Travelling bookstore sheds the wheels

BC’s travelling bookmobile Iron Dog Books has decided to take a page out of rural Ontario’s playbook and put that beast up on blocks in the front yard. Ah, reminds me of growing up. Hopefully there’s a trailer park nearby. Go buy some books from these people to help them get settled.

Beyond the bestsellers, the 1000-square-foot store will allow Iron Dog Books to stock more of the titles that fit the store’s mandate to have a great book for everyone. That includes the books that her family enjoys – both Atleo and her husband are Indigenous, and they are passionate about work by Indigenous authors, including political and social-studies titles. They also love sci-fi and fantasy and are well-versed in graphic novels that are great for early readers, vetted by the couple’s seven- and five-year-olds.

Poor schmuck

This guy decided that music wasn’t working out so he took up writing. [Insert sad trombone music here.]

Well, that’s not entirely true. It yielded seven of the greatest years of my life, the majority of which were spent driving around the country, playing my guitar every night, making new friends and fans, seeing old friends and family, watching our small but devout fan base singing words that we wrote right back in our faces, and spreading our beer-soaked gospel in every corner of the country. We got to see our world in a way few people get to see it, and I’ll never suggest anything other than our being amongst the luckiest people on Earth.

But in the end, it resulted in nothing other than fond memories and a lifetime of experiences. As far as tangible returns on our years-long investment, we had nothing to speak of.

And yet here I am, starting at the same point I started at almost a decade ago. Only now, in place of a guitar and a bunch of songs, I am armed with a laptop and a bunch of stories.

Book showers are a thing now, apparently

Remember when hip big publishers used to have an open bar parties for book launches? I do. It was a glorious time, younglings. You can’t imagine the opulence: Steamwhistle everywhere and canapés as far as the eye could see. Then came the dark times: Booknet. That’s right, publishers found out their books weren’t selling shit and were like, Time to derail the gravy train. Sigh. It was fun while it lasted. Now the M.O, is throw the book out, wait two weeks to see if it sells, then abandon it to its fate (which is eventually the remainder bin.)

Anyway, this lady rebranded her launch as a book shower and people gave her a bunch of stuff instead of her giving free stuff to them. (Also, the first person to use the term “paper baby” when referring to their book gets throat punched. I’m already barely restraining myself on the “fur baby” types.)

It has been my experience that writing a novel requires commitment, compromise, endurance, vulnerability, patience, honesty, hope, and love, and invites Love’s shadow side, and heartbreak, and exhaustion. It is work, and it is a relationship, too. At some point during edits, my mom and I joked about throwing a baby shower for my book when the time finally came. I exhausted the joke by detailing a hypothetical gift registry: iMac, standing desk, cash funds to freeze my eggs, cash funds to pay my student debt, cash funds for health insurance, heaps of pencils, new hard drive, a bazillion copies of my novel.

Of course, a book is not a baby, and career isn’t family. Traditions are specific for good reasons. The more I joked about a traditional shower, however, the more I thought about its good reasons for specificity, is origins sunk in dowries, hope chests, coverture laws, salvation from the doom of spinsterhood.

Oddest title award

See, I would have thought the oddest title right now would be “President of the United States of America”, given the ongoing gong show down there, but no, it’s “The Dirt Hole and Its Variations“, which I mistakenly assumed to be one of my pal Derek’s titles. (Trigger warning: gophers. Shudder.)

The Dirt Hole and Its Variations might be a serious guide to hunting and trapping foxes, coyotes, bobcats and raccoons, but the double entendre has helped it land the Diagram prize for the oddest book title of the year.

The late Charles L Dobbins’s self-published guide blew away its competition, landing 40% of the public vote to put it ahead of the second-placed Ending the War on Artisan Cheese. The award for the year’s oddest book title is given out by the Bookseller magazine, whose fictional diarist Horace Bent said it had been a standout year. Also shortlisted were How to Drink Without Drinking, Viking Encounters: Proceedings of the 18th Viking Congress, Noah Gets Naked and Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich.

Do you like food? Do you like writing?

Well, have I got an article for you.

“Tell me what you eat,” wrote Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “and I will tell you what you are.” His magnum opus, The Physiology of Taste, was gastronomy’s answer to Diderot’s Encyclopedia or Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: technique by technique, principle by principle, Brillat-Savarin relentlessly marches through the catalog of la gourmanidse and lays out, in his words, nothing less than the “eternal foundation” for “a new science”—the science of gastronomy—that would “nourish, restore, preserve, persuade, and console us; a science which, not content with strewing flowers in the path of the individual, also contributes in no small measure to the strength and prosperity of empires.”

Bad sex awards

One of the things I’ve enjoyed since starting this nonsense back up in September, is finding out which old-standby’s have survived and which haven’t. Glad to see the bad sex in fiction awards are still with us. They’re really one of the more rewarding awards.

The River Capture by Mary Costello

He clung to her, crying, and then made love to her and went far inside her and she begged him to go deeper and, no longer afraid of injuring her, he went deep in mind and body, among crowded organ cavities, past the contours of her lungs and liver, and, shimmying past her heart, he felt her perfection.

MY GOODNESS. That is indeed remarkably bad. But not everyone enjoys them. Especially, I imagine, writers who are nominated, like Julian Gough, forever tainted by a single line of oedipal awareness.

I was nominated for the Bad sex award last year, for a scene in my novel Connect that was about three-and-a-half pages long. The extract that most media ran was about 20% of that. The part most people shared was even smaller: “He sucks on the hard nipple. He has never done this before, and yet; no, wait, of course, it is totally familiar. The first thing he ever did.” For millions of people, that fragment of a fragment of a scene is the only piece of my writing they’ve ever read: nothing I’ve written has been published more widely.

Joan Didion

You don’t have to write much more in a headline than that to catch attention. The New Yorker is doing a bit of a dive into what women’s lives were like in Didion’s novels. Of course, it’s, you know, written by a guy.

As the lovely New York spring of 1977 turned into the worst kind of New York summer, I did two things over and over again: I watched Robert Altman’s mid-career masterpiece “3 Women,” at a theatre in midtown, and I read Joan Didion’s astounding third novel, “A Book of Common Prayer.” Released within weeks of each other that year, when I was sixteen, these two revelatory pieces of art shared a strong aesthetic atmosphere, an incisive view of uneasy friendships between women, a deadpan horror of consumerism, and an understanding of how the uncanny can manifest in the everyday. Reading and watching—it wasn’t long before Altman’s and Didion’s projects merged in my mind, where they constituted a kind of mini-Zeitgeist, one that troubled, undid, and then remade my ideas about how feminism might inform popular art.

Speaking of Shakespeare…

Artificial intelligence is being used to chip away at his oeuvre. I imagine there are many oeuvres that could use this treatment.

When the scholar James Spedding analysed the authorship of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in 1850, he pored over the details of the text and eventually attributed the play not only to the Bard, but to his successor at the King’s Men theatre company, John Fletcher. Now 169 years later, an academic has used artificial intelligence to back up Spedding’s theory and pin down exactly who wrote what.