Blog - Library Services Centre

Have you ever had a book or a series that you absolutely loved when you were a child, only to realize that it doesn’t hold up under a 21st century lens? If it has, you’re not alone. As the world changes, so does how we look at beloved movies, television shows, and books. And sometimes, especially when it comes to our favourite children’s books, what we find when we revisit them as adults can be disappointing and disturbing. Feeling nostalgia for a particular story doesn’t mean the problems aren’t there or that we shouldn’t acknowledge them and address them.  

 

if i ran the zoo cover / a dr seuss creature against a bright red coverClassic children’s literature is going through something of a reckoning as librarians, publishers, and the public come to terms with some of the more troubling aspects of our childhood favourites. Recently, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced a decision to stop publishing and licensing six of the titles from their catalogue including: If I Ran the Zoo, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and McElligot’s Pool. The decision came last year after a review by a panel of experts (including librarians and educators) determined that the titles contained racist and offensive portrayals of Asian and Black People.

 

green eggs and ham cover / a dr seuss creature starring at a plate of green eggs against an orange fieldIt is also important to note that Seuss’s most beloved titles such as Cat in the Hat, Horton, and Green Eggs and Ham aren’t going anywhere, and the Enterprise’s decision to pull a handful of titles is in no way a suggestion that Seuss should be fully removed from the canon. For the most part the decision has been celebrated. Mullberry Street was originally published in 1937, and nearly 75 years later, it’s not surprising that some of the illustrations haven’t aged well. And the Enterprise was quick to note, the six removed titles were also among their lowest selling titles.

 

curious george cover / two police walk with a a small monkey between them, against a yellow field.Interestingly, Seuss isn’t the only popular children’s author who has come under closer scrutiny in the last decade or so. Recently, I had a conversation with a fantastic teacher librarian who mentioned that she’d pulled Curious George and Babar from her shelves. Curious George in particular has remained popular through licensing deals, including an animated PBS series that ran for 13 years and animated film. I had fond memories of the mischievous little monkey, and it’s been quite some time since I read the original stories, so I couldn’t imagine why he was problematic until I started researching it further.

 

The problem, according to critics, is the racist overtones of the books, including the generalization of George being from “Africa,” and taken by force from his home in the jungle. Likewise, there are overt colonialism themes in Babar where the text literally describes the black characters in the book “savages and cannibals.” When examined from with our 21st century views, of course we identify these problems, but the first Babar book was published in France in 1931, and the first Curious George book was published in 1941. What these authors and the general public considered appropriate was different than what we understand now. It doesn’t make it right, but understanding the world that these books came from provides context.

 

little house on the prairie cover / two young girls stare out the back of a covered wagon which rolls across the prairie Another popular series that has recently been reexamined are the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which chronicle her pioneer/settler childhood.  I read most of the series when I was about 8-9 years old and loved it, and I have known several teachers who have selected the book as a novel study to support the pioneer/early settlers component of the Ontario Curriculum. In 2018, the American Library Association decided to drop her name from the annual award given in her name because of her racist portrayals of Native American people in her books. While some disputed the decision, pointing out that the first books in the series were published in 1931 and took place in Wisconsin in 1871, the ALA defended the decision, reminding people that they are not encouraging a ban on Wilder’s books, but simply bringing the award in-line with its values.

 

dr dolittle cover / a man with glasses in a tux and top hat stands in a clearing surrounded by jungle animalsThese are just a few examples, but it turns out that quite a few beloved children’s books (including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tin Tin, Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, Dr. Doolittle, and Indian in the Cupboard) contain racist or offensive stereotypes. It would be easy to chalk it up to another time, another place, but as experts have pointed out, because we continue to read these books today, we have to look at them critically and acknowledge their mistakes. Whether they have lasting merit, or should be pulled from public library or store shelves is a decision that each org has to make for themselves. What is very true is that there are a plwalethora of alternatives that encompass diversity and inclusion and other modern values.

 

In 2014, the Walter Dean Myers Award was created to recognize published, diverse authors who champion marginalized voices. Incidentally, the ceremony for the sixth Walter Awards will be held on March 12th, with Laurie Halse Anderson as the emcee. The social media hashtags #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices both champion diverse books by marginalized voices, and are a great place to start if you’re trying to diversify your collection and find alternatives to some of these classic titles.

 

And of course, LSC is happy to champion diverse collections. While we compile standard lists, like our Indigenous lists each season, we’ve also recently built lists to spotlight BIPOC authors, to celebrate Black History Month, and to highlight Neurodiversity. We’re also happy to build custom lists for libraries by their request. If there is an area, theme, or voice that you want to focus on, let us know and we’ll build selection lists to make ordering easier.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

 

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

This summer I’ll have been working in the book industry for 22 years, first as a bookseller and then for library wholesalers. Over that time I’ve seen many short-shelf life titles. These are the books that either get returned to the publisher at first opportunity, or titles that are popular for a brief burst and then fade into oblivion. With the recent deaths of Clive Cussler, Mary Higgins Clark, Joanna Lindsey and M.C. Beaton (all of whom were still publishing before their deaths), I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what gives these or any authors staying power.

 

I first discovered Mary Higgins Clark’s mysteries through my mom, and continued to enjoy her books for many years. Believe it or not, she published her first novel Where Are The Children in 1975, and since then, most or all of her 38 solo suspense novels (not counting those she co-authored with son Alafair Burke and daughter Carol Higgins Clark) have become bestsellers and have perpetually stayed in print.

 

In an age where up to 1 million books are being published annually in the United States alone, shrinking attention spans, and limited shelf space, the fact that an author can still get new titles on the bestseller list is quite a feat. Digging deeper, when I examined a top 100 list of most popular fiction authors, I discovered some pretty interesting facts about authors that I either used to read or currently read who have been around for decades.

 

wedding dress by danielle steel / a bride in a tapered dress against an purple fieldPopular romance author Danielle Steel is the fourth bestselling fiction author of all time, and has sold over 800 million copies of her books since her first the publication of her first novel in 1973. She even set a Guinness World Record in 1989 for spending the most consecutive weeks on a bestseller list- 390 weeks or 7.5 years in total, which rarely happens. To put it in perspective, only about 37% of fiction titles stay on the list more than 4 weeks, and the longest number of weeks of any title currently on the New York Times Bestseller list is 74. These days, she can be counted on to release around 6 books a year, and while they may not be reaching Guinness levels, they are consistently in demand.

 

hideaway by nora roberts / a flower garden on a cliff over looking the ocean

Nora Roberts, who does double duty writing as herself and under the pen name J.D. Robb published her first novel in 1981, and has more than 400 million copies of her books in print. 59 of her books have debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and she’s been dubbed America’s favourite novelist by The New Yorker. She’s been a favourite of mine for several years, and the million copy print runs of her recent releases suggests that the title is accurate.

 

devoted by dean koontz / a tree in silhouetted against a sky on fireSuspense novelist Dean Koontz, whom I also discovered through my mom, has been around since 1968 when he published the sci-fi novel Star Quest, but he really gained notoriety when he started writing suspense/horror fiction. At least 14 of his books have hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. These are just a few examples, but authors such as Sandra Brown, Stephen King, Fern Michaels, and Stuart Woods have also been publishing since the 70s or 80s, and are still consistently popular with readers.

 

So what does give all of these authors their amazing staying power? Mass appeal is one reason. All of these authors managed to find a mass audience for their books, and they retain their audience because they tell good stories and the books are extremely readable. Calling a book addictive is high praise because it means you can’t put it down. If an author is successful in giving you that experience, naturally you’d want to read another of their titles. There’s also comfort in familiarity, and it’s a lot easier to stick with what you know than to break away and try something new.

 

Compelling characters would be another reason. There is something about their characters that draws us in, makes us care about them to the point that we become invested in their lives. We laugh with them, cry for them, wish we could be them, and want to continually read more about them. Pride and Prejudice was published over 200 years ago, and yet Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy still resonate with modern audiences. To Kill a Mockingbird is over 60-years-old, and Atticus Finch is one of the most beloved characters in literature.

 

the return by nicholas sparks / a garden gate door covered in vinesThe third commonality is that they have universal themes that readers relate to. Whether it’s the struggle to reach a personal goal, a struggle with humanity, life and death, good and evil, and the ever-popular love, the most famous novels address some or all of these themes. Nicholas Sparks who is best known for his tragic love story The Notebook has a huge following, and he’s widely considered the standard for modern romance. He writes about ordinary people who find love and often lose love through tragedy. While some people may criticize the author for his saccharinity and sappiness, there is something about these stories that draws readers and keeps them coming back for each new book.

 

Obviously these aren’t the only reasons that keep us sticking with our favourite authors, but it’s a pretty safe bet that the popular authors of today who are still hitting bestseller lists in 10, 20 or 30 years, all of their books will have these things in common.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

There is something comforting about reading a series. They afford us the opportunity to constantly revisit familiar characters and locations. Through our favourite characters we solve mysteries, travel through time, discover lost relics, etc... without ever leaving our homes, and there are seemingly endless stories to enjoy.

 

The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child / two highways crossing in an x.

Characters such as Jack Reacher, Alex Cross, Stephanie Plum or Stone Barrington continue to be popular with readers, and the authors dutifully come up with new stories to tell about them. So what actually constitutes a series? In broad strokes, it’s any sequence of books with characteristics in common that link them together. Where series become complicated is the different ways that they are organized.

 

A novel sequence set is a series that has themes, characters, or settings in common, but each book has its own title and can stand alone or as part of a series. All of the characters I referred to above are an example of this. Books may make reference to something that happened in a past book, but for the most part, the character changes very little. These can be numbered, or just grouped together like the Harlequin Romances. These make a great casual read because you can pick it up from anywhere and not have missed much. I like to start with the first book because it introduces the character, but it's not necessary.

 

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon / a golden crown on a red field.The other type of series is a chronological series such as Song of Ice and Fire or Outlander where the characters go through changes and the books build on past events. A series like this needs to be read in order, and if you miss one, it can be very difficult to catch up.

 

Aside from these traditional series, there are trilogies (three books), books that are one novel split into multiple volumes such as Lord of the Rings, prequels and sequels.

 

The release of the next book in a beloved series is a big deal, especially in the JUV/YA market where the recent Hunger Games prequel and the forthcoming Twilight novel are big news. And should George R.R. Martin ever get around to finishing the next novel in the Game of Thrones series¸ you can only imagine the celebrations that will happen virtually or in person should that be a possibility by the time the book releases.

 

I have a love hate relationship with series. I love them for a few reasons. When an author creates a character or characters I really like, I love having a chance to revisit them in additional books. While there aren’t a lot of novel sequences that I currently follow in print, I do enjoy dipping back into the world of David Baldacci’s Amos Decker or Jude Deveraux’s Montgomery family when I get a chance. In the case of Deveraux, the stories span multiple time periods and generations, and I love reading about the Montgomery family past and present.

 

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory / a black woman and a white man hiding behind a menu sitting at a table while fireworks occur behind them I've also really enjoyed the romance novels of Jasmine Guillory who has written several loosley linked books featuring the same characters. Each book tells a different character's story, and only lightly reference events from the other books so they don't have to be read in order. 

 

My love for chronological series is less about the characters and more about the ongoing story. Sometimes there’s just too much story to tell in just one book, and the series format allows the author to tell a more detailed story from beginning to end. On the other hand, novel sequences can continue for as long as the author feels like writing about them which could be 10 books, 50, or 100. One such author has openly admitted his wish to kill off his character and end the series, but don’t worry—he’s not actually going to do it.

 

Chronological series are not without their frustrations, and this is where the hate part comes in. There can be long waits in between books (again, George R.R. Martin we’re looking at you), and unless you have the memory of an elephant, if too much time passes, you run the risk of forgetting what was going on unless you reread the previous books. Finding time to read the entire series can also be difficult, and in the case of both types of series, keeping track of all of the titles in a long-running series requires time and organization. 

 

When I was a kid, my grandmother lived around the corner from a Coles and she would keep a list in her purse of the next title in whatever series I was reading so she could pick it up when it came out. This was a great pre-tech way to keep up, but if she lost the paper, she’d have to wait until we were both at home so I could check my shelves and help her start the list over again.

 

Thanks to book tracking apps such as Goodreads and My Book Pledge, it’s a lot easier to keep track of which series titles I have or haven’t read, but it’s still something I have to check.

 

When it comes to chronological series, my preference is to binge read the whole series once all of the books are released. This is definitely easier to do when there aren’t ten 500 page books, but if I’m enjoying it and want to read the next book, I love being able to pick up the next one and continue without interruption. It’s torturous enough waiting a few months for the next season of an ongoing TV drama after a cliff-hanger ending, let alone waiting a year or two for the next book.

 

If a new series is generating a lot of buzz I might be compelled to pick it up and start it, but I’ve left a lot of series unfinished because I never get back to it after the second or third book. I always intend to, but there are just so many other books to read!

 

Whether you read them slowly and one at a time, or quickly and all at once, series get us excited and keep us engaged with reading, and what more can you ask for from a book?

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the LSC Weekly Update, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

In recent years, the lines between young adult and adult fiction have grown increasingly blurry, and are growing blurrier still thanks to a number of bestselling adult authors such as Kelley Armstrong, Victoria Schwab, Meg Cabot, James Patterson, and Carl Hiaasen who successfully cross back and forth between categories.

 

In 2019/2020, a number of YA authors released their first adult books, hoping that their existing and maturing audience would follow them into the adult space, or better yet, that they’d find a new audience with adults who are unfamiliar with their YA works. But how much of a gamble is it? Judging by the estimated print runs for these new novels, their publishers believed it was a solid one.  

 

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo / a snake slithering through the titleLeigh Bardugo, a wildly successful YA author delivered her first adult novel Ninth House  to much excitement.  Bardugo is no stranger to success. Her books have collectively sold more than 3 million copies in English, have been translated into 41 languages, and are being made into a Netflix series. Ninth House opeed with a 350,000 copy print run, and a ton of marketing behind it.

 

To put it in perspective, other than high performing established authors such as J.D. Robb who see 750,000 copy print runs for their works, a popular author with this publisher might receive a 100,000-150,000 copy print run, while a debut or midlist author would be substantially less. Bardugo’s novel has received 4 starred reviews from prestigious book review journals such as Booklist, and Kirkus, and Stephen King has blurbed the book calling it the “best fantasy novel” he’s read in years. The title also received tremendous buzz on social media, and has appeared on a number of must-read lists.

 

Also from this past year was Stephen Chbosky’s first book since he published the highly Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky / a figure in the far distance walking into a beam of lightacclaimed young adult novel Perks of Being a Wallflower twenty years ago. Imaginary Friend is a horror novel with a child protagonist, and has been dubbed an homage to Stephen King. The book was chosen as one of 2019 best books by People, EW, LitHub, and more, and had blurbs from Emma Watson, Joe Hill, and John Green to boot.

 

2020 saw two even more highly anticipated adult debuts from Divergent author Veronica Roth, and Throne of Glass author Sarah Maas.

 

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth / vines twisted around the letters of the titleRoth’s novel The Chosen Ones released in April 2020, and of course, her fans were excited. While YA tends to examine what happens when teens take on adult burdens, Roth’s adult novel examines what happens to those teens once they become adults. The novel follows a group of twenty somethings ten years after saving the world in their teens who are pulled into a brand new quest when they discover the defeated Dark One was never really defeated at all, and still exists. 

 

Mass’s novel House of Earth and Blood is the first book in her new “Crescent City” trilogy, and is another superlead title for Raincoast with a 250,000 copy print run. Unlike her previous works, the novel is set in a modern world with technology similar to ours, but with all of the fantasy and romance elements thatreaders love about her other books. Since Maas’s YA novels already tend to feature more adult characters, writing an actual adult book isn’t a huge stretch, and her audience is sure to follow.

 

Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas / a young woman's face framed by a crescent moon, while a crow takes flight in the foregroundSo why are so many of these YA authors crossing over into the adult space? Partly because young adults aren’t the only ones who read them.  An estimated 55% of YA readers are adults, so it’s not a leap to think that they would get excited about an adult book written by one of these authors. YA has also become increasingly dark and sophisticated, and there is a lot more crossover than there used to be.

 

From the author perspective, writing for an adult audience isn’t that different than the YA stories they already tell. Yes, it does allow them a bit more freedom in terms of themes, but they are still telling a story that they want to tell with their own voices. As Maas explained in an interview with PW, writing an adult book wasn’t a conscious choice. It was simply a case of certain characters and ideas popping into her head, and her own realization that the characters were in their twenties and not teenagers.

 

Being one of those adults who still unashamedly enjoys YA novels, all four of these books were definitely in my reading pile last year, and as a trend I look forward to waht comes next!

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, on YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu.

 

In 2021, we will be transitioning the Green Memo into the LSC Weekly Update, delivered via MailChimp. If you want to continue to receive our weekly newsletter, and other notifications and updates, please take a second to update your profile.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

For several years now I’ve been tracking my reading on Goodreads, and as a result, the site offers me reading suggestions based on what its algorithms think I like, and they aren’t alone. Virtually every service that I use from Amazon to Netflix to Spotify uses increasingly sophisticated algorithms to figure out what I like and make purchasing/watching/listening suggestions based on that information.

 

As much as it disturbs me that they know so much about me, at least I have to make the choice to take them up on their suggestion. Amazon doesn’t just automatically send me stuff because they think I like it, and nobody can force me to watch/listen to something if I don’t like it. But what if they could?

 

QualitylandThis is the situation in Qualityland by German author Marc-Uwe Kling. The book is set sometime in the future where the third economic crisis within a decade has just ended, and upon consultation with Big Business Consultants the country (presumably Germany), decides to change their name to Qualityland. In their view, Qualityland just sounds like a prosperous and quality place. In keeping with the country’s new image, they also require the use of superlative adjectives whether they make sense or not. It’s not enough to call Qualityland a wonderful country. It’s the ‘wonderfullest’ country. A product isn’t good or even great. It’s the greatest.

 

As for the citizens, well they needed a total makeover too. Afterall, you can’t just have ordinary people living in Qualityland. The consultants decided that every boy would be given the surname relating to his father’s job, and every girl her mother’s occupation at the time that they are conceived. If your father/mother is a doctor or a lawyer, you’re laughing. Of course, there also ends up being names like Prisoner and Cleaner, but we don’t need to talk about them.

 

For all intents and purposes, Qualityland is a utopia. A universal ranking system determines your ability to find a job and your social standing.  Finding a partner is automated, and if your ideal match changes, the system will break up with them for you. Self-driving cars just know where you want to go, and you don’t need to worry about shopping for yourself anymore because TheShop (essentially Amazon) can do it for you. See something on TV that you like? Simply tell your Qualitypad (iPad) to order it for you, and boom- it will appear at your door in a flash. TheShop’s algorithm knows what you want without you even having to ask, and it’s automatically delivered to your door.

 

Unfortunately, the system doesn’t quite work for everyone. One day, Peter Jobless (you can guess what his father’s occupation was), who works as a machine scrapper in QualityCity receives a product from the shop that he is certain he neither needs nor wants. I won’t tell you what it is, but I’ll give you a hint- it’s pink, shaped like a dolphin, motorized, and definitely not for children.

 

Peter attempts to contact TheShop to return it, but discovers that this is practically impossible because machines don’t make mistakes. The algorithms are never wrong, and if they sent it, he most certainly must have wanted it. This leads Peter to start questioning the accepted norms, and how things work. Why are humans becoming less human while machines are becoming more so? What ensues, is a quest to meet with the head of TheShop to prove that they did in fact make a mistake and get a refund on the product that he very definitely does not want. The quest is set against the backdrop of an election where the choices are crazy right-wing celebrity chef and a hyper-intelligent, socialist robot.

 

Interspersed throughout the novel are news bulletins, guidebook entries, and of course comments from readers which results in the comment function being closed due to “a large number of idiotic comments”. Sound familiar?

 

The notion that machines can be mind-readers isn’t as crazy as it sounds. My entertainment apps already curate recommended lists based on what it assumes my tastes are, and I’m bombarded with suggestions from Amazon for products I might like based on what I’ve purchased in the past. If Amazon started sending me products based on what they think I want, I can’t even imagine what I might end up with. The problem with these algorithms is that in only ever showing me what I already know I like, I’m never exposed to anything new. The same is true of information, and this is the central point of the novel. If you’re only ever exposed to information and people who confirm your beliefs and opinions, it becomes a vicious circle. Our viewpoint becomes narrow and unchallenged, and anyone who doesn’t share those views has to be wrong.

 

The novel is a brilliant satire full of dark humour. Think 1984 but much more comical. The author has been aptly compared to Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, and it offers a sharp commentary on capitalism, our dependence on machines to think for us, and celebrity culture. It also challenges the narrow internet bubbles in which we increasingly exist. It’s a novel that I haven’t stopped thinking about and one of those hidden gems that I would recommend everybody read.  HBO also recently announced that Mike Judge (Office Space, Silicon Valley) will be adapting the book into a limited TV series, which is another good reason to pick it up.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, subscribe to our new YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu.  We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

I love a good ghost story, and so naturally I was drawn to The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix. As I was watching it, something about the story seemed familiar, and upon Googling it, I learned that it was yet another adaptation of Henry James’ gothic novella The Turn of the Screw. I originally read the book in University and loved it. It was spooky and suspenseful, and it had a big twist I never saw coming. 

 

The Turn of the Screw

If you haven’t watched the series or read the book, the story is set in a country house named Bly Manor, where a young governess is charged with the care of two orphans named Miles and Flora. Something doesn’t seem quite right about the house, however, and she becomes convinced the house is haunted.

 

In the hundred plus years since its original publication, the novel has become a cornerstone of gothic literature, and has been adapted several times into radio and film, including the recent film The Turning, the 2001 film The Others starring Nicole Kidman, and a 1961 film titled The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr. I’m a big fan of horror in general, but especially Gothic fiction for the suspenseful and atmospheric elements of these stories.

 

If you’re not familiar with the genre, Gothic fiction and regular horror have some distinct The Castle of Otranto differences. Gothic fiction is a sub-genre of horror which combines horror, death, and sometimes romance. The term Gothic is generally associated with the Gothic architecture of medieval Europe which is the setting for many of the novels, and originated during the romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

 

Gothic’s origins have been attributed to the English author Horace Walpole and his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto. Books by Anne Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelly, and Daphne Du Maurier further developed the genre, and examples of Gothic writing can be found in Russia, US, England, and Ireland, each with their own unique characteristics.

 

In her 1818 novel Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen parodied the genre by introducing a naïve heroine who read far too much Gothic fiction and begins to imagine herself as the heroine of a Gothic novel such as Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. If you haven’t read Udolpho you can still appreciate Austen’s parody, but I suggest reading Radcliffe simply because she was one of the first to incorporate supernatural elements into her novel.

 

Right about now you’re probably wondering what makes a novel Gothic as opposed to straight up horror. The most obvious element is the setting. Almost every Gothic novel is set in an isolated estate, castle or house that is either said to be haunted or cursed. There are almost always secret passages, abandoned rooms/wings, and it is dark, possibly abandoned, and generally creates a sense of fear or foreboding. The weather is also unsettled, and it’s often foggy or raining.

 

A recent novel that is a great example of setting is Laura Purcell’s The House of Whispers which takes place in a sprawling house by the sea in Cornwall, Setting a novel in the UK isn’t a requirement, but the weather and the landscape make it a popular choice. The location of the house is remote and far from the city, and even comes with its own crazy lady in the attic. Cornish folklore plays into the story, and it’s exactly the kind of creepy that will keep you up at night.

 

Another major element is a character, often a woman, in peril. The character faces terrifying events, and often becomes trapped in the house, castle, etc.. In Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel Mexican Gothic, the central character is socialite Noemí Taboada travels to High Place, an isolated house in the Mexican countryside and begins having visions of blood and doom in her dreams. The house contains many secrets, and if Noemi isn’t careful, she may find it impossible to leave.  

 

Also key to the story is something supernatural such as a ghost or a monster. The monster can be literal like Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire like Dracula, or even a mutant or cyborg. Graham Masterson’s House of a Hundred Whispers is a great example of a supernatural Gothic. Masterson’s novel is set in an isolated local in a Tudor mansion nestled in the English moors. The novel begins with the murder of the owner, the former Governor of Dartmoor Prison and just gets spookier from there. The author integrates elements of local folklore and witchcraft, and the story is a highly suspenseful haunted house ghost story.  

 

If you're interested in learning more about the major elements of Gothic horror, check out that link for a more detailed explanation. Meanwhile, if you plan to read any of the novels I’ve suggested, I have one piece of advice: Don’t turn out the lights!

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

I read an article in Publishers Weekly which wondered whether or not publishing has become too reliant on bestsellers. The article discussed how top tier authors are taking over marketing budgets and shelf space in retailers (which also extends to libraries), and how what we call ‘midlist’ suffers as a result.

 

A long time ago when I was just out of university I worked in the box office for the National Ballet of Canada. Now you’re probably wondering what ballet has to do with bookselling, but stay with me here and you’ll see where this is going.

 

I remember a top executive explaining that while internally the staff and the dancers generally hated The Nutcracker, it’s the bread and butter of the company and the revenue generated from this holiday classic helps fund the more modern works that challenge and excite the dancers. Personally I love the full-length classical ballets, but those also need to be refreshed with new choreography, costumes, and staging which are also partially paid for by revenue from The Nutcracker.

 

The same logic applies to publishing. While some of us may roll our eyes at seeing the same group of authors on our bestseller list all of the time, those authors are like a publisher’s version of The Nutcracker. In theory, they generate enough revenue that the publisher can afford to take a chance on a special book that the editor loves, or a debut author whom they hope will find similar success.

 

To some extent that’s true. A publishing house is not made on midlist authors alone, but when bestsellers start drowning out midlist, it creates a vicious cycle where few new titles can break through. If you’ve read my blogs, you probably know that I’m a veracious reader, and while I try to read widely, it’s a lot easier to go back to the authors I know and love rather than spend my precious reading time on someone I don’t know and who I’m not sure I’ll like.

 

That being said, I do have a tremendous appreciation for unusual and original books, and if something catches my eye when I’m sorting through seasonal catalogues, or through online/social media channels, I will often request the title and give it a shot.

 

Recently I read a wonderful fantasy debut titled The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by New Zealand author H.G. Parry. It caught my attention because it’s been labeled Inkheart  for adults, and I love that book. I’ve also seen references to an adult sci-fi series Libriomancer by Jim Hines, which I’m definitely going to check out.

 

Charley Sutherland has a gift. He is what they call a Summoner, which means he can read the characters out of books. That alone sold me. Who wouldn’t love to be able to spend time with their favourite literary characters from time to time? From early childhood, Charley could make mischief with the Cat in the Hat, have tea with Sherlock Holmes, solve mysteries with a Millie Radcliffe-Dix, a Nancy Drew-like character, and hosts of others, and when when he's done, he returns them to their book. 

 

One night, he frantically calls his older brother Robert explaining that he accidentally read Uriah Heep (the villain from David Copperfield) out of the book and he’s escaped. Heep is a pretty dastardly villain, and Victorian or not, you really don't want this guy running around loose in the world.

 

In their pursuit of Heep, they uncover a hidden Victorian street where they meet other literary characters who have been living there in secret, including the White Witch from Narnia, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray who handles the secret world’s finances and tech, four Mr. Darcy’s from Pride and Prejudice. As it turns out, most people inadvertently summon a character at one time or another, and the version of the character that appears is subject to the reader’s interpretation. Darcy, not surprisingly, is a fairly often imagined character which is why there were four of them. Somehow, all of these ‘summoned’ characters have found their way onto the street, and they live there to keep themselves from being detected, and keep from being sent back into their books.

 

The brothers also discover that the street was created by another Summoner with Charley’s powers and malicious intent who needs to be stopped. All of the characters are aware of the other summoner's plans for a new world, but they don't know who he/she is, or exactly what that means for themselves or the real world.

 

I love books that reference other books, and I really enjoyed seeing different literary characters popping up in the novel. It’s also a wonderful tribute to the power that books and characters have over us, and still manages to poke a bit of fun at the literary theory we were all forced to study in English class. It’s smart and funny and original, and it’s one of my favourite books of all time. If like, me, you’re getting a bit tired of seeing the same old/same old on your bookstore/library shelves, give this one a try and I’m sure you’ll be as enchanted as I was. Or, if you were a fan of the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, you'll at home in these pages.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

Grace Kelly was one of Hollywood’s most glamorous women, and her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 captivated the world. She was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite actresses, won the admiration of women everywhere for appearing as close to her natural self in her films and rejecting the “studio look”, and she was a fashion icon. Combine all of this with a somewhat mysterious persona (she didn’t enjoy publicity or talking to the press), and her tragic untimely death, and it’s easy to see why people are still so enamoured with her decades later.

 

I love reading about Hollywood actors and actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age. It was an era of true movie stars, glamour and style. I personally couldn’t carry off the iconic dresses that Grace Kelly wore, but I love looking at them, and like so many others, I find her life fascinating.

 

What I especially enjoy is reading  novels that portray real people such as Grace Kelly. I learn something about an interesting figure from history while still getting caught up in a story.  That’s why I was delighted to discover one recent and two forthcoming novels where Grace Kelly appears or features  as a character in the story.

 

The first is Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb’s 2019 novel Meet Me In Monaco, which received a rave review in The New York Times, and was listed as one of In Style’s and PopSugar’s recommended summer reads. The story is set in the 1950s in Cannes, using Grace Kelly’s romance and wedding to Prince Rainier as a backdrop for a romance between two fictional characters parfumeur Sophie Duvall and British tabloid photographer James Henderson.

 

Both characters are inadvertently connected to Grace Kelly. Sophie offered her sanctuary from the photographers while James meets Sophie when he follows Grace into her shop. The narrative shifts between James’ and Sophie’s points of view, and is interspersed with news reports about Grace Kelly and the upcoming wedding. Both fans of Grace Kelly and fans of improbable love stories will love this book, and it’s hard not to be drawn into the glamourous and exotic setting.

 

The other two novels were released in early 2020. From February, the title was The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly by Kerri Maher. Grace Kelly is the star of this biographical novel, and the author takes readers behind the scenes to look at the private life and struggles of Kelly to not lose herself in her Hollywood identity, and to manage the expectations of her family and her new royal obligations. The chapters alternate between a young Grace just starting out, and the older, more experienced Grace and is filled with rich historical detail. I’m looking forward to reading this and learning a little bit more about the woman beneath the crown.

 

From March came The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz. Similar to The Gown by Jennifer Robson, this novel focuses on her famous wedding dress and three generations of women tied to the dress, beginning a young seamstress who is tasked with sewing a copy of the gown. The book is about love, family, creating and keeping traditions, and how a dress can fulfill impossible dreams. 

 

I love generational stories, and they’re something I relate to.  My maternal grandmother eloped, and I’m several inches taller than my mom and my grandmother so there was never any opportunity for a dress to be handed down, but there have been other things that they've passed down. For as long as I can remember, both my grandmother and my mother have shared their family traditions with me and my brother, and have emphasized the importance of not letting them die. In the years I’ve been with my partner, we’ve created our own traditions as well, and they are ones which I hold dear.

 

The Grace Kelly Dress is the perfect book club book, and the author has a discussion guide, links relating to the book, information about writing the book, and an essay about her inspiration for the novel on her website if you or your reading group would like to learn more. This is definitely high up on the "to-be-read" pile.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

Books scare people. That might seem like an outlandish statement, but it’s true. Not the physical item per se, but the content that’s in them. Throughout history, books have been a popular target of censors. Whether it be because of, sexual situations, racial or religious issues, violence or political viewpoint, People have tried and continue to try to remove books from school and library shelves. Luckily, few books actually get banned in Canada, but many still get challenged.

 

When I was in high school, I was extremely lucky to never have encountered any kind of censorship (that I knew of). I had the privilege of taking many genre courses with really interesting reading lists that included frequently challenged titles such as A Clockwork Orange and The Color Purple. We were also never challenged on what personal reading material we brought to school or choose for independent study with the exception of evaluating its suitability for the project.

 

The other day I read a fantastic YA novel titled Suggested Reading which is a story about standing up to censorship and fighting against banned books. The protagonist learns that the school has banned a list of 50 YA novels such as Speak, Catcher in the Rye, and Perks of Being a Wallflower, and decides to start an “underground library” in her school of these banned books. The book reminds us of the power of words to transform, educate, and challenge us in ways that we often can’t predict.

 

We are very fortunate in Canada that intellectual freedom is guaranteed to us under the Charter of Rights and Freedom. Intellectual freedom is our right to seek out information from all points of view without restriction, and free access to ideas.

 

Libraries are a key part of how we exercise this right. A library provides ideas and information to the public in a variety of formats with the goal of allowing people to educate themselves about these different ideas regardless of how the librarian or individual feels about it. I learned very early on in my role as a selector to keep my feelings out of it. I can like or dislike a book or author for my own reasons, but I have no right to withhold a book on that basis.

 

In Canada, Freedom to Read Week is celebrated annually in the last week of February as an affirmation of our right to intellectual freedom, and several events are held in libraries across the country throughout the week. In honour of this event, I thought I’d highlight a few common titles by Canadian authors that have been banned or are frequently challenged in Canada, many of which I read in school, and some of which might surprise you.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

 

I first read this iconic novel in University and was both feared it and loved it. I feared it because I was just starting to understand the debate on women’s rights and what we label “right wing” politics. I loved it for its brilliance and for making me think. Not surprisingly, it’s on the ALA’s top 100 banned books of the decade for the 90s and 2000s. At its core, dystopian fiction is a warning about where the author fears we’re headed but it’s also about freedom.  The freedom to think, say, believe and live what and how we want. These books aren’t meant to be comfortable, and perhaps that’s why they are so frequently challenged. Handmaid’s Tale (and recently the graphic novel) has been challenged for violence, offensive language, and sexual content, and it definitely falls into the “because it scares people” category.

 

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

 

This classic Canadian novel put Mordecai Richler on the map, but in 1990, a group of parents in Essex County wanted the book removed from high school reading lists due to sexual innuendo, vulgarity, and sexual expression. Notable Canadian authors defended the book, but the board advised teachers and principals to avoid using potentially controversial novels in class.

 

The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Monroe

 

When Alice Monroe published this coming-of-age novel about a young woman’s passage into adulthood and sexual experience in 1971, she made waves. The book met a highly publicized challenge in Peterborough, Ontario when the school board banned the book due to “explicit language and sex scenes”.  Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye were also included on that list for similar reasons. According to CBC, this censorship attempt was the catalyst for the creation of Freedom to Read Week.

 

The Diviners, Jest of God, and Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

 

At the same time that Alice Munroe was facing challenges for Lives and Girls and Women, Margaret Laurence was also facing challenges and subsequent bans in numerous schools due to what Christian Fundamentalists deemed “blasphemous" and "obscene”.  The Diviners is widely considered to be the author’s masterpiece and to be one of the greatest Canadian novels ever written, but it has continued to face challenges over the years. Laurence, who was already dealing with depression and alcoholism was deeply disturbed by the public attacks on her books, but she didn’t speak out until she was faced with a new round of censorship in the 80s.

 

The Wars by Timothy Findley 

 

Timothy Findley’s 1977 novel The Wars was one of those life-changing books for me when I was in high school. I did my O.A.C. author study on Findley, and I think that his portrait of a 19-year-old Canadian officer fighting in WWI was one of the first books that really made me understand the horrors of war. It’s undeniably a difficult book to read, and Findley presented the war in all of its brutality. In 2011, a group of parents in Bluewater District School Board in Owen Sound, Ontario fought to have the book removed from school shelves, complaining about the violence and sexual descriptions. The novel also faced pre-publication censorship with attempts by the publisher to remove a homosexual rape scene. Findley was also vocally opposed to censorship, and defended other authors like Laurence whose works were challenged.

 

As long as there are books, there will always be somebody who steps up to object to them and attempt to impose to limit our access to potentially valuable and powerful material, and the best way to combat that is to resist by reading and discussing those books.  As Alice Munro said, “I think that as soon as one step is taken you have to start resisting because that makes the next step easier.” For more information on Freedom to Read Week and details on events across the country or how to get involved, visit their website.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

Whether we realize it or not, books are not just a solitary activity. Book lovers love to share their thoughts about the books they are reading, and to recommend books to friends, family and colleagues. Seldom do we just shelve a book immediately after reading, never to think about it again. Instead, we share our reading choices on Social Media, mention it in conversation, or give it to a fellow book lover to read.

 

Book clubs have existed in some form since at least the 1630s when Puritan groups got together to discuss the bible, and have taken many forms since then.  In 1727, Benjamin Franklin organized the Junto Literary Society to discuss philosophy, morality, and science. In 1840, the first bookstore sponsored book club in the United States began in Boston, and they have continued to grow and evolve.

 

According to Booknet Canada, as of September 2018, 7% of Canadian adult book buyers belong to a book club, 28% of readers belong to a book club or reading group (whether they buy books or not), and 8% of those surveyed said they found their last read through a book club.

 

Traditionally, book club picks were selected by members of the group, the library, or the book store, and members would meet in person to discuss the book.  This changed in 1996 when Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime television used her power and influence to “get the whole country reading again”, and launched a televised book club.

 

Beginning with Jaqueline Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean, she invited viewers to read the book, and then hosted the author on her show a few weeks later. In the 15 years of her original club, she recommended 70 books, many of which have become bestsellers.

 

In 2012, Oprah launched the 2.0 version of her book club in conjunction with her magazine, and television network, this time incorporating social media platforms. Later this year, she’ll be officially reviving her book club again, this time on the new streaming platform Apple TV+.

 

In many ways, celebrity book clubs are one of the best things to happen to publishers and authors since the founding of the book-of-the-month club in 1926. Prior to the onset of bookstore chains, a book-of-the-month club selection was one of the best ways to get wide distribution for your book.

 

Today, having a celebrity such as Oprah recommend your book can increase sales by the millions. Oprah has 15 million followers on Instagram and 4.4 million followers on twitter, and her endorsement is publishing gold. Recently, she announced The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates as her latest pick, and the book will almost certainly land on bestseller lists.  

     

Two other celebrities influencing readers are actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Reese Witherspoon. Parker is a voracious reader, and recently completed a two-year term as honorary chair of Book Club Central for the American Library Association. She is also the editorial director for her own imprint SJP for Hogarth, where she acquires books that appeal to her own taste as a reader.

 

Witherspoon launched her book club in 2017, and it was born out of her love of reading. Witherspoon is an avid reader, and she casually started posting pictures of the books she was reading on her Instagram. The club grew into something more formal from there, and now has 1.1 million members.

 

Since 2017, Witherspoon has selected  28 titles, many of which have landed on the New York Times Bestseller list, Her 2017 selection of debut author Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing is currently #9 on the Globe and Mail Bestseller list, has spent 54 weeks on the NYT bestseller list, and was the top selling print book in the U.S. for the first half of 2019.

Would the book have been a bestseller regardless? Possibly, but it’s more likely that the 1.1 million U.S. sales can be attributed to the power of Witherspoon’s endorsement.

 

Witherspoon’s September 2019 pick The Secrets We Kept by Laura Prescott was inspired by the true story of the CIA’s mission to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the U.S.S.R. where nobody would publish it, juxtaposed with the love story between author Boris Pasternak and his mistress Olga.

 

Naturally the book has rocketed to bestseller status, and film rights have been acquired. The publisher reportedly paid $2 million for rights, signaling that they expected big things from it, but being a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick has almost certainly helped.

 

Normally, celebrities don’t influence me to read a book, but this one intrigued me, and I ended up really enjoying it. I learned something about a period in history I knew nothing about, and I was invested in the characters and the story.  I confess I’ve never read Zhivago, but after reading this, I want to. It has also made me take notice of Witherspoon’s other picks, a number of which I’m interested in reading.

 

While enjoying this one title doesn’t mean that I’ll actively seek out future celebrity book club recommendations, as a book lover I appreciate what they do for discovery and exposure, and anything that gets millions of people reading and talking about books is good with me!

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter, and to subscribe to our new YouTube Channel. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Happy Reading!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

Contributors

LSC Library Services Centre
34
April 8, 2021
show LSC's posts
Stef Waring
14
April 5, 2021
show Stef's posts
Karrie Vinters
7
March 22, 2021
show Karrie's posts
Rachel Seigel
22
March 15, 2021
show Rachel's posts
Michael Clark
19
March 8, 2021
show Michael's posts
Nicole Defreitas
1
January 11, 2021
show Nicole's posts
Sara Pooley
5
October 19, 2020
show Sara's posts
Selection Services
2
September 14, 2020
show Selection's posts
Jamie Quinn
2
July 27, 2020
show Jamie's posts

Latest Posts

Show All Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Everything Adult Fiction Adult Non Fiction Children’s Fiction Children’s Non Fiction Graphic Novels AV Multilingual Services Announcements Holidays Social Media Events