Tag: Favourite Books 2011
Fiction / December 22, 2011
This is my first year at Raincoast and already it’s hard to choose a favourite. There have been plenty of non-fiction recommendations from everyone, so I’m going to recommend some good fiction from this year.
For the mystery lovers, A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny is a pretty sure bet. Written by a Canadian author and set in Québec, this is the seventh and latest in the mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. This mystery features two worlds: the world of art and the world of a small town. It makes for an interesting and engaging cast of characters and the central mystery itself is not an easy one to solve. Having grown-up in small town Québec myself, the setting of Three Pines was an added incentive to me to pick up this book.
I enjoyed it enough to pick up a copy of the previous novel in the series, Bury Your Dead, that I plan to read over Christmas.
This next one isn’t a new pub, but I haven’t managed to read much (read: none) of the new science fiction that was published in 2011. But if you like science fiction and you haven’t read Ender’s Game, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel, it’s a classic and the first in the series about Andrew “Ender” Wiggin. It’s in the process of being adapted into a movie by Odd Lot and Summi that will feature Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld and Ben Kingsley. It was first published in 1985 and is still available from TOR.
And since Jamie’s already gone and recommended both an older book and one we don’t have here at Raincoast, I’m going to add my favourite science fiction book of them all: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. This is part science fiction (time travel is central to the plot) and part comedy of manners (most of the novel takes place in Victorian England). It’s a very funny book, with plenty of literary references slipped in alongside the laws and physics of time travel.
Seriously? You want me to pick my favorite children's books from 2011? That's like a parent choosing which of their kids is their favorite! Impossible. Can't be done. There are just too many FABULOUS choices!
Ok if you really want to twist my arm. Here are a few of my MANY favorite books from 2011. I should also say that I love all of the kids books that my collegues chose, but decided not to have any repeats.
I first heard that Lonely Planet was planning a line of Children's Books at sales conference 4 years ago. I waited for 4 long years for a Lonely Planet Children's Book to chomp my Kids Publicity teeth into. This book did not disappoint. Like the adult version of The Travel Book it features a page for every country in the world. Fun facts will keep kids turning page after page, trying to find new, gross things to gross mom out, while not even realizing their learning. An example: When Queen Elizabeth II visited Belize in 1985, she was served a local rodent called a gibnut, which some people say looks a bit like a giant rat without a tail (picture below). It tastes like rabbit.
This beautiful picture book is all the lovelier because the author (Sara O'Leary) and illustrator (Julie Morstad) are both really fabulous Canadian women. I also love that the little girl looks an awful lot like my daughter, Bella, if she would only allow me to have her hair chopped off into a bob. The story is of a mother telling her son the story of what it was like when she was little, however she takes it one step further and tells a fantastical story about her not only being little (young) but also little (tiny). My favorite spread is the one below where she feasts upon raspberries.
I confess. I have a shelf in my sewing studio of children's picture books that inspire me creatively. I don't let me daughter play with these books (mostly because I know that she will steal them and bring them to her own room.) Zeal of Zebras is one of the books that graces my sewing studio bookshelf. Created by Woop Studios (the graphic designers for the Harry Potter movies) this book of collective nouns is visually stimulating, educational and just plain entertaining. Really who knew that a group of pandas is called an embarrassment of pandas? The page below is the one that I find myself turning to most often as it reminds me of my time snorkeling with the sea turtles on The Big Island.
I affectionately call this title "The Book That Almost Ruined My Summer Vacation". It was just so good that I couldn't put it down! My husband and daughter were pretty upset that my nose was buried in my book the entire time instead of playing with them in the sand. Like Hunger Games in space, this book is a must read. Here is a trailer to give you a sneak peek.
Last but definitely not least I'm going to cheat a little bit. One of my favorite things about being a Children's Book Publicist is that I get to read a lot of books well before they hit bookstores.
Embrace is a book coming in March but I read it a few months ago and just can't get it out of my head. Here is a link to a blog post that I wrote on the day that we did the Embrace Cover Reveal. Sourcebooks also created a Making The Cover video which I found to be really fascinating. So much goes into creating a book cover.
Wishing you happy reading this holiday season and into 2012!
Travel / December 22, 2011
Favourite book of the year for me? It’s not cheating to take a paperback edition of a previous fave-of-the-year, but people will chirp so I’ll needlessly defend my choice by saying it’s packed with more incredible photographs, more solid content, and more countries…? No, not more countries, had them all last time and still does; Lonely Planet’s Travel Book 2nd edition in paperback is still my pick of the year.
Being in sales I really love the numbers this beauty puts up in any edition, but it does so because it is epic and people immediately grasp that when they see it, and don’t want their coffee tables to look super lame so they buy it in droves. Lonely Planet is a truly inspiring company, and The Travel Book is distilled travel inspiration. Tony Wheeler — the indomitable founder of Lonely Planet — sums this book up nicely: “It just reminds me how much of the world there is still to see” — That's Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet founder, 145 countries visited and counting ...
There is so much of the world to see, and I like to be reminded every time I pick this book up that I need to get out there and see more of it. It really is THE travel book.
Peace, I’m outta here.
PS: I’d also like to quickly remind anyone who hasn’t read Shantaram written by Gregory David Roberts and published by St. Martin’s to do so post-haste. It has fought off a lot of great fiction to stay in my top 10 for years. It’s an excellent read — if you like stories you’ll love it.
Fernand Braudel once said that the study of the Middle Ages is very difficult because the eighteenth century gets in the way. So much of what we take for granted today, our habits unspoken assumptions, our mentalités, were shaped by the profound change that the eighteenth century brought. As a result the period before the 18th century feels impossibly foreign to us.
David Frum does something similar for contemporary culture and politics by excavating the shift in mentalités brought about by the nineteen seventies. He argues in How We Got Here: The 70's: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life—For Better or Worse that our current attitudes about authority, equality, work, ambition, sex and politics were shaped in the crucible decade of the nineteen seventies and the backlash that came after. The sixties are the glamour decade, but really the influential decade on a mass level is the seventies.
As a right-wing thinker Frum has an obvious agenda; he pines for world before the tumult of the seventies, and sees the Age of Jimmy Carter as the time when the Keynesian consensus finally snapped to be replaced by the ascendancy of the Right. But the book is no less enjoyable book for his politics. His politics are not mine, but he put forwards his position with such clarity and eloquence, it can only help me to sharpen my own thinking. And as a child of the seventies it is good fun to see my own personal attitudes and foibles historicized.
How We Got Here is neither our book nor a new book, but I heard an interview with Frum on CBC's Ideas a few months back and was struck by (a) CBC interviewing at length someone who sits so far outside the moderate consensus of Canadian conventional wisdom and (b) how well Frum speaks. I popped into central branch of the Vancouver Public Library and picked up a copy.
Public libraries are a great thing. My New Year’s resolution is to find myself in a library at least once a week all year. And for what it is worth, public expenditure on libraries in Canada peaked in the nineteen seventies. So it was far from a lost decade.
As the holiday season has already shown, “just one more”, seems to have become my motto. I’ll try and break this habit in choosing from the smorgasbord of delectable books distributed by Raincoast in 2011, difficult as that may be considering my…appetite.
You would think this means I would start with a cookbook, and it does. I will. Two of them actually, both beautifully designed and produced by Chronicle Books.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s (love that name), Plenty, has fast become the must-have foodie cookbook of the year. It is filled with stunning visuals and consistent recipes that promise to sway even the most ardent eaters of faun and fowl into dedicated vegetarians. Five words; Caramelized fennel with goat cheese. Much like with my wife, I fell in love when I saw this book. That love has developed and deepened as I have cooked. Awkward metaphor? Yes. Great cookbook? Definitely.
Ruhlman’s Twenty taught me more about salt and water than a day trip to First Beach. I am a better cook for having read, and re-read this book, and you will be too.
Owing to my four year old nephew and six year old niece, both of whom have developed a taste for my next pick, I have read and reread Herve Tullet’s, Press Here, more times than I care to admit, more times than I have the Lord of the Rings. That is saying something. It’s not often a book can elicit visceral responses from me within the first few pages. Even rarer are those books that can engage the reader, young or old, to pick it up, shake it out, turn it sideways, push on brightly painted circles and alternate between clapping, laughing, clapping faster, and laughing noisily in a rising crescendo as the book nears its end. The answer to TV and the internet is in this 8x8 board book, published first in France in 2010, and then picked up by Chronicle Books and brought to the Canadian market in 2011.
Grandpa Green is Lane Smith’s newest children’s title after It’s a Book. It is a memoir, a personal narrative on growing old and on being young, on imagination and forgetting, on the ingenuity of telling a story, whether your own or someone else’s, in a way that remains true to the heart. This book has my heart in its pages, for the beauty of the story and the images both. It’s one I’ll read to my child and savor for myself in the quiet moments.
Among Others, by Jo Walton treads softly, using echoes of the fantastic and a decidedly non-urgent magic to tell a fictional tale that could be otherwise completely more or less mostly real. It is a fairy tale and an elegant curtsy to the great stories and writers of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Thanks to Dan for pointing this book out to me – I’ve never read anything quite like it. Here is what I emailed him after I was finished: “The way in which she weaves magic into the fabric of her life, and the story reminds me of the film Pan's Labyrinth, where, as the audience you aren't sure if magic really does exist or if her telling is something that is purely fantastical and without truth. The complexity of that question has kept me gnawing at it the last few nights, it's definitely a book I'll pass on to some friends for discussion when I'm done. PS — I think I saw a fairy this morning.”
Lastly, Paula Scher MAPS, Published by Princeton Architectual Press, surprised me with its beauty and with its complexity. Whether you take to this book for its visuals or prefer to delve into the theory behind the project, there is no doubting its resonance as an artifact of modern culture, and a remembering of an art form quickly becoming anachronistic. Sher uses language to (re)create her maps; some familiar and some less so. They are drawn from, “memory, from impressions from media, and from general information overload”, and her brief introduction, titled “All Maps Lie” outlines how all maps are fallible objects influenced by factors as trivial as personal preference, inaccurate information, and imagination. The maps themselves keep me coming back to them with new questions in mind, curious as to how the world looks through her copious and particular lens. Every page engages and invites us to follow along and recognize the unfamiliar in what is quite clearly a familiar landscape.
Food & Drink / December 20, 2011
I got my hands on a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty earlier this year and I've been cooking my way through it ever since. Usually when I buy a cookbook, if even one recipe makes it into my personal collection I call it a success—but with Ottolenghi it's recipe after recipe after recipe that I make over and over again. We'll even be doing his pear crostinis as appetizers for Christmas dinner this year—and a recipe has to be pretty fabulous for my family to break with tradition on such a special occasion!
My favourite, though, has to be the saffron taggliatelle with spiced butter. This is to die for, my friends. I felt compelled to buy a pasta maker just to do justice to the pine nuts.
Green bean salad with mustard seeds and tarragon. The fun part is when he directs you to pop the mustard seeds like popcorn!
Sadly, I don't have a picture handy, but I can tell you that there is nothing more exquisite than caramelized fennel with goat's cheese. I had my doubts about fennel—it's a weird looking vegetable don't you think?—but this recipe is delicious.
What are you all cooking this week? Have you ever changed anything about Christmas dinner or is always the same?
Kids / December 20, 2011
If I had to pick just one book for this season... and that's almost impossible with the choice we have here at Raincoast... it would be the Chronicle children's book Press Here. It's a book that is difficult to describe because it has to be experienced. It is an action book that requires your full participation and attention. With so many electronic games, and plastic toys with batteries taking the attention of young brains these days (goodness I sound like my Grandmother...) this book is a delight for kids and adults alike. I read it to my 5 year old Grandson and he was so delighted he wanted to read it over and over again. My 12 year old Grandson was watching and then wanted to read it with us as well. It's good for all ages. The long lost art of imagination is alive and well in this special book by Hervé Tullet.
Originally published in France in 2010, Chronicle bought rights for North America. Give yourself and treat and take a few minutes to play...cover to cover in Press Here.
Yesterday Dan talked about his favourite book of 2011. I can't quite narrow it down to ONE, so instead I've picked one favourite book for each day of the week... plus a little something extra for Sunday. This is essentially my ideal week, in book format.
Monday. We all know what Mondays are like. The day you need a hit of inspiration. And a cup of coffee. This book will give you a double shot of the former (sorry, you'll have you grab your own latte.) Paper Cutting: Contemporary Artists, Timeless Craft is totally gorgeous and full of amazing work by talented artists working with paper.
Tuesday is when you really start to wake up for the week. And you'll need your wits about you when you grab your scissors and a fresh sheet of paper, then fold, pleat and crumple your way to creating the incredible shapes in Folding Techniques for Designers: From Sheet to Form.
(P.S. If you're into paper folding, you'll love this documentary I recently saw on the Knowledge Network, Between the Folds.)
Wednesday is a funny day. Come on, hump day. Time for the brilliance and hilarity that is Hark! A Vagrant. If you don't already know Kate Beaton from her website, trust me, your life will be better once you do.
By Thursday, your work week is in full swing, and you can take on anything. You can even build a toaster... from scratch! As in, hey, let's dig up some precious metals out of the ground with my own two hands and make some wire, then figure out how to make plastic... Or at least you can read about a guy who really did this in The Toaster Project: Or a heroic attempt to build a simple electric appliance from scratch.
Friday is when you start to wind down, dream about the weekend that's oh-so-close.... a dream which involves owning a big old house in the country with chickens running around the yard, and your husband making you breakfast in bed, with poached eggs laid by your very own chickens. (Reality: let's just go out for brunch downtown.) Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes is full of lovely design and photos, stories about keeping chickens, and recipes for both cooking up eggs ... and chickens (sorry, chickens!)
A Saturday behind the pottery wheel is a good, good day. If you don't have clay or a kiln on hand, check out The Ceramics Bible: The Complete Guide to Materials and Techniques.
Sunday is a perfect treat. Much like Miette: Recipes from San Francisco's Most Charming Pastry Shop. These are some of the cutest, most perfect looking cakes you'll ever see (and maybe even bake). The book's pages are also scalloped for an added dose of cuteness.
And last but not least, for a litttle extra on Sunday (cause you know everyone wants to extend the weekend just a little bit more), I'm also going to include my favourite non-book item from 2011. I am admittedly biased here, but hey, this is my list. Shoegazing Notecards were put together by the gorgeous and always inspiring UPPERCASE magazine, based on a photo story they did in their magazine: UPPERCASE asked readers to send in photos of their feet. I was lucky enough to have a couple of photos in the spread... and now UPPERCASE partnered with Chronicle to put 20 of those photos onto notecards. Mine's the one on the red carpet with all the brightly coloured shoes. A friend of mine also has her feet on one of the notecards, wearing her roller derby skates. Here's the spread from the magazine - the notecards are also super cute and designed with classic UPPERCASE style.
So, that's my week in books for 2011. Looking forward to 2012!
The bookstore I used to work at has sadly gone the way of many great independent bookstores in Canada and shuttered-up shop. It used to be on Toronto's Queen West in the days when the street was, well, "grungier" for want of a better word.
If you don't know the area, the store was near the Art & Design District and the Fashion District. It was right above Blackmarket, a vintage t-shirt store, across the street from MuchMusic, and around the corner from the AGO and OCAD. It rubbed shoulders with boutique stores like Fluevog, small eclectic music stores, a hip urban bike shop and 24-hour grocery store. The owner loved the Beats and was a film critic on the side. Unsurprisingly, a lot of our customers were interested in art, design, film, music, photography and style.
One thing I would get asked quite frequently (apart from "where's the washroom?", "can you turn the music down?" and "where have they towed my car?") was "do you have any books on Saul Bass?"
Along side Paul Rand, Saul Bass was one of the greatest designers of the 20th Century. Even if you don't recognise the name, you would certainly recognise Bass' distinctive (and much imitated) work on films like Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, Otto Preminger's The Man With The Golden Arm and Anatomy of a Murder. And if you don't, you should: they revolutionized film title sequences.
If that weren't enough, Bass also designed logos and corporate identities for AT&T, Quaker Oats, United Airlines, Minolta and the Girl Scouts of America.
His output was remarkable.
Strangely, there were no (zero, zip, nada) books available on Bass for the longest time. It seemed almost unbelievable and customers would always look at me skeptically when I told them there was nothing on the shelves. I have to admit that most times I didn't even bother to look it up (which may have contributed to the skepticism) but that's because I knew there weren't any — I would be first in line if there was. You see, I love Saul Bass' work, especially his film work and his use of hand-drawn lettering. Bass' work is truly like no one else's. He was a design original.
You can imagine, then, how excited I heard about Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design. From seeing it in the Lawrence King catalogue in April to when it was published last month, there was little doubt what my favourite book would be this year. Designed by Bass' daughter Jennifer, written by design historian Pat Kirkham, and weighing in at over 400 pages, the book doesn't disappoint. It is STILL the only book on Bass's work and is must-have for anyone interested in the history of design or film.
If you're only going to buy one honking great big book on American mid-century modern design for your coffee table this year, make sure it's this one. I'm just sorry my old bookstore isn't there to sell it to you.