Tag Archive | Publishing

The French Still Flock to Bookstores

All the more reason to move to Paris.

I wonder how the same government regulations would fair here in Canada? If publishers are subsidized with government grants, why not independent bookshops as well?


The Children’s Book about Pulp and Paper

Leonard L. Knott — Editorial Associates, 1949 — Pre-ISBN

To boys and girls who are interested in the things around them, including the paper that is used in this book.

What a find! I’m going to have to attend flea markets on a regular basis if I can discover books like this. I love books about paper and printing methods, or book history in general — the older the better. So when I saw this title, with its retro CMYK cover, at the St. Lawrence Market flea market, I knew I had to have it. It looked old and I wanted to see how production methods were described years ago — not to mention figure out why these children were being told about pulp and paper!

The book itself is hardcover and consists of one signature, or set of folded sheets, made up of 32 pages (nowadays books usually print in 16 or even 8-page signatures). The endpapers are custom printed and depict a sort of mural of different paper, printing, and writing methods throughout history. There’s even a blank space with the words “This book belongs to…” where Jeanie Baggs of Montreal filled in her name. (I wonder what she’s doing now?)

The title page (which in this book also doubles as the copyright page) has lots to tell. The “story” (an interesting word choice for a non-fiction book) is written by Leonard L. Knott. A quick search online tells us that Mr. Knott is alive and well and owner of Knott & Associates, a public relations (aha!), marketing communications, and publishing firm.

Also on the title page spread we find the copyright date (1949), as well as an interesting statement: “Prepared with the editorial cooperation of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association.” Hmmm. And then, “Published by Editorial Associates (Montreal, Boston).” I’d definitely seen the name Editorial Associates before, and that was on Mr. Knott’s personal website. His current company is described as the “successor to Editorial Associates,” which was a public relations firm that “represented major firms and developments” in Canada. So this book was basically intended as promotion for, and to familiarize children with, a major Canadian industry at the time. Good old public relations.

The book begins by relating the story of Charles Fenerty, who is credited with discovering in 1844 that paper can be made from wood pulp, as opposed to from rags. I’ve never heard of him before (and neither have most people, as the book acknowledges), but he is an important character in the history of papermaking, and is also a Canadian connection that the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association I’m sure was keen to promote. The book then goes back in time and relates how ancients Egyptians used papyrus to create paper, and the Chinese were the first to invent paper made from rags c. 100 CE.

But then, interestingly, when it comes time to relate papermaking of the Middle Ages, the book states, “On this [rag] paper the monks and scholars wrote by hand the great books of the Middle Ages.” This is definitely not the case, since most Mediaeval manuscripts were written on parchment or vellum: animal skinthat has been treated and stretched and dried into a thin writing surface. Perhaps the writer thought this to be too gruesome a detail for small children?

This turns out not to be the case. In a later chapter, unfortunately entitled, “Canadian Indians Lost Their History,” we learn that Natives “also decorated their wigwams, made from animals skins, with pictures of trees and animals or Indian gods and forest devils.” Hmmm. And later on, “Just like the cavemen who lived thousands of years ago, the Canadian redmen [yikes!] used a picture language.” (Emphasis and shock mine.) So, the historical use of animal skin is only mentioned in relation to “primitive,” “cavemen-like” cultures that are obviously inferior to those of “white” men because they are based on the oral tradition as opposed to written historical record? I guess so, in 1949?

Unfortunate racist overtones aside, this book is actually quite informative when it comes to the papermaking process. But it’s still an awkward mix of childlike-oversimplification and industry-specific terminology. For example, we learn about an anthropomorphized tree in the woods, who watches as scouts come to the forest to survey and count the number of trees. This little tree obviously looks forward to the day when it will be chopped down and carted off to the lumber mill to become the very pages you hold in your hands!

After this Disney-like display, the book delves into technical processes involved in papermaking, and notes that there are two main types of wood pulp: groundwood or mechanical pulp, and chemical pulp.  Chemically prepared pulp can further be divided into  sulphite pulp, sulphate pulp, and soda pulp. To get newprint, you mix groundwood with sulphite. For paper used in books, you need sulphite pulp alone. You’d think author would then explain what sulphites are, but I guess that’s where they drew the technical limit.

Overall, a curious artifact of industrial self-promotion from a bygone era.


World’s First Edible Cookbook

From design house Korefe in Germany. This brings bibliophagy to a whole new level.

Random House acquires McClelland & Stewart

Big news in Canadian publishing today: Random House of Canada has fully acquired McClelland & Stewart. Until now, RH had a 25% stake in the company, with the other 75% owned by the University of Toronto.

The Association of Canadian Publishers wasn’t happy with the news, citing government policy that restricts foreign ownership of Canadian cultural institutions unless the move is of a benefit to Canadians. (Random House is owned by Bertelsmann AG.)

As for me, while I do believe Canada needs, and deserves, its cultural autonomy, I can’t help but hope (ever the optimist) that publishing decisions and innovations will become easier for M&S to make now that they are fully owned by a publisher. There are early signs that this will hopefully be the case: Random House has confirmed that M&S will retain editorial autonomy, and they’ve announced the establishment of The McClelland & Stewart Lecture, “an annual event to be held at the University of Toronto that will be focused around the advancement of writers and their ideas, a mandate with which M&S has long been closely identified.”

In any case, this is definitely a new chapter for the Canadian publishing industry.

SEALed and Delivered

Jill Monroe — Harlequin (Blaze), 2009 — 9780373795093

I cannot emphasize this enough: I read this book because my BOOK CLUB was reading it. And no, I do not belong to a lame book club. We are awesome. While still relatively new, our past selections have been pretty good. So why this book? Well, someone suggested, and I agreed, that I cannot continue to make fun of / lambast books like this without having ever read one. We were each given two books to read: one more steamy and one less steamy.

Let’s start with the cover. Sadly, this book does not have Fabio on it. Instead, Handsome Stock Model is posing as a Navy Seal. Thus the clever pun in the titled: SEALed and Delivered. The letters are actually in all caps like that. The tag line (or I guess subtitle?) is, “A special package just for her…” and a little circle contains yet another pun: “Uniformly hot!”.

I started off with an open mind, and read the first 100 pages in one night. It was what I expected: not great writing, spotty editing, awkward contradictions, and brazen stereotypes. Not to mention a woman who, despite claiming to be modern and strong, of course succumbs to the hero’s charms the minute they meet. The steamy scenes are just that, full of descriptions as opposed to euphemisms (Blaze is Harlequin’s most racy imprint), yet still almost painfully cheesy and stereotypical. What should have taken me a day to read was stretched to almost two weeks. I just could not pick this up.

In the end, I think Harlequin is much more interesting, as someone pointed out to me, from a publishing business model point of view than for the content of it’s books. Harlequin’s website showcases a myriad of imprints, series, categories, and formats. A set number of titles is released like clockwork each month, to the extent that this novel, though published recently in 2009, could not be found on the site because it is so “old” — that’s why I had to link to Amazon. If you want to write a novel for them, there are precise and detailed instructions. And most telling is the fact that Harlequin’s home page is in effect it’s online store as well — this company makes it clear it is in the business of selling books.

Books that I will continue to roll my eyes at and not understand. I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it through the second one…


The Sentimentalists

Johanna Skibsrud — Douglas & McIntyre, 2010 — 9781553658955

This book certainly had a lot of publicity last year, for a variety of reasons. Originally published by Gaspereau Press, a wonderful publisher from Nova Scotia that is dedicated to book arts and prints many of their covers on a letterpress, The Sentimentalists was nominated for the Giller Prize, the most prestigious award for fiction in Canada.

Skibsrud won. Suddenly everyone wanted the book. The problem? Being a small press, Gaspereau initially printed only 800 copies of the book (400 of which were sold before the book was nominated). Moreover, the printing method used by the publisher (offset for interior, hand letterpress for cover) resulted in them being able to produce only about 1000 copies a week after finding out the book had won. Everyone was getting anxious. The author and the founder of the Giller prize both spoke out publicly, anxious for more copies of the book to be made available to readers.

Eventually a deal was struck with Douglas & McIntyre, a larger publisher based in Vancouver. They would published a trade version of the book, printed conventionally and so available quickly, while Gaspereau would continue to print their version.

This is one of the problems of the Canadian Publishing industry. With margins that are so thin, how do you plan a print run — even for a book that’s nominated for a major literary prize? (Nominations don’t necessarily equate into larger sales.) Also, how do you balance out an appreciation for the physical form of the book with the public demand to read said book? I think the agreement between the two publishers was an excellent solution — but it should have happened sooner.

There was also a little scandal concerning one of the jurors for the Giller. Ali Smith recommended the book to her UK agent, resulting in Skibsrud being signed to a UK publisher before the longlist was announced. So, how far in advance did Smith know that the book would go far? Who can say.

So, what did I think of the book? Sadly, not too much. I think the idea being explored — of more being present beneath the surface than is visible — is interesting. But, I feel the exploration of this theme, and the actual writing, needed to be developed more. At least it was a quick read. But ultimately, the circumstances surrounding the book’s publication are more interesting to me than the book itself.

Here’s the original Gaspereau Press cover.



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