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Reading Year in Review: 2016

Another year is through and it’s time to look back on the books I read in 2016. In a surprising turn of events, I think I actually almost achieved my reading challenges for the year?! I guess that’s what happens when you set reasonable goals and actively work towards them throughout the year. Who knew?

50 Book Pledge

This is where I fell short this year: I only read 46 books (up from 43 in 2015), aided greatly by a late-year last-minute reread of A Series of Unfortunate Events. But since I improved on the previous year’s number, read more widely than in previous years, and continued to read non-book material at a high rate (when can I start counting novel-length fanfics as books? Serious question), I’m giving myself a pass. You can see what I read here. Did we read any of the same books? Let’s talk!

Reading Bingo

Penguin Random House Canada’s Reading Bingo card was less specific than last year’s CanLit version, and as a result I did pretty well: two lines filled and only seven squares missed! Some of the missed squares I’m tentative about: I almost certainly read a book with a character with a disability, but none came to mind when I was filling out the card, a sure sign that I need to step up my game in this arena. I’m also pretty sure I read a book from #weneeddiversebooks but a glance through their social media didn’t yield a match – another thing I can improve on next year. You can see which books applied to which squares here.

Books by Women

The goal here was to read 75% books by women in 2016. I didn’t do quite as well as I hoped, according to the numbers: only 57% if you count my speed reread of Lemony Snicket. If you take that series out, I’m at 73%. I was very mindful throughout the year of this goal so I’m disappointed I didn’t achieve it outright. However, I’ve really shifted to consuming a majority of female-created or women-run media (podcasts, websites, fanfics, books) and I’ve been conscious about finding more diverse voices to listen to other than just white men. I can do better with this goal next year.

The Great Tolkien Reread of 2016

It happened!!! I have a half-written post about it in my drafts but in the spring I managed to read all three Lord of the Rings books using a strict reading regimen of 100 pages per week – but somehow I managed to finish it in just eight! It was definitely less of a slog than I was expecting: there are a lot of small moments of humour, and the writing is less dense than I remembered. I didn’t manage to read the appendices (I needed to move on) but I really enjoyed it and my reread didn’t diminish my memories of the series.

Nonfiction Challenge

I read eight nonfiction books this year, mostly biographies/memoirs, up from six the previous year. While my New Year’s Resolutions kind of fizzled out (#relatable), I did manage to complete this goal for three topics – hockey, art and feminism. I read The Game by Ken Dryden and saw AHL, World Cup and NHL games; I read In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and The Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roe, and saw many excellent works of art in Canadian, Danish and Parisian museums; and I read Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett and joined a women in tech group at work. I’d like to note that while I didn’t fully meet this goal for all topics I set it for, I did grow and learn in each area, either by finding a supplemental source of information about the idea (eg. podcasts, online video) or doing the “practical” aspect of the topic (eg. attended opera performances). I am satisfied with my progress in this goal and am already planning which topics to tackle next year.

Top Books of the Year

Okay okay I know this is really what you wanted to know: with all those reading goals, which books did I actually enjoy the most?

  • Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (see my Mid-Year Reading Recap for my thoughts!)
  • What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi, for the strength of the leading story alone
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a wonderfully interwoven generational story of a family split between oceans
  • The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua (review coming soon!)

Ok, that’s a wrap on 2016! Let me know what your favourite book of the year was, and if you met your reading goals!

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eReader Review: Kobo Aura One

Last month, I was lucky enough to get a new Kobo Aura One eReader, Kobo’s newest device that was engineered start to finish with the help of their customers. Sold out in many places until next year, the Kobo Aura One is Kobo’s new flagship eInk device that has been called “the greatest eReader of all time.”

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The Kobo Aura One in its natural habitat.

In addition to standard details like a high-definition screen resolution, access to articles saved from Pocket, and accessibility features like adjustable font faces and sizes, the Aura One boasts a number of new reader-first features, like a bigger screen that mimics the size of a print book,  a red-shift screen light, and a waterproof design. You can also natively borrow library books from public libraries and Overdrive (no more sideloading!). In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that while this is not a sponsored post, I do work at Kobo and this device was a gift from the company.

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Comparison of the Aura One (left) and Glo (right) in size and tone of light.

Before the Aura One, my go-to eReader was the first-generation Kobo Glo, which features a six-inch eInk screen with a one-setting front light. I have always enjoyed reading on my Glo and have purchased several as gifts for friends and family. I’ve also done some reading on the Kobo iOS app on my phone, and on a Kobo Touch (my first device), and a Kobo Arc tablet. Of these different platforms, I’ve always preferred the Glo. I liked that I could turn pages with one hand on the bus; I liked that the light didn’t hurt my eyes after a long reading session like a computer screen did; and I liked that I could throw one device filled with dozens (hundreds!) of books into my bag and never be without something to read while vacationing or in a waiting room.

Now that I’ve read several books on the Aura One, I can say that the reading experience exceeds my expectations after being a Glo devotee. Reading on the 7.8 inch touchscreen feels more like reading a real book, and the page turns feel faster. I like being able to adjust the warmth of the reading light and that you can set it to shift tones based on time of day, although I haven’t tried reading with the full red shift at night yet. You can also set the device to go to sleep or turn off after a set period of time, to help conserve the battery; as a person who has been surprised more than once with an uncharged eReader after she left it asleep for a couple weeks, this is a welcome addition. The screen resolution is sharper, and the device responds to my touch more more quickly than the Glo. And! The new sleepcover has this clever magnetic panel that lets you prop up the Aura One, so you can read hands-free (I believe this brilliant idea was invented by one of Kobo’s own employees). This is perhaps my favourite feature, as it makes reading over meals much more enjoyable. I am wholly converted and I don’t think I could go back to my Touch now.

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It stands!

The only complaints I have about the Aura One is that this is much more of a two-handed device for me; as a tiny-handed person, it’s more difficult to hold the device in one hand and flip the pages. It also takes up more room in a purse and I am pretty sure you would be hard pressed to fit this one into a pocket at all. The brightness of the light is also a little finicky – I was expecting a button to control the light, as on the Glo, but on the Aura One there’s a very sensitive on-screen slider that gives you too many options for screen brightness. These are my only grievances about the Aura One so far but they’re not enough to turn me away from this device.

As a person who reads print and eBooks about equally, I have felt more excited about reading digitally on the Aura One than reading a paper book since I got the device. I’ve also found myself reading more and in longer sessions, and enjoying my reading experience more. If you can get your hands on an Aura One, I think you’ll find that your reading habits are changed for the better too.

Do you read digitally at all? Tell me how you do it and your favourite places to eRead!

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Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Winners: 2016 Edition

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Michael Tamblyn announces the winners of the Prize. Can you spot me in the crowd? Picture via Kobo’s Facebook.

Earlier this week, the winners of the second annual Kobo Emerging Writer Prize were announced in Toronto.

As with last year, I was on the internal shortlisting committee, sifting through submissions and organizing the Kobo team to pick the shortlist before turning it over to the panel of author judges, this year Camilla Gibb, Lynsay Sands, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz. There were a lot of titles dear to me on the shortlist this year; I particularly loved Pillow, Debris, Specimen, Born to Walk, and That Lonely Section of Hell. This year’s genre category was romance, and though I didn’t read any of the shortlisted titles, it’s exciting to see these books ranked alongside the more prominent categories.

The announcement event, held at Terroni on Adelaide St., was a lovely, sophisticated affair with many of the nominees in attendance. It was a delight to chat with Andrew Battershill, Wab Kinew, Irina Kovalyova, and many members of the Toronto publishing industry as well. I’m so excited to see what our winners have in store next.

specimenFiction Winner: Specimen by Irina Kovalyova

Of this winners, Specimen is the only one I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Kovalyova’s stories are sharp and witty; each one is influenced by her science background. The one that stuck with me the longest was “The Blood Keeper,” a novella-length story about a student and her father who go, separately, to North Korea for research.

Non-Fiction Winner: The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinewwab

Immediately following the announcement of The Reason You Walk on the shortlist, Wab Kinew was elected as an NDP constituent in Winnipeg. Related? Perhaps not, but it was exciting to have such a high profile nominee. This book is a heartfelt story of reconciliation between father and son; I’m interested to read it.

Genre Winner: Fury’s Kiss by Nicola R. White

furyI’m so excited that Fury’s Kiss won in this category because it’s a self-published book. In a time where more authors are turning to self publishing as a means of releasing their work, it’s wonderful to see self-published books legitimized and celebrated. And Fury’s Kiss sounds fascinating, with a Greek-mythology twist. I can’t wait to see more of White’s work!

The winners each receive $10 000 and marketing and promotion support from Kobo for the year. Are you planning to read any of this year’s nominees?

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7 Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2016

The publishing industry has moved to a two-season model, where Fall books are pegged to be the big (Christmas & prizeable) hits, and where Spring/Summer titles sort of end up being everything else. Over the last couple years, my taste in books has shifted to the “everything else” category, with the result that there’s always a lot of books pubbing in the first half of a year that I can’t wait for. Here’s what’s got me counting down til Tuesdays in 2016:

Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It by Grace Helbig (Simon & Schuster, February 2 2016). This is cheating a little, because I have already purchased and devoured this book. It came out two weeks ago! Grace is one of my favourite Youtubers, and her first book was refreshingly candid. I thought Grace & Style had fewer sincere moments and useful advice than Grace’s Guide, but I still enjoyed it.

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The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (Penguin Random House, February 2, 2016). Ok, I have already read this one too, thanks to an advance copy I received at work before Christmas, but the important thing is that after (what some might call) the misstep of Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel’s new book manages to refigure out the right combination of magic realism + animals to be captivating, if a little heavy-handed on the religious pondering. Favourite part: the comparison of Jesus’s life to an Agatha Christie murder mystery.

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What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead Books, March 8 2016). I am cheating a little here, too, because I was again very fortunate to get an ARC from work and am currently devouring it. Boy Snow Bird is one of my favourite books, and Oyeyemi’s writing is simultaneously delicate and sharp. Her new collection of stories is mixed for me, so far: nothing has yet surpassed the first story, “Books and Roses”, in heart. Recurring characters, themes (keys!) and elements of magic realism (guys. I love magic realism) run through the stories, and I have high hopes for the stories that remain.

Dad Magazine by Jaya Saxena and Matt Lubchansky (Quirk Books, April 26 2016). (Finally, you say, a book that she hasn’t read yet and is actually looking forward to). Inspired by one of my favourite columns on The ToastDad Magazine is a satirical look at the modern dad and his interests.If you read any of the Toast articles, be sure to read the comments: that’s where the real heart of the series is, readers’ stories and jokes about their own dads. I can only hope this book is as good as the column. Anecdote: last year at TCAF I met Jaya and Matt and was so excited to meet Toast columnists that I forgot to thank them for the gift that is Dad Magazine. That’s #1 on my list if they’re back this year.

modernlovers

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (Riverhead Books, May 31 2016). My interest in Emma Straub began when she was documenting The Magnetic Fields’ tours and selling merch way back in 2008 or so  (sidenote: my brother is in this tour photo of Emma’s; I am standing hidden beside him. I forgot about this until just now!). Admittedly, it wasn’t a very literary interest, but I liked her previous book and look forward to her new novel – coincidentally also following an aging NYC college band. I’m hoping to spot a few parallels.

Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North (Riverhead Books, June 7 2016). A follow-up to North’s To Be or Not To BeRomeo and/or Juliet is a choose-your-own adventure book with Shakespeare’s most tragic pair, coupled with character designs from my darling Kate Beaton, and illustrations from a host of the best comic artists around, including my favourites Noelle Stevenson and Emily Carroll.

Romeo-and-or-JulietHunger by Roxane Gay (HarperCollins, June 14 2016). After reading her essays on the complicated nature of feminism in Bad Feminist, I’m looking forward to more of Gay’s candour and insight in her new memoir about her relationship with her body. This might be the most important book I read all year.

That does it for books I’m counting down for in the first half of 2016, but I’ve already got my eye out on the second half:

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child scripts, Parts I & II (Pottermore, July 31 2016). This goes without saying, right?
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (FSG, September 6 2016)
  • Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (Simon & Schuster, October 25 2016). This title has been delayed by a year already, so my fingers are crossed it makes its pub date this time.
  • The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg (Macmillan, date unknown but I am hoping for Fall 2016). 

It doesn’t escape my notice that many of these titles are second and third books of authors I already like; I tend to play it safe with authors I know and love, but I’m excited to see if there’s any books that come out of left field and steal my heart unexpectedly. I’ll read my way through this list until then. Are there any books you’ve got your eye on this year?

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2016 Reading Challenges: Electric Boogaloo

It’s become a bit of a tradition around here at kelsea oconnor dot com to set reading goals for myself at the start of the year. I’ve learned that while my intentions are good, for the most part I lose interest in all but one or two reading goals over the course of the year. So this year I’ve tried to commit myself a little smarter and stick with ones that have worked for me in the past, with only one new addition. Here are the goals I’ve set for 2016:

50 Book Pledge

I enjoy keeping track of what I’ve read, and the 50 Book Pledge makes it easy. My goal again this year is 50 books, and perhaps I’ll meet it this year. One of the benefits of this challenge is that it helps me keep on track with my other reading goals – I can easily see whether I’m reading enough books by women, or if I made a Reading Bingo square without realizing it. I’m currently halfway through book #5 (How  to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran) and keeping pace.


2016 reading bingo cardReading Bingo

My old favourite Reading Bingo is back this year and I’m pretty excited that it’s a bit more general than last year’s CanLit edition (there was just no way I was ever going to read a book by Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and L.M. Montgomery all in one year. Sorry, Canadian canon!). I actually contributed four squares on this year’s card, so hopefully I won’t embarrass myself by failing to fill them in. I’ve already marked in one square. Onward!

Books by Women

Being mindful about the books I was choosing to read helped me stray farther from my usual reading habits, and tbh I really didn’t miss reading more books by men (actually, I started to find the books I did read by men less interesting!). I’m setting the goal again at 75% books by women, and welcome any suggestions you might have.

The Great Tolkien Reread of 2016

This is the year! I’m thinking this will be my February-March reading project. The goal (woefully unstarted from last year): reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for the first time since 2003. It’s only been 13 years! To be reasonable, I’m going to skip the attempt to reread The Silmarillion – gotta save some Tolkien for 2017, right?

New: Nonfiction Challenge!The Game by Ken Dryden

This one ties into some of my other New Year’s Resolutions, which is to learn more about topics that interest me (art, hockey, photography, etc.). For each subject, I’m planning to read a nonfiction book and then do some practical aspect of that topic. For example, I have already met my goal in the most basic sense for hockey: I’ve read a book about it (The Game by Ken Dryden) and attended an AHL game (Utica Comets vs Toronto Marlies). Ideally, I will continue learning about each subject beyond meeting the two goals, but let’s achieve those two goals first. I think this will broaden my interests and knowledge, and also lets me look forward to a fun outing or project.

My goal with setting reading challenges is always to make sure I’m reading new and interesting books that I might not have otherwise read (with one side effect of making sure I don’t fall victim to yet another Harry Potter reread) and I think I’ve put myself in a good position this year. What are your reading goals for the year?

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2015 Reading Year in Review

The year has come to a close, my top books of 2015 are in, and it’s time to see how I did on the year’s reading challenges. It was another underperforming year in terms of my reading goals, but I read some interesting and exciting books this year so I’m not particularly disappointed. Let’s review:

The 50 Book Pledge

I pledged to read 50 books, but I only read 43. I had a few reading slumps this year, especially during the summer, and I sometimes found it difficult to pick my next read, which contributed to longer periods between books (there are too! many! books! to choose from). I’ve noted before that the Pledge is limited to books, and if all the magazines, comics, and fanfics I read counted towards my goal, I’d have far surpassed it.

Random House Reading BingoReading Bingo 2015 filled card

I was a little more proactive with this challenge this year – I kept the bingo card on my desk at the office and filled it in throughout the year. I definitely sought out more CanLit than I would have otherwise, with a view to marking off more squares. I actually ended up not being able to match quite a few books to squares, but alas, I didn’t even finish a line. It’s surprisingly hard to find a Canadian book with snow on the cover! You can see my completed card and the books I read here.

The Great Tolkien Reread of 2015 2016

I didn’t get there, guys. Going to budget some deep-winter reading time for this, as there are fewer books I’m excited about at this time of year; frigid temperatures mean I’m home more, so I will have more time to read my massive illustrated omnibus without trying to lug it around. This is the year.

The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

Another challenge I didn’t follow along with during the year. But I actually only missed 8 of the 24 challenges! You can see what I read here.

Picture of Books I Read in 2015
A selection of the books I read in 2015

Reading More Books by Women

This was a goal that I was very conscious of throughout the year, and I stayed mindful of it when I was choosing my next book to read. I only read 10.5 books written by men this year (the half comes from A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson, cowritten by Jeff Rovin. Sidenote: I’m sorry, Gillian, this book was awful. Let’s place the blame on your coauthor), which works out to just slightly more than 75% female authors. That’s up from 53% last year and exactly meets my goal. I’m very happy with that number.

Did you meet your reading goals for 2015? What was your favourite book?

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So You Want to Work in Digital Publishing: Getting an Internship in eBook Production

It’s that time of year, when a couple dozen eager publishing students are released from Humber’s Creative Book Publishing program and begin hunting for an internship in the wilds of Toronto’s publishing industry. Digital publishing has become a more and more popular option as the traditional avenues of editorial and marketing positions become scarcer. Digital publishing, although it has stabilized in the past few years, is still a growing aspect of the publishing industry, and some of the more exciting changes in publishing are happening here. It seems pretty natural that keen young publishing students, with strong grasps on social media and technology, turn their prospecting eyes to the semi-uncharted waters of e-publishing. Maybe that’s just how I felt when I was a new graduate, as I felt that my publishing school education had sort of skimmed over some of the important aspects of digital publishing when I began looking for internships. What are the components of an epub? How do you QA an epub? What is metadata, really? Whatever brief lessons we had on making epubs (with Sigil lol) didn’t seem like it actually translated into helpful experience when I was job-hunting. I did, however, have experience with coding and eReading, and all sorts of other computer skills.

Via Kobo on Instagram
Via Kobo on Instagram

I landed an eBook Production internship at Random House, a Publisher Operations internship at Kobo, and later a full-time job wrangling ebooks and metadata. My knowledge skews heavily towards the retailer end of ebooks, but I also have some experience with the publisher side; I’ve worked with ebooks at every stage of their lifecycle, from conversion to epub to deactivating out-of-print titles. Now that I’ve been working with eBooks for over two years and have been on both sides of the interviewing table, I have some advice for breaking into eBooks. I’m going to avoid basic job application and interview advice, such as doing your research on the company and asking knowledgable questions, and stick to what you should know for ebooks in particular.

Excel

My number one piece of advice: Get some excel skills. Like, don’t just say you know how to use excel if you’ve opened up a spreadsheet once or twice. You don’t need to be an expert (I use it every day and I’m not!) but hands-on experience goes a long way. Learn how to use fomulas. Learn how to do a vlookup. Learn the glory of a pivot table. Filters are your friends. Chances are you’ll be working with spreadsheets with lots of data on a daily basis, so get comfortable with the features of Excel. If you had called me up when I was in university and told me I would have favourite Excel tools (Text to Columns and Compare, fyi) and never use Word documents in a professional setting, I probably would have thought you were crazy. As an employer looking for an intern, show me that you’ve got some solid excel experience and I will swoon.

eReading Experience

Needless to say, probably one of the most basic things you can do if you’re hoping to work with ebooks in publishing is to actually read ebooks. Ideally, if you have a specific retailer or publisher in mind, you should read their ebooks, and be familiar with their devices and apps. What kind of ebooks and devices/apps are they selling, and what sort of features do they have? What kind of features do you wish they had? If you come to an interview without having ever read an ebook, or mention that what you’re actually more interested in print books, or not know the difference between a Kindle and a Kobo, you are not proving yourself as a strong candidate.

Metadata

Metadata is great. It’s the core of ebooks and you can do a lot of cool stuff with it; more complete metadata pretty much means your book has a better chance in hard-to-browse ebookstores. I’ll let you in on a secret: no one likes working with it. ONIX is the industry standard and it’s the worst to look at, unless looking at rows of impenetrable, always-different, non-standard lines of code is really exciting to you. Pro tip: you’ll never have to build an ONIX feed from scratch, no matter what your publishing teacher tells you. You will have to crack open publishers’ ONIX feeds and poke around, though. Know what a composite is, what the difference between ONIX 2.1 and 3.0, and what sort of information is transmitted through metadata. Take a look on booksellers’ websites and see what kind of information they display for a book – there is a 99% chance that information came from the publisher’s metadata. Each ebook retailer also has a proprietary, non-standard Excel-based metadata sheet (see, I told you that excel knowledge would come in handy) that some publishers use in place of ONIX.  Editeur, BISG and Booknet all have good ONIX resources. In lieu of actual experience with metadata feeds, experience with coding (XML, CSS, and HTML are all good; mine was in HTML and TEI (lol)) can make up for it.

ePubs

This is the standard (non-Amazon) file type for ebooks. It’s supremely helpful to know what’s inside one (it’s basically just a bunch of HTML files, images and CSS zipped up), so I’d suggest buying one and cracking it open to take a look. There are different kinds of epubs: reflowable and fixed-layout, epub3, ebooks with “enhanced content” like audio and video; be aware of these different formats and if your prospective employer makes or sells them. I know a lot of publishing schools have their students build epubs from scratch but it’s highly unlikely you’ll have to do that in your internship, as most ebook production is outsourced to conversion houses. The most I ever had to do as an intern was unzip, make a minor change, and rezip, so make sure you know how to do that. Find yourself an epub validator that you like (my favourite is Pagina). It’s best to know what a standard reflowable ebook looks like on the inside, and how to make changes, but if you can figure out what’s wrong with a broken ebook, I will be impressed.

All this might sound like a tall order, especially if your digital publishing courses were less than spectacular. However, employers know that it’s hard to gain practical experience with such specialized files, so if you can show them that you’re ahead of everyone else by demonstrating interest and experience, and the ability to learn quickly, it can give you a real leg up. It’s also important to know that your employer will train – it’s an internship after all! Do you have any questions about getting an internship in ebooks and digital production?

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Kobo Emerging Writer Prize – Winners!

One of the exciting things about working in publishing is the chance to not only discover great reads, but to help build the careers of new authors. Book awards are one way of singling out talent, often helping boost the sales of the winning author’s books and launching a long and hopefully profitable career. With that in mind, Kobo created a literary award, the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, which celebrates new Canadian authors’ debut books. With three categories – Literary Fiction, Non-Fiction, and a revolving genre (this year Mystery), contestants have a chance to win $10 000, marketing campaigns, and fame and glory. emerging-writer-prize-logo

I was on the committee for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, coordinating the shortlist judging. I read many worthy entries, full of diverse stories, beautiful prose, and suspenseful plots. Some of my favourites made the shortlist; some didn’t. One the finalists had been selected, they were turned over to judging panel of authors: Miriam Toews, Ian Hamilton, and Charlotte Gray, each of whom chose the winner from their respective categories. The winners were announced at a ceremony in Toronto earlier this month, and lo, the writing careers of three authors were changed. Here are the winners of the inaugural Kobo Emerging Writer Prize:

circus-claire-battershillFiction: Circus by Claire Battershill 

Circus is a collection of short stories focusing on the performance of everyday life, whether it be love, family, or working in a miniatures museum. My favourite was probably “Two Man Luge: A Love Story,”  which detailed the rise to Olympic glory for one athlete and his Olympic-sized crush on his sometimes-rival Paresh. Battershill captures small moments and quiet feelings well. At the awards ceremony, Claire shrieked in surprise at her win and was charmingly smily for the rest of the night. She also met a U2 band member in the elevator earlier in the evening, so she has more than one story to tell about that night.

Non-Fiction: Crazy Town by Robyn DoolittleCrazy Town cover

Crazy Town made a big splash when it came out at the height of the Rob Ford scandal, and has been lauded for its clarity and detail amongst the disaster of the Toronto mayor’s downward spiral. Of the winning books, this is the only one I haven’t read, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Robyn Doolittle in the future.

last-of-independentsMystery: The Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe

Of the mysteries on the shortlist, this one was my favourite. I was hooked from the first page, where a new client tells detective Michael Drayton that someone’s been sleeping with the corpses at his funeral home. Drayton is just hard-boiled enough to keep you guessing, and I loved the noir interpretation of familiar streets in Vancouver. I talked with Sam Wiebe at the awards ceremony; he was softspoken and seemed overwhelmed at all the attention his book was getting. He told me he’s got a couple forthcoming mysteries coming from Random House, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for him next.

Have you read any of the winners, or do you have a favourite shortlisted book? Let me know in the comments or on social media using #KoboEmergingWriter.

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Review: We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

We+Are+PiratesWe Are Pirates (HarperCollins) is a witty adventure through modern-day piracy. The story alternates perspectives between Phil Needle, an increasingly unsuccessful radio executive, and his daughter Gwen, an increasingly bored teenager, as they both try to find happiness, or at least excitement, along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. While Phil waffles about pitching the next big radio show and sleeping with his secretary, Gwen and a band of misfits elect to become literal pirates, and damn the consequences.

Like Handler’s other novels, We Are Pirates excellently portrays what it’s like to be a teenager in the face of indifferent and incompetent adults. I would have liked less of Phil, whose storyline feels interchangeable for any other unhappy middle-aged white man in literature, and more of Gwen, who was daring and unpredictable and a hundred times more interesting. Despite the imbalance between his characters, Handler deftly knits irony, humour and danger into a surprisingly adventurous read.

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This review first appeared as “Frisco Freebooters” in Geist 96. 

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2015 Reading Challenges

Last year’s reading challenges went so well that I thought I’d pick up a few new ones for 2015. I’ve kept my favourites from last year and have added a couple personal challenges. The goal: read more diversely, have fun, and maybe finally get through that backlog (1Q84, anyone?).

badge2015The 50 Book Pledge

This is a keeper from last year – I really enjoyed keeping track of what I read, and having a reading goal motivated me to pick up another book when maybe I would have preferred to power through Parks and Rec instead. My 2015 goal is a more manageable 50 books (down from 75) – I’m already on book #7, so so far so good.

Random House’s Reading BingoReadingBingo2015

Although I had fun with last year’s Bingo, I wasn’t really planning to fill out the card again this year (to be honest, I kind of forgot and just ended up retrofitting books to squares at the end of the year). Then this year’s theme was announced: Can Lit, and my office decided to participate and hold a little competition. So we mayyyy have brainstormed books that check off multiple squares (I think Unsinkable by Silken Laumann ticked seven boxes, the most), but I’m looking forward to delving into more Can Lit than I probably would have this year – I still have most of the Maddaddam trilogy to go, and can’t wait for those Giller Prize nominees.

1000px-JRRT_logo.svgThe Great Tolkien Reread of 2015

Despite my enduring love for Middle Earth, I’m a little ashamed that my last reading of the Lord of the Rings was when Return of the King was released in theatres (over ten years ago! Egads). 2015 is the year I reread the series, and if I’m feeling ambitious, The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, too. I’ve ordered a new edition of the trilogy (a third version, surely, is not too many), and will reward myself with a rewatch of all three LOTR movies – extended editions, of course – when I finish. Teenaged Kelsea is very excited to rediscover one of her favourite series.

BookRiotCircle-300x243The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

Book Riot‘s is a new one I’m trying this year. With a number of exciting-sounding reading ideas – I’m looking forward to the microhistory and retelling of a classic story challenges – it looks like a fun way to get me reading outside of my comfort zone.

yes-pleaseReading More Books by Women

Something I’m hoping to be a bit more mindful about in 2015 is reading more books by women. Last year, 28 of the 52 books I read were written by women, which is a decent enough number, but this year I’m aiming for a figure somewhere in the 75% region. I’m on the seventh book of the year so far, and it’s the first one written by a man, so this might be easier than I thought. My Tolkien Reread is going to be a lot of man-authored, man-centric story, anyway, so let’s balance that out with great books by women. Please pitch me your suggestions in the comments.

It might already be February, but I feel as though I’m in pretty good shape so far. Did you reach your reading goals last year, and are you on board for any reading challenges this year?