Hands off my copy, right?

July 19, 2010 by · 27 Comments 

It’s probably an exercise in futility to cross-post material here and on Quillblog, since I suspect the overlap in readership is close to 100%, but just in case, I’ll direct your attention to my latest QB post, where I gas on about copyright (it’s more interesting than it sounds, I promise). The post was prompted by an article in The Wall Street Journal that complained about how traditional copyright restrictions are too complicated and costly to endure in the digital age. That article was picked up by Richard Curtis, who extended its argument, saying that securing permission to reprint copyrighted material is “extremely tedious” and that the current copyright battles are “intolerable and will simply have to stop.”

You can probably guess where yr. humble correspondent comes down on this subject, but in case there’s any doubt, here’s the Quillblog money shot:

The rationale for [Curtis’s] conclusion seems to be that traditional copyright protections make the production of enhanced e-books too complicated, meaning that only “auteurs” who produce, write, edit, direct, and score their own material will be able to create them. The faulty assumption here is that just because a particular technology (i.e. the ability to “mash up” videos, text, music, etc. to produce enhanced e-books) exists, everyone should be able to exploit it without restriction. This is the new digital fundamentalism, and it is deleterious to the notion that artists deserve to be adequately compensated for their artistic output.

This “intolerable” controversy is particularly germane in Canada, where amendments to the Copyright Act are currently being considered by Parliament. Michael Geist, Cory Doctorow, and others have spoken out against the so-called “digital lock” provisions in the amended Act, arguing that these amendments place too many restrictions on the rights of consumers. So far, one of the only voices I’ve heard speak out in defence of creators‘ rights has been John Degen, literature officer for the Ontario Arts Council, who has been roundly excoriated for his trouble. I think it’s high time more people spoke on behalf of content creators. Without them, all those consumers’ rights the digital fundamentalists and evangelists crow about won’t mean a whole hell of a lot.

Penguin and Davidar settle out of court: UPDATED

July 6, 2010 by · 8 Comments 

According to an article in today’s Globe and Mail, the sexual harassment suit that cost ex-Penguin Canada head David Davidar his job last month has been settled out of court:

“We can now advise that all allegations have been addressed and all matters resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” Peter Downard, lawyer to former Penguin executive David Davidar, wrote in an e-mail. “None of the parties will be commenting further to the media.”

Penguin spokesman Yvonne Hunter confirmed the news. “Everything has been settled,” she said, adding that the company expects to follow the news by announcing the name of Penguin Canada’s new president Wednesday morning.

The undisclosed settlement puts an end to the legal side of this unfortunate incident. However, the voices that have been raised as a result of this whole affair should not be forgotten or ignored, and if there is an institutional culture that condones the behaviour alleged to have transpired at Penguin, it should be addressed now, before the entire industry is forced to undergo a repeat of this sad chapter in its history.

UPDATE, July 7, 2010: A press release from Penguin Group (Canada) today announced that Mike Bryan, the CEO of Penguin India since 2007, has been appointed president of Penguin Canada:

Mike Bryan is one of the most senior and experienced members of Penguin’s international team, having served as International Sales and Marketing Director for Penguin for both the U.K. and U.S. and, most recently, as President of Penguin India.  Mike was fundamental to the development of Penguin’s international operations, setting up companies in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.  He also started Penguin Singapore and Malaysia.  He will transfer to Toronto and will take up responsibility in August, reporting to David Shanks.

In case Canadian authors, agents, and industry watchers are disappointed that the new president does not hail from this country, the release goes on to state that “Penguin Canada expects to appoint a Canadian with senior experience in the media and publishing industries to the position of Chairman of a newly formed Penguin Canada Board, which will have responsibility for the company’s overall strategy.”

More significantly, as Claire Cameron points out in the comments section of this post, Lisa Rundle, the ex-Penguin staffer whose sexual harassment suit precipitated David Davidar’s ouster, has been restored to her old position as rights and contracts director.

As for Bryan, he is largely an unknown quantity here in Canada. Live Mint (a website run by The Wall Street Journal) published a profile of Bryan back in 2008. The article offers some background for people in this country who are unfamiliar with Bryan’s history.

He holds a degree in business studies from Liverpool John Moores University, and worked as a bookseller before joining Penguin in 1980. One of Bryan’s stated goals at Penguin India was to find a domestic writer capable of achieving the international stature and sales of a Tom Clancy or a Dan Brown. Of the latter writer, Live Mint quotes Bryan as saying, “How can you look down on Dan Brown when he has sold so many books?”

Bryan’s taste in wine is perhaps slightly more refined: he professes an affinity for Sula Sauvignon Blanc and Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany.

According to Live Mint, Bryan was not much of a reader as a boy:

“I didn’t read very much till I was 16,” he says. “And then I started going out with a girl who read a lot. She had this wall of orange. I suddenly realized that girls found boys who read very attractive.” It turned out to be a lasting affair – not with the book lover he was dating, but with books. And, also, it appears, with a certain book publisher. The wall in his old flame’s room was orange because it was lined with Penguin paperbacks with their distinctive orange spines.

Some years passed, and books also brought Bryan and his wife, Heather Adams, together. He was working as a manager in a bookstore in the north of England and she was the “Saturday girl” there – which means, he explains, that she came to work only on Saturdays.

That “thumping” sound you hear is yr. humble correspondent banging his head repeatedly against his desk.

Brown wins the Trillium, Smith comes clean about publishing “hotties,” and Atlantic Canada Reads moves into the home stretch

June 24, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Remember way back in January, when yr. humble correspondent wrote about the apparent sexism in literary awards and best-of lists that tend to disproportionately reward male authors and ignore their female counterparts? Remember the Charles Taylor Prize shortlist that precipitated that post, the one that was the exclusive domain of four middle-aged white dudes? Remember more recently, when I pointed to the surprisingly robust (seven-title) shortlist for the 23rd annual Trillium Book Award, which featured six women and one lone man (the same middle-aged white dude who won the Charles Taylor Prize, in fact)? Well, the Trillium winner was announced at a luncheon in Toronto today, and the $20,000 prize was awarded to … Ian Brown, the lone nominee in possession of a Y chromosome. (Brown beat out heavyweights Alice Munro, Anne Michaels, and Margaret Atwood, as well as short-story writer Alexandra Leggat and novelists Emily Schultz and Cordelia Strube.)

Now, I don’t want to suggest that Brown won because he is a man. That would be ludicrous. His book, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son, has been a critical and commercial success, and had already won the B.C. National Book Award for Non-fiction in addition to the Charles Taylor Prize. The jury that awarded him the Trillium was composed of two women, editor Meg Tayor and author Ibi Kaslik, as well as poet Robert Winger. I have no doubt that they made their decision based on literary merit alone (and the usual horse trading that goes along with a three-person jury). Still, the fact that the lone man in a seven-person field emerged victorious will not do much to quell the rumblings of institutional sexism that have been heard in some literary circles recently.

And speaking of sexism, Russell Smith, charging in where angels (and weak-kneed devils) fear to tread, has a column in today’s Globe and Mail in which he posits that Canadian publishing is replete with – how does one put this delicately? – women of a certain pulchritudinous nature:

From our point of view, it’s hard not to have a constant crush on all these gorgeous 32-year-olds with graduate degrees from McGill. At the moment, since I’ve just published a novel, the most important professional contacts in my literary life are my editor, my agent and my publicist. By a fluke not unusual in publishing, each one of these happens to be shockingly beautiful. And of course bookish, fashionable, sophisticated, funny, all the rest. Totally unbelievable hotties. Honestly, I don’t know which one I am more in love with. And you have to spend time with them, not just talking about how long the sex scene should go on but also about how brilliant you are. And you have to go to all those fancy awards dinners with the free bar and all the backless gowns. How does a guy cope?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Smith is engaging in a kind of Martin Amis-esque provocation here, and the fact of the matter is that if you cut through the deliberately exaggerated rhetoric, he makes a couple of good points. Men (at least, healthy heterosexual men) are attracted to members of the opposite sex. In a professional situation, the smart ones exercise the kind of self-control that human beings are known for (much of the time, anyway). Having said that, the fact that Smith frames his discussion in the context of the recent sexual harassment scandal at Penguin Canada leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the use of the term “unbelievable hotties” and the attendant declaration of lust represents, at the very least, an error in judgment. In a more troubling vein, it lends credence to the notion that men value the women in publishing more for their bodies than their brains, which is exactly the attitude that needs to be overcome if we are ever to move past the divisive events of the last few weeks.

On a more positive – and completely unrelated – note, Chad Pelley’s Atlantic Canada Reads competition has kicked into high gear. The books have been chosen and defended, and voting has begun. The six candidates in contention are:

Lisa Moore’s February, defended by Trish Osuch
Kenneth J. Harvey’s Blackstrap Hawco, defended by Perry Moore
Lesley Choyce’s The Republic of Nothing, defended by Stephen Patrick Clare
George Elliot Clarke’s George & Rue, defended by Matt Stranach
Darryl Whetter’s The Push & The Pull, defended by Nicole Dixon
Kathleen Winter’s Annabel, defended by Laura Repas

It shouldn’t be hard to guess which of these titles yr. humble correspondent is pulling for, but in case you’re wondering, you can mosey on over to Salty Ink, where a few literary types give brief pitches for their favourites from this dirty half-dozen.

Davidar speaks out in his own defence

June 21, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Because I agree with Alex Good’s comment expressing dissatisfaction with the way ex-Penguin Canada executive David Davidar has been tried and more or less found guilty in the media without having had a chance to provide a defence to the accusations levelled against him, and because I myself have commented previously on only one half of this story, I feel it is incumbent upon me to point to Davidar’s statement of defence, released yesterday through his lawyer, Peter Downard.

Davidar’s statement says that he and ex-colleague Lisa Rundle shared a “consensual, flirtatious relationship that grew out of a close friendship,” and he denies any sexual harassment or wrongdoing. In contrast to Rundle’s statement of claim, filed in court on June 10, which alleges that Davidar “over time became more and more intense with his persistent protestations of lust and desire … and in return she became increasingly disturbed and afraid,” Davidar’s statement insists that Rundle was receptive to his advances, and that she “did nothing to convey to Mr. Davidar that his attention was unwanted.” On the contrary, the statement asserts that whenever Davidar inquired as to whether Rundle “liked the attention he was paying her,” she replied in the affirmative.

Contradicting Rundle’s claim that Davidar bullied his way into her hotel room in Frankfurt last October and forcibly kissed her, yesterday’s statement suggests that Rundle let him into her room voluntarily and acquiesced to his kiss. The statement goes even further, stating that a second kiss occurred in Davidar’s own hotel room the next night, following a dinner the two shared. According to Davidar’s statement, “Ms. Rundle subsequently told Mr. Davidar that she had enjoyed their kisses in Frankfurt, whether or not they were ever repeated.”

The Globe and Mail states that Rundle presented Davidar with a Christmas gift later that year, and goes on:

She went to his office to watch the Australian Open tennis in January of this year, particularly when their favourite player, Roger Federer, was on television. Ms. Rundle then requested a raise, he claims, even though salaries at Penguin were frozen. Instead, he offered her a new job title that justified a $10,000 pay increase, the statement says.

As for the other ex-Penguin employee who came forward to corroborate Rundle’s claim, Davidar says that Penguin’s human resources department “incorrectly understood” her complaint.

Rundle’s lawyer, Bobbi Olsen, responded to Davidar’s statement yesterday, saying that it “recants and reverses his two prior media assertions, with regard to the nature of his departure from Penguin and of the nature of the friendship with Ms. Rundle. By his own admission, he has lied to the media twice, and to his wife for years. He now asks that his third version of the facts be accepted as the truth. I will not comment further.”

Regardless of how closely Davidar’s statement cleaves to the truth of what actually transpired between him and Rundle, there was an obvious power imbalance that should have set warning bells ringing. Although Canadian law does not prohibit consensual sexual relationships between colleagues, it is not difficult to imagine that if a female subordinate was asked by a male superior (to whom she reports directly) whether his attention was unwanted, she would be loath to answer “yes.” Nevertheless, our justice system is predicated upon the assumption that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and none of the allegations against Davidar have been tested in court. In the absence of due process, the media circus that has sprung up around this story is testament to our society’s baser instincts, and adds yet another distressing element to this already depressing and dispiriting saga.

Out of the shadows

June 17, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

I haven’t written any more about the David Davidar fiasco since my initial posts at the end of last week because, quite frankly, the whole affair makes me feel unutterably grimy. There have been further developments since my last post, which you can read all about on the Quill & Quire website, if you are of a mind to do so.

This post is meant to highlight something positive that has come out of a scandal that for a while there didn’t seem to have a single positive aspect about it. Earlier this week, a blog post with the title “What it Feels Like for a Girl” appeared online. The author used the Davidar scandal as a springboard for revealing her own experience with sexual harassment in the Canadian publishing industry. That post has since gone viral, getting linked by The Huffington Post and finding readers from publishing houses throughout Canada and the U.S.

Picking up where “What It Feels Like for a Girl” leaves off, novelist and publisher Stacey May Fowles has now provided what is to date the most measured, sensible, and reasonable take on the scandal, and the discussion that it has provoked:

So many of us, regardless of gender, have had a moment where we were unsure about the rules, about what is right and wrong in the workplace, and instead of talking openly about it we just follow the cues. The answers to “Am I allowed to say that? Am I allowed to do that?” are not always clear, so we, quite naturally, look to the leader. It’s easy to observe that the average intern pool is predominately female and the average publishing executive is male, that women on average make considerably less than their male counterparts, that according to reports a majority of publishing is female but only small percentage of that is management, and the power dynamics that result are undeniable. In such a small, connected industry, one rife with gossip, standing up and calling bullshit is near impossible.

I will admit that my initial reaction to “What It Feels Like for a Girl” was indignation. I did not believe that the experiences described in that post could be endemic to an industry in which the majority of workers are female (the fact that the majority of executives are male somehow escaped my notice). I no longer feel that way. The sheer volume of responses to that blog post claiming recognition and understanding have convinced me that the culture of harassment in the publishing industry is much more pervasive than I had initially imagined.

Which is why Fowles’s piece is so important. It does not convict Davidar – in fact Fowles goes out of her way to state that she is unqualified to discuss the specifics of the Davidar case. One of my own concerns throughout the past week has been that Davidar is undergoing trial by media before having had the opportunity to mount a defence – a trial in which he has already been found guilty. Fowles wisely avoids this temptation, instead focusing on the broader discussion that the fallout from this case has provoked. Bringing this discussion into the light of day is essential to anyone who wishes to avoid a repeat of the past week’s sad, divisive events.

More details emerge about Davidar’s departure from Penguin

June 12, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Details are starting to seep out about David Davidar’s abrupt departure from the CEO position at Penguin Canada earlier this week. Although neither Davidar nor Penguin Group chairman John Makinson admitted as much when the public announcement was made on June 8, it appears that Davidar was asked to leave the company a month ago and it was agreed at the time that both parties would publicly state that the departure was voluntary. As if that wasn’t sketchy enough, news broke yesterday that Penguin’s former rights and contracts manager, Lisa Rundle, has filed a sexual harassment claim against Davidar and a wrongful termination claim against Penguin.

The Globe and Mail has released details of Rundle’s claim, which asks for $523,000 in damages – $423,000 from Penguin for wrongful termination and $100,000 from Davidar personally. According to the Globe, Rundle alleges that Davidar’s harassment occurred over a period of three years, culminating in an all-out assault in Rundle’s hotel room during last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair:

The accusations are accompanied by quotations from several e-mail messages Mr. Davidar allegedly sent to Ms. Rundle during the period in question. Last year, he is said to have written that he “could do very little except think of [Ms. Rundle],” that she was “utterly gorgeous,” “a vision in pink sipping a champagne cocktail,” and that she should not be “stubborn” or “fight” him.

“Davidar over time became more and more intense with his persistent protestations of lust and desire for Lisa,” according to the claim, “and in return she became increasingly disturbed and afraid.”

The harassment allegedly culminated in an outright assault at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October when, according to the claim, Mr. Davidar appeared at Ms. Rundle’s hotel room door, “wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone down his waist.”

The statement of claim goes on to say that Davidar entered Rundle’s room against her wishes and forcibly kissed her.

In a statement released (somewhat stealthily) yesterday afternoon, Penguin Canada’s vice-president of marketing and publicity, Yvonne Hunter, denied Rundle’s assertion that she was terminated, saying that she left the company voluntarily:

Ms. Rundle was not terminated by Penguin Canada, but rather she advised the company of her decision to leave after having declined to pursue other career opportunities within the organization.

For his part, Davidar claims in a press release to be “disappointed” that Penguin issued a public statement about the pending litigation and denies the allegations contained in Rundle’s claim:

I had a friendship with my colleague which lasted for three years. I am utterly shocked by the allegations. I am dismayed that Penguin Canada chose to respond to them by directing me to leave Penguin. I intend to defend the allegations vigorously in the courts, and I am certain that the truth will prevail.

Any way this story is parsed, it ends up reflecting badly on everyone involved. The fact that Penguin decided to attempt a cover-up about the real reasons for Davidar’s departure is sleazy in the extreme, and not terribly bright in any event (they must have known that the truth would come out the minute Rundle filed her claim, unless they thought they could somehow prevent her from doing so, which would be even worse). Rundle’s allegations have yet to be proven in court, and it seems odd that she would wait so long to file the claim, only doing so three days after Davidar’s public announcement of his departure. Her reasons for proceeding this way are her own, although it is not difficult to see how someone who experienced the kind of harassment and assault described in her affidavit could feel legitimately angry at the prospect of those events getting whitewashed in an attempt to save corporate face.

As for Davidar himself, this is one of the fastest and most dramatic tumbles from grace in recent memory. Only last year, he was tapped to head Penguin International, a new division that would oversee the company’s activities in South Africa, India, and the Middle East. Speculation ran rife at the time that Davidar was being groomed as Makinson’s successor. Now all of that is in tatters.

This entire story leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and it’s obviously too early to understand who’s at fault and who’s not. Hunter’s press release and Rundle’s affidavit are clearly contradictory: somebody is lying, and it will in all likelihood be a protracted and painful experience trying to figure out who that someone is. In the meantime, we can do little more that wait and watch this sad, sordid story unfold.

There’s more to Davidar’s departure than previously reported

June 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Earlier this week, the surprise departure of David Davidar as CEO of Penguin Canada threw the publishing world into a tizzy. In a Globe and Mail article published this past Wednesday, books columnist John Barber wrote that the “tight-knit Canadian publishing industry roiled with speculation and dismay” at the news. Davidar, who was in the CEO’s chair when the company published its first Scotiabank Giller Prize–winner, Joseph Boyden’s novel Through Black Spruce, and when it debuted its prestige fiction line, Hamish Hamilton Canada, told the Globe that his departure had been “under discussion for months.” When asked by Quill & Quire why he was leaving now, Daivdar responded, “Principally, I wanted to [return to] my writing. I’ve got about six chapters of a new novel done. I wrote my previous two novels while I was working, and I wanted to see if I could give this one [a better] shot if I didn’t have a day job to go to. So my plan is to take at least a year to see if I can finish the novel.”

Well, it turns out that the situation might not be so cut and dried. According to an article published today on Publishers Weekly‘s website, Davidar faces sexual harassment charges filed by ex-colleague Lisa Rundle:

With questions swirling in Canada about the surprise resignation of Penguin Canada president David Davidar, the company issued a statement Friday afternoon announcing that Penguin’s former rights and contracts director Lisa Rundle charged Davidar with sexual harassment in an action yesterday. The statement added that Davidar was asked to leave the company last month, and while it had been unclear just when Davidar’s resignation, announced Tuesday, would become effective, Penguin said he will have no further involvement with the company.

The PW article also indicates that Rundle has filed a wrongful termination claim against Penguin.

Needless to say, this news is bound to send shockwaves through the Canadian publishing industry, and will only exacerbate the pain that Penguin was feeling this week as a result of its corporate announcement that Penguin Canada staff would henceforth report to David Shanks, head of Penguin USA in New York (something that Jackie Kaiser, a former Penguin staffer and current literary agent with the Westwood Agency told the Globe “does not reflect well on Penguin”). Whether Rundle’s complaint has merit, or is merely the product of a disgruntled ex-employee, has yet to be seen, and it should be noted that both PW and the Globe indicate that the suit was filed only on Thursday. However, Penguin’s decision to release this information on a Friday afternoon in June, when most of the publishing and media industries have summer hours, is disingenuous at best. It seems like a poor attempt to bury an unpleasant story – an attempt that has already proven futile.

Indigo, on-sale dates, and the Stieg Larsson fiasco

May 19, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Yesterday, yr. humble correspondent moderated a joint Book and Periodical Council/Book Publishers Professionals Association Ideas Exchange panel on the future of the bookstore (one reason among many for the lack of a short story post yesterday; there’s one coming later today, I promise). The panel discussion touched on the bookstore as communal space; the need for booksellers to pick up the slack from publishers in promoting books and authors; the way e-books and print-on-demand technology will change the appearance and nature of a physical bookstore; and issues surrounding parallel importation laws. Although the subject came up very briefly, no one said anything particularly substantive about Indigo Books & Music’s recent breach of protocol in deciding to release the highly anticipated final book in Stieg Larsson’s bestselling Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, a full 11 days prior to the publisher’s specified release date.

On Monday, Bookninja posted a piece asking readers to confirm e-mails that had started rolling in over the weekend stating that Larsson’s book was on sale in Chapters and Indigo locations, despite the fact that the book’s publisher, Penguin Canada, indicated that the book’s on-sale date was May 25. Readers quickly chimed in with additional information: apparently, there was no signed embargo on the book, but there was an understanding that Penguin’s on-sale date was May 25, and a general expectation (vain hope?) that booksellers would abide by this. In any event, Penguin’s director of publicity and marketing told The Afterword, “The book was not a strict on-sale,” meaning that there was no signed contract stipulating a one-day laydown. Regardless, if a publisher sets a specific on-sale date and a bookseller ignores that, there may be repercussions, such as restricted access to a publisher’s titles in the future.

The problem in this case is that many independents didn’t even have the book in their stores when Indigo jumped the gun, which means they lost out on the crucial first few selling days of the title. A Bookninja commenter from the Guelph indie The Book Shelf says that books were shipped to Chapters/Indigo warehouses a week prior to the specified release date, as per usual, but Chapters then couriered the stock to individual store locations, much to Penguin’s chagrin.

Even if there was not a signed embargo agreement, it was dirty pool for Indigo to release its stock more than a week before the publisher’s stated release date. As publishing moves further and further toward Hollywood’s blockbuster mentality, the first few selling days of a major release become more and more important, and independents that didn’t even have the title in their stores when Indigo put the book on sale lose out. One indie bookseller commenting on the Bookninja thread acknowledges that customers who had placed advance orders for the book called to cancel, saying that they had already picked up the title from Indigo over the weekend. Clearly, every lost sale hurts independent bookstores, which are already struggling in a highly inimical environment.

Penguin would be entirely within its rights to exact punitive measures against the big blue monster, such as restricting when (or even if) the chain receives stock of future titles. Naturally, Penguin will not do this. How can it? Indigo accounts for too large a slice of the bookselling pie in Canada. Penguin would be cutting off its nose to spite its face. It would be much easier to exact punitive measures against smaller independents, which may be ordering only 20 or 50 copies of a given title.

Interestingly, another independent bookseller on the Bookninja thread posted a screenshot of a letter from Random House Canada that reads, in part, “During 2009 we have witnessed a noticeable lack of respect from some of our customers in honouring the on sale dates assigned to our new title publications. For this reason we are implementing strict policies that will allow us to restrict shipments to those customers that choose to violate our on-sale dates.” The letter, which is signed by Duncan Shields, vice-president of sales, goes on to say, “We have been very lenient in the past but feel it is time to take such measures to ensure all of our customers have the same advantage when it comes to selling our books” (my emphasis). The letter was apparently sent in an e-mail with the subject line, “Fwd: Sensitive On Sale Dates letter for Independents” (my emphasis).

What is clear is that there is one set of rules for indies, and another for Indigo. Independent booksellers are being punished as a result of their relatively small market share. This highlights one of the dangers of a virtual monopoly in any industry, and should be a cause for concern among everyone who loves books in this country. As Lori Cheverie, a buyer at the Bookmark bookstore in Charlottetown, PEI, told Quill & Quire, “It’s such an unfair practice that the big guys are able to dictate when they sell a book and there’s never any repercussions about it, whereas if it were us, we wouldn’t get our next shipment [from the publisher].” It’s well past time that such unfair practices came to an end.

31 Days of Stories: A conundrum

May 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Smack in the middle of a month dedicated to short stories, The Afterword has posted the shortlist for the Danuta Gleed Award, which is presented “to the best first collection of short fiction.” The nominees are:

  • Overqualified by Joey Comeau
  • Wax Boats by Sarah Roberts
  • Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis

The award comes with a $10,000 purse, but the shortlist has left yr. humble correspondent somewhat confused. Comeau’s book, a collection of mock cover letters that Brian Bethune at Macleans praised as “One of the season’s most remarkable books,” was promoted as a novel. Of course, the folks at the Danuta Gleed Award are not the first people to grapple with the book’s essence. Fellow ECW Press author Corey Redekop wrote on his blog: “Overqualified is a hard novel to categorize; is it a memoir? An exercise in form and style? A joke? Probably all [of these], and then some.” And let’s face it: generic categories are often slipperier than they might at first appear. Lives of Girls and Women, anyone?

An open letter from Amanda Jernigan

May 12, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Seems Mount Allison University has decided to bestow an honourary degree on Heather Reisman, president and CEO of Indigo Books & Music. This has prompted a bit of a backlash. One of the most vocal critics of the university’s move is Amanda Jernigan, editor of The New Quarterly and a Mount Allison alumna. Jernigan feels so strongly that she sent an open letter to the university administration. The letter reads in part:

I studied English literature at Mount Allison University from 1997–2001, and have since returned (in 2009) to teach in the English department here. In the intervening years, I worked in the world of Canadian small-press publishing, and so had a front-row seat on the depredations of Chapters/Indigo in the Canadian book trade. A recent article in THIS Magazine paints the picture: “Some 350 indie bookstores closed across Canada in the past decade, and, according to Susan Dayus, executive director of the Canadian Booksellers Association, much of that had to do with the arrival of the Chapters chain. ‘Those closures happened very quickly when Chapters opened,’ Dayus says. ‘The leadership of Chapters was very predatory – they opened across the street or kitty-corner to successful bookstores. And those who didn’t have strong financial backing went under.’”

It wasn’t just the independent bookstores that Chapters threatened; small publishers felt the squeeze as well. It wasn’t that Chapters didn’t buy our books (I say “our” because I was working for Porcupine’s Quill, Printers & Publishers, in Ontario at this time): they did buy our books — and then returned them, in ruinous numbers.

The full text of Jernigan’s letter is online at Bookninja.

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