April may be the cruellest month, but right now March feels pretty shitty too

Hey poetry nerds, Adam Kirsch has an essay on the poet-critic up at New Criterion. One day I’d like to come to the crullerest month, where we just eat donuts.

The poet-critic has been an institution in English literature because usually only an artist has the stubborn animus, the conviction that art should be one way rather than another, that makes for interesting criticism. To write something new is to imply that the writing which already exists is insufficient. Of course, this can never be demonstrably true: there is always already more than enough literature to occupy any reader for a lifetime. Only an artist’s egotism, his certainty that he has something new to offer that the world should not be without, gives him the fruitfully skewed perspective on literature required to see it as deficient. Harold Bloom’s theory of “the anxiety of influence” gave formal statement to this agonistic element in all artistic ambition. “To imagine is to misinterpret,” Bloom writes, which means, among other things, to misinterpret all existing poetry to its own detriment in order to make room for something new.

How’s that novel you’ve been working on coming along?

What are you doing with your free time? Finally writing that novel you’ve been thinking about? I have a big head start on you. When I left my steady employ in August, I decided to try to take a few months to write a novel and it’s been…. great. Genuinely fantastic. You know, until Christmas came along. Then snowmaggedon. And then this. Now every day is a slog. This guy says I should channel that anxiety into creative endeavours, but mostly I channel it into my ulcer development program. But I digress. If you’re just starting out on your journey of what-the-hell-I-might-as-well-write-a-novel-how-hard-can-it-be, the Guardian offers a few things to keep in mind.

“I bet we’ll see a surge in a few months and we reckon this trend will go up as the lockdown continues, and beyond that,” Coen said.

Literary agent John Jarrold is also receiving more messages from would-be authors. “I am seeing an upturn in email queries rather than actual submissions of finished manuscripts, and I expect that to continue. Like most agents, I take on a tiny percentage of the authors who submit novels to me, maybe three or four a year out of 35 or so submissions a week, so it will be interesting to see how this develops.”

This clip always gets me right in the feels. I laugh and cry.

On rereading

Kerry over at 49th Shelf looks at the comfort value of rereading beloved books — an endeavour I heartily support — with a listicle of titles you might consider going back to. I have mostly gotten to do this with kids’ books, because as the boys aged, I ended up reading each of them certain classics (the EB White trifecta of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Trumpet of the Swan; the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull; the Silverwing books by Ken Oppel; The Hobbit by Whatshisface McOxford; The Harry Potter books by noted TERF-supporter JK Rowling, etc.), but I seldom have the time or energy to reread anything but the more adult Tolkien works over and over (I have read the Silmarillion about 5 times, and the main trilogy probably 7 or 8 times) because it is my nerdly brain comfort food. That said, the times I have tried to reread beloved books from my past I have often been disappointed. Books I thought were mind-blowing as a teen turn out on reconsideration to be facile or poorly-written or even toxic in content — all considerations I was not worried about back then. Other times the book just leaves me cold, as though it were recommended by someone I had nothing in common with. So I am a little gun-shy about spending time rereading when there’s so much I haven’t read once. How’s this for a pessimist mantra: I’d rather be disappointed with something new than ruin the memory of something I enjoyed once-upon-a-time but won’t again. Now, poetry? That’s another matter entirely. I reread poetry books all the time. Sometimes because I didn’t get the first time through (Geoffrey Hill) and sometimes because the taste of the words in the mouth is like having a second cookie (Carl Phillips).

Typewriters and pens? What’s next, bowling with Barney Rubble?

How can dumping off the trappings of contemporary life affect your art and writing? asks article in online-only journal.

I first realized the advantages of analog when observing how my husband, who is a photojournalist, uses his vintage film camera from the ’60s. It is a slow, tedious process, one that many other photographers who have “graduated to digital consider unnecessary, given technological advancements. He spends up to a minute changing each roll of film. A roll contains 12 frames. Between each shot he must wind the crank. For these reasons, a photograph cannot be taken as instantly as it could be with a digital camera. The film is costly to buy and to develop. You can’t check the frames as you take them. These might sound more like disadvantages, but his photographs, taken during a trip to Cuba and Mexico two summers ago, went on to win the people stories prize at World Press Photo 2017 and were published widely and exhibited internationally.

How The ‘Rona is affecting the bestseller lists

The Star gives a bit of analysis that seems to suggest the pandemic is shaping the Canadian bestseller lists. Hot damn. There’s sure to be a run on my eschatologically trepidatious book The Hunter any time now.

That most of us are confined to our homes — working, eating, killing time — is apparent in the types of books that are selling best.

Examining the raw data supplied by BookNet Canada, which tracks books sold in the previous week, we discover that one of the top sellers these days is colouring books. “F*ck Off, I’m Coloring,” published in 2016, is No. 12 on the overall non-fiction list this week; “The Disney Dreams Collection Thomas Kinkade Studios Coloring Book, published in 2017,” is in the No. 14 spot. Meanwhile, 2019’s “Sticker by Number Animals,” which is like paint-by-numbers using stickers, ranks No. 8. Finally, also in the colouring vein, is “Wreck This Journal, a bestseller when it was published in 2012, at No. 15 (its publisher urge readers to “paint, poke, create, destroy and wreck” to “create a journal as unique as you are”).

On shopping not at Amazon

So, I live in a part of Canada famed for its storytelling and saturation of writers. It’s true: we have a bizarre percentage of Canada’s best writers in this province, especially in the capital city, St. John’s. That said, we have neither a downtown library nor an independent bookshop. There’s a Chapters up on Kenmount Road (a dirty, construction-riddled artery that redolent with fast food chains and strip malls), but otherwise, every attempt at having something nice here from the books world has failed. (Why? My theory is that Newfoundlanders, recently famous from a 9/11 musical, love a good story; we just prefer it when it’s coming out of our own mouths, because A) we’re cheap and stories are free, and B) you knows I tells it best kind, b’y. But I digress.) During this crisis, I’ve been unable to get even to Crapters up the road, so have been looking for online sources for books that aren’t Amazon or major corps. Looks like these guys are trying to go up against the titans of the industry.

ANDY HUNTER launched Bookshop.org in beta format six weeks ago, and he expected the business to scale up gradually. The coronavirus upended those plans, like everything else. By March 20th, a week in which 2,400 independent bookshops in America started closing their physical doors, the fledgling literary portal resembled a port in the storm.

The startup aims to redirect readers from Amazon to its own online shop, where customers can either buy books directly or through storefronts set up by individual bookshops (shipping is handled by an industry wholesaler, Ingram). Some larger bookstores already have robust online divisions and are not keen to see those sales diverted. But Bookshop can provide an alternative to Amazon for the 85% of local shops that do not, says Mr Hunter, who is Bookshop’s CEO, the publisher of Counterpoint and Soft Skull Press and a co-founder of the literary sites Electric Literature, Catapult and LitHub. The website gives stores a generous cut of each sale—30% now, instead of the originally planned 25%—and will split 10% of profits equally among member stores. Even before the disaster hit, one Chicago book reviewer was calling it the “Rebel Alliance” to Amazon’s “Empire”.

Now listen here, you little shits…

Would 100% pay attention…

Librarians dish on how to make kids pay attention during story time. (Note: not as per headline, nor by hiring Margot Robbie to read in a sultry voice to middle-aged poets.)

I never intended to be a children’s librarian, so when I was hired as one, I was pretty in the dark as far as how to perform a successful and meaningful storytime. Fortunately, I was gifted with a really excellent coworker who did phenomenal storytimes (“Where’s Mr. J?” would be a refrain I’d hear at storytime for more than a year after he was moved to another location) and had the opportunity to attend equally amazing training sessions with Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen, the executive director and designer of the Mother Goose on the Loose. I also gobbled up as much information as I could on strong storytime planning and learned an immense amount from Soraj Ghoting and her Storytimes for Everyone. Now almost three years on the job, I recognize that many of the caregivers who come to storytime are just as uninformed about how to get the most out of storytime as I was when I first started, if not more.