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The Secret Garden and the Joy of Colouring Books

by Chelsea
Art & Photography + Craft / February 21, 2014

There's something magical about Johanna Basford's Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book. The intricate black and white illustrations are gorgeous on their own, but the real beauty is in how everyone who colours in the pages will create something uniquely theirs. When I found out that my very crafty friend Stefanie received a copy for Christmas, I couldn't wait to see her progress through the pages.

Did you use colouring books as a kid? What's it like to come back to it now?

Yes! I was kind of a fanatic. My mom used to come home with stacks of them, mainly Barbie themed. I used to have coloring competitions with my next door neighbour, and I was pretty competitive about it. 

There was a definite sense of nostalgia coming back to a coloring book as an adult, but it's a obviously a little bit different. The pages are so well illustrated that I feel like I'm a part of creating something so beautiful, way beyond my own artistic capabilities. 


What kinds of drawing materials have you used (pencils, pens)? Which do you like best?

So far I've just used pencil crayons. I have a mismatched collection from several years ago, but they do the trick! My husband also gave me a small set of erasable pencil crayons that have been fun to use. One thing I haven't tried yet is coloured pens or markers. I think ink would work really well for some of the illustrations. 


What's your favourite part about filling in the pages?

I feel as though I am making these garden scenes really come to life. They are already so incredibly beautiful as black and white illustrations, but with a bit of colour, they turn into these lively scenes. There's also this scavenger hunt surprise factor to the book - I always end up finding little creatures within the lines of the trees and leaves. 


Do you have a colouring method, or is it random?

I don't have a specific colouring pattern, but I do like to have a plan of action before I start each page. I'll plan out all the colours I want to use before I get going. The illustrations are so detailed, sometimes beginning a page can be overwhelming. There are some really detailed pages I'll probably never touch. Working from the top to the bottom, or the bottom to top is also really fun. 


What do you get out of the experience, other than a pretty picture?

It's a nice way to relax and an easy way to feel creative without getting into a big project.


New Year, New You

by Melissa
Health & Wellness / February 05, 2014

Well, the first month of the new year is officially over. If you’re like me, you had those great intentions to live a healthier lifestyle, but somehow they didn’t quite turn out. Maybe you hit the gym a couple of times—just nowhere near as often as you planned (or if you’re like me, you’re still trying to make yourself go to the gym for the first time this year).  So you’re a tad bit delayed on your new self. But never fear! If your goal was to eat healthier and lose weight, the solution is at your fingertips.  Dr. Ian K. Smith designed the diet book Super Shred for those of us looking to lose weight quickly, and more importantly, safely. 

 

In just four weeks, if you have 20 pounds to lose, you can lose them.  You can be bikini (or speedo!) ready for that Spring Break beach vacation you planned. Super Shred provides a concentrated diet plan that uses the principles of diet confusion, meal replacement, snacking and meal spacing to help you lose weight. 

“It’s just another diet book,” you say? That’s not quite true. The author, Dr. Ian Smith, actually spends time with real dieters while researching his books, and designs his books to help dieters overcome the obstacles they usually face when using a diet plan. 

If you aren’t looking to lose weight in such a short period of time, you can also try Dr. Ian’s 6-week cycle diet, Shred.

Dr. Ian will be in Toronto on February 13th. Be sure to watch him on the Social! He is sure to convince even the laziest most cynical of us that we can change ourselves and our lifestyles.


Christina Rasmussen, author of Second Firsts, in Vancouver February 11th!

by Melissa
Events + Health & Wellness + Psychology & Self-Help + Spirituality + Vancouver / January 31, 2014

Christina Rasmussen, author of Second Firsts will be in Vancouver speaking at Urban Campfire: Winter Edition on February 11, 2014.  A crisis-intervention specialist, Christina knows first hand how consuming grief can be, and how to overcome it.

After studying to become a therapist and crisis intervention counselor - even doing her master's thesis on the stages of bereavement - Christina Rasmussen thought she understood grief. But it wasn't until losing her husband to cancer in her early 30s that she truly grasped the depths of sorrow and pain that accompany loss. Using the knowledge she gained while wading through her own grief and reading hundreds of neuroscience books, Rasmussen began to look at experiences in a new way. She realized that grief plunges you into a gap between worlds - the world before loss and the world after loss. She also realized how easy it is to become lost in this gap.   

In Second Firsts, Rasmussen walks you through her Life Reentry process to help you break grief's spiral of pain, so you can stop simply surviving and begin to live again. She shows you that loss can actually be a powerful catalyst to creating a life that is in alignment with your true passions and values. The resilience, strength, and determination that have gotten you through this difficult time are the same characteristics that will help you craft your wonderful new life. Her method, which she has used successfully with thousands of clients, is based on the science of neuroplasticity and focuses on consciously releasing pain in ways that both honor suffering and rewire the brain to change your perception of the world and yourself. Using practical exercises and stories drawn from her own life and those of her clients, Rasmussen guides you through five stages of healing that help you open up to new possibilities. From acknowledging your fear, to recognizing where you stand now, to taking active steps toward a new life, Rasmussen helps you move past the pain and shows that it's never too late to step out of the gap and experience life again - as if for the first time.

Christina will be speaking about her experience and her book, Second Firsts. Tickets to the conference are available for purchase here: Urban Campfire


New Releases: February 2014 Highlights

by Dan
Biography & Memoir + Fiction + Kids + YA Fiction / January 23, 2014

Cress

Lunar Chronicles Book #3

Marisa Meyer

In this third book in Marissa Meyer's bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they're plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth. Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl trapped on a satellite since childhood.

Ages 12+

Available February 4

 


The Wily O'Reilly 

Irish Country Stories

Patrick Taylor

Long before Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly made most readers' acquaintance in Patrick Taylor's bestselling novel An Irish Country Doctor, he appeared in a series of humorous columns originally published in Stitches: The Journal of Medical Humour. Now those seminal columns have been collected in one convenient volume.

Available February 4


Confessions of a Wild Child

Jackie Collins

Lucky Santangelo. A fifteen-year-old wild child ready to discover life, love and independence. Daughter of the notorious Gino, Lucky discovers her mother's murdered body floating in the family swimming pool at the tender age of four. Since then Gino has kept her protected from life closeted in their Bel Air mansion. But in Jackie Collins' Confessions of a Wild Child, Lucky finally breaks free, and running away from boarding school the adventures begin. 

Available February 4


Real Mermaids

Real Mermaids Don't Sell Seashells 

Hélène Boudreau

A tropical vacation sounds like the perfect way to spend fall break-even for an aqua-phobic mer-girl like Jade. She can't wait to enjoy the warm sunshine and all-you-can-eat buffet with her best friend Cori and boyfriend Luke. (That's right. Boyfriend. It's official.) But when a body splashes into the water as a cruise ship enters the harbour, Jade realizes there might be trouble in paradise. 

Ages 9-12

Available February 4


The Sixth Extinction

An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert

Two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. 

Available February 11


Shlepping the Exile 

Michael Wex

Confronted with dying people, an ailing culture, the perils of near-orphanhood and the allures of Sabina Mandelbroit, whose family doesn't keep the Sabbath, Yoine Levkes can no longer tell whether he's a human being or a loot-bag of conflicting traditions. He's too religious to be 'normal,' too 'normal' not to realize this, and too much of akid to be able to make any sense of it. Shlepping the Exile is Michael Wex's inside portrait of orthodox, post-Holocaust Judaism in a place that it never expected to be.

 

Available February 18


I Can See Clearly Now 

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

In this revealing and engaging memoir, Wayne shares dozens of events from his life, from the time he was a little boy in Detroit up to present day. In unflinching detail, he relates his vivid impressions of encountering many forks in the road, taking readers with him into these formative experiences. Yet then he views the events from his current perspective, noting what lessons he ultimately learned, as well as how he has made the resulting wisdom available to millions via his lifelong dedication to service.

 

Available February 25


Tin Star 

Cecil Castellucci

Relying on your wits can only get you so far when you are light years away from Earth.

Beaten and left for dead, sixteen-year-old Tula Bane finds herself abandoned on a remote space station with aliens she must work to understand. When three humans crash-land onto the station, Tula’s desire for companionship becomes unavoidable and romantic sparks fly between her and one of the new arrivals. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill the man responsible for her situation, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the furthest thing for her mind.

Ages 12+

Available February 25


New Releases: January 2014 Highlights

by Dan
News / January 13, 2014

Moolala Guide to Rockin' Your RRSP 

Start Rockin' in Five Easy Steps 

Bruce Sellery

With the deadline for this year's RRSP contributions only a few weeks away, The Moolala Guide to Rockin' Your RRSP by bestselling author, television host, and popular speaker Bruce Sellery is an essential purchase this month. Bruce makes retirement relevant to your life today, even though it may be decades before you leave your career behind. He provides a simple plan to help you rock your RRSP immediately, and most importantly, he inspires you to get off your duff and take action.

 

Available Now


The Trip to Echo Spring

The Trip to Echo Spring

On Writers and Drinking

Olivia Laing

In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six of America's finest writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.

All six of these men were alcoholics, and the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to A Moveable Feast. Often, they did their drinking together.

Wanting to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, Olivia Laing took a journey across America that plunged her into the heart of these overlapping lives.

 
Available Now
 

Flappers

Flappers

Six Women of a Dangerous Generation

Judith Mackrell

Glamorized, mythologized, and demonized, the women of the 1920s prefigured the 1960s in their determination to reinvent the way they lived. Judith Mackrell's Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation explores the ethos of that restless generation through the lives of Lady Diana Cooper, whose coterie included some of the most influential intellectuals and aristocrats of the time; Nancy Cunard, the steamship heiress; Tallulah Bankhead, the politically outspoken actress; Zelda Fitzgerald, whose tumultuous relationship with F. Scott was often tabloid fodder; Josephine Baker, the African American dancer, singer, and actress who relinquished her citizenship and moved to France; and Tamara de Lempicka, the Polish-born art deco painter.

Available January 14


What Makes This Book So Great

What Makes This Book So Great 

Re-Reading the Classics of Fantasy and SF

Jo Walton

In 2008, then-new science-fiction mega-site Tor.com asked Canadian author Jo Walton to blog about reading fantasy and SF. This volume presents a selection of the best of those posts, ranging from short essays to long reassessments of some of the field's most ambitious series.

With over 130 essays in all, What Makes This Book So Great is an immensely readable, engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.

Available January 21


Bad Wolf

Bad Wolf

Pia Kirchhoff & Oliver von Bodenstein # 2

Nele Neuhaus

Following Snow White Must Die, the second book of Nele Neuhaus's enormously popular crime series, tensions run high and a complex and unpredictable plot propels her characters forward at breakneck speed.

On a hot June day the body of a sixteen-year-old girl washes up on a river bank. She has been brutally murdered, but no one comes forward with any information as to her identity. Then, weeks later, a new case comes in: A popular TV reporter is attacked, raped, and locked in the trunk of her own car. As the two cases collide, Inspectors Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein dig deep into the past and uncover a terrible secret that is about to impact their personal lives as well.

Available January 21


Ant Colony

Ant Colony 

Michael DeForge

In the few short years since he began his pamphlet-size comic book series Lose, Michael DeForge has announced himself as an important new voice in alternative comics. His brash, confident, undulating artwork sent a shock wave through the comics world for its unique, fully formed aesthetic. With his debut Drawn & Quarterly title, Ant Colony, DeForge confirms his place as a mover and shaker in the world of graphic novels.

Any Colony

Ant Colony

Available January 21


Book of My Lives

NEW IN PAPERBACK

The Book of My Lives

Aleksandar Hemon

At once a love song to two cities—Sarajevo and Chicagoand a paean to the bonds of family, The Book of My Lives is a singular work of passion, built on fierce intelligence, unspeakable tragedies, and sharp insight. Like the best narratives, it is a book that will leave you a different reader when you finish-and a different person, with a new way of looking at the world.

 

 

Globe & Mail Best Book 2013

"Hemon’s verbal acuity would amaze no less even if English were his first language – but it isn’t. A collection of essays chronicles his life, immigrating to the U.S. from Yugoslavia, and ends with his daughter’s devastating story."

The Globe and Mail Best Books of 2013

Available January 28


My Favourite Books of 2013, Crystal Allen

by Crystal
Kids + Picture Books + YA Fiction / December 20, 2013

I can't believe that 2013 is about to wrap up. Where did time go? It's too hard to pick just one book as my favorite for 2013 so I'm going to pick two. One picture book and one YA.

The Bear's Song

My favorite picture book for 2013 has to be The Bear’s Song by French author and illustrator Benjamin Chaud. With it’s extra tall format and incredibly detailed illustrations, this is a book that you will find something new in every time you read it... and trust me, show this to your kids and you will be reading it again and again and again.

Father Bear thinks that he and baby bear are settling down to hibernate for the winter but when he awakes Baby Bear has set off for the city following a bumble bee. Father Bear sets off to find Baby Bear. Each spread has an almost "Where's Waldo" type feel to it with lots of characters, things happening and beautiful forest and city scape scenery. Kids (and adults) will have fun exploring each page searching for the Baby Bear and bumble bee hidden in each spread.

If you only pick up one picture book from 2013 this should be it. Keep an eye out for I Didn't Do My Homework Because... also illustrated by Benjamin Chaud coming March 2014.

Fangirl

My favorite YA novel for 2013 is hands down, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. While I was on maternity leave my boss sent me the manuscript and asked me to read it. When I was 3/4 of the way through the book I sent him this email:

"I'm reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell right now. It's so good. The type of good where I'm simultaneously wanting to put it down so that it lasts longer but keep saying "Just one more page" because I love the main character so much and want to keep on spending time with her. I'm very excited to work with Rainbow when I come back."

Fangirl is about Cath and her twin sister Wren who both have just left home for college. Wren devestates Cath by telling her that she doesn't want to room with her at university and that she no longer wants to write Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) fan fiction with Cath anymore. Cath continues to write Simon Snow fan fiction as she waits for the final Simon Snow book to be released, discovers first love and figures out what it means to be independent.

I think one of the reasons that I connected with this book so much was because I started working as a bookseller right when the buzz around Harry Potter began. Later, I was hired as a Children's Book Publicist here at Raincoast, who at the time published the Harry Potter novels. I worked on the Harry Potter marketing campaigns. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the books and feel so blessed to have been involved with them as part of my career.

Fangirl spoke to me as someone who loves books with all of their heart. It spoke to me as someone who fantasizes about visiting fictional worlds. It spoke to me as someone who has yearned for that character they love to come alive and to become my friend or even boyfriend. It also spoke to me as someone who once was awkward, clueless about boys, and a total booknerd (ok maybe I still am).

I loved Fangirl. I wish I could read it again and again and again and have it be the first time every time. This book felt like an old friend, and that is something that is rare to find. Also, now 9 months after reading Fangirl I feel blessed to call the book's author, Rainbow Rowell a friend... which is pretty awesome. You can read about my time with Rainbow on her Toronto book tour on my blog Sew Creative.

Look for Rainbow Rowell's new novel, Landline, coming July 2014.

Crystal Allen, Publicist


My Favourite Books of 2013, Lynne Fahnestalk

by Dan
Fiction + Science Fiction and Fantasy / December 19, 2013

Redshirts

Redshirts

I was afraid Redshirts was going to be generic FanFic writing when I started reading, but it quickly proved to be much more. A really fun, tongue-in cheek send-up of all things Star Trek—with a little Galaxy Quest thrown in— it's a nice departure for a genre that often takes itself way too seriously. You don't have to be a fan of Star Trek to enjoy Redshirts, but it helps to be a fan of science fiction in general. I hope there is a sequel!  

Doctor Sleep

I've been reading Stephen King for over 35 years and he still manages to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Doctor Sleep, sequel to The Shining, is no exception. If you have not read The Shining or seen the movie, King supplies just enough back story to convey the importance of the events happening now. The book takes place many years after the ghost infested Overlook Hotel was destroyed. But Dan Torrence, now a recovering alcoholic, is slowly drawn back to it by a young girl, Abra, who also posesses "the shining". She believes there is a sinister reason behind a number of missing children. Dan and Abra discover that even though the hotel is gone there remains an evil gathering of vampires who call themselves the True Knot and make their home base on the grounds where the Overlook Hotel used to stand. Disguised as vacationers roaming the highways in RVs they kidnap and prey on children who have "the shining". They call it "steam".

King's main strength is his character development and he doesn't disappoint in this story. The leader of the True Knot, Rose the Hat, is as creepy and as eccentric as any of his previous characters. He manages to bring Dan's struggle with alcohol into the mix without overshadowing Dan's quest. Nothing preachy here, Dan's just a guy doing the best he can. King's 13-year-old heroine, Abra, who is even stronger at "shining" than Dan (she predicted the 9/11 disaster from her crib) is a believable mix of edgy and nice. She bounces back and forth between psychic threat and just plain kid.

The book starts off slowly but manages to pick up speed as it rolls along. It's a nice creepy tale. It's Stephen King. 

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series 

I first became aware of these marvelous characters through the HBO series and ran to find the books. The various stories are as much about the adventures and everyday lives of the different people as they are about solving mysteries. And "mystery" is a loose definition in some cases. The three main characters are, the deceptively named Mma Precious Ramotswe who is the first female private investigator in Botswana, her eager and capable assistant Mma Grace Makutsi, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni mechanic and eventual husband of Mma Precious Ramotswe. Charming, funny, heart breaking, insightful and sometimes alarming tales of rural life in modern day South Africa.
 

Lynne Fahnestalk, Inventory Coordinator


My Favourite Comics of 2013, Dan Wagstaff

by Dan
Graphica / December 19, 2013

delilah dirk

2013 was a GREAT year for comics. If you like fantasy, adventure, and superhero comics, there was Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples excellent space opera Saga, Matt Fraction and David Aja's erstwhile Avenger Hawkeye, and Kelly Sue Deconnick's Captain Marvel.

The latest Batwoman by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman delivered more exquisitely drawn gothic horror, and The Joker returned in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's nightmare-inducing run on Batman. And—speaking of nightmares—H. P. Lovecraft met Jules Verne in Nemo: Heart of Ice by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (I'm looking forward to next year's sequel, The Roses of Berlin, a lot).

Then there was the epic, Moebius-meets-Jack Kirby Battling Boy by Paul Pope, and the deliciously pulpy The Black Beetle by Francesco Francavilla.

The luscious historical fantasy adventure Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Vancouver's very own Tony Cliff was just a joy from beginning to end. Not only did it look beautiful (Tony is also an animator), but the dialogue was sharp and snappy.

Online, I have been quietly addicted to the post-Harry Potter fantasy adventure Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. But that won't be out as a book until 2015! (You can, however, find one of Noelle's illustrations on the cover of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell).  

You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack

Affectionately making fun of tight pants and all that heroic stuff was The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Halifax-based cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks (which I loved, loved, loved), and the brilliant You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld. While Superhero Girl dealt with the daily trials and tribulations of a novice superheroine, You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack mashed up literary classics with robots, astronauts, dinosaurs, sea monsters, Victoriana, and masked men (where else would you see a Batman-inspired steampunk Dickens?!).

Also somewhat affectionately deconstructing pop culture (but in an oh-so different way) was the bonkers and acidic My Dirty Dumb Eyes by illustrator Lisa Hanawalt. I'm not sure I'd describe it as comics exactly, but it was sure as hell funny (where else would you see Anna Wintour riding an ostrich?!).

For kids, the pair of eccentrics in Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon were lots of fun (the book's been a popular birthday gift), and I really liked Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson. Luke also contributed a really great story, 'The Boy Who Drew Cats', to the charming Fairy Tale Comics collection edited by Chris Duffy. (You can read my interview with Luke here).

My kids are still a bit young for them, but I fully expect My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Adventure Time Fionna & Cake will soon be in required reading in our house...        

Relish

But comics continued to explore new territory beyond the typical genres associated with the medium. Lucy Knisley's Relish was a tender food memoir with recipes; Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks, a colourful look at the work of primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg was a series of strange, funny, and magical stories. Gilbert Hernandez had two remarkable books out this year: Marble Season, a heartfelt, semi-autobiographical comic about childhood in 1960s southern California, and the haunting Julio's Day, a fictional account of man's life from his birth in 1900 to his death 2000. Peter Bagge returned with Woman Rebel, a surprising and fascinating biography of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.

(I actually had the pleasure of meeting both Beto and Peter this year. Peter was terrific at this year's IFOA—smart and disarmingly funny—but sight of Elvira Kurt sprinting from one side of a CBC studio to the other to meet Beto was something else entirely!)

The Property

Rutu Modan's The Property was an extraordinary follow-up to her debut graphic novel Exit Wounds. Lovingly observed, it told the story of an Israeli woman accompanying her elderly grandmother to Warsaw, ostensibly to reclaim property lost during World War II. It was funny, heartbreaking, beautiful and poignant. Literary in the best sense, it was still criminally overlooked by the critics.

And I didn't even get to Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh, The Great War by Joe Sacco... 

Louis Riel 10th Anniversary Edition

2013 was the 10th anniversary of Chester Brown's monumental Louis Riel—a book that changed how we thought about comics and, I think, profoundly expanded the possibilities of the medium. Would a book like Rebel Woman have been possible without it? I don't think so. Nor would my favourite comic of the year, Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang, which shared some of its sensibility.

The result of 5 years work, Boxers and Saints is a remarkable achievement. The two volume graphic novel told the intertwined stories of two young people on opposites of the Boxer Rebellion in 19th century China. While Boxers was a brightly coloured adventure story inspired by Chinese opera and superhero comics, Saints delivered an introspective story of identity and faith, drawing more from the personal narratives found in independent comics. Both books were beautifully coloured by Lark Pien (a cartoonist in her own right) and they are visually stunning. But it was the complex storytelling—in turn funny and tragic—and Gene's unique magical realism that made the books truly extraordinary.

boxers and saints

Shortly after the release of Boxers and Saints, Gene came to Toronto and delivered two brilliant presentations about becoming a cartoonist and his career from self-published indie comics to the present day. If you ever get chance to hear Gene talk about his work you should definitely take it. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours with him just talking comics and superheroes. It was one of the highlights of my year.

 

Dan, Online Marketing Manager


My Favourite Books of 2013, Megan Radford

by Megan
Current Affairs / December 18, 2013

The Unwinding

Let me preface this by saying that I adore YA novels, dystopian in particular. Yes, YA dystopia—fiction for teens. Which I suppose makes my choice of The Unwinding as my favourite book of the year an odd one.

But the current spate of Young Adult dystopia is a reflection of some deep and troubling undercurrents that run through our social fabric and show little sign of abating. To truly understand fiction, you need on some level to understand its contemporary roots; right now that lies in a suffocating sense of anomie, and a need to examine catalysts of that fragmentation of social values and identity. It’s easy to forget that the roots of the seemingly far-fetched dystopias readers like me devour often lead right back to our own feet.

There are so many books this year that I loved, but none has so unsettled and challenged me as The Unwinding. It sits in the corner of my bedroom in a pile of its own, as if relegated to the corner for the bad behavior of hitting where it hurts, cast out from the teetering stacks of ARCs that have made my apartment a fire hazard. 

The Unwinding is an immensely personal and unflinching look at the unravelling of the so-called American Dream: the need for constant growth and improvement, development without reflection, and money without a soul. If you feel that the American flag on the cover of the book and its American overtones make it exclusionary, think again.

This is not a story about Democrats versus Republicans, but rather a story about the nostalgic myth of the small community, the small business, and the reality of more and more people living separate from wealth and purpose, the chasm yawning ever wider between reality and representation.

The son of a born-again, failed tobacco farmer; a young black woman, daughter to a heroin addict, growing up in the rust belt; an idealistic aide to then Senator Joe Biden, who discovers that the purpose and sense of belonging he’s always sought lies not in politics but in lobbying. The billionaire founder of PayPal, who by all means has snared a version of this elusive dream, but with it the sharp edges of a life with hidden shrapnel—nothing overt, but an uncomfortable whiplash and constant motion. I vividly recall dreams where I’m behind the wheel in a car without brakes, always going faster and faster, my insides calcifying into solid clumps of fear, then dissolving from the speed. These are the people Packer allows to tell their stories. Their successes and their failures, the loneliness that comes with individualism’s victories as well as its losses.

There is an unsettling loneliness inherent in the stories Packer tells—the feeling that each of his characters is fighting to emerge from a shadow into a startlingly bright dream that has been promised but remains out of reach, the way a recent dream flickers on the edge of consciousness, just beyond the edges of rational thought. 

This is a book whose stories will sneak beneath your skin and settle in; the most unsettling element that the fears and disquiet expressed by the characters are our own, which we seek to hold in check just beneath the surface, lest they unwind and coil around us. 

Megan Radford, Sales & Marketing Assistant


Olivia Laing on Writers and Drinking

by Dan
Biography & Memoir / December 17, 2013

A Trip to Exile Spring

In her forthcoming book The Trip to Echo Spring (published later this month by Picador), Olivia Laing examines the link between writing and drinking through the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver. 

All six of these writers were alcoholics and not only did they drink together, the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work. 

Having grown up in an alcoholic family herself, Laing travelled from Cheever's New York to Williams's New Orleans, and from Hemingway's Key West to Carver's Port Angeles, trying to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, and to unravel the high price of creativity:

 

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