when reading so I could add titles to my TBR list, or make notes about things I wanted to read up on. I found the behavioural contradiction inspired by the book hilarious and frustrating: I wanted to get up and go traveling to bookshops both near and far, but I also wanted to snuggle in and keep reading Bookshops and do some deep-dive reading on all those wonderful ideas and new reading recommendations I had from within its pages. It was almost like those wonderful chats you have with people sometimes, where you follow one another down the “Have you read…?” rabbit hole. That was my favourite part of being a bookseller, the increased frequency of that rabbit hole and the joy everyone had falling down it.

 

Here are just three of the books added to my collection after reading this one. All three of these authors were already represented on my shelves, but these books were sought out specifically because of what Carrión said about them in his book. I’ve often wanted to map my books autobiographically, a project far beyond practicality now, but these small connections are satisfying. Two were purchased from Biblioasis bookshop (Biblioasis was a bookshop first, and in 2004 became a publishing house thanks to the determination and will of the intrepid Daniel Wells) and the Kiš was a lucky find in an amazing secondhand shop—Alhambra Books—here in Edmonton. Notice they are also mostly indie publishers:

 

 

 

Given the subject matter of Bookshops: A Reader’s History, it can come as no great surprise that Carrión is not a fan of the big bad Bezos and his Amazonian empire (what decent human being is, really?). Carrión’s essay, Against Amazon: Seven Arguments/One Manifesto, (also translated by Peter Bush)—printed as a chapbook by Biblioasis and posted later at LitHub—is a great companion piece to Bookshops: A Reader’s History (and more support for my lecture in the SIPS launch post). The chapbook made a big splash with indie booksellers and at the Frankfurt Book Fair, as Publishers Weekly reported. For anyone who still needs convincing that Amazon is not the right place to spend money ever, the essay makes a good case.

 

But I think the book makes an even better one. Why? Because the shops Carrión writes about have individuality, history, purpose, and his book makes you want to be a part of that. Reading this book makes people want to become part of the community created by bookshops, by the immediacy of the connection between author, publisher, bookseller, and reader in those spaces (through books, or shared knowledge/experiences/desires, or events), and by the special knowledge and personalized touch those stores can provide. While a local shop might not be able to guarantee delivery in 24 hours, it can guarantee you the space to explore, and the booksellers who know the literary landscape and who can recommend your next favourite read with much greater success than any algorithm ever will because they also know you as a reader and a person, not just a consumer. In this culture of instant gratification, a little patience is a good thing. It allows room for desire. I just got a phone call from my local shop (Audreys) about 3 special orders that are in from the UK that I have been waiting almost 8 weeks for. And I am so stoked to go pick them up!

 

Indie bookshops are the best place for indie publishers to find their champions in booksellers, because otherwise their titles are drowned out in the algorithmic noise and the clamour for bestseller status.There is no room for individuality in Bezos’s algorithmic future, which is why the big publishing houses are now all chasing trends and not good literature (if I ever see another blurb declaring “the next Gone Girl,” I’m burning it all down). But the individuality, history, and purpose of indie bookshops perfectly suits the indie publisher. It’s also why indie publishers matter. They take risks. They’re interesting. They are a glitch in the matrix—a commercial enterprise with a cultural heart. Each indie publishers list has a distinct editorial flavour because at a small press every project has to be a passion project. I’ll be writing more about those passion projects as the summer continues, and I’ll be returning to Biblioasis for a closer look at some of their fiction in a later post. But, in the meantime, if you are looking for an intellectual, charming, and engaging read by a kindred spirit, look no further than Jorge Carrión’s Bookshops: A Reader’s History. Happy reading!

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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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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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Nothing whets my appetite for travel quite like reading. Generally, my choice of travel destination has been influenced by my reading habits: Obsessed with Flann O’Brien and Celtic myth? Ireland, Scotland, Wales. Reading Jose Saramago and Fernando Pessoa? A pilgrimage to Portugal. Immersed in Bohumil Hrabal? Beat a path to Bohemia.

On occasion, I travel to regions whose literature is not readily available here in North America. The Dalkey Archive Press is working to remedy that problem. Through their new Best European Fiction anthology series (2010 and 2011 available) they provide access to authors from regions not often represented by English language publishers. Indeed, have you ever read anything by a Moldovan, a Montenegran, or a Cypriot? Neither have I. But I intend to remedy that as soon as my special order for these anthologies arrives at the bookshop.

As well, Dalkey Archive Press has embarked upon a new National Literature Series, giving us a sampling of longer works of literature. Currently, there are titles available in the Hebrew, Slovenian, and Catalan series. I feel a trip coming on.

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