Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts

Archive for November, 2011

November 29th, 2011 • Posted in Bookstores

“Why My Small Bookstore Matters”


What’s it worth to our communities, to our common culture, to have independent bookstores? What would it mean if online retailers became our only choice, if publishers reduced the number of titles they publish each year, if authors have Amazon publish their books? Do we want books — their publication and sale alike — in the hands of a single corporation? What will happen to authors like Justin Torres or Alice LaPlante, Miranda July or Jhumpa Lahiri, if booksellers aren’t reading and recommending these extraordinary novelists to their communities? Will we all be “browsing” online? There are some wonderful book blogs on the Web. Will they become the sole source of discovery? Or, will the serendipitous discovery of a life-changing book, encountered while browsing books on a shelf, continue to play a role in our reading lives? What about a heartfelt recommendation from a bookseller who knows and who cares about the book, about you, and about matching one to the other?

At this moment in our industry’s history, indie stores like Changing Hands have in some ways become showrooms for books. We read, we recommend, we display staff picks, we advertise and promote, we interact one-on-one to match the right book with the right person, and we host hundreds of author events every year. Sadly, our sales don’t always reflect our efforts. Luckily, we generate a lot of local publicity for books and author events — in local newspapers, blogs and magazines, and on radio programs and morning television. But all too often the benefits of that hard work go to Amazon and the chain bookstores. This is not unique to Changing Hands. Millions of readers learn about books from enthusiastic indie bookstores across the country, then buy elsewhere, often resulting in our publisher partners lamenting the diminishing return they get from independent booksellers, when in fact the spike in online and chain store sales is frequently attributable to our collective nationwide efforts.

Sorry if this sounds like a rant, especially at this time of year, but this issue is serious both in terms of reading and of community. This isn’t just about my fate, but our collective fates as readers and as members of this wonderful community.

Read the rest here.


November 27th, 2011 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Literary Destination: Monroeville, Alabama, the setting for To Kill A Mockingbird

By Peg Fong

Monroeville, ALABAMA — A clock chimes and the sound is a reminder that time has changed. On the main street in the small Alabama town of Monroeville is Beehive Coffee and Books, a locally owned bookstore that opened up just a few years ago.

But some things remain the same. Among the bushes in the old courthouse that is now a museum dedicated to Harper Lee and Truman Capote, on a faded sign, bold black letters warn us not to break the pale camellias in the public square, despite the temptation, as Scout had, to pluck the
occasional one.

A thousand colours in a parched landscape come to life from pages of a book.

Harper Lee’s one and only novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, is not set in Monroeville but in the fictional community of Maycomb that bears more than a resemblance to this southern Alabama town which is home to 7,000 residents. Every year, 30,000 tourists visit Monroeville to retrace the steps of Scout, Jem, Dill and Atticus Finch.

To read more about Monroeville and other literary places, visit

November 26th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

$50,000 for one Poem, and the excellent idea behind the Montreal Prize

Asa Boxer, one of the people behind the first ever Montreal International Poetry contest (winner to be announced next month), puts it this way in the 2012 ARC Poetry Annual:

"What we’re trying to change is the idea that because we like a few of E.J. Pratt’s poems, anything of Pratt’s is genius. I think that’s a misguided approach because it assumes that if you love one poem by someone, then you should work to love their oeuvre. And this leads to studies of writing that truly doesn’t merit the attention. And this in turn leads to a relativizing effect for students and poets who figure, "Well, T. S. Eliot wrote a good deal of inscrutable stuff. He earned the right to confound people and make them dig for clues and hints of meaning somewhere far from the text." And this becomes the apogee of true greatness: what every poet aims to achieve is inscrutability and an audience that will take the time to generate meaning and significance for the author. If the reader doesn’t get it, it must be wise. The failure of course is the reader’s. Etcetera. I’d like to reverse this attitude and suggest that at least to some extent we read poems instead of poets. This way a poet’s reputation should neither hinder us from reading nor compel us to read his or her poems. It is unlikely and probably undesirable to expect readers to stop following oeuvres and careers. But it helps to have a counterbalancing perspective, which is what I hope the Montreal Prize will achieve."

How refreshing! It’s not the poet who deserves our attention but the poetry. It’s the poem, because over the centuries even our most revered practitioners have, during their lifetimes, typically produced only small handfuls of iconic, memorable poems; a majority of their output is deservedly forgotten. To wit: brilliant poetry is spectacularly difficult to write. Only a tiny percentage of poems produced by the smallest percentage of poets succeed in attaining greatness : as only one sperm fertilizes the egg. It’s the sperm not the donor that deserves recognition. It’s the poem on the page.

Similarly: it’s the words, and the power they have to move their readers that should be celebrated; not the celebrity of the writer. It’s the kind of poetry that by itself renders meaning – complex and otherwise -  and produces vital feeling, not the pretentious, pointless, self-absorbed onenism  that so often passes for good – that purportedly requires  ‘smarter’  others to figure out.

Just as the best book conversation focuses on the text, so, I’d say, with Boxer, the best, most valuable poetry prizes focus on the poems.

Watch for the Montreal Prize Global Poetry Anthology to be published by Vehicule Press imminently. And stay tuned for the winning entry.

November 25th, 2011 • Posted in Literary Tourism

Literary Tourism goes to the next Level

Not content to simply work with existing literary landmarks and writer’s houses, organizers of the Inaugural SELTI Writing Contest, the first tourism fiction contest ever conducted, are soliciting new fiction that incorporates a specific location, Moundville, Alabama, into its theme. The contest, co-sponsored by the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative (SELTI) and the University of Alabama Museums, is looking for short stories  that  promote tourism to this historic Native American archaeological site. Moundville is the site of impressive mounds that 800 years ago used to sit at the center of one of the largest Native American cities in North America. The site is now home to a museum and park that recently completed a $5 million renovation.

“I look forward to the increased exposure that the tourism fiction contest will bring to the Moundville site,” said Bill Bomar, Director of Moundville Archaeological Park. “Moundville is one of the nation’s premier archaeological sites, yet many outside of Alabama have never heard of it. This is such a creative way to make people aware of such an important part of our heritage.”

 The winning short story will be published online at the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative. “Tourism fiction is an innovative tool that can be used by any city or attraction in the world to engage potential tourists in an entirely new way,” said SELTI founder Patrick Miller, who also published the first interactive tourism novel on Kindle, “Blind Fate.”  The Inaugural SELTI Writing Contest is meant to showcase how public institutions can partner with private writers and publishers for mutual benefit, Miller said. The SELTI project was first introduced to the University of Alabama Museums through a statewide e-newsletter from the Alabama Tourism Department. The newsletter detailed a USA Today feature story on Miller’s work with interactive tourism novels. Miller’s novel was set in Montgomery, Alabama, and refered to attractions including the Rosa Parks Museum. The groundbreaking novel includes a tourism guide at the end where readers can click on links from inside the book and instantly browse the many related tourism websites.

Official rules for the SELTI contest can be found here: 

Contestants can start researching Moundville here:



November 23rd, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

David Hockney is the most influential British artist of all time

From The Independent: David Hockney is the most influential British artist of all time, according to a poll of 1,000 British painters and sculptors.

Hearing of the poll’s findings, Julian Spalding, former director of the Glasgow Museums and an art writer, said: “It’s very refreshing that artists are using their eyes and making judgments independent of the art market. It’s refreshing too that they’re mentioning artists who could actually influence somebody; because how does Damien Hirst influence anyone? He’s a dead end. When they come to do their own work, [artists] realise they can’t follow [them]. You have to look at someone who’s created something to be inspired. Hockney’s top, I think, because not only does he make things, but he has this wonderful enthusiasm for looking and making. Now that’s inspiring. He’s valued for what he actually does rather than what he says he is.”

Listen to Eleanor Wachtel’s lovely interview with Hockney here.

November 17th, 2011 • Posted in Literary Tourism

‘the warning may be offered that it will be idle for the pilgrim to question the museum authorities’

(V&A Museum, formerly South Kensington Museum)

"When this bereavement (news of the death of his father) overtook Keats, he was at Enfield, a pupil in the school of the Rev. John Clarke. It is many years since that building was pulled down to make room for a railway station, but happily a portion of the structure still survives, and is now illustrated for the first time in connection with the poet’s career…Because it was such an excellent example of the early Georgian domestic architecture, and not because it formed part of the building in which Keats was educated, the facade of this Engield schoolhouse escaped the usual fate of demolished bricks and mortar, and may now be seen in an annex of the South Kensington Museum, London (now the Victoria & Albert Museum), amid a motley collection of ship models and bottled monstrosities. Perhaps the warning may be offered that it will be idle for the pilgrim to question the museum authorities as to the whereabouts of the schoolhouse of John keats; they are, or were ignorant that such a treasure is in their charge; but if inquiry be made, as per the catalogue, for the "specimen of old English ornametal brick work and carving from an old house at Enfield, Middlesex," the seeker will in due time be rewarded by gazing upon at least a portion of the building which is our earliest surviving link with the life of Keats."

                                                 -    from Henry C. Shelley’s Literary By-Paths in Old England (1906)

November 17th, 2011 • Posted in Literary Tourism


‘Hurray up please it’s time’…time to get out of the pub, closing time. Shoo off. This at least is what Eliot wanted to convey with this phrase in The Waste Land. Classical Pursuits, on the other hand, a literary tour company that I’ve come to know and love, invokes Eliot’s phrase to tell us that it’s time to sign up for some exceptional trips they have planned: Key West (January 8 to 13, 2012) and India (February 24 to March 4, 2012). Final deadline to register for both is NOVEMBER 30.  

Both offer a welcome respite from the cold. Both will be led by Gary Schoepfel. Meet Gary on Youtube. Both offer  extraordinary reading experiences and carefully customized itineraries. As Ann Kirkland, owner of Classical Pursuits, puts it:

"In an era when the US seems to have lost its bearings, calls for reform are regularly labelled naïve Utopianism. And we all remember how Soviet Communism — with its promise of economic and social equality — quickly turned to tyranny and disarray. In quirky and magical Key West, a place known for its idyllic surroundings and artistic sensibilities, we will explore the ideological continuum from pragmatic, through utopian, to dystopian, calling on the great writings of Margaret Atwood and Italo Calvino. On the non-literary side, with Boston transplant George Fontana as our trusty guide, we will enjoy the hidden delights of this tiny, culturally-rich isand, take a sunset sail and attend a garden party, chez-Georges, with local residents. DYSTOPIAS, UTOPIAS, AND IMAGINED WORLDS


Similarly, "As the West struggles to re-establish a sound moral and economic footing, India is zipping ahead in many aspects of development, while lagging woefully behind on others. Clearly, India is emerging as a major world power. The question is, what kind of power will India be?  While experiencing the righ colours, textures and aromas of the Golden Triange of northern India, and being informed by the texts by Salman Rushdie and Edward Luce, we will allow ourselves to be both bewitched and confounded by India. The mellifluous names of Delhi, Udapur, Narlai, Jaipur, Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), and Varanasi will each take on its own distinct colour." CONFOUNDED & BEWITCHED

So, ‘hurry up please it’s time’…Operators are standing by to get you on your way to Key West and India’s Golden Triangle. 1.800.387.1483.


November 16th, 2011 • Posted in Bookstores

I have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore

Author Ann Patchett on her new bookstore in Nashville, TN:

“I have no interest in retail; I have no interest in opening a bookstore,” Ms. Patchett said, serenely sipping tea during a recent interview at her spacious pink brick house here. “But I also have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore…". Ms. Patchett said that she is counting on her store to drive home a sharp, tough-love message to book lovers: buy books at independent stores, or the stores will go away.

“This is not a showroom, this is not where you come in to scan your barcode,” she said. “If you like this thing, it’s your responsibility to keep this thing alive.”

November 15th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books, CITIES, Ottawa, ON

Fetish for Folios, or other printed forms? Don’t miss this event…

Nerys Parry


As part of the Ottawa Public Library Author Series, local author, Nerys Parry, will be joined by expert book binder Pierre Thibaudeau and antiquarian book dealers Colin Borgal and Peter Jones, for a night dedicated to the beauty of books—a must see for anyone who has a fetishism for the printed form.  Nerys will read from her beautifully-bound debut novel, Man & Other Natural Disasters, and talk about the role old books and archival materials played in the creation of her characters, and how they led her to uncover one of our country’s darker, and almost forgotten pasts. Her talk will be followed by an interview with Pierre, Colin and Peter on the art of book repair, preservation collecting and dealing.

Pierre, owner of Book Craft Bindery, studied with a master bookbinder from the National Archives and has been in business full-time for eighteen years. For more information on Pierre, visit

Colin and Peter are co-owners of Borgal & Jones Rare Books who offer Rare Books to a worldwide clientele through E-Bay handle “csborgal2”. For more information on Colin and Peter, visit www://


November 15th, 2011 • Posted in On The Book

Book Review: Books as History by David Pearson. Obsolescence Guaranteed?

Fine Books & Collections

Why do books matter? David Pearson sets forth to tell us in Books as History (revised edition), a friendly, colourful, oversized paperback filled with illustrations and observations detailing the value of the ‘book as object.’

Books as we understand them may well cease to be read, says Pearson. In order to preserve them, we must, he says, recognize that there are reasons, other than content, to have and hold them. Books are interesting as artefacts, as objects with important individual histories and design characteristics that have value beyond simply that which their texts convey. The ways in which books are made, owned, written in, mutilated and bound, all add to a documentary heritage that is central to the accurate recording of human civilisation. The book as object is part not only of the history of communication, but also of art and design.

A book can be altered, beautified or cherished in ways that produce unique objects worth preserving. Each generation leaves its marks: inscriptions, annotations, bookplates, new bindings, armorial stamps, defacements. Readers also often add useful details omitted in the texts. As such, printed books have their own histories which become part of our wider historical heritage and evidence base. Pearson argues that e-books and tablets simply won’t offer these unique, telling attributes.

The letterpress printing and binding processes produce no end of slight variance between copies. Today’s manufacturing processes allow for little or no variation.

If their rationale is solely textual then obsolescence seems, says Pearson, guaranteed. We must therefore, he says, recognize that books are important for more than just their content, otherwise we risk making bad decisions about what should and shouldn’t be preserved for posterity. 

Typography, layout, physical format and everything surrounding the words themselves all contribute to the framework within which meaning is constructed. In short, the material form in which texts are transmitted affects their meaning. You can tell how a book was valued by who owned it and how it was treated or bound.  Copy-specific evidence is increasingly used to evaluate how books were received by successive generations. Physical presentation preconditions reader reception. So, appearance in an obscure versus highly respected journal will influence how readily readers accept certain claims or hypotheses. Many of the new reading technologies don’t render this kind of evidence.

Books represent a highly functional piece of design that must look and feel good in order to sell. The typeface must be legible and the layout pleasing; it must open easily, and handle comfortably.

Dust Jackets and bindings speak to the spirit of the times as effectively as any other contemporary artefact. Jackets can also provide intriguing snapshots of changing cultural values. Plus they’re cheap as historical artefacts go, compared to clocks, say, or paintings.


It seems a bit ironic that the primary justification for valuing a book is what the reader may or may not have done to it, but, then again, isn’t this in fact exactly the point of a book? To provide a forum for the reader to interact with the writer, a place to exchange ideas, where both can learn?

Despite the fact that a stronger case than the one outlined by Pearson can be made for e-books (what they will be capable of, how they will be able to record unique responses), and that the importance of marginalia is overstated (surely  a notebook is a more efficient, capacious recorder of reader response and, as such, more valuable), Books as History ‘highlights an important aspect of the life of books in the context of the ongoing debate about their future,’ and as such, is well worth reading.