Category Archives: Beautiful Book Objects

What I read in 2016

When I graduated from university, I started to keep track of my books read in this wee diary that was a gift from my roommate.

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I started the books diary in 1983. It’s coming apart at the seams a bit. Over the years, I’ve backed up my list in databases, spreadsheets, Goodreads and other book apps du jour … but I’ve always updated this little diary as part of my reading routine. Yes, this book and this part of my reading ritual is getting on 34 years …

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Here are the books I read in 2016 – once again, diligently recorded in my book diary, along with a backup spreadsheet and Goodreads – with links to reviews where I have them. By the way, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

I continued my commitment in 2016 to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as friends on Twitter continued to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. Now five years in, I still haven’t missed a day, both contributing and enjoying selections from others in this edifying, often spirit-lifting and vital communal experience. I’ve now pondered the works of close to 1,000 unique poets, writers, translators, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often revelatory hashtag. On into its sixth year, I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2017. I hope many contributors will continue or join anew.

I welcomed some wonderful and insightful guest reviewers and correspondents to this blog in 2016. I’m so grateful for the time and thought they spent on their pieces, from which I learned a lot and hope you did, too. Let’s revisit them again:

Here are the books I read, reread and read aloud in 2016. Wherever I go, I try to carry a book with me, so for each book, I’m also going to try to recall where I was when I was reading it.

  1. Hope Makes Love
    by Trevor Cole

    I vividly recall reading this book at the cottage during the wintry first days of the new year.

  2. The Beauty of the Husband
    by Anne Carson

    I was reading this amazing book while waiting for a friend who was arriving by GO Train at Toronto’s Union Station. We were meeting another friend to go to a poetry reading – how perfect is that?

  3. Fates and Furies
    by Lauren Groff

    I distinctly recall reading this engrossing book snuggled in bed.

  4. A Little Life
    by Hanya Yanagihara

    I went through a protracted period of insomnia last winter and if, after trying to relax and consciously breathe myself back to sleep, I was still wide-eyed in the dark, I would turn on my little book-light and read. This book actually didn’t help get me back to sleep – quite the contrary – but it was stunningly memorable company during those sleepless hours. What an unforgettable wallop of a reading experience.

  5. The Mark and the Void
    by Paul Murray

    I read this two-volume paperback (a very interesting packaging of the story) mostly at our dining room table. It was February, when this household observes a month of abstinence from alcohol, so the accompanying beverages were likely tea and coffee.

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  7. Between You & Me
    by Mary Norris

    I took this entertaining book with me on more than a few subway rides.

  8. When Words Deny the World
    by Stephen Henighan

    This book kept me company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  9. The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
    by Sue Goyette

    I read this gorgeous book (also a gorgeous book object) at home.

  10. Just Watch Me – The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-2000)
    by John English
    (read aloud)

    A lot of our reading aloud takes place in the kitchen, with my talented husband cooking and me singing for my supper. We actually read a lot of this book during the interminable 2015 Canadian federal election and it was a great reminder that there were dedicated, thoughtful and honorable politicians of all political stripes as recently as just a generation or two ago.

  11. M Train
    by Patti Smith

    I read this sweet, luminous book at home.

  12. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth
    by Katherine Leyton

    This poetry collection was company on several subway rides.

  13. Birdie
    by Tracey Lindberg

    This book was warm and fascinating company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  14. Innocents and Others
    by Dana Spiotta

    Among his many talents, my husband is a great seeker and finder of first editions of books. When I fell in love with author Dana Spiotta on the basis of this intriguing New York Times Magazine interview, he made it his mission to find all of her novels for me. And then I read them all this year. To a book, they were amazing. I already can’t wait for what she’ll do next.

  15. Don’t Be Interesting
    by Jacob McArthur Mooney

    I read this collection (which had me at the John Darnielle references) at home and on public transit.

  16. Model Disciple
    by Michael Prior

    This collection was fine company during the continued streetcar rides to physio appointments.

  17. Tell: poems for a girlhood
    by Soraya Peerbaye

    You know what? I was so wrapped up in the entrancing, often horrifying but also heartwrenchingly beautiful world of this collection that I in fact don’t recall a specific place or moment when I was reading it. What does that say?

  18. Lightning Field
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this book at home, probably mostly at my desk and the dining room table.

  19. Providence
    by Anita Brookner
    (reread)

    I read this tiny, battered, much loved paperback on the subway, where a fellow passenger remarked that it was her favourite Brookner.

  20. Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments
    by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen

    This poetry collection accompanied me on more than one road trip.

  21. Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age
    by Lynn Coady

    I pretty much read this in one sitting … with lunch.

  22. Sustenance … lunch with Lynn Coady's nourishing Who Needs Books? @clcualberta #canlit #books #bookstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  23. Caribou Run
    by Richard Kelly Kemick

    I read this very fine collection at home, on public transit and I recall packing it along to the cottage, too.

  24. The Mercy Journals
    by Claudia Casper

    I remember reading this haunting novel late at night at the cottage.

  25. Zero K
    by Don DeLillo

    I vividly recall reading most of this book in an incredible, absorbing whoosh while driving home from the cottage. (No, I wasn’t driving.)

  26. Saints, Unexpected
    by Brent van Staalduinen

    I remember reading this fine and amiable book while relaxing on the back porch.

  27. All That Sang
    by Lydia Perovic

    I pretty much had this captivating book read in a couple of subway rides and a sit on the front porch.

  28. Stone Arabia
    by Dana Spiotta

    I remember being absorbed in this book while sitting on the cottage dock with a refreshing beverage or two.

  29. The Quotations of Bone
    by Norman Dubie

    Subway reading, I do believe …

  30. Independent People
    by Halldor Laxness

    This one took a while to read – which was fine, as it was a read to savour and get immersed in – so I had it with me everywhere. It’s another book that a fellow subway rider remarked on, most enthusiastically.

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  32. I’m thinking of ending things
    by Iain Reid

    I had the good sense to only read this book during daylight hours.

  33. The Hatred of Poetry
    by Ben Lerner

    Some subway rides went quickly with this wise book for company.

  34. Thirteen Shells
    by Nadia Bozak

    I was reading and enjoying this book during a weekend visit with friends at our cottage.

  35. Yiddish for Pirates
    by Gary Barwin

    This book was thoroughly delightful company during a week’s vacation at the cottage.

  36. History’s People
    by Margaret MacMillan
    (read aloud)

    We read this book aloud – and learned a lot about greater and lesser known historical figures – during cozy reading sessions at home and at the cottage.

  37. The Cauliflower
    by Nicola Barker

    Not my favourite Barker, although Barker remains one of my favourite writers … I read this book while on my own for a working week at the cottage.

  38. The Dancehall Years
    by Joan Haggerty

    Remembering this book reminds me of our shade-dappled dock at the cottage.

  39. The Clay Girl
    by Heather Tucker

    I will remember The Clay Girl and the next book on this list, Still Mine, side by side and as my constant companions everywhere (home, out and about, cottage) for two or three weeks. I had the honour in 2016 of moderating a couple of special book club events for the Toronto Word on the Street Festival. Selected contest winners qualified for small, private book club meetings with authors Heather Tucker and Amy Stuart, and it was my job to introduce them to their book fans and keep the conversations going with pertinent questions about their respective books. I prepared exhaustively with questions and observations … but then didn’t need a lot of those preps because those book fans showed up excited, motivated and brimming with their own wide-ranging queries and reflections. It was really rewarding to see such warm and dynamic meetings of readers and writers – truly wonderful!

  40. Still Mine
    Amy Stuart

    See my comments about The Clay Girl … I also recall enjoying Still Mine on a coffee shop patio on a sunny Saturday morning while waiting for my husband.

  41. English is Not a Magic Language
    by Jacques Poulin, translated by Sheila Fischman

    This charming novella was good subway company.

  42. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
    by Mona Awad

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  43. The Best Kind of People
    by Zoe Whittall

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  44. The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses
    by Michael e. Casteels

    I recall being wrapped up in this enchanting little collection while waiting for my husband to join me for dinner out.

  45. The Tobacconist
    by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins

    I read this fascinating and rather prophetic book at my desk in my home office, as I prepared the readers’ guide / book club questions for this book, offered by House of Anansi Press.

  46. The Emily Valentine Poems
    by Zoe Whittall

    A squirrel jumped up next to me on the park bench I was sitting on as I read this while waiting for a friend in a parkette outside her office in downtown Toronto.

  47. Wenjack
    by Joseph Boyden

    I read this small, moving book in one sitting at home.

  48. Thrillows & Despairos
    by Chris Chambers

    I discovered this collection when I heard Chris Chambers read from it at the 2016 International Festival of Authors, and I ran to the book table and purchased it right after the reading. Immersive indeed!

  49. Do Not Say We Have Nothing
    by Madeleine Thien

    This beautiful book was constant, contemplative company at home throughout the fall.

  50. The Goddess of Fireflies
    by Genevieve Pettersen, translated by Neil Smith

    I remember standing on subway platforms with this book in my hand.

  51. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
    by Maria Semple

    I remember carrying and reading this sweet book on transit and waiting for friends at restaurants and before musical events in late November.

  52. Eat the Document
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this intriguing book, the final in my year-long Dana Spiotta-fest, at home.

  53. Based on Actual Events
    by Robert Moore

    Devoured in just a few subway rides, I believe …

  54. The Break
    by Katherena Vermette

    I had this absorbing book with me at home, out and about and even on a wintry trip to the cottage.

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  56. Life On Mars
    by Tracy K. Smith

    I stayed up late reading this gift on Christmas night.

  57. #Poetry break after all the holiday excitement … #airedalesofinstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  58. Pond
    by Claire-Louise Bennett

    I treasure this quirky read, a spontaneous gift from a lovely colleague.

  59. The Albertine Workout
    by Anne Carson

    Another Christmas gift, I read this poetry pamphlet pretty much in one gulp while sitting at my home office desk.

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In 2016, I read a total of 54 works: 32 works of fiction (novels and short story collections), 15 poetry collections and 7 works of non-fiction. I re-read one book, read 4 works in translation, and read 35 works by Canadian authors. My husband and I read two books aloud to each other this year and have a third in progress as we greet the new year.

Currently in progress, heading into 2017:

Looking back fondly on my 2016 reading, looking forward eagerly and with anticipation to my 2017 reading, I’ll simply conclude (as I’ve done in previous years) …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Postscript (added January 11, 2017)

I love the discussion this post has sparked, both here and on social media, including some debate about whether or not such list-keeping is usual or kind of nutty/anal-retentive. Obviously, keeping these lists every year is part of enjoying my reading. I’ve added a bit more to my scrutiny of what I’ve read every year, not so much with a view to altering the flow of what I decide to pick up and read every year as to just be aware if there was more or different directions in which I should explore. So, for example, I’ve looked in recent years at how much fiction vs non-fiction vs poetry I read, and how many works in translation, how much Canadian versus international literature, how many rereads, read-alouds, etc, etc, etc. Because the lists are easy to scan, I can quickly figure out the author gender mix every year … just to see how I’m doing, usually not to be corrective in my reading habits.

One thing I’ve decided to add to my record-keeping in 2017 is the publication year of each book read, to gauge how much current/hot-off-the-press vs back catalogue/older stuff I’m reading. I love that everyone who has joined this conversation loves their reading, loves to examine it to some extent and loves to share it. We all learn and benefit from that.

Celebrating the beautiful book object – Mrs Killick’s Luck, by Christina Fitzgerald

In the past week or so, I’ve had a mounting sense that this might finally be the year that Penelope Fitzgerald gets the widespread attention that never really shone on her in her lifetime. This detailed appreciation (with its slightly bewildering for longtime devotees, but still tantalizing news of a screenplay in the works) appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, in the same week that Australian author Peter Carey revealed in his appearance at the Toronto Public Library that he was only now discovering the delights of his fellow Booker Prize winner’s slim, brilliant oeuvre. So, this is the time to celebrate this rare and quirky piece of the captivating Fitzgerald puzzle.

Those who are devoted fans of Penelope Fitzgerald’s work, or are becoming fans thanks to Hermione Lee’s definitive biography and the deserved accolades it is reaping, will appreciate that this is a very special book and a charmingly beautiful book object in its own right. To be clear, though, it is not a work of Fitzgerald herself, but of her eldest daughter Christina (Tina) Fitzgerald.

After winning a short story competition sponsored by the UK’s Sunday Express in 1960, nine-year-old Tina was given the opportunity to expand her precocious tale to book length. (The finished work is 80 pages, extensively and delightfully illustrated.) Novelist and poet Stevie Smith, who contributed to Penelope and Desmond’s World Review magazine, contributes an astute foreword. The lively illustrations are supplied by Mary Shepard, original illustrator of the Mary Poppins books and daughter of EH Shepard, who illustrated Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows. In other words, this wee book comes crammed with extensive literary pedigree.

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Celebrations of Penelope Fitzgerald’s work often have a wistful tinge to them, as the start of her literary career at the age of 58 (with the publication of a biography of artist Edward Burne-Jones) is considered almost heart-wrenchingly belated. In a nutshell, she contended – with aplomb, but setting aside aspirations – with personal and professional pitfalls and with keeping her family together and cared for as best she could. It’s all rather tragicomically symbolized by the real-life sinking of the family houseboat, which became part of the fictionalized setting of her Booker-winning novel Offshore. So, a wistful irony about Mrs Killick’s Luck is that Tina became a published author before her mother.

Hermione Lee suggests in her biography that Penelope quietly harboured her own unique flavour of ambitious and competitive spirit – later in life, Penelope even cheated at games with her grandchildren. Would, then, the opportunity for her daughter to publish a novel when she so desired to do so herself have been perhaps bittersweet? As Stevie Smith observes in her foreword:

“So altogether I think this is a very good story, with such sharp eyes at work and sharp wits like little white teeth.”

Like mother, like daughter?

The book includes a page from the young author’s original manuscript:

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In another recent “beautiful book object” post, I really loved seeing a sample of the author’s typescript. Seeing that gives you such a tangible sense of the person behind the book, doesn’t it?

Here are some of Mary Shepard’s rich and perky illustrations:

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Isn’t this a treasure?

Celebrating the beautiful book object – The Children Act, by Ian McEwan

The special limited first edition of Ian McEwan’s latest novel, The Children Act, is not only a beautiful book object, but it offers some striking visual insights into the author’s creative and editing processes.

This edition charms right from the slipcover …

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… which contains not one, but two pieces …

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… the leatherbound edition of the book, plus an additional treat exclusive to the first 25 of the 100 copies of this specially crafted version.

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The unique addition is a selection of facsimile pages of notebook manuscript and one page of hand-corrected typescript from an early draft of the novel, all supplied by the author – an intimate look into the author’s work and fascinating pieces to pore over and scrutinize.

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See also:

Celebrating the beautiful book object – Correspondences, by Anne Michaels (portraits by Bernice Eisenstein)

I was blessed to receive a most beautiful book object this holiday season just past.

Correspondences, by Anne Michaels (portraits by Bernice Eisenstein), published by McClelland and Stewart

Correspondences, by Anne Michaels (portraits by Bernice Eisenstein), published by McClelland and Stewart

Correspondences, by Anne Michaels (portraits by Bernice Eisenstein), published by McClelland and Stewart

Reminiscent in exquisite form and haunting tone of Anne Carson’s Nox, Correspondences actually takes the gatefold book structure and the unfurling conceit even further. There are, in fact, at least two literary streams contained in this beautiful package. The first stream is a series of dour but entrancing portraits by Bernice Eisenstein of artists, philosophers, intellectuals and activists (including Paul Celan, Fernando Pessoa, Frank Kafka, Primo Levi and Anna Akhmatova) alive during and affected directly by the Second World War. The portraits are matched with excerpts from each portrait subject’s words or writings.

Before you turn the book over to discover the second literary stream, you’ll observe that the volume’s endpapers (in both “directions”) contain brief biographies of each of the portrait subjects. Those biographies reveal that many of the subjects crossed paths in varied and interesting ways.

The second literary stream is Anne Michael’s long poem that gives this beautiful bound compendium its title. In large part an elegy to her father, the poem also intertwines references to the intense and unusual correspondence between Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs, as well as individual poetic experiments and set pieces.

The excerpt engraved directly on the book cover on one side captures well what Correspondences encapsulates in its compelling interweaving of physical and textual forms:

Correspondences, by Anne Michaels (portraits by Bernice Eisenstein), published by McClelland and Stewart

“not two to make one,
but two to make
the third,

just as a conversation can become
the third side of the page”

See also:

Celebrating the beautiful book object – The Pope’s Bookbinder, by David Mason

It’s fitting that the story of a rather legendary crafter, dealer and seller of books should be encased in a beautiful book.

The Pope's Bookbinder, by David Mason, published by Biblioasis

The Pope's Bookbinder, by David Mason, published by Biblioasis

The Pope's Bookbinder, by David Mason, published by Biblioasis

The Pope's Bookbinder, by David Mason, published by Biblioasis

It’s also fitting that this beautiful book should take up residence in this household, alongside the many books and literary artifacts we’ve purchased from David Mason’s antiquarian treasure troves over the years.

From the warm-toned, linen-textured dustjacket to eye-pleasing and easing type to charming endpapers depicting watercolour streetscapes on which the various iterations of Mason’s shop have resided, this book welcomes the reader into what promises to be a series of delicious tales and absorbing commentary on the book trade. A most-anticipated book of the first half of 2013, you can learn more about it and its delightfully acerbic raconteur author here, here and here. If you can’t make your way to his shop (from which you will not emerge empty-handed), you can visit online at www.davidmasonbooks.com.

Celebrating the beautiful book object – Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler

Although the calendar says it’s spring tomorrow, Mother Nature is having none of it here in Toronto. As a howling wind swept around my house in the east end yesterday, variously tossing down rain, snow, sleet and hail in succession, a little package arrived from Edmonton’s NeWest Press. When I opened the package, it was as if a warm spring breeze wafted out …

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

Flipping through, sampling intriguing dashes of poetry from Jenna Butler’s third collection, I found I was as enamoured by the fresh first impressions of the physical book as I was by the words on the page. No surprise, then, to discover that this book’s design was imagined with the signature subtlety, attention to detail and fidelity to the subject matter that characterizes all of Natalie Olsen’s fine work. (Learn more about her work and creative process at her Kisscut Design blog.)

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler, published by NeWest Press

The lattice of leaves and tendrils, underpinning the themes and images of nature throughout Butler’s collection, is echoed throughout the book. Swoon … even wee leaves sprout from the page numbers. Spring is in the air!

Just as the book’s epigraph from George Melnyk states, “the visual turns visionary.”

Thank you to NeWest Press for providing a review copy of Seldom Seen Road, by Jenna Butler.

Celebrating the beautiful book object – At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy

Yes, I have another lovely book object about which I’d like to rhapsodize … as I’ve done recently here, here and here. As I mentioned, I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration. Today’s treasure is At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published in 1977 by the storied Paget Press.

While it’s a zesty good read, Al Purdy’s At Marsport Drugstore is also emblematic of two great literary collaborations. This collection of largely love poems was the first publishing venture of Paget Press(1) of Sutton West, Ontario, lovingly operated by Peter Sibbald Brown as a distributor for California’s iconic Black Sparrow Press(2). Brown’s literary tastes and sense of book aesthetics and production values were very simpatico with those of Black Sparrow founder John Martin. As well, the collection boasts an appreciation by legendary US poet Charles Bukowski, with whom Purdy conducted a lively correspondence in the 1960s and 70s.(3) (The two never met, but their warmth and respect for each other is palpable, not only in Bukowski’s tribute here, but in a subsequent collection of their letters, also published by Paget Press.)

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

Each poem is preceded by a woodcut-style illustration by artist Hugh Leroy. The edition shown here is part of a limited run of 75 that includes a tipped-in print by Leroy, and is autographed by both Purdy and Leroy.

Notes:

1. Paget: a country creation with continental ties (PDF, ~87K)
from Quill & Quire, February 1984

2. About Black Sparrow Books
from Black Sparrow Books web site

3. Charles Bukowski, Al Purdy, Writers’ Friendship
by Robert Sward

Celebrating the beautiful book object – Bottle, by Margaret Atwood

As I mentioned recently – here and here – I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration. Today’s treasure is Bottle, by Margaret Atwood, published in 2004 by Hay Festival Press.

Bottle, by Margaret Atwood, published by Hay Festival Press

Bottle, by Margaret Atwood, published by Hay Festival Press

Bottle, by Margaret Atwood, published by Hay Festival Press

The frontispiece of Bottle includes a lovely, whimsical illustration by Margaret Atwood.

The Hay Festival started in Wales and now runs literary and cultural festivals under the Hay name around the world. As described on the festival’s web site:

For 25 years Hay Festival has brought together writers from around the world to debate and share stories at its festival in the staggering beauty of the Welsh Borders. Hay celebrates great writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and comedians, novelists and environmentalists, and the power of great ideas to transform our way of thinking. We believe the exchange of views and meeting of minds that our festivals create inspire revelations personal, political and educational. Hay is, in Bill Clinton’s phrase, ‘The Woodstock of the mind’.

Hay now runs 15 festivals across five continents at which current political thought and the re-imaginings of international writers gathered together cross cultural and genre boundaries and foster the exchange of understanding, mutual respect and ideas.

In conjunction with author appearances at the Hay Festival, excerpted and original works premiered at the event are also published in wee, attractive, gem-coloured Hay Festival Press original and limited editions. Learn more here.

Celebrating the beautiful book object – A Saving Grace, by Lorna Crozier

As I mentioned recently, I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration. Today’s treasure is A Saving Grace, by Lorna Crozier, published in 1996 by McClelland & Stewart.

A Saving Grace, by Lorna Crozier, published by McClelland & Stewart

The book’s dust jacket has a cutout window which reveals a prairie farmland picture underneath.

A Saving Grace, by Lorna Crozier, published by McClelland & Stewart

Separating the book’s dust jacket with the cutout window from the rest of the book reveals that the prairie farmland picture is embossed directly onto the hardcover book board.

A Saving Grace, by Lorna Crozier, published by McClelland & Stewart

Lorna Crozier’s signature appears on the book’s front cover. When you can recall the moment when you received the signature from the author, doesn’t it lend the book object a special glow forever after? Even if a book is pre-signed, doesn’t it lend the book an additional bit of warmth?

 

See also:

Case Components and Book Binding
10 Parts of the Case and Binding in a Book Design

Celebrating the beautiful book object – Charles Bukowski’s Black Sparrow Press books

Spelling, by Margaret Atwood, from Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written

As part of my daily #todayspoem tweeting routine, I recently accompanied my selection of an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s poem “Spelling” with some pictures of the treasured limited edition chapbook from which the poem came, entitled Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written (published in 1981 by The Nightshade Press). It’s a slim, striking, verging on unwieldy, utterly unlikely rendition of a chapbook. Its somewhat thorny but beautiful physical demeanour, complete with stitched string binding that just might be sending some kind of a message unto itself, almost seems to echo the acerbic, urgent poems contained within. (Hmm, let’s think about writing book reviews that include a review of how well the physical book supports the book’s thesis, themes, tone, etc. Yes, I know that will be a challenge, but perhaps a healthy one, in this increasingly digital world.)

Inspired by interested comments about the Atwood chapbook pictures from Twitter book friend @barbhowson, I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration.

Today, I dipped into Charles Bukowski’s The Last of Night of the Earth Poems (1992, Black Sparrow Press). Many of not most of the works comprising Bukowski’s prodigious output were published by fabled Black Sparrow Press in handsome, well-crafted editions that gave to his and the works of other avant-garde writers of the 1960s and 70s a reverence that was often a long time coming from a broader audience and readership. That was due in large part to the vision of Black Sparrow founder John Martin, whose literary legacy is described here and has still been kept alive today. As David R. Godine, the licensed distributor who took over the Black Sparrow backlist when John Martin retired in 2002, points out:

These are not reprints: they are the original publisher’s editions, trucked direct from John Martin’s former Santa Rosa warehouse to ours. Most of the books are hand-sewn, on creamy, heavy, acid-free paper, with distinctive cover and text designs by Barbara Martin. Most of the books, once they are sold out, will not be reprinted.

Bukowski’s The Last of Night of the Earth Poems is a fine example of Martin’s publishing care and craft.

The Last of Night of the Earth Poems, by Charles Bukowski, published by Black Sparrow Press

The Last of Night of the Earth Poems, by Charles Bukowski, published by Black Sparrow Press

The Last of Night of the Earth Poems, by Charles Bukowski, published by Black Sparrow Press

The Last of Night of the Earth Poems, by Charles Bukowski, published by Black Sparrow Press

This limited edition of Charles Bukowski’s The Last Night of the Earth Poems includes tipped-in doodles from the poet himself.